This year for Greg’s birthday and my birthday, my parents wanted to gift us a unique NYC experience. After all, what else do you get the people who have everything? (By that I mean each other. Still waiting on a Mediterranean yacht and a butler).
We decided on a helicopter tour over Manhattan. First because I’d never been in a helicopter before, and it was on my bucket list. And second because there’s no better city to fly over than New York City.
The only problem? I was just a little bit nervous. After all, a helicopter (owned by a different company!) had crashed into the East River last year. The pilot escaped, but the passengers couldn’t get out of their harnesses and drowned. I know, not a great way to start a blog post. But I just wanted to give you a reference for my frame of mind!
We chose New York Helicopter both because my friend recommended it, and because the company’s helicopters are enclosed and therefore there are no harnesses to become trapped in. Instead you’re just buckled in as you would be in a car.
I was still nervous though when we arrived and were given the briefest of safety instructions. Luckily the company shares a waiting area with other helicopter tours so I was able to watch their safety videos while we waited!
Then, before I felt really ready, it was time to head out onto the helipad.
This was the helicopter we’d be riding in, the Nimbus 2000*
*I’m not sure of the actual name.
When I booked the tour, I discovered there were six passenger seats, but only five of those seats were by windows. The sixth was a middle seat in back. As much as the receptionist assured me every seat would have great views, the tours are pretty pricey and I didn’t want to spend the money if I was stuck riding bitch. But no matter how much I pleaded for seat guarantees, the company insisted the seating chart was determined by the weight of the passengers. So I kept my fingers crossed Greg and I would both end up with window seats.
I also secretly hoped I would get to sit in front by the pilot. I figured this would allow for the best views, and I would also be right there to shake him if he fell asleep or something. The receptionist said the lightest person usually sits in front, so when we arrived for our tour I was furtively glancing at the other women in our group, wishing I had eaten less for lunch!
But luck was in my favor, and the operator directed me to the front seat next to the pilot! And the front seat berth came with a photo shoot*, so it really was the best seat for me!
*They took one photo.
And Greg was sat right behind me with his own window seat, so it all worked out perfectly!
I buckled my seatbelt and confirmed with the driver I knew how to unbuckle it and open the door in the case of an emergency. Apparently in all the years he’s been piloting a helicopter, no one has ever asked him how to escape from drowning. And while I know he was teasing me, the first thought that popped into my head was that my mother would be proud!
The front seat was amazing, since I had such an expanse of window to look out. There was even a window by my feet, which was so cool!
That is until we began liftoff.*
*Is liftoff a helicopter term or have I just made the experience seem more dramatic by making myself sound like Neil Armstrong?
Flying in a helicopter is super freaking weird. You’re in this tiny little thing and it just hovers. You don’t feel much movement, so it almost feels like a simulated ride. But then the wind will blow strongly, and you’ll remember that yep you’re actually really high up in the air. And, because you really wanted the front seat, you have plenty of window space to notice the tiny, tiny landscape below.
But I suppressed my fears as best I could. After all, this was probably the most expensive 19 minutes of my life so I’d may as well enjoy it!
And it was cool flying over familiar landmarks. For example, I’d never realized just how quaint Governors Island is.
We then headed over to the Statue of Liberty. For as famous as the statue is, it’s amazing how it’s actually small in stature. Or perhaps it just seemed small because I was ridiculously high up in the air?
We pulled back and got an incredible view of downtown Manhattan. It was at this point that I stopped being afraid (for about three minutes) and marveled at how lucky I was to be having this experience.
Then it was time to head up the Hudson River, past Manhattan’s tall skyscrapers.
We were taller. And no, that wasn’t reassuring.
Then we breezed by Central Park. I’m always amazed at how big this park is. Some cities aren’t even as big as Central Park!
Even though our birthdays are in the summer, Greg and I had decided autumn would be the best time for our tour, since we wanted to see the beautiful fall colors from above. And even though we were a little early for peak foliage, it was still gorgeous.
Then we continued over the George Washington Bridge up near Harlem. This bridge is massive when you’re on the ground, but we were so high up it looked like a model bridge for one of those toy train sets.
We reached the very tip of Manhattan, and I can confirm it is truly an island (just call me Lewis and Clark).
Then it was time to head back down the Hudson River to where we started.
At this point the pilot announced we would be landing soon. My first panicked thought was “WHERE?!” since we were flying right over the middle of the river. But then I remembered the helipad was just on the other side of the southern tip of Manhattan, and that’s where the pilot was going to safely land. And luckily I realized this before I implemented my escape maneuvers!
We circled around the Financial District, taking in the views one last time.
And then we landed (safely!) on the helipad. It’s amazing to me how precise helicopter pilots can be with their landings! He got us close to where he wanted to be and then just hovered until he lowered us exactly onto the X.
Once we landed I could finally breath a sigh of relief. We SURVIVED!
And, once our lives were no longer on the line (just let me be dramatic, ok?) my fear subsided and the experience became that much more incredible.
(Before you look at the below picture I would like to state for the record that I am wearing the mandated yellow life vest pack and NOT a fanny pack)!
Am I glad we did it? Yes, definitely. It’s a wonderful way to see New York City and the surrounding area, and us locals appreciated it as well as the tourists we were with.
Would I do it again? Probably not, because I’ve decided helicopters aren’t the most relaxing, carefree mode of transportation. But I’m sure if a friend offered me a ride to the Hamptons on their helicopter, I may be persuaded to feel differently.
New York Helicopter has three tour options. A 15-minute ride is $234, a 19-minute ride is $301, and a 25-minute tour is $390. As you increase your time you’re able to see a little bit more.
We did the 19-minute ride and I thought it was perfect. We got to see all of Manhattan and all of the major sights, so it covered everything we wanted. And the 19 minutes actually felt like a long time (possibly because I was terrified?) so it was a worthwhile experience. You can find out more information on New York Helicopter tours here.
It ended up being a perfect birthday gift, and something we never would have done for ourselves. Thank you very much, mom and dad!