Western Highlights » Review by tracysyd
This tour far exceeded my expectations. It was 7 jam packed days of sightseeing and partying. I was absolutely exhausted at the end but I had such an amazing time and made such good friends.
I genuinely couldn't find any low lights of the trip. People will always find something negative to say and I'm sure not everyone will have had the entirely positive experience that I did, but I truly believe if you go into the tour wanting to have a good time and are open to all experiences you will not be disappointed.
The highlights for me were definitely the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon (or the Grand Canyon in general!), speed boat tours in San Diego, jeep tours through Sedona, every night out we had and just generally meeting such an amazing group of people.
The schedule is designed to fit a lot into a fairly small amount of time. When you consider how far apart Vegas is from LA, you have a lot of ground to cover which means you do spend a bit of time on the bus so you have plenty of time to catch up on sleep.
In almost every destination there are optional activities. I was not originally planning to do many of the activities but ended up doing most of them. In San Diego they have changed the harbour cruise (which people found boring) to a speed boat tour which is basically little 2 person boats which you get to drive yourselves and race around the harbour. I was reluctant at first but it was probably one of the best things I did. Try as we did, you can't flp these things but you can definitely race each other, not to mention its a great way to see San Diego a little differently. If you don't go on the boats you are taken to a shopping mall which isn't the most exciting way to spend 4 hours so definitely consider it! On the second day in San Diego you can do Sea World or the zoo. Contrary to other reports, you can definitely do both. If you do one you get dropped off and picked up at each destination, if you want to do both you just have to get yourself between the two, but it is definitely possible. In the afternoon you head to Mission Beach and you can do a surfing lesson (probably only a summer option though!)
In Phoenix, Arizona you pretty much only spend the night although it definitely has some memorable and enjoyable night life and the weather is beautiful about 90% of the time. On the morning you leave you have the option to do a hot air balloon ride. I didn't do this one but everyone seemed to enjoy it, although a few found it a bit slow. You head out very early as you are supposed to be up there for sunrise, so the views are undoubtably amazing. From Phoenix you head to Sedona which is set amongst these amazing red rock cliffs. Although the scenery is amazing from the bus and walking around, I definitely recommend the jeep tours which are run by (for want of a better word) cowboys who are absolutely hilarious. They weave you through this amazing scenery and you see things you just don't from the road.
From Sedona you head to the Grand Canyon. When you arrive at its quite late in the evening so you get just a quick look at the canyon which is enough at first for you to appreciate the magnitude of where you are. The next day you have the whole day to explore the canyon. Unless you have great plans to hike all day or you are afraid of heights, definitely consider the helicopter tours - especially the 45 minute one. It's quite expensive ($260 from memory) but completely worth it. You get the see the scenery in a way you can't even imagine by land and it is completely breathtaking. The other option is 25 minutes, but considering you have about a 5 minute trip each way over the forest to get to the canyon, its really worth while paying the extra $70 for the extra time. In the afternoon you have the option of doing bike tours, which I didn't do but I'm told were also very enjoyable. As I say, if you don't plan to spend the whole day hiking its great to have another activity to do during the day. That evening, if you have awesome tour manager like we did, they might take you somewhere to watch the sunset. The accommodation here are these tiny little cabins right on the south rim of the canyon so you literally only have to walk about 3 minutes to get to edge of the canyon but fair warning, especially in spring/summer, its very hot during the day and absolutely freezing during the night so pack accordingly. It is also high altitude and very dry which can play havoc with your breathing a bit.
From the Grand Canyon you head to Vegas via Route 66. This tour combines with a few others. The Wild Western, LA to the Bay and you are joined in Vegas but people doing the California Highlights, but whether it's your last nights on tour or not, the partying in Vegas is epic. We stayed at Harrah's right on the strip, so you are central to everything. It's in Vegas where you also do your surprise. I won't mention what it is but it is amazing and so much fun, especially as a group so for $10, just do it. There's no way you can't have fun. On both nights in Vegas you head out to two different clubs (not sure if they vary depending on your tour manager) but be prepared for a considerable increase in the cost of your alcohol. Good news for girls, everyone pays $10 to cover entry for both nights, guys sometimes have to pay extra and we usually get a couple of free drinks! Depending on your stamina these nights can finish very early the next morning. You have one whole day to yourself in Vegas but definitely don't waste it sleeping! There is shopping, amusement parks, crazy attractions like an indoor gondola ride and of course gambling. If you do this tour this is your last night in Vegas so you spend it at another awesome club. A lot of people carrying on with other tours choose not to go to bed.
As exhausted as I was by this point, I was definitely sad to be leaving all my new friends but for me this tour was the perfect amount of time.
Just some general tips about the tour, try everything! Obviously everyone has different budgets but definitely do as much as you can. The best way to get to know people and really see the sights are to get out there and do the optional activities. I genuinely didn't regret any of them. Also, as dorky as this will sound, go into the tour wanting to have a good time. Contiki run a pretty smooth tour but not everything will go according to plan. Just roll with it and don't be the person who complains about everything and I'm sure you will have amazing time. If you have an amazing tour manager like we did, definitely tip them well. It might seem like an easy job, visiting these places and going out with you but when you don't see them they are busy organising everything to make sure it runs smoothly so it's definitely not a week long party for them.
This was probably one of the best weeks of my life and I would recommend this tour to anyone. The places you visit, the optional extras, the accommodations, included meals - can't fault any of it!
Review written May 2013event 0.3