Hoover Dam Tour Company: The Best Way to See It

Lisa Fritscher September 17, 2011 No Comments

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Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is a true engineering marvel

Dad is a retired engineer, and during my childhood he instilled a very deep appreciation of all things mechanical. So when we visited Las Vegas earlier this year, we were both excited to see the Hoover Dam. Constructed between 1931 and 1936 and opened two years ahead of schedule, the dam is a true marvel of modern engineering. It contains enough concrete to pave a standard 16 foot highway from New York City to San Francisco, and weighs more than 6.6 million tons. The dam’s power plant provides clean, safe hydroelectric power to 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Visiting Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam Signs

Signs make it tough to get lost

Dad and I considered visiting the Hoover Dam on our own. Just 30 miles from Las Vegas, the dam is easily accessible. But for a variety of reasons, we wondered if a bus tour would be a better alternative. We had heard that lines for the vehicle security checkpoints could be long and parking difficult to find. In addition, Dad’s national parks pass is not valid at the dam. By the time we paid for parking and tours, we would have paid at least half the cost of a bus tour. So we decided to go with the Hoover Dam Tour Company.

About the Hoover Dam Tour Company

Hoover Dam Tour Company Miracle Mile

We met the bus at Miracle Mile

The Hoover Dam Tour Company offers a variety of tours, from helicopter adventures to boat cruises. We opted for the Hoover Dam Express Bus Tour. The tour departs daily at 10 am from the Miracle Mile shops, connected to Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip. Hotel pickups are available along the Strip and throughout Downtown Las Vegas, but Dad and I opted to meet the bus at Miracle Mile.

As of 2011, the tour costs $59.99 per person including a guided tour of the Hoover Dam Powerplant. Tickets are $3 less without the Powerplant tour. All tickets also include a coupon book for Miracle Mile. Besides the dam, the tour stops at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory. The full tour length is nearly five hours.

Our Experience

Hoover Dam Tour Company Bus

It was a very comfortable ride

We checked in around 9:15 am, and then explored Miracle Mile and Planet Hollywood while we waited. The bus arrived at approximately 9:30, and we departed promptly at 10:00. Our driver/guide was extraordinarily professional and well organized. Just before departure, he handed out a printed overview of the day’s schedule. As we left the Strip behind, he reviewed the plan in detail to make sure everyone was on the same page.

The drive to Hoover Dam took approximately 55 minutes. Along the way, our guide pointed out various landmarks and shared a bit of Las Vegas history. The narration was clear and easy to follow, and the presentation style was engaging.

Hoover Dam Arizona Overlook

The Arizona-side overlook was a nice treat

The Hoover Dam sits on the border between Nevada and Arizona. Half the dam is on Nevada time, while the other half is on Arizona time. While our guide reminded us to keep our watches set to Nevada time, we crossed the dam to the overlook on the Arizona side. After looking around for a few minutes, we drove back to the parking garage on the Nevada side.

We had two full hours at the dam, and our guide strongly suggested that we take the Powerplant tour first, before doing anything else. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion, as the dam was extremely crowded. We had just enough time after the tour to take a quick look through the Visitor Center museum displays and grab a quick lunch to consume on the bus.

Security is taken quite seriously at the Hoover Dam. A security officer boarded the bus to look around before we were allowed to enter the property. At the Visitor Center, we walked through airport-style metal detectors and presented all carried items for X-ray screening. No weapons of any sort are permitted on the grounds or inside the buildings.

Powerplant Tour

Hoover Dam Powerplant Tour Tunnel

It was like visiting a cave

As we entered the Visitor Center, we were immediately directed to the queue for our tour. After a quick obligatory photo, we began with a short overview film that discussed the construction of the dam and the crucial role it played in the development of the local area.

Outside the theater we joined another queue for the actual tour. Every few minutes (the exact timing depends on crowd levels and season) a large group followed a park ranger to the elevator to begin the tour. For some reason we ended up in the back of the line as we exited the theater, and we were briefly concerned that we would not have time to take the tour and make it back to the bus. But things worked out fine.

The elevator descent to the Powerplant is fast but steep. Expect your ears to pop as if you were on an airplane! Two elevators are used for each tour group, so stay with your party throughout the tour if you want to take the same elevators. The entire group ends up in the same place at each stop.

Hoover Dam Powerplant Generators

The massive generators dwarfed the truck parked nearby

The half-hour tour was packed with information and fascinating things to see. Visitors of all ages appeared absolutely enthralled by the massive penstock pipes and generators. Our guide had a fun, easy style that allowed her to present massive amounts of technical information in an easy to follow way.

The tour ended in the exhibit gallery of the Visitor Center. Artifacts, informational signs and interactive exhibits tell more of the dam’s story. Keep an eye on the time, as it would be easy to spend hours here.

Apparently there is a nice restaurant on the grounds, but we did not have time to explore it. There is a walk-up stand next to the bus loading area in the parking garage, where most of our group grabbed a quick sandwich or hot dog. Eating is permitted on the bus.

Ethel M Chocolate Factory

Ethel M Chocolate Factory

The gourmet chocolates were pricey but scrumptious!

After a quick stop at the Lake Mead Overlook, we headed back to town. Our next stop was the Ethel M Chocolate Factory. The mysterious Ethel M is actually Ethel Mars, mother of Forrest Mars, Sr., who founded the Mars chocolate empire. He wanted to honor his mother, whose gourmet chocolate creations inspired his life’s work. So in 1981, having retired to Henderson, just outside Las Vegas, he opened Ethel M, with a focus on gourmet individual chocolates.

Today the factory offers free tours, allowing visitors to enjoy the process. Free samples are provided. Although pricey, the chocolates are excellent. They are available in various assortments at a wide range of price points.

Botanical Cactus Garden

The botanical garden was lovely

Outside, the Botanical Cactus Garden houses more than 300 species of desert plants. Although it looked beautiful, we decided not to go in. It was well over 100 degrees outside, giving the air-conditioned chocolate factory even greater appeal.

Tips for Parents

The Hoover Dam Tour Company is extremely professional, yet quite entertaining. Although five hours seems like a very long tour, the time was divided in such a way that the hours flew by. While the Hoover Dam is the main event, the tour provides an amazing amount of added value, from the chocolate factory stop to details about the early history of Las Vegas.

Hoover Dam Powerplant Water Pipes

The water pipes were massive

Outside food and beverages are not permitted at the Hoover Dam, but may be left on the bus. If anyone in your group is diabetic or has other health concerns, you may bring in a small quantity of snack items.

The Powerplant tour is not recommended for visitors with pacemakers or defibrillators due to the strong electromagnetic frequencies emitted by the generators. The tour is wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for rent at the dam for $5.

The tour bus has restroom facilities, although you are asked to confine your use to emergency situations. Buses are generally wheelchair accessible, though it is always best to confirm when you call to make your reservation.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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