Yep, I am one of those people who thought people who see the world on tour buses are fools. I assumed the tours were always rushed and you will forget the previous destination by the time you get to the next and as a result hesitated to even research. Well, we were proven wrong.
In May 2017, my kids and I took a 8 day/ 7 night bus tour that criss-crossed across the mountain states in USA. In this post I will talk about the tour itself, where we went and what we saw. In future posts, I will follow up with individual day/destination posts that will help you in planning something similar.
So, why did we do it? Bottom line, my kids and I had time to spare and we wanted to explore. Doing a self guided road trip where I was the only adult was out of the question for many reasons. The kids and I sat down and wrote our wish list – what did we want to see. The “must” category included Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Yellowstone. The rest was gravy. When I searched the internet, only one tour company came up repeatedly: Take Tours travel agency (actual tour was conducted by C-Tours). The itinerary was enticing and the base price was affordable (3 for 2 deal when a room is shared). The catch? The tour would be bi-lingual (English & Mandarin) and sadly we can speak only English. But, we decided to take a chance. After all, this was a landscape intensive tour and as long as we could understand instructions, we were good. So the three of us signed up. Sure enough, my kids and I along with one other person were the only ones who needed English translations (out of 56 tourists), but, the guide was very thoughtful and made sure he passed on all the important information.
Below is the itinerary we followed (San Francisco start and end). The tour generally starts in LA, so our itinerary is not the most ideal. Our day 8 is generally day 1 for most people.
Day 1: Met the group in downtown San Francisco. While some of the folks went on a cruise (we had already done that), the kids and I walked along the docks and explored Ghirardelli Square. Around 10:30 the tour officially started for us and we headed towards Sonoma after stopping by the Golden Gate bridge to take pictures. We reached Sonoma around lunch time and had a nice lunch in the downtown area. A trip to a winery was NOT included. After lunch we headed to Lake Tahoe and reached around 4:30pm. After spending about an hour, we headed to Reno, our night halt.
Day 2: The long drive day – started at 6am and headed towards Pocatello, Idaho. Travelled through Nevada for most of the day. We reached Shoshone falls late in the afternoon where we got to spend some time enjoying the falls and the surrounding area. Later we headed to Pocatello which was our night halt.
Day 3: After breakfast we headed towards Jackson. Once we got there, we went to a ski resort and took the chair lift to the top of the mountain to enjoy the amazing views. The kids had a blast playing in the little snow that was still around. After lunch, we headed towards West Yellowstone with a stop over at Glacier point to view the Grand Tetons. So, this is where we had a little bit of bad luck. The peaks played hide and seek with us and we were not able to take good pictures of the peaks (we did get a glimpse though). We then headed to Yellowstone National park via the south entrance. We visited: West thumb geyser basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Old faithful geyser, Fountain Paint pot before heading to West Yellowstone for the night halt.
Day 4: After breakfast headed back into Yellowstone National park to check out the Norris Geyser Basin. After spending some time, we headed back to the West Yellowstone town to grab lunch. After lunch, we headed back south – this time towards Salt Lake city. We reached Salt Lake city around tea time and spent time exploring the Utah State house. After dinner, we headed to Provo which was our night halt.
Day 5: The day started before breakfast as we headed towards Arizona. We stopped for breakfast on our way to Bryce Canyon. We were given some time to explore the canyon but did not have enough time to hike (this was the first time on the trip where we felt the time allotted wasn’t enough). After Bryce we stopped over for lunch at a trading post where we got to do some shopping. Later, we headed to Antelope Canyon and we were floored! Our last stop was Horseshoe Bend before heading to Tuba city for our night halt.
Day 6: After breakfast we headed to Grand Canyon and saw the East and South rims. This is where we opted for an additional helicopter tour. After the tour, we headed to Las Vegas. We reached Las Vegas around 4:30pm. We had a chance to freshen up before heading out to the optional evening activities. The kids and I headed to the David Copperfield show after which we went to check out the fountains in front of the Bellagio… we felt like we were watching the scene from Oceans Eleven!
Day 7: In the morning we spent some time checking out a chocolate factory and cactus garden. After brunch, we headed towards LA with a stopover at the Barstow Outlets. The kids surprisingly enjoyed the shopping (they wanted to get ready for our next trip). We were then dropped off in Pomona for our night halt.
Day 8: Because the tour generally starts and ends in LA, sightseeing within LA is not included, which was a slight disappointment. After breakfast we headed back towards San Francisco. Along the way, we drove by Pebble beach/17 mile drive. We reached San Francisco around 7pm.
Here is our trip experience in a nutshell:
The great – lots of amazing national parks, safe driving (no driving in the dark), comfortable and in most cases very nice accommodations, reasonable price. My kids or I were never treated as outsiders and were well taken care of.
The good – bi-lingual tour guides, availability of optional activities in Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, reasonable time allotted at each location. We were able to find alternative food options (i.e. other than Chinese buffet in most halts). In addition, we were shown where the nearest grocery store was in case anyone wanted to stock up on water bottles or snacks. In some of the hotels we stayed at, a microwave oven was available which meant additional eating options.
The not so great – there are some places you visit where shopping is the activity… but in the scheme of things, it was not so bad. In addition, we were not able to see Hoover dam close up due to government regulations towards buses.
Bottom line – the kids and I really enjoyed ourselves. We had a lot of fun photographing the sites. This bus tour really worked for us because it was mostly outdoors. Not sure yet if tour bus trips would work at museum intensive destinations… I guess we need to see … I think I am ready to give it a shot!
Regrets – My main regret is not understanding my camera well enough. For example, the sun was extremely bright at Grand Canyon and I was unable to take good pictures (washed out). Will be better prepared the next time!