There is no more scenic way to experience the sensation of having your heart in your mouth than by touring Manhattan Island by helicopter.
As we leave the heliport on the East River, there is a moment on looking down through nothing but the clear glass of the helicopter’s door when I wonder if I’ll actually be able to stomach this journey, and I don’t say that lightly as I am a huge fan of heights. Show me a rollercoaster I cannot ride! I love to press my face against the glass at take-off on planes. But this was something else. We hover a moment over the bitumen, then out over the river and very soon things steady themselves and we climb quickly and comfortably into the air and right away we are smoothly cruising just about right over the head of the Statue of Liberty and so stomaching those first few hair-raising moments has already paid off.
October in New York always furnishes a glut of clear blue days, and our tour day was no exception. The flight elevation on those days gives eye-popping views of most of New Jersey in one direction and up into the Bronx and beyond in the other. Sweeping over lady liberty and Ellis and Governor’s islands, the flight path then takes you up the Hudson, stopping to hover at Manhattan landmarks along the way. The view down on to the emerging 9/11 memorial from the air is maybe the closest you’ll be able to get to it with tickets being a highly sought-after commodity.
With aviation headphones clamped over our ears, we can hear each other, and also, everyone else onboard can too, so keeping awestruck expletives to yourself is recommended. The captain is our tour guide who gives a running commentary of the island, pointing out the delineations of downtown neighbourhoods and throwing out facts about the buildings and bridges, one of which, the George Washington is the most heavily trafficked in the world. The ride, up the island as far as Central Park and stopping off at noteworthy buildings, the Empire State, Chrysler and Rockerfeller Plaza, travels only up the Hudson side and then doubles back down over lower Manhattan before returning us safely fifteen minutes later to the East River port where we land alongside a idling helicopter which has been used to shoot every instance of New York ever committed to film or television.
While you’re free to take as many photos of you own as you like, you can also, if you like, purchase a shot of yourself posed hamily in front the chopper before take-off, though at $25, it better have been a spectacular Kodak moment. We opted for the shorter New Yorker flight, unsure of how much we were going to enjoy it, though HeliNY offers rides twice as long as twice as far from $279 per person. Flights run 9pm-6pm Monday to Friday, with shorter hours on weekends.
And for those who don’t want to waste a moment getting around the Big Apple, there are private charter options to get you quickly to the Hamptons, Atlantic City and JFK in style, for a price.