Ask: From Vegas Chauffeur to Vegas Tour Guide

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With all this downtime, I am starting to get back into the website and do some clean up as well as catching up on website projects. The one project I would like to start again is my series of “Ask The Vegas Tourist”. Answering your questions not only about Las Vegas but also about traveling the southwest, things to do, see, and experience. As well as the “why” and “how” of tours and travel.

I want to start off the series with a question I get a lot on tour as well as on the website.

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Question:  How did I go from being a Las Vegas Chauffeur to a Las Vegas Tour Guide?

I moved to Las Vegas from Minnesota in 2001.  My first job was as a chauffeur on the Strip.  At the time, Las Vegas was BOOMING.  To understand what I mean, Las Vegas was founded in 1905.  In 2001 we hit one million residents.  It took us almost 100 years to get one million people living here.  By 2006, we literally doubled our population to 2 million people!

The Las Vegas Strip was a steady boom as well. always building, adding, and growing.  It was an amazing time being a chauffeur. I worked mostly nights from 4 p.m. To 2 a.m.  In those hours, you see a lot of crazy things.  I learned really early never say that you’ve seen it all, because the moment you say that you’ve seen it all, someone jumps into your limo and shows you that you really have not seen it all…

By 2005 I was starting to feel burn out.  Just too much of everything. Remember, I’m a simple man from Minnesota!

After Burnout?

So one day, a fellow chauffeur friend of mine told me that he had just interviewed for the perfect job for me.  For Me? I asked.  He said yes, for me. Why me?  He said that I have a head full of useless trivia. That I would be perfect for this job!  I took that as a compliment!

I went ahead and applied for the job that he had applied for and he didn’t take it,  but I took it because it sounded interesting and got me off of the strip. Let me add this, I have always had a love for modern American History and this area is loaded with it!!  I love everything that happened in the last hundred or so years and Vegas has packed a lot of stuff in those hundred and some-odd years.

As a chauffeur, I got to meet people from all over the world and that fascinated me. I’ve always wanted to know why people are where they are. How and why got to be where they are.  How do things happen? So this gig as a tour guide was right up my alley!  I knew people did tours, I just didn’t know people actually made a career out of it. Now, here I was, hired to do tours.

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Tour Guide Mark

One of the first companies that I applied for hired me. The first tour that you train for is Hoover Dam.  It’s a simple half-day tour.  Easy!  On a Hoover Dam tour, I was told “there’s not much there” to learn. Yea, maybe for you!!

This particular tour operator used buses and I was the step-on guide.  It was the guides’ job to get everyone on board the bus then get them off the bus and on the actual Hoover Dam tour. They also did all of the narration along the way while somebody else drove.

But First, You have to do a ride-along.  They send you out with an experienced guide and you observe them.  Well, it really bothered me because the person that they sent me out with, I thought was a freaking moron.  I mean, it’s about a 40-minute ride from Las Vegas to Boulder City to Hoover Dam.  He talked for about 10 minutes then he played a video about the building of Hoover Dam. That was it.

I’m thinking that if we’re going to go see Hoover Dam, why are we seeing a video on the building of Hoover Dam?  Then I find out that once you get there, on the actual tour, you see another video about building Hoover Dam. So this format made no sense to me.

Then on the way back, he’s talking about the concrete in the dam!  We have left the dam and ar heading back to Las Vegas and the tour guide is talking about the concrete!  Meanwhile, there’s a lot of stuff I want to know about along the way home that I am sure the guests were wanting to know about as well.  I didn’t say anything I was just there to observe!

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My Tour My Way

So when they assigned me my first Hoover Dam tour,  they handed me the script and the DVD and I got on the bus.  I talked to my coach driver and on the way out, I just put all of that stuff in my bag and I talked about what I wanted to talk about; The history of Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Hoover Dam. I talked about what brought people out to the middle of nowhere to build a dam in the middle of a depression.

I did the same on the way home. I talked about what THEY wanted to know about. More history, more information about what it’s like to live here and ideas on what they should do next!

After about four or five of these tours, my boss called me into her office. She says “look, I’ve been told that you’re not following the script on how to do the Hoover Dam tour.  So I’m going to ride with you.  I want to take your Hoover Dam tour and I don’t want you to change anything just because I’m on board. Ok?”

I didn’t understand why I would change what I say just because she is on board, but Ok. Let’s do this!
The day comes and she gets on board, she sits towards the back with a notepad. I do my Dam Tour. We get back to the office and she looks to me. She said she had a great tour and loved how I did it.

Now she wanted me to write down what I said and make it into a script that she can pass to the other guides. Yea, right! That ain’t happening.  It’s my tour. They need to deliver their own tours.  She reluctantly agreed.

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George and the West Rim

Next, I was trained on the Grand Canyon West Rim (home of the glass bridge!).  My trainer was named George.  He was a retired military man who spent most of his career in Japan. After I was trained by him, the boss wanted to ride along with me on that one too.  So we do the tour.

We get out to the West Rim and she is talking to me about the format of the tour. Being a longer tour, there is a format on how the drive out and back is done. There is a photo stop at the Dam and there is a stop for bathrooms at a convenience store in the middle. George did a third stop. So I did the third stop.

She informed me that I was not following the format. She was curious about who trained me? I told her it was George.  She looked at me and smiled. It now made sense to her. Why I did the third stop. George was the only tour guide who made three stops.

My boss tells me George has a serious nicotine habit and so when he needs a smoke break, he gets the driver to pullover, gets everyone out of the bus and he will go into a very well detailed and informative description of what ever we are looking at on this “special stop”.  He spoke very intelligently about the mountain chain, the flowers, and the trees around us. The stop was not for information, it was George’s smoke break!
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Hoover Dam Revelation

After a while of doing tours, I’m on a Hoover Dam tour. we get to the Dam, I get everyone off the bus and the driver and I are in the bus parking area just reading the newspaper and talking. Another driver walks over, looks up, and sees me.  He smiles and says loudly “You Got Mark!” My driver smiles back and tells him in a matter of fact style that “Yes I do”.

This got my curiosity up and I need to know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  Apparently, it was a good thing.  In the morning, our office faxes over the trip sheets to the bus company. The drivers look to see what tours we have and who are the guides. When they see Mark Anthony, they begin to argue over that tour.

Why? Because they make more tips with me as the guide than they do the other guides.  I am told the guest really likes how I tell them stories, the information, and how it seems more personal than other tours.  So their tips are higher. I make them more money!

Finding My Passion

After a few months of being a Las Vegas tour guide, I found myself in San Jose, California for about six months. I discover that there is a school for International Tour Directors in San Francisco. In two weeks, I get certified and started doing over-the-road tours (multi-day tours).   I can do tours from The Candian Rockies all the way down to Copper Canyon Mexico.   My Specialty is the Southwest.  National Parks. California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Right now, I am focusing on day trips or overnight tours out of Las Vegas.

I prefer the Southwest. I love the Grand Canyon. I love Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park.  Utah has a ton of State Parks I love touring.  Of course, being in Las Vegas,  we have Death Valley,  Zion, Bryce Canyon, Valley of Fire, Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon West, I can even do North Rim if you have the right itinerary.

I really love what I do and it has gone from being a job to being a passion of mine. I will explain this in a later video.  I love what I do. I love to help people discover new things to see do and experience while visiting Las Vegas (and beyond).

To be honest, I wish more people who visit here, had the time to really experience the entire Southwestern United States. Not only for its beauty but also for its deep history.  The whole West Coast is an amazing place to experience.

I always laugh when someone tells me “I’ve been to Vegas a thousand times, there is nothing new here!” Oh, Really? Take a look at my website and see the Vegas tours and tell me that you have seen it all.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years and I haven’t seen it all!

Final Thoughts

So that’s how I went from being a chauffeur on the Las Vegas Strip to be an international Certified Tour Director living in Las Vegas. I do some awesome tours up and down the west coast (so I am told). My specialty is the Southwest United States, Las Vegas, and the National Parks. And I love to show you them as we go along here.

Las Vegas is my home. I love it here. Over the last 19 years, I have seen a lot of changes in this city.  Some I like, most I don’t.  But it has never changed the fact that I love living here.
There are lots of things to see, do, and experience. As a tour professional, I love to help others see that as well. Just Ask!

Ask The Vegas Tourist

Do you have a question about Las Vegas, tours, and travel?  Ask me. I have lived here since 2001 and love to help people know more.   Click Here

 

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Review: Sundance Helicopter Citylights

Last night, my wife Debbie and I decided to play tourist and do the Sundance Helicopters Citylights tour. A great way to see the city and all its lights without all the traffic and crowds!

The reservation was quick and easy.  The operator was friendly and engaging even after learning we were locals. The tour comes with free limousine pickup at the hotel.  Again, being locals, we were going to opt out of that but the operator convinced us to “just do it, play tourist!”  She was right, so worth the little extra effort to go to the Strip and be like a tourist. I was a chauffeur on the Strip for 5 years, but Debbie is a limo newcomer, so she enjoyed the extra touch.

Touched by Technology

We chose the Bellagio for our pickup.  Two hours before our scheduled pickup time, I received a text reminding me of the time and place to be.  I liked that.  Then five minutes before the scheduled pickup time, I got another text from Sundance telling me “Your AWE Inspiring adventure is about to begin”  then gave me the chauffeur name and that they were en route.  Dang, I love technology!

Sundance Checkin

Right on schedule, we were picked up by the limousine.  Along with another two couples, we were whisked off to the nearby terminal, friendly check-in and our badges than a small glass of champagne to toast the occasion!

The timing of all this was perfect.  A short wait before we heard our names called by our New Zealand born pilot Ramsey, complete with that accent that drives women crazy… Nice way to start the flight.  With a happy and smiling wife who got to sit next to the pilot…

Sundance helicopter pilot ryan

After a safety lecture and demonstration, Ryan loaded us onto the helicopter. It was cold loaded meaning the rotors are not started until after we were all safely strapped into the helicopter. An important point I like to make. Some helicopter tours let them run while loading or unloading.

The helicopter was roomie (Airbus EC130T2) and Ryan was friendly and kept the bird flying smoothly and slowly over the lights of Las Vegas.  Going north up one side of the Strip, turning around past the Stratosphere, giving us a great view of downtown as well as the Las Vegas Valley.  Then coming back down the Strip on the other side. This is a regulated flight path that all tour helicopters follow for safety and to keep from congesting the flight path into McCarren International Airport.

Sundance Helicopter Las Vegas Wynn

Smooth Flying

The nice thing about this flight is that it seems like its just you and your helicopter in the air.  The flight plan that is worked out by all the tour helicopters, keeps everyone far enough apart to make sure the guests get a good view of the lights below without seeing any other lights in the sky!

Ryan had good conversation and helped us get some great shots. Unfortunately, Debbie was having camera issues and was unable to really get the shots we wanted.  But that did not deter from the fun of just being up and over the city and seeing it all in its neon glory.

This may be redundant, but as a tour director, I have had my fair share of helicopter tours all over the west coast.  Most I would like to forget!  Although the helicopter was a beautiful product of modern engineering, was very comfortable with 6 passengers plus pilot and it flew in a regulated formation and speed, it’s your pilot that make or break a trip like this.  Ryan was the man who made it all feel so relaxed, fun and comfortable as we flew down the Strip.  Keeping it where we had to be and not have any concerns about the brisk wind I knew he was working against.

I know on some online reviews, people complain about the time you are in the air.  I think most of them never did the tour.  Because of how they handle the entire process, you never pay any attention to time.  The wonderful way to be transported to the terminal, fast friendly check-in, the glass of champagne and the friendly pilot that keeps you enjoying everything around you. You never realize it is only about ten minutes from takeoff to landing.  Nor do you care!

Wrap Up Review

What I loved: The limo was a great way to start and end the experience.  Others use a luxury van. The fast but not rushed check-in was a pleasant experience.  We never felt rushed or crowded.  Nice, modern and roomy Airbus EC130T2 to ride in with a fun and professional pilot.

The only complaint that I have is the need for their photographer to take our photo with a staged helicopter, to sell back to us afterward. This is an outdated marketing tool guests are slowly pushing away from.  We had no time to get a photo with our pilot and the helicopter like other tour helicopter companies allow.  I understand they want to sell you the photo.  However, if you want a better marketing tool, I would allow the guests to get photos of themselves with the pilot and the helicopter as the backdrop.  That would be a better social marketing tool. But that’s just me…

Conclusion: Two thumbs up (four with Debbie!) Yes, I would highly recommend Sundance Citylights helicopter Tour.  You Want to see vegas? This is how you do it!!

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240 Talking About Photo Tours Vegas and Other Fun Things

This podcast I sat down with Nick Nichols for an entire show! A brave soul He is.  Nick owns Photo Tours Vegas and has lived here since the 1980’s.  So he has a lot to say about Las Vegas as a former tourist as well as a small business owner who lives and works in this fine city.

Our connection, besides being Las Vegas Territory members is our good friend and the ultimate networker, Joni Moss-Graham from LV Wedding Connections.  If she doesn’t know them, neither do you!

  (Getting Married in Las Vegas? or just want to hear a really fun podcast? Click here to listen to my interview with Joni Moss-Graham)

Being both from the Midwest, we are also big White Castle fans and celebrate the fact that Las Vegas now has TWO White Castle Resturants in Las Vegas.  Now we need a Waffle House and I will be a really happy and well-fed man.  Not to mention our love for a great Mexican place in Downtown that just doesn’t get enough respect.  Not that it needs it because they always seem to be busy anyway.  Casa Don Juan Mexican restaurant.

Although we agree that Vegas won’t change because of us now getting an NHL franchise, an NFL franchise, plus a Pro Soccer team; Having these big-time sports teams in Las Vegas does change the perception that Vegas has “arrived” as a real and honest big city in America, compared to where we came from.

Like many people who live and work in Las Vegas, we have multiple streams of income. Nick has his hands in some other things as well. Including working with Living in Las Vegas Podcast maestro Scott Whitney on his new video streaming venture.

And what Vegas local’s would we be if we didn’t grumble on the MGM paid parking, Uber and Monorail not going to the airport debates??!!

Yes, we even talk about seeing the male review shows the Chippendales and the Magic Mike Vegas experience.  Both shows are a voyeurs dream because of the number of rabid, drunk women these shows attract.

 

Nick Nichols’s Vegas Tourist Tips

3 Things Every Vegas Tourist Should Do or See

  • A Vegas Show, any “Vegas” Show
  • See Fremont Street. Preferably on a Friday Night for the full experience!
  • Bellagio Conservatory/Stratosphere

Vegas Hidden Gem: Keith Thompson’s Composers Showcase at the Smith Center

Favorite Vegas Show(s): It was Jubilee.  Now Ka’  or Love

Favorite Vegas Movie:  Hangover / Diamonds are Forever

 


Want More Information on Nick Nichols?

Website: Photo Tours Vegas

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http://lasvegasterritory.com/
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Topless at Hoover Dam

Recently on my Facebook page, I was retelling the story of how the last few tours I have been on, I have had a few times where I had to stop, look and go “hmmm….”  Now, that’s not an easy thing to do for me.  After all these years being in las Vegas, working as a chauffeur and being on many over the road tours, it really takes a lot for me to stop and wonder about what is happening…

Here’s The Story!

Being a tour guide in Las Vegas and living in Las Vegas, I learned quickly that no matter how long you are in this business, you really can not say that you have seen it all. I know, there are times when you hear people say that.  Living here and working here, the moment you say that… Mother Nature will remind you that “No, You Have Not Seen It All”  and proceed to show you the truth.

Unfortunately, there are times where you really wished you had not seen what you just saw.  But you did and you need to move on.  There are more good times than bad and keep looking for the best. Why?  Because it’s Vegas and some tourists love the anonymity we can make them think they have and that makes them want to push their limits of modesty or stretch their imagination.

Most tour guides I know won’t publicly admit it, but we all have a “Bucket List” or an imaginary list of things that have happened that we want to experience again, or things they want to have happened when on tour.  And when we get together at the end of a long multi-day tour or just get together to commiserate our experiences, we tend to bring out that list and start to compare notes.

One of the more popular lists that we like to compare is the women flashing the camera.  usually, for the shock value of their boyfriend or husband.  As well as anyone they want to include int he little surprise and that usually includes the tour guide.  In my eleven years as a tour guide, I have been exposed to women dropping their tops for the camera of a friend, a client/Boss, or significant other in all of the National Parks that I have ever toured in – except one.

Yes, I can honestly say that I have seen God’s greatest peaks and have seen some awesome work done by medical professionals while on tour in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and even at the Golden Gate National Park.

I have even been asked by females guests to help them snap a few “naughties” of them while in Death Valley and in Zion National Park, to send to that special someone who is not with them that day.   Trust me when I say that the Zion Narrows has a completely different memory for me than for some of the other guides that I know!

So you probably guessed by now, the one National Park I have yet to experience a dropped top in, was Hoover Dam.  (Technically Hoover Dam/Bridge is in Lake Mead National Recreation Area).  Over the past 11 years, my guests and I have witnessed women bend over the top of Hoover Dam to look over and had their short skirts blow up and over them on accident as well as on purpose (seriously).   Every year we witness the summertime tourist ritual of “look ma, no bra” while wearing light-colored tops in the summer sun and smiling as they stand in front of you.

But never have I seen an outright, dropping of the top, hold the pose for the camera while the photographer registers what they re just now seeing before hitting the button and smile at the camera shot until now.

Nude at the Dam Bridge

Here’s My Story:

We were returning from the Grand Canyon West Rim which had a few surprises for me as well, but that’s another post. (Two environmentalists got into a competition on who was right about climate change!)   On the way back home, we stop at Hoover Dam for some quick picks on the Arizona side.

We passed the security checkpoint, past the bridge parking lot, and started to see the dam. That’s when I kick in the tour guide mode.  Start my talks about the dam, its size, and how it corks the canyon.  Yada, yada yada… Then we are faced with the big bridge and its facts.  We curve around to see the dam in front of us and the bridge is behind us.  That’s when I spot an older (60’s) couple heading to an overlook between the dam and the bridge.

As I set up the next part of the narration for my tour, this happy couple is in the little lot to the right.  She puts her back to me and the bridge. She is facing the dam and the traffic leaving the Dam.  Her husband(?) is facing me and the bridge.  He is smiling as he gets the camera ready for this picture he is probably thinking he will send back to the family our maybe share on Facebook.  Clueless as I was to hat she really had in mind.

His smile at her signaled he was ready for her to pose. She straightens her back as her shoulders dropped.  Next thing I saw, her top dropped off as well.   Suddenly, grandma was standing there topless!   She smiled, posed for the camera, her husband, and a tour guide who stopped talking to make sure he was seeing what he was seeing (I like to be certain of my facts) were a bit surprised as to what she was showing us and the world. .

Yes, indeed, grandma was posing proudly topless for grandpa in front of the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge and anyone who was surveying the horizon from the Dam.  Her smile told me everything I needed to know and I have to agree with her smile.

If you still have it (or want to think you still have it) go ahead and flaunt it!  And she was very proud of what Mother Nature had blessed her with all those years ago.  And she had no problems holding that simple pose while grandpa tried to stop smiling and remember what button to push before his poor heart gave out.  She held that pose until he did…

Be Proud of what you have, no matter the age!

I know women get a little self-consciousness about their looks as time marches on.  The hands of time had made some things point a little more south than they did in previous years, but she seemed to have absolutely no problem letting them see the bright desert sunshine!  And I’m sure Grandpa had a smile on his face she had not seen in a while either.  God Bless any woman who has that much confidence to do that at her age!

I need to add that she made absolutely no moves to cover or shy away from as the van and the other traffic following, passed slowly by her.  She kept the pose and the smile for a lot longer than I had expected. Grandpa had a difficult time trying to get that button pushed as he was still smiling as she stood there…

I finally had to change lanes, turn away, and park the van.  They walked back to the parking garage, but I could not break away from my group and say “thank you”.   I id have one guest on my tour who hinted at what he thought maybe he saw. I smiled and said he did see what he saw…

213 Escaping Las Vegas

In This Podcast Mark and Debbie get out of town for the weekend and escape the Las Vegas heat!!  This is our story as we head off to the beautiful Grand Canyon North Rim.  The high there was 75 degrees with a low of 55 degrees.  A wonderful escape from the unrelenting summer time Vegas heat.

But first, Vegas News Updates

  • The Caesars Venus pool (topless pool) is currently free entrance Monday and Tuesday
  • Vegas needs a domed stadium, but the current players are screwing it up and it will fail
  • UFC gets sold for $4 Billion
  • The Eldorado Mine Tour (save 10%)

Off to Grand Canyon North Rim

The north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is almost 2,000 feet higher than the South Rim.  It’s only open from May to October with very little development. If you plan to go there and stay for the night, book as early as possible.  The lodges at the rim are wooden cabins built in the 1930’s that are great for couples as well as families.  The cabins have natural air conditioning –  meaning open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans.  No internet and no in room television.

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Music by Carl “Safe Sax” Ferris