Good morning everybody! Today I wanted to share with you a snippet of a conversation I’ve been having with a travel agent in Australia. Due to the time difference between Arizona and Australia (today is tomorrow… don’t get me started!), it’s occurring by e-mail. My colleague asks: “what would be the “ultimate” Grand Canyon vacation?”
As with most Grand Canyon vacation plans, a bit of a backstory is involved. My Aussie friend is working with a family for whom money apparently is no object. they wanted to experience “an overnight excursion to the Grand Canyon with helicopter ride, perhaps staying in a Teepee or Ranch experience.” Such a thing is offered by the Grand Canyon Ranch, owned by HeliUSA, near Grand Canyon West. After informing her of this option, she queried “what would be the ‘ultimate’ Grand Canyon vacation experience?”
So here’s what I suggested they do instead:
Regarding your clients desire for the “ultimate” Grand Canyon vacation experience: what I would recommend is going “back to the drawing board” a bit and rethinking their desires and expectations. The Grand Canyon Ranch experience for example takes place at an area known as Grand Canyon West, which is a totally separate area, both geographically and administratively, from Grand Canyon National Park. The views of the Grand Canyon, though attractive in their own way, are not nearly as vast, colorful or “iconic” as those one would find at the South Rim.
Grand Canyon South Rim is generally regarded to be the “true” Grand Canyon. This area has the largest viewing area, most abundant visitor services, and longest-established track record of serving tourists such as your clients. The only drawbacks, if you’d call them that, are that access to the bottom of the Grand Canyon must be done “the hard way,” namely, a 2-day mule ride or a 2-day hike. Both can be physically challenging certainly, but these experiences are also challenging to arrange: due to small inventories and strict daily quotas of people who are allowed to take part, they tend to be booked out 1 year in advance, so the March/April 2013 timeframe is no doubt full. Helicopter flights to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, such as those offered by the Grand Canyon Ranch, are not available from the South Rim, though flyovers of the most photogenic areas of the canyon are offered daily. Although activities such as the Inner Canyon Jeep Tours (available from Williams or Flagstaff) might be a more viable alternative for those who wish to be able to say “I made it to the bottom.”
Another factor that is often perceived as a drawback to the South Rim is distance: it’s a 4.5 hour drive each way from Las Vegas. There is no scheduled air service into Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN), just day tours.
Long story short, the “ultimate” experience in my humble opinion would be for these folks to hire a car, drive to the South Rim and stay for a couple of days. Staying inside the park is always most desirable. All Grand Canyon park hotels are managed by Xanterra South Rim, LLC. Photographs of the facilities can be views at www.grandcanyonlodges.com To phone from Australia, call 303-297-2757 and remember that they are on Mountain Time. At any rate though, El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodges, the two historic landmarks, are the most unique and coveted properties, so if you can find availability at either one of those, grab it.
It’s not that the Grand Canyon Ranch couldn’t offer these good folks a fun Grand Canyon experience, but coming all the way from Australia it’s probably safe to assume that this will be a once in a lifetime vacation. If that’s the case, then the South Rim, with its “picture postcard” Grand Canyon views (that you’re probably expecting to see anyway), is where you should try to go if at all humanly possible. Other Grand Canyon parks, such as Grand Canyon West and Grand Canyon North Rim, do have attractive (and very different) views, but there are fewer of them, plus the North Rim has a very short season due to heavy snowfalls. But for memories of the “ultimate” Grand Canyon vacation the South Rim has more of what you’re looking for: more Grand Canyon hotels, visitor services such as hotels and restaurants, tours and activities, etc.
Awhile back I wrote a piece for wikihow.com that shows you how to plan the ultimate Grand Canyon vacation in just 9 steps. Sound like something you could use? Take a look:
’til next time, may the rest of your weekend be “grand!”