Contiki Winter Wild Western Review
For those interested in touring the West of the USA and also want to do some skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, this is the tour for you.
Day 1 – From downtown LA it was a short 2 hour or so drive to San Diego. First up on the itinerary was a city tour before a lunch stop at Horton’s Plaza. After lunch, the first optional activity was a Harbour Cruise. The cruise itself was pretty average. The only thing we were seeing is various navy ships. Unless you’re in to that, I would recommend that you spend the hour walking the harbour instead. After the cruise we toured Coronado Island before checking into the hotel. The included dinner tonight was a Mexican restaurant in Old Town San Diego. Old Town was a small strip of souvenir shops and restaurants that is meant to replica Mexico, as this tour used to visit Tijuana several years ago before it became too dangerous to travel. The dinner wasn’t great, as the food didn’t go well with a lot of people on the tour. After dinner were dropped off for nightlife in Gaslamp quarter at Duelling Deuces. It was a great bar with a mechanical bull, great music and $2 drinks. Everyone had a great night out, riding the bull and getting to know each other.
Day 2 – You basically had three choices. A free day to do what you want, a Contiki optional activity to see San Diego Zoo or a Contiki optional activity to visit Sea World. I choose Sea World and had a great time. The Shamu show and dolphin shows were very good but for me, I thought the Sea Lion show was the best, as it was very funny. The rides too were pretty good and you’re guaranteed to get drenched in a couple of them so invest in a poncho. After the Zoo/Sea World we headed to Mission Beach for an hour. I don’t think anyone got in the water. We basically spent the time playing touch rugby league and the others who weren’t playing just watched on. Nightlife tonight was great. As today was St Patrick’s Day, the tour manager organized tickets for San Diego Shamrock, an 8 block street party in the Gaslamp quarter. Everyone got dressed in green and we joined the locals for green beer drinking and dancing on the streets.
Day 3 – It is a long drive from San Diego to Phoenix. Most of the first part of the drive it was quiet as the majority of group recovered for the big night before. The second part of the drive we did some introductions on the bus, so everyone got a chance to learn more about the others in the group. We got to the hotel late in the afternoon and it was pretty bad. It was in bad shape and in a bad location too. We were lucky that there was an NBA game tonight between Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors. The tour manager organized tickets for the majority of the group that wanted to go and it turned out to be another excellent night of entertainment.
Day 4 – Today was a big day. For those that signed up for the Contiki optional balloon ride you had to get up really early at dawn for the flight. I decided to sleep in but feedback for those who went said it was a great experience. After the balloon ride we all boarded the bus where we travelled to Sedona for our 2nd Contiki optional activity of the day, a Jeep ride through red rock canyons. I think everyone pretty much did this activity and it was great. The tour guides dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls and were cracking jokes the entire Jeep ride. It was a fun ride, highly recommended. After Sedona, we stopped at a town just outside Grand Canyon for those people who signed up for the 3rd Contiki optional activity of the day being an IMAX movie of the Grand Canyon. I decided to skip this activity too. After the movie, we made our way into Grand Canyon national park, where we had an included dinner at one of the lodge restaurants. At Grand Canyon, there isn’t much to do at night. You either went to sleep early or back to a room party.
Day 5 – Today was a free day to explore Grand Canyon national park. The majority of people on the tour did the helicopter flight in the morning and a short 3 mile hike in the afternoon. I decided to skip the helicopter flight and spend the majority of the day doing a longer 10 mile hike instead. Bad decision. The hike down wasn’t so bad. The hike back up the canyon was a killer. The Bright Angel trail is fairly steep and its takes twice as long to hike up the canyon. All up, I hiked for 6 hours and by the time I returned to my room at around 7pm I was knackered and my feet were killing me. I was pretty much a write-off for the rest of the night.
Day 6 – Our first sight of snow! We woke to discover the grounds around our lodge and in the Grand Canyon national park were covered in snow. It must have been a very cold night. Anyway today many people were excited as we set off to Las Vegas! Along the way we stopped at a route 66 town for those wanted to get photos or tacky souvenirs. On arrival in Las Vegas we checked into our hotel on the famous strip, Harrah’s. It is great choice by Contiki. Not only were the rooms excellent, it was located in the middle of the strip and therefore you can walk to north or south side very easily. We had a couple of hours to have a look at the casinos or to glam up and get ready for the first night of entertainment. First up was an included dinner at an Italian restaurant. We didn’t have a choice of meal, it was just a big pizza and big bowl of pasta to share among the table. It was good meal and afterwards we started our Las Vegas city tour. We had a Contiki group photo at the famous welcome to las vegas sign and we continued on our city tour from south of the strip to the north of the strip, until our coach had ‘mechanical problems’ just outside a Graceland wedding chapel, which was the site of the Contiki surprise optional. After 15 minutes of fun inside the chapel we made our way to downtown to see the Fremont Street experience, a huge lighting and sound show on the roof of Fremont Street. The show was a tribute to Queen which was good while we sipped on our hour glass or football sized daiquiris . After downtown we made our final stops of the night at either a nightclub at Mirage or back at the hotel for those unfortunate people were under 21. The best advice I can give you for those wanting to do an Contiki North American tour is to wait until you are 21, you will have so much more fun.
Day 7 – A free day in Vegas! I decided to spend the morning at Las Vegas Premium outlet for some shopping. There are bargains everywhere and I did well to restrict myself to only 2-3 hours as you can easily spend a day. I ended up getting a couple of shirts and shoes. After the outlets, I spent the afternoon casino hoping (the NYNY rollercoaster is pretty cool) and I also had a massage scheduled at Harrah’s as my feet and body were still hurting from Grand Canyon. The massage was excellent, I highly recommend. After the massage, I further relaxed myself in the hotel’s steam room and jacuzzi before getting reading to take a Las Vegas show. I signed up for the Contiki optional V the ultimate variety show, and it was great entertainment. It was a mixture of juggling, strongman, magic and comedy all in one show. After the show we had an included limo ride and champagne down the strip which was a once in a lifetime experience for me. The limo dropped us off from nightlife either at the Playboy club located in the Palms casino or back at Harrah’s for those unfortunate people to be under 21. I decide to go back at Harrah’s as I still hadn’t seen the casinos north of the strip and the stratosphere tower. I’m told the playboy club was better than the club at the Mirage but I didn’t care as I had a good time checking the different casinos and the free show, Sirens of TI. I eventually made my way up to top of stratosphere tower and the view was amazing at night. It would have been good if there were another 2 nights to spend in Las Vegas because there is so much to do in so little time.
Day 8 – Another long ride on the coach was spent much recovering from our Vegas nights trying to get some sleep. We arrived into Lake Tahoe late in the afternoon and it was blanketed in snow and snowing hard. I wasn’t feeling the best so I decided to skip the included dinner at the hotel and have an early night. I was going skiing tomorrow and wanted to rest up. We stayed at Horizon hotel and casino, although it wasn’t much of a casino as there are no table games. Still it is in a very good location as it is only a 10 minute walk to Heavenly Gondala and a 15 minute walk to lake. There are also 3 casinos immediately next door so a better casino atmosphere was only a minute walk away.
Day 9 – I hadn’t skied in more than 10 years and was looking forward to it. I signed up for some lessons as I was sure I would be rusty but the skills came back pretty quickly. There was plenty of snow on the ground but the weather wasn’t good and it was still snowing hard and thus a lot of the lifts were closed. After a full day skiing, I decided to try my luck at Harvey’s casino playing blackjack before nightlife which was a nightclub at MontBleau casino serving $1 spirits! I don’t remember much for the rest of the night.
Day 10 – I had another lift pass today to do more skiing but I was in no condition to ski after the night before. I walked up to Heavenly Gondala to maybe go snowtubing instead but it was closed due to the weather. I decided at the last minute to sign up to the Contiki Snowmobiling optional activity. I am so glad I did because I had a lot of fun. The scenery around the trail was amazing and we also stopped for a Contiki snowball fight. After snowmobiling I decide to walk to the ‘beach’ to see the famous Lake Tahoe. The ‘beach’ was completely covered in snow and it was really deep, about waist down. There weren’t many people there due to the weather but I managed to get some great photos of the lake before making my way back up to our hotel. Nightlife was karaoke at the Horizon which was good fun.
Day 11 – Lake Tahoe was still snowing hard so we had to put snow chains on the bus for the first few hours of our trip to San Francisco. We stopped in Sacramento for lunch and I had the best meal of my trip at ten22 restaurant. I highly recommend dining here for lunch or dinner. After Sacramento we made the short drive to San Francisco where we stopped near Golden Gate Bridge for photos. After checking into the hotel we had an optional Contiki sunset cruise at Pier 39 which was good, much better than San Diego’s cruise. There were great views of Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. We also got two free drinks (alcohol or soft drink) which was bonus. After the cruise we headed off to an included dinner in Chinatown. It was a very tasty banquet which finished with a fortune cookie. My fortune was “Keep up the good work. You will be soon be rewarded.” Nightlife was at a nearby Irish pub.
Day 12 – Today’s free day in San Francisco began with pretty much the majority of the group touring Alcatraz. I found it very fascinating and informative and managed to spend 3 hours on the island. After Alcatraz, I had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf where I tried clam chowder for the first time. It wasn’t bad. After looking around the Fisherman’s Wharf I made my way to Union Square where I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. There are a lot of great shops in San Francisco (the home of Levi’s) and I got a great Levi’s jacket for only $30 which probably would be of been more than $100 at home. In the evening we had an include dinner at the sausage factory in the gay castro district. The meal was very good as I love Italian, especially lasagne. After dinner, nightlife was at a dive karaoke bar. It would have been better if we didn’t have to wait 2 hours to perform our song, if you choose to sing.
Day 13 – The second last day of the tour was another long drive from San Francisco to Carpinteria stopping off at Monterry. There was an included dinner at the hotel tonight which was average. I decided not to stay out for drinks and spent the rest of the evening skyping in my room as the hotel had free WiFi. This was the first time that I would manage to catch up with family and friends and talk for some length.
Day 14 – Tis the last day of the tour was a sad day for all as we knew that we would be all departing soon. We started by driving to Santa Barbara to visit a mission. Then we made the short trip to Los Angeles and we arrived in Hollywood at 12pm. I decided against any of the Contiki Hollywood optional activities as I have seen Hollywood before. I instead had tickets to Jay Leno show taping which was cool. After the taping I met up with the last remaining Contii group people at Kyoto Grand Hotel where we had a nice dinner and said our last goodbyes. Its been a great tour and I highly recommend that you consider this tour if you want to see the west side of USA. I also want to give a quick shout out to Drew Walker who was an awesome Contiki tour manager.
My Contiki was: Fun-Sightseeing-Friends