Whether you think of Las Vegas as Sin City, the City of Second Chances, or the Neon Capitol of the World, the reality is, it’s all of these—and none of these. With entertainment high on the list for most visitors to this resort city in the middle of the Mojave, spending a winter holiday in Las Vegas can be as meaningful as you want it to be.
Las Vegas. It’s spectacular—that is, it’s a spectacle. There is an enormous amount to see and do here, year-round and around the clock. I worked with pilots Carl Steinhoff and Ned Atwell to find out what’s going on in the Las Vegas Valley during the winter months. Keep reading for a good look at what’s going on in this uniquely American desert city.
First of all, a bit of handy information courtesy of Carl Steinhoff: Nevada is among the most mountainous states in the U.S. (I didn’t know that!) Steinhoff recommends a review of mountain flying techniques before heading to The Silver State.
“Although the temperature drops in the winter, density altitude is always something to pay careful attention to,” he advised. “Watch the weather; patterns change quickly in the mountains.”
Steinhoff recommends landing your Piper at North Las Vegas (KVGT) or at Henderson, Nevada’s Henderson Executive (KHND). Both of these airports have shops that can handle mechanical and radio issues. “I’d advise staying away from McCarran—fuel is expensive.”
However, pilot Ned Atwell had a good experience at McCarran (KLAS). “ATC was very friendly on my single General Aviation landing there,” Atwell explained, joking, “Perhaps the controllers were new?”
Where you choose to tie down mainly depends on what you’re in Las Vegas to see. “If you’re heading to Old Las Vegas—downtown—land at North Las Vegas,” Steinhoff advises. “If you’re heading to the Strip, land at Henderson. Both are fine airports,” he added.
Henderson Executive (KHND)
Henderson Executive Airport, 11 miles to the south of Las Vegas, has two parallel runways that are 6,500 and 5,000 feet long respectively. This airport, owned by Clark County, Nevada, has a good amount of commercial air tour traffic, and averages over 200 operations a day. Self-service Avgas at KHND is $4.94, and Apex Aviation on the field offers oxygen service.
“At Henderson you may be able to get courtesy transportation if you call ahead; otherwise, call a rideshare service or a taxi,” Steinhoff explained. (The courtesy shuttle takes prearranged same-day reservations and departs KHND at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. —Ed.)
You could always wait it out at the Landings Restaurant on the field. They serve breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and are closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
North Las Vegas (KVGT)
North Las Vegas Airport is situated to the northwest of Las Vegas and has three paved runways. It, too, is publicly owned by Clark County, and fuel prices compare with Henderson at $4.94 per gallon for Avgas. However, KVGT experiences about double the traffic of Henderson with 485 operations on average per day; it’s the second-busiest airport in Nevada. Multiple businesses are on the field, including air tour operators, charters, flight schools, maintenance facilities and more.
A flight crew briefing video with airport and ATC procedures is available online; note that you have to have Adobe Flash enabled for the video to play, but even so, I had difficulty playing certain sections of the video.
A recent $40 million investment in North Las Vegas Airport is geared specifically to attract General Aviation (it is the designated GA reliever airport for KLAS) and includes remodeling of the terminal that will be completed by the end of 2018. The Sunshine and Tailwinds Café located inside the terminal is open during construction. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Things to do
“I’ve been here since 1988,” Steinhoff told me. “There are lots of interesting things—all kinds of activities out here.” While many visitors might wish to try their luck at a casino, Las Vegas is probably equally renowned today for its glitz-and-glam-style entertainment.
Whether you want to see magicians, mimes, musicians or a musical, you will find them in Las Vegas.
“If you are interested in shows, get reservations and tickets early,” Steinhoff said. How early? At least a couple of months.
Some shows can be as low as $15 per ticket, but your price for a high-demand event likely begins at around $75 per seat and can go much, much higher.
Attractions on the Strip
Inside the Luxor Hotel, you can find more than 250 artifacts from the Titanic. Also at the Luxor is “Bodies: The Exhibition”—a fascinating exhibit with real human specimens. General admission to each of these exhibitions is $32 for adults; combination tickets are $42.
There is also a “3 for $57” offer, where visitors can choose from nine different attractions, including the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage.
There are several free attractions on the Strip, including the volcano at the Mirage. Or check out the fountains with music at the Bellagio, which, Atwell told me, has “a fine seasonal floral atrium inside, too.”
Downtown Vegas/Fremont Street
“Viva Vision,” a live light show on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, is a six-minute LED light spectacular. Shows occur hourly from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. every single night. The music and light shows on a 1,500 foot-long canopy in the middle of “Old Vegas” are seen and heard by 22 million visitors a year.
Just strolling around the 24-hour Fremont Street Experience mall is, well, an experience. If you want more, there are several other attractions in the neighborhood. Two of these include the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum—and their names say it all.
Tickets are tiered for the various tour options at the Neon Museum, but a pre-booked guided tour is $28 for adults, while a trip through the Mob Museum’s three floors of exhibits (self-guided) is $26.50. Combination tickets for both museums are available for $48.
Skydiving (indoor and outdoor)
Indoor skydiving, called “the most unique attraction in Las Vegas,” offers paying guests of all ages the opportunity for a simulated skydiving experience in a padded wind tunnel. “Flights” are available for two minutes up to 60 minutes. The facility is open seven days a week—including limited hours on Dec. 24 and 25, 2018.
If you prefer the “real thing” instead, “You can practice skydiving and gliding at Jean, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas,” said Steinhoff.
Hot air ballooning, helicopter tours
“Hot air balloon rides south of the city can offer the best views of McCarran; the balloons float under the Class B floor,” Atwell explained.
Costs for the balloon tours vary and conditions need to be right for these flights, but I’d plan on at least $100 per person for a one-hour voyage; some companies offer bundles/packages with other entertainment, like a helicopter tour of the Las Vegas Strip. “Helicopter rides over the city are best at night,” said Atwell.
Out-of-town day trips
Steinhoff has a great suggestions for a fly-out day trip or even an overnight. “It’s common for people to fly from Las Vegas to Death Valley [California] on Saturday morning for breakfast.”
“This is the time of year to fly to Death Valley,” he continued, “and it has a fine resort. If you land at Furnace Creek (L06), they have a phone and the Inn at Death Valley will send a van to pick you up.”
Both Furnace Creek and another airstrip, Stovepipe Wells (L09), are operated by the National Park Service. Each has a paved 3,000-foot runway but offer no services, so plan accordingly.
“Visit the dam!” insisted Steinhoff. For this, though, you can’t book ahead—you’ll have to come in person to get a limited number of tickets offered daily from now through Jan. 31, 2019. (The dam is closed to tours on Dec. 25, 2018. —Ed.)
“You can also fly over the lake [Mead] if you follow ATC instructions—there is heavy jet and helo traffic near the dam,” Steinhoff added.
Some prefer to hoof it instead: “You can walk on the bridge connecting Nevada with Arizona,” said Atwell.
The visitor center at Hoover Dam is undergoing a renovation until Feb. 14, 2019, but a modified tour is being offered this winter. Be prepared to pay for parking and complete a security screening. But all the fees and possible lines and traffic are well worth it for the indescribable views and the sheer scale of this engineering feat.
Red Rock Canyon
“Red Rock Canyon is pretty, and it’s a pleasant ride,” said Atwell—but his son, Mark, begs to differ. (He says if you’ve seen one red rock, you’ve seen them all!)
The Scenic Drive through the Mojave is a 13-mile trip open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. in December. To use the roadway will cost $15 per car per day; it’s $5 per person for bicycles and pedestrians. The one-way route is dotted with various overlooks and designated stopping places.
Hikers can choose among 26 routes at various levels of difficulty. Rock climbing, mountain bike trails and overnight camping are offered as well.
Dining and accommodations
“For dining in Las Vegas, there is an unlimited variety,” said Atwell, and he wasn’t kidding. There are more than 2,260 restaurants listed in Las Vegas on OpenTable. “But some can be pricy—it is a tourist town.”
Some of the best of the best include Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab (American); Kabuto (Asian); and Le Cirque inside the Bellagio (French). Veranda at the Four Seasons has Sunday brunch and outdoor dining.
As far as staying in Las Vegas, if you want to be on the Strip, you can find hotel rooms right in the mix at some of the most recognizable hotels for as low as $27 per day on weeknights.
Consider a fly-out vacation to Las Vegas this winter. The weather is favorable and there’s obviously plenty to do day and night with little to no holiday closures. When you factor in two GA airports and the abundance of options for ground transportation, visiting the Las Vegas Valley during the holiday season may be one of the most fun and hassle-free holidays you ever have.
Getting Merry and Bright in Vegas
Are you ready to exchange presents, eat another turkey and listen to some carols? Well, if you plan to do this in Las Vegas, you are in for some great fun.
Let’s face it, Las Vegas is known for doing everything big. Christmas is no exception. The holiday season is actually a great time to visit Las Vegas. However, things get pricy and sell out fast around that time of year. Make your plans as early as you can.
The Vegas Strip is full of holiday spirit as the casinos try to outdo each other with decorations, lights and mega-Christmas trees.
Just a few of the many attractions in Las Vegas this holiday season include a holiday music and light show at the fountains of Bellagio, a winter wonderland display at the LINQ Promenade with decorations, carolers and holiday music, and Santa Claus—in scuba gear—swimming among 4,000 sharks, stingrays and tropical fish at the Silverton Casino Hotel Aquarium.
Source: “2018 Christmas in Las Vegas,” lasvegashowto.com.
Heather Skumatz is production coordinator for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .
LAS VEGAS ATTRACTIONS
LAS VEGAS DINING