Best of USA travelogue - 30th October 2010
28 Nov 2010 RocketGirl said
If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask me
I went on the Best of the USA tour on the 30th October 2010, and stayed in the following hotels:
LA – Kyoto Grand Hotel
San Francisco – Hotel Whitcomb
Las Vegas – Harrahs
New York – Skyline Hotel
The day before the tour:
The evening before, we met up with our tour manager in the hotel lobby and had a brief pre-tour meeting... Not everyone was at this meeting (not everyone had arrived yet) so it isn't compulsory, but there is a lot of valuable information there, plus it gives you a chance to meet up with everyone the night before so it’s not as overwhelming the first day…
Whilst we were in LA, our tour was combined with the “LA Explorer” tour, so we also met the LA Explorer tour guide and the people doing that tour…
Tour Day One – Los Angeles
We started off our tour with a walking tour of Downtown LA… an external (ie. Not contiki) tour guide comes and meets everyone at the hotel, hands out headsets and we all walk off in a big group with headsets on… The walking tour lasts about 2 hours from memory and the guide provides lots of different information from architecture, famous people who do / have lived there, the history, etc etc… (This isn’t an optional extra, it’s included in your Contiki price)
After the walking tour we all came back and hopped on the coach and went to Hollywood where we had an hour to look around… The coach dropped us off behind the Chinese Theatre so during your ‘free hour’ you can see that, your also right next to the Kodak theatre (where the Oscars are held) and of course you can walk out onto the street and see all the famous stars of celebrities on pavement!
Back on the coach and then down to Santa Monica... On the way, they take you along Melrose Avenue and Rodeo Drive (you don’t get to get off!) and also along the outskirts of Beverley Hills – they don’t drive through Beverley Hills because there are laws preventing bus’s in that suburb. You also drive along the sunset strip and drive past the Viper Room, the rainbow room and much more (again tho, you don’t get to get off the bus, and it doesn’t really slow down much… blink and you’ll miss it! But the tour manager does point it all out) Once you arrive at Santa Monica you can either go down to the Santa Monica Pier where there is some ‘touristy’ shopping for souvenirs, things to eat and of course the famous rollercoaster and Ferris wheel! There is also some good shopping and eating places around, just ask your tour manager (if they don’t already point it out! Oar’s did!)… This stop was also our ‘lunch’ stop.
The next stop on the tour is Venice beach – very bohemian, and definitely somewhere you’d want to keep your purses, wallets and passports secure! There is roughly another hour you have here to explore and points of interest include muscle beach and lots more touristy shopping!
You are then returned to the hotel where you get to get changed and relax for a little before meeting the group again in the foyer for the first included group dinner. We went to Big Wings and there was a set menu which we all had to choose what we wanted before we arrived (the tour manager hands out a sheet)… the food wasn’t fantastic, but it was okay….
With most tours that night is the optional extra of the ‘LA pub crawl’ – I can’t answer any of the questions about the pub crawl because our tour did something different because it was Halloween!!
Tour Day Two – Los Angeles
This is a ‘Free Day’ but if you have selected optional extras, then it’s not really a ‘free’ day…. This is the only day for the ‘Movie Star Homes Tour’ (I did this tour and can answer questions about if you have any)… other optional for this day included Universal Studios (which I did before the Contiki tour started), also the Grammy Museum, the Hop on Hop off tour of LA (which I DO NOT recommend – everyone on our tour who did it hated it and thought it was a huge waste of money, and ended up hopping off and never hopping back on, choosing to take public transport instead)… But if you don’t do any of the optionals, the tour manager has some great suggestions, some girls on the tour ended up hiring bikes and cycling along the coast at Venice Beach! (just as an example)
There was an included breakfast today too, it’s not a ‘set’ time they give you a window of what times breakfast is available, and you make your way down whenever you want too… it’s not a big breakfast, just a selection of toast, fruit, yoghurt and cereals available really…and some juices, tea and coffee.
Also one this day in the morning, you had to pay for ALL of the optional extras you wished to do on the tour. We met the tour manager at breakfast and you could pay either by cash or credit card. She hands out a list to you on day one with all of the optionals available, and gives a description of them and is happy to answer any questions about them… If for whatever reason you change your mind after you’ve paid for it, speak to the tour manager and they can normally arrange a refund (but be aware that you don’t get your money back until the end of the tour – on the last night there is a meeting set up specifically for people who require refunds)
There is also an included breakfast this morning, same deal as the day before – they provide you with a window, and you just have to be there during that time…
Tour Day Three – Los Angeles
Free Day – optionals include Universal Studios, and Disneyland (if you do Disneyland, it’s a FULL DAY thing and the price that contiki list for this optional includes transport to and from – you won’t want to be getting a taxi because its over an hour away from the hotel!! And public transport out there is a bit complicated so I was told)… I did Disneyland and choose the park hopper ticket (so we could go into California Adventure Park as well as Disneyland) and I think it was a great choose – but even though you have a whole day there, expect to be rushed! We didn’t get to see everything, my friend I made on the tour and I made a list early while we were waiting for the gates to open as to what were ‘must see’s for us and what rides we “had to do” and made sure that we did it all early – and we only just got through our must see list, not much time for anything else…
Tour Day Four – Los Angeles to San Francisco
For us this was an early start (bags to coach by 6am) and we flew with SouthWest… all of our flights were with them, but some tours also use Jet Blue (I think it depends which they can get the cheapest flights with)… South West allow up to two checked bags under 50pounds for free (just over 22kgs) HOWEVER our tour manager warned us – just because you can get them on the flight for free, there is still only limited room on the coach for bags… so if everyone takes two huge suitcases, it just ain’t all going to fit!! So that’s why Contiki still have their ‘one bag’ limit… towards the end of the tour, quite a few people did start taking up the two bags offer, but it did get quite full under the coach… so don’t say I didn’t warn you :P haha. Also South West are quite strict on their weight limits we found – if you go over, they will make you take stuff out…
Once we arrived in San Francisco it was back on the coach for our day of site seeing… Firstly we went to Fishermans Wharf where we had about a free hour to shop and explore as well as have lunch… After lunch its back on the coach where we do a bit more site seeing through the bus window and then drive across the Golden Gate Bridge! They left us all on one side so we got to walk back along the bridge and the coach picked us up on the other side… we had roughly an hour to do the walk, and it took between 45-50minutes depending on how slowly you walked and how much you stopped for photos…After that we drove through the Haight-Ashbury district and then past Alamo Square (the house from “Full house!”)
Tonight there is an included dinner in China town (again it was only average, not fantastic but acceptable) followed by an outing to a bar where there were very cheap drinks which everyone seemed to accept a bit too willingly and left everyone very hung over for the next day….
Tour Day Five – San Francisco
This is another ‘free day’… I pre-booked an Alcatraz tour because Contiki can’t do this as an optional. Depending on what time of year you go, these book out so its best to book it before if you really want to go, otherwise if you leave it up until you go, you may be lucky enough to get tickets, but you may also be disappointed. Personally Alcatraz was one of the highlights of my trip, I highly recommend it
That evening was the Sunset cruise under the Golden Gate bridge – this was utterly beautiful and I would definitely say this was a lot of peoples favourite optional extra. It included some light snacks and two free drinks (softdrink or beer / champagne / wine) each and it lasted well over an hour… once the sun sets, the temperature does drop so I suggest taking a jacket ‘just incase’ (those who didn’t on our tour regretted it! by the time we got back to land it was pretty chilly!)
(Everyone is also given a breakfast voucher with the times listed on it for breakfast for today only)
Tour Day Six – San Francisco to Las Vegas
Another fairly early start (but the latest out of all our flights) and we finally arrived in Vegas! (As our plane landed and they announced “welcome to Las Vegas” our entire Contiki cheered and clapped! Haha – the rest of the plane thought we were hilarious!) They took us straight to the hotel where we were lucky enough to be able to check straight in (which doesn’t always happen) and from there we had free time until that evening… The hotel that we stay in is right in the middle of the strip and it is a casino, so its not hard to find something to do! Some went shopping, and some (like me!) went and had an afternoon nap!
That night was the included dinner at Buca di Beppo’s (An Italian restaurant) and it was my favourite included dinner.. they served pizza and pasta and it was all very tasty! After that we jumped back on the coach for our night time site-seeing tour of Vegas! We drove down the strip and went and had our photos taken with the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign (we only had five minutes off the coach to take photos, so had to hurry!) then we drove down the strip and our tour manager pointed out each of the casinos and what their ‘gimmick’ was… she also explained the history of Vegas and pointed out her favourite spots… down the other end of the strip we went to Freemont street and go to see the spectacular light and laser show (if you don’t know what Freemont street is – look it up on youtube! Its amazing!) from there our tour manager arranged for us to go to the Palms and the Playboy club! (the coach driver was nice enough to take anyone back to the hotel who didn’t want to go out to the club, but normally you’d have to find your own way back if you wanted too)
Tour Day Seven – Las Vegas
A ‘free day’ in Vegas! Lots to see and do, amazing shopping in the outlet stores (which I did, girls I highly recommend a shopping spree in Vegas!) and I also went to Stratosphere tower up the top and then on the rides (which if your into rides, I recommend too!) and I wont keep listing what else there is to do because we’ll be here forever! Vegas is amazing, so much to see and do – you are constantly over stimulated, movies and tv just don’t do this place justice! Even if you aren’t into gambling and partying like a madman, there is still a lot to keep you entertained!
That night is the optional extra of the Variety show… it is a show called “V” and it was okay, but not fantastic… Im glad I went along to it because it was very ‘original Vegas” but it was definitely over priced… from there our tour manager arranged a personal optional extra for us of arranging an hour long limo ride along the strip (not every tour gets to do this, this was arranging outside of contiki by our TM) and the limos then took us to our club for the evening, which for us was Tryst at Wynn.
Tour Day Eight – Las Vegas
This is another ‘free day’ in Vegas and it is the day that if you choose to do the helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon that this happens… (Just as a heads up, they will ask you your weight.. it’s so that they can organise who goes in what helicopter so the weight limits are all acceptable…. I wasn’t able to do this optional due to a tight budget, but everyone who did it said it was great – if you have the money, I’d definatlly say do it!)
This is the night that if you want to see any extra Vegas shows that you can arrange it… We arranged to see a Cirque Du Soleli show called “Ka” which I thought was spectacular… others went to Holly Madisons Peepshow, Thunder Downunder, and some went to other Cirque du Soleli shows and so on…. Lots of shows on in Vegas!!
Tour Day Nine – Las Vegas to New York
This was our earliest start of the tour – bags to coach at 5.15am… ouch. Some decided to pull an all nighter to make sure that they were awake and didn’t miss the bus!
This is a long day, and its mostly all spent flying due to the time difference… Our flight had a half an hour stop off in Chicago (we weren’t able to get off the plane however) and we didn’t arrive into New York until after sunset. I think the total amount of flying time was something like 6 and a half / 7 hours…. Long day. Once we arrived it was straight to the hotel, the tour manager could point you in the direction of places to go out if you were interested, but most of us just got something to eat and then went back to the hotel for a quiet and early night ready for tomorrow.
Tour Day Ten – New York
The day started with us on the coach again and a new tour guide who was specific to New York (there are laws in New York that tour guides must be registered, and its difficult to get registration so Contiki use a NY guide by the name of Matt, who really seems to know his stuff.) They took us all around the city in the morning, driving past the Rockefeller Centre, a brief stop off at St Patricks Cathedral, they also took us to the World Trade Centre site and we were able to see where the North tower once stood.. also drove past lots of other New York icons such as the Guggenheim museum, the Met, the public library, The Apollo theatre, and many more.
We got to stop for lunch at a lovely café which was near Century 21 (a large shopping centre with discounted designer brands) and also near the church which was used to house the volunteers from September 11th which is now a bit of a memorial…
After lunch we went on out on the ferry across to see the Statue of Liberty up close… after that was free time to go and explore the city where lots went shopping in SoHo or to visit the Wall Street Bull… (this is also the time for the helicopter optional extras for New York…)
There is also an included dinner tonight…. And this is also when the group photo is taken in times square.
Tour Day Eleven – New York
A ‘free day’ to explore New York City!... Lots to do, we choose to go to Central Park for a stroll and also to the site where John Lennon was shot, followed by a visit to Rockefeller Plaza (for 30 Rock fans, you’ve got to do it! I loved it and now have so many photos of me with the ’30 Rockefeller Plaza” sign!!)… we also went for a walk through Times Square
Optional extras run on this day include the “bike and roll’ tour in the morning before lunch, and the Sex in the City optional after lunch… I did the Sex in the City optional which I’d be happy to answer any questions about if anyone wants to know.
Tour Day Twelve – New York
This is the last full day of the tour, and this evening is when you say goodbye to everyone….
Today is the ‘New York TV and Movie tour” optional extra which I did and enjoyed, but it does take up most of the day..
In the evening we had two tour meetings – the first was for anyone who needed refunds (ie. If you changed your mind, you missed an optional for some reason (not all were refundable however, some were) if something was cancelled, etc etc)… after that was a compulsory meeting for everyone… This is when our TM handed out forms to give feedback on the tour, also she handed out the photos to those who purchased them, handed out tickets for the gossip girl tour (which was an optional that people could do if they wanted and were staying in New York longer than the tour) she also handed out envelopes for gratituties for her (ie. tips) and also thanked us all for being awesome and choosing Contiki etc…
That night we had our final group dinner at Dallas BBQ which we all enjoyed, then we went onto the Empire State Building! It is included in the price of your contiki tour and you get to go all the way to the top and see the amazing view! (Its windy and cold up there though!) After that we went on to Joshua Tree for Karoke!!
Tour Day Thirteen – New York
Nothing happens this day with Contiki… I think they only count it as a ‘day’ because Contiki have paid for your accommodation for the night and you get to check out this morning….
Other information about the tour:
- In New York, everyone gets a seven day ‘Metro card’ so you can ride the subway for free while your there…
- on Best of USA, you’re not actually in a “Contiki bus” like you see in the photos – because most Contiki tours are on the coach all the time they get those buses, wereas Best of USA is flying between cities, they hire coaches in each city…
- Sharing rooms: our room mates changed once for most people (whoever we shared with in LA was different than the last three cities) but for some people in somecases there was another change too… if you don’t like who your with, its difficult to change (but most people were happy enough who they were with)
- “The Beast” optional in New York – as it says on the website, this is ‘seasonal’ I paid for this extra as did a lot of us, but we found out when we arrived that it was cancelled due to the time of year, so we were refunded the full amount. If it had gone ahead tho, there isn’t a ‘day’ when this is run – the tour manager gives you the ticket, and you go along whenever you make the time in your personal schedule.
- The “bike and roll’ tour in New York… I didn’t do this, but those who did say that it was a lot of hard work, they were all very sore and tired at the end of it… our tour manager said it was an easy ride and it was mostly flat but all my tour mates said that it wasn’t, it was quite hilly and a bit of a struggle….
- Alcohol… its cheaper in American than it is in Australia… also in bars / clubs etc, its free pour! (ie. in Australia when you ask for a scotch and coke for example, they measure 1 shot of scotch, then add coke… im America, they just pour in some scotch, then add some coke…. The more you tip, the more alcohol you get seemed to be how it worked most of the time! So becareful – two drinks might get you drunk in America before you realise it because they are stronger than at home!)
- alamo square
- empire state building
- fishermans wharf
- golden gate bridge
- kyoto grand hotel
- las vegas
- los angeles
- new york
- new york city
- san francisco
- santa monica
- santa monica pier
- st patricks cathedral
- statue of liberty
- the grand canyon
- times square
- tour manager
- travel advice
- universal studios
- venice beach
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- Add to discussion 32 comments so far
2 Apr 2011 Sami-Rose said
Oooh yeah I’d love to know about the tour t-shirt thing too, I’ve heard it’s usually only Europe that gets them! I’m doing this tour in May, and was wondering if there was anything in particular that you missed out on due to time? I have a few days pre-tour in LA and some extra days in NY at the end, so trying to plan out if there’s anything that is too brief in the tour that maybe I should cover on my own? Thanks! :)
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7 May 2011 Geevie said
Im doing the best of tour next month (june) and your travelogue was awesome. The only question i had was how much cash would recommend taking??? i have about 2000 american but dont want to run out. Thanks Geneva :)
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18 May 2011 Explorer1251837 said
wow rocketgirl this travelogue is amazing and has sure helped alot…it got me thinking about disneyland maybe i should go to the adventure park the day before i start the tour and the 2nd park whilst on my tour. I had no idea there was a gossip girl tour can the TM organise that for us?. Im going in June
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22 Jun 2011 Explorer1261860 said
Thanks for the review – was super to read. My hubby and I are planning on doing the Best of USA tour the same time you did your tour – this Nov 2011. Can you just tell me what the weather is like on the tour as it is USA’s winter. I have heard that the sun sets very early in NYC, very cold and wet – is there still plenty of time to do and see all that you want to do/ able to do? Was the tour still enjoyable even though it was winter over there?
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17 Aug 2011 Explorer1273431 said
Awesome, I am only doing the “L.A EXPLORER” and all the info you’ve given has been super helpful in deciding what to do.
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28 Aug 2011 laisli said
thanks a lot!
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8 Sep 2011 Chelsea G said
Hi Rocket Girl,
This is excellent defiently cleared up a lot for me. I wont be doing this until at least 2013-2014 as I want to be 21 so I an go clubbing.
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26 Sep 2011 Debra-Lee said
Thanks so much! I am soooo EXCITED now! I am doing the Usa Explorer with LA in October 2011. Your info was so helpful! So a a bit chilly in the evenings… good to know!
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31 Oct 2011 Samantha said
Thanks so much for this! I really wanted to hear from someone who’s been!
I have a quick questions, what were all the hotels like? Were any of them really dodgy? The seem quite nice on the websites, but I’m just not sure!
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24 Jul 2012 Elle84 said
such a good review of the best of usa tour. so many helpful things that they dont tell you in the catalouges. Thanks for taking the time to do this. im planning for July 2013 and youve answered heaps of questions for me!
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