FlyOver Las Vegas Is a Soaring Addition to the StripPhotos by In Studio Colors, courtesy of FlyOver Travel Features FlyOver
FlyOver Las Vegas does something that nobody else has really pulled off: it out-Disneys Disney.
I mean that in a very specific way. FlyOver takes an iconic Disney ride (Soarin’) and builds something bigger, more advanced, and more amazing. It might not beat out Soarin’ for nostalgic or sentimental reasons, but FlyOver Las Vegas is a deeper, longer, and more thematically coherent experience than the current versions of Soarin’ you can ride at Disney California Adventure and EPCOT. It makes me think of what Soarin’ could have been if it was designed in the ‘80s for the original version of EPCOT, alongside long-gone attractions like Horizons and World of Motion. Like those rides, this isn’t a five-minute jaunt, but an extensive exploration of what a flight simulator ride can be and how it can reflect and comment on our world.
It’s good, is what I’m saying. Real good.
If you’ve never ridden Soarin’ or a FlyOver before, here’s what you can expect. They’re all set in a tall theater with a large curved screen taking up an entire wall. Rows of seats are suspended from above by a mechanical contraption, and after sitting down and strapping yourself in those seats are raised into the air and towards the screen. That screen encompasses your whole range of vision, and it airs a film that’s shot in first person perspective from a helicopter that makes it look like you’re flying through the air. Meanwhile the rows of seats can slightly tilt up, down, and side to side; between that motion, the feeling of your legs dangling in the air, and the overwhelming scope of the film, you’ll feel like you’re hang-gliding high above gorgeous scenic vistas. Extra sensory elements like smells and mist are occasionally used to further the immersion. It’s a powerful sensation that’s thrilling despite the limited movement, and offers stunning views of the world you’d probably never see otherwise.
FlyOver expands that basic concept into a longer and more fully realized experience than Soarin’. First off, FlyOver films are over twice as long as Soarin’; longer isn’t always better, but with FlyOver that means more footage, more landmarks, more of the glory of nature, and also more of a possibility for storytelling. FlyOver movies also have not one but two pre-shows. The first is basically a glorified waiting room with a simple, single-location film that sets the tone for the ride to come, sometimes with a spot of narration. From there you walk into a small, circular theater whose walls are covered with two large screens, with a third screen that’s round and two-sided hanging in the middle of the room. Beneath that is a fourth screen on the ground below. Here you’ll see an introductory film that generally lasts for about eight minutes or so and that establishes the ride’s theme. For a trip over Iceland, you’ll see a movie about Iceland’s history stretching from its geologic formation through its current state, narrated by an animated character out of Icelandic myth. The Vegas-themed show starts with a similar movie that tracks the west from prehistory, through the arrival of man, the development of Indigenous culture, the arrival of Westerners, and the creation of the cities we know today. The third ride film at Flyover Las Vegas is based on the Canadian Rockies, and is the most ambitious and story-focused of the bunch; I’ll have more of that in a little bit.
These various ride experiences come from other FlyOver locations around the world. Conceived by former Disney Imagineer Rick Rothschild, who created Soarin’ during his time at Disney, FlyOver Las Vegas is one of four FlyOver locations currently in operation. Unlike the others, it offers multiple ride experiences. Whereas FlyOver Canada and FlyOver Iceland show a single film each, themed to their specific locations, FlyOver Vegas alternates those two films with its own original one based on the American West. (The fourth location, FlyOver America at the Mall of America, licenses the company’s name and equipment but doesn’t share the same owner.)
Of the three ride experiences at FlyOver Las Vegas, the best is probably the one from Canada. The Iceland and Vegas films follow the Soarin’ playbook of an inspiring musical theme without dialogue, but Windborne: Call of the Canadian Rockies shows that there’s a narrative potential to this kind of ride that has gone untapped. Described as a passion project by FlyOver’s film director Dave Mossop, whose father Grant was a leading geologist from Calgary, Windborne doesn’t just relish in the majesty of the Rockies, but tells an impressionistic story about the importance of living in balance with the land, combining First Nations wisdom and music with scenes of nature and adventure tourism in a powerful and moving way. It has occasional lines of dialogue from an indigenous elder, recurring symbolism of eagles and feathers, and a clearly defined and coherently communicated theme that makes a greater impression than any other Soarin’-style film I’ve ever seen. And it uses FlyOver’s longer run time to end on a slow, peaceful, meditative note, with the camera very slowly zooming out on a mountaintop campsite. Windborne proves this type of attraction can do more than just wow you with a great view and a thrilling sensation.
No matter which of the three flights you’ve booked, you should pregame with a drink or two at The Lost Cactus. FlyOver’s lobby bar is a chill lounge with craft cocktails that match the themes of the three movies. The Prickly Pear Margarita is a favorite, with a syrup made from the titular cactus, and the Desert Sunset combines orange vodka, orange juice, peach schnapps, and grenadine for a tangy, sun-drenched sipper. Whisky fans can’t go wrong with the Durango to Silverton, a classic Old Fashioned with the addition of hickory smoke syrup, or the Whiskey Curtain Call, which swaps out the simple syrup, Angostura and orange peel with maple syrup, lemon juice, and a cinnamon stick. There are several more drinks to choose from, as well as beer, wine, and mocktails. Whether you’re drinking before or after the ride, The Lost Cactus is a good place to post up for a spell.
FlyOver Vegas can be found on the Strip next to the Hard Rock Cafe and across from Park MGM. It’s a must-do for fans of Soarin’ or Disney, and a great activity for families or groups of friends. Note that you’ll have to pay separately for each film, but they have a promotion where you can ride a second time at a reduced rate. All three films are worth experiencing, but if you can only pick one, and don’t think you’ll be visiting Vancouver anytime soon, I’d go with Windborne. It’s the one that soars the highest.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.