Two days ago I returned from the holiday of a lifetime. For five weeks, I frolicked around the United States of America with 53 of the most amazing people.
What am I talking about, you ask? Well, I went on the Grand Southern adventure as part of a Contiki tour. For 28 days, we travelled from Los Angeles – with various stops within the picturesque southern states – to New York City. Now, before I delve into my experiences, I want to note that this particular travel adventure will require more than one blog post, and as a result, will be divided into parts. But, in all honesty, words fail to account for the incredible time I had, but there’s no harm in trying!
DAY 1 (Los Angeles):
Upon arriving in Los Angeles from Sydney at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM, I caught a SuperShuttle to the tour’s commencement hotel, which happened to be the Miyako Hotel in Downtown LA. It was there that I rather ironically bumped into a few others who were also on my tour. Jet-lagged and spectacularly lethargic, I somehow made the decision to join them in their escapade to Hollywood. If it weren’t for this encounter, I probably would have slept for the remainder of the day and felt even worse, as a result. Since I arrived only a day before my tour began, this was the only real chance I had of exploring Los Angeles. Consequently, we walked to Union Station and caught the train to Hollywood and somehow found ourselves eating lunch at Hooters (don’t even ask!) Funnily enough, this is where I met even more of my fellow tour buddies. Despite having just had lunch, we walked to Hollywood’s famous In-N-Out burger joint and enjoyed a cheeseburger each (yes, I approved!) It was just as I expected … delicious!
At the same time, Hollywood Boulevard was hosting the Captain America: Civil War premiere. A few of us stayed here for a while near the audience barricade and watched Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans walk past us. Let’s just say that I was in utter shock (partly due to the onslaught of celebrities and the intense effects of jet lag).
At around 10pm, we headed back to the hotel where I met my LA roommate, Mel. After an absolutely packed day, I was more than ready for a good shower and some deep sleep.
DAY 2 (Start of Contiki; Las Vegas):
With a 7:15AM start, we grabbed our bags and shuffled onto our new ‘home’ for the next month – Betsy the Coach. We were also introduced to our fantastic tour manager (Rachel) and driver (Ray). The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is four hours so we had a good amount of time to introduce ourselves to each other. This was initiated through introductory games and sharing embarrassing stories about each other. There sure were some good laughs on this leg of the trip! Each Contiki tour also has their own ‘song’. This is played at the beginning of each drive to get everybody in a good mood. For us, it was ‘Dreams’ by Life of Dillon. At this point, none of us had ever heard of the song, but by the end of the tour, we knew all the words!
By midday we were in Sin City. Everything is bigger and better in Las Vegas. From the hotels to the shopping malls to the streets in general, Vegas is crazy. We stayed at Harrah’s on the strip, which is across the road from the infamous Caesar’s Palace *cue The Hangover fans!* It was here that I was partnered with my roommate for the remainder of the trip – the lovely, Dana.
After waltzing around for a few hours, we went on a mini bus trip around the city. We even got to stop at the famous Las Vegas sign that the city is ultimately known for!
Later that night, our tour manager asked us if we wanted to witness a real wedding at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, which we happily accepted. We were all in shock when we arrived to an Elvis impersonator singing. After his fantastic rendition of ‘Viva Las Vegas’, he then announced that two of us would actually be getting married. It was five of the funniest minutes of my life!
After a few laughs, we headed down to Fremont Street, followed by GhostBar. This nightclub is on the 55th floor of the Palms’ hotel and offers the most incredible views of the city on a glass-bottomed patio. It was a truly sensational view and a great night!
DAY 3 (Las Vegas):
After a well-deserved sleep-in, we spent the day walking up and down the strip. Normally you wouldn’t spend a whole day looking through hotels, but this is exactly what you would do in Las Vegas! We were even lucky enough to see an incredible Cirque du Soleil (Zarkana) show! That night we went on an included limo ride down and around the strip, followed by a visit to MGM’s Hakkasan Nightclub to end the night!
DAY 4 (Grand Canyon):
As we ventured from the city of sin to serenity, snow ensued. Yes, we went from boiling hot weather to freezing cold! It snowed. And snowed, a lot. We knew it was getting cold during our drive when we had a stopover on the historic, Route 66. Aside from the grizzly weather, it was so hilarious seeing tumbleweeds flying across the highway and almost hitting us!
When we arrived at the Grand Canyon, the first thing we saw was snow. It was so cold, but the beauty and breathlessness of the Canyon overtook this sensation. This wonder of the world is truly impeccable. When you look at it, all your troubles disappear. You honestly can’t take your eyes off it. It’s incredible how you can walk to hundreds of different spots around the Canyon and still get a different view. You honestly cannot take enough pictures!
DAY 5 (Grand Canyon – Helicopter Ride):
Although a 6:15AM start didn’t sound promising, it was most definitely worth it by the end of the day. What am I talking about, you ask? Our Grand Canyon helicopter ride (Papillon), of course!
As an optional excursion, I chose to go on a 50-minute helicopter ride around the north and south rim of the Canyon. Despite the hefty fee of $290, it was worth every cent. I was lucky enough to be chosen to sit in the front seat next to the pilot, which provided me with absolutely perfect views of the sights. I am still in awe of this incredible experience and will forever cherish these memories.
Now you’d think today couldn’t get any better, but trust me, it does. A couple of hours after the helicopter rides, we embarked on a bicycle tour around the Canyon. Our guides – Chase and Eli – directed us to the most scenic spots around the Canyon’s rim while providing us with insightful information behind the history of the site. It was absolutely beautiful breathing in the fresh air while riding around the most beautiful scenes you’ll ever see.
That night, we all had a beautiful picnic as we watched the sunset over the Canyon’s horizon. It was absolutely surreal and utterly picturesque. It was also the perfect opportunity to mingle with my fellow tour buddies.
DAY 6 (Monument Valley/Durango):
Next stop was Durango, Colorado. However, we travelled the scenic route through the absolutely majestic Monument Valley. For those unfamiliar with this, Monument Valley is located on the Arizona/Utah state-line and means ‘Valley of the Gods’.
We also stopped at one of the most impressive roads of Utah. You probably recognise it from the film, Forrest Gump, where Forrest ended his three-year cross-country run. It was particularly good considering we’d just finished watching the film on the bus!
When we arrived in Durango, it was snowing, but that didn’t stop the fun! We had dinner and went to a local bar with beer pong and lots of dancing. I may or may not have danced on the bar! Spring break, anyone?
DAY 7 (Mesa Verde National Park/Albuquerque):
Before embarking for Albuquerque, we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. This world heritage site offers an interesting look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years. After spending a couple of hours here, we drove the rest of the way to Albuquerque!
* All images are my own and cannot be reproduced.