It was difficult for me to contain my delight when I received an invitation to take a ride in a blimp. A blimp! Really? I have been entranced with lighter-than-air flying machines since I saw one flying over the Rose Parade when I was a kid. Yes! I wrote back immediately. I would love to take a ride in a blimp! I restrained myself from adding extra exclamation marks, but seriously… a blimp!!!
This blimp is Carnival Cruise Line’s #ChooseFunAirShip, commissioned to celebrate the arrival of the new Carnival Panorama cruise ship in Long Beach, California. A picture of the Panorama covers the sides of the 128-foot-long blimp, making it the perfect ambassador for the real ship.
So here’s what it’s like to ride in the AirShip. The first thing we needed to know was that the weight limit for pilot and passengers is 500 pounds. So that means the maximum payload is three or four people, depending on their heft. But the other thing the blimp operators have to keep in mind is that if the blimp is not heavy enough, it will fly away on its own. It’s basically a giant football-shaped helium balloon with some motors, rudders, and a little cabin attached.
I waited while a person on the previous flight got out. I climbed in, and the second previous passenger climbed out. The process was repeated, keeping the weight in the cabin roughly the same. The crew adds ballast if it’s needed. Crew members were also holding tightly to tethers.
Fortunately, the weather was perfect: clear and calm. We put on headsets and listened to air traffic control. The pilot explained the rules he has to follow to keep the FAA happy. Basically, he wants to fly as low as possible so people on the ground can see and read the blimp. The sweet spot is between one and two thousand feet, so we rose that high in a matter of moments, and then chugged out toward Red Rock Canyon. The ride was smooth, and it was magical to see the whole valley spread out below us, the Strip to the south, and snow-capped mountains to the west and north.
Although equipped with up-to-the minute instrument panel and motors, the AirShip still has the feel of a Victorian flying machine. I couldn’t help fantasizing about a low, slow trip around the world. If Las Vegas is fascinating from a quarter mile up, think how terrific it would be to check out Tokyo, Paris, or Istanbul. Especially if you could get off the blimp and take the Panorama across the all the oceans.
As I mentioned above, Carnival’s AirShip is emblazoned with the slogan #CHOOSEFUN. Nothing says fun like a blimp, and I thought that even before I got to be a passenger. Thanks, Carnival for choosing me to have a chance to see a blimp from the inside, to get a panoramic view of my favorite city, and to join the celebration surrounding the Panorama’s arrival in Long Beach. The AirShip, continuing its year-long tour, has now flown east to Phoenix.