At Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta, dinner is served 150 feet in the air.
Imagine you’re on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, home to one of the most gorgeous beaches in Mexico, and after a long, hard day of sipping margaritas by the Bahía de Banderas, a renowned chef makes you a delicious four-course dinner from local ingredients—which you enjoy while seated 150 feet above the ocean. No, this is neither a dream nor a children’s book nor the result of drinking ayahuasca. It’s called Dinner in the Sky, and, in line with the recent trend of over-the-top resort programs, it’s a luxury dining experience that brings you face-to-face with the moon.
Dinner In The Sky started eleven years ago in Belgium, when a communications firm specializing in gourmet food teamed up with an amusement park installation company to create a magical airborne culinary event: A chef and guests are strapped to a crane like roller coaster riders and hoisted into the sky for dinner.
“When we were little,” says co-founder David Ghysels, “we liked to climb trees and build tree houses. We liked to see without being seen. We liked to play chef and eat cake. That’s how we came up with this idea. Dinner In The Sky speaks to the kid brain.” Since 2006, Dinner In The Sky has made its way around the world, most recently to Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta, a high-end, all-inclusive resort that offers this experience to its guests for an extra $50 per person. (For non-resort guests, the price is $171 per person.)
The evening begins in a small ballroom. Employees in tuxedos stand behind blackjack tables, in case you want to gamble with pretend money. Waiters come around to take your drink order—because after all, if you’re going to be suspended 150 feet in the air, it’s not unreasonable to down a cocktail first. The Dinner In The Sky specialty drink, the Sky High Signature Cocktail, is blue—like the sky!—and made of Skyy Vodka, lemon soda, grapefruit juice, and blue curacao (just shake it with ice and strain it into a chilled glass). Someone also comes around with release forms, in case you fall out of the crane (which, the employees will assure you, is very unlikely). After an hour, everyone walks or golf-carts down a tiki torch-lit path to the canopied dinner table, which is ringed by twenty-two high-tech swivel chairs. It’s dusk. Waiting in line, guests are a little bit nervous, a little bit excited. Let’s just say you’ll hear a lot of jokes about falling out of the crane (really, you probably won’t fall out of the crane).
For obvious reasons, safety precautions are a big deal, so it takes a while for the staff to strap each person in and, equally necessary, get everyone set up with a shot of tequila. And then you’re off. Or rather, up. The table rises slowly from its platform on the grass. The mountains stand silhouetted black against the dark-blue sky. Downtown Puerto Vallarta twinkles below. Pop music rings out and everyone cheers and takes selfies and chatters about not looking down. Here’s the thing about looking down: You realize just how high up you are, and that there’s nothing under your feet.
There’s a new chef every couple of days, but for my Dinner In The Sky experience, I have Chef Massimo Fongaro of the Guadalajara Italian restaurant Sagrantino. Once we’re airborne, he announces the menu: a scallop raspberry aguachile appetizer, lobster lasagna, beef fillet with corn polenta and fresh truffles (the polenta and the truffles, unavailable in Mexico, are the only imported ingredients), and passionfruit tiramisu. He’s prepared everything in advance, but the crane comes equipped with a six-tray oven and two electric stovetops for heating the sauces. After the chef’s announcement, everything happens pretty quickly—because, really, for how long can you keep twenty-odd people who are swilling drinks 150 feet in the air without a bathroom? The meal itself lasts about an hour. During the lobster lasagna (which is, like the other courses, as delicious as it sounds), the table starts making slow rotations, giving everyone a panorama view. During the beef fillet, the fireworks go off. It’s a little awkward trying to eat while constrained by a safety harness, but even that is part of the fun.
If you’re acrophobic, this might not be the dinner event for you, but if heights just make your stomach tingle, the experience is exhilarating. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to imagine, the kind of thing you have to just do, like public speaking or cannon-balling into a cold mountain stream, but the combination of being way up in the air while drinking alcohol and eating gourmet food is a drug. Everyone is smiling and laughing, high on being…well, high. Even once we finish dessert and are lowered back to the grass, there’s a buzzy reluctance to let the party end.
After all, Dinner In The Sky is a brief escape from life. That’s what luxury hotels and resorts are peddling these days—not just relaxation, but fantasy. Amid pressure to stay competitive, resorts like Casa Velas offer everything from pillow menus—at Conrad Bali, you have twelve pillows to choose from, including the “Cuddle ‘U’ Pillow,” a U-shaped pillow for cuddling if you’re spending the night alone—to free Bulgari beauty products, to personalized flower selections. Sometimes the efforts feel embarrassing, or at least unnecessary: Do we really need free rubber duckies, a private garden tub, or bamboo-lined outdoor showers? Probably not. But every now and then, a hotel comes up with something cool. Something that gets you so high, the real world and its attendant heartbreaks become tiny enough to forget.