|I just spent 5 days in a group tour to visit many interesting sites, including the Yellowstone national park, which was the reason I booked that tour. I can say I loved the sights and that I didn't like the tour experience at all. |
I was the only non-Chinese aboard that
tour with 54 people. Most of them were American Chinese people
living all over the US; it wasn't just a group coming together from
China. I should have caught the hint when the tour description
mentions a bilingual guide.. English/Chinese, but I booked from a
non-Chinese Web site... so I kinda assumed the targeted group would
be the same as it would be in Canada: elderly people. I was totally
The guide was commenting in both
English and Chinese (English first), but her English was below
average and her pronunciation made it hard often to understand what
she was saying. I was like a mini-bubble of China roaming the roads
of central US saying “I want to see what you have to show, but I
don't want to immerse in your culture”. All the hotels were chosen
to be close to Chinese restaurants, if not, we made a long detour to
find an establishment serving Chinese food. There was an optional
meal plan (which I didn't take) and most of the meals were from
buffets, the rest being traditional familial style restaurants when
we were not having lunch within a national park. In the meal plan,
each meal cost about $16, and I'm sure the guide has a good kick-back
out of that from the restaurants in addition to her free meal. At
those meal plan stops, I usually escaped to go to a local supermarket
to get a sandwich or to a burger joint. I often had my meals for
less than $5.
To satisfy this 'requirement' to eat as
many Chinese food as possible, we often made long detour off the
optimal route... making us waste time. Speaking of time... one thing
that really upset me was not to know the details of the day ahead of
time. We had no idea when would be the meal breaks (could be at 11
AM or at 3 PM for the lunch, could be at 6 PM or 9 PM for supper).
The only information we had was that we'd do a pee break every 2 to 3
hours while moving. We would sometimes arrive at the hotel before
sometimes after supper... depending on the location of the closest
Chinese restaurant. Arrival and departure times to/from the hotel
also varied greatly. I'm a planner and not knowing ahead of time the
timing for the current day really make me feel like 'you're just a
cattle in the herd, just follow and don't ask questions'.
I already didn't enjoy packing all my
stuff every 3 or 4 days... but on that tour, I had to do it every
day... since we always slept at a different location. I didn't enjoy
being with so many people for so long, especially when most of them
were not speaking English most of the time.
At first seat assignment, I was seating
next to another single traveller in the group, Vivian (that's the
name she gave me not have me scrap her real Chinese name every time).
We had very nice chats on the first day. On the second day, the
guide assigned me the seat next to her behind the driver... allegedly
to give me more room since the bus seats were spaced for small
people. Technically, I had more knees room, but for the feet it was
another story. That didn't help my injured heel... and I was often
longing for the next stop to be able to stretch. But that also meant
no meeting new people on the tour to learn more about them, their
culture, and spread the news about my blog. But I did chat with
Vivian on a regular basis during our breaks.
To resume, I didn't like: the schedule,
the crowded bus, the seat assignment (except for the first day), the
very limited English skills of the guide (my English isn't perfect,
but I'm not earning my living with it, I'm not a professional who's
job is to talk English) nor the restaurant selection. I also didn't
like the price, but that was the cheapest available.
What I did like were the sights...
that's the reason why I booked this tour. I could have been to
Yellowstone on my own, the transportation there is possible. But for
the other sites we been to it would have been much more difficult.
Here's the detail of each day of that tour.
Day 1: meet and greet plus Denver
The bus tour meeting point was at the
Denver airport just before noon. From there, we went to the Red
Rocks Amphitheatre, then we went into Denver to first see the 16th
Street Mall and the Capitol. After the visits, we exited the city to
go in a southern suburb to find a Chinese buffet restaurant then we
went across city again to sleep in southeastern Denver.
Day 2: Denver. Crazy Horse, mount
Rushmore, Bear country
We crossed Denver again to head north
into South Dakota.. After many hours of road, we arrived at the
Crazy Horse monument, then we got at the mount Rushmore where we also
ate. A short drive got us into a zoo-like park named Bear Country,
even if only a small portion of the driven exhibit sections is for
bears. Then we went to Gilette, WY for the night.
Day 3: Gilette - Devil's Tower -
Gilette - Sheridan - Bilings
We left in the morning to go to Devil's
Tower and we returned to Gilette for lunch before heading to the town
of Sheridan where the group went to visit a cowboy museum, showcasing
all the cowboy gear through time. I went walking on their main
street instead. Then we hit the road again towards Billings in
Montana, making a stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial,
where Custer died facing the warriors of Sitting Bull and Crazy
Horse. The days ended in Billings, Montana, where we had supper near
Day 4: Billings - Yellowstone (North
entrance) – Yellowstone cabins
We left early in the morning for a
three-hour ride to reach the North entrance of Yellowstone park and
visited most of the 'must-see' locations: Mammoth Hot Springs, Old
Faithful, Lower and Midway geysers basins and the Grand Canyon of
Yellowstone with the Upper falls.
Day 5: Yellowstone – Grand Teton –
Jackson Hole – Salt Lake City
We began the day by saying good morning
to the rising sun above the Yellowstone lake. Then we made a brief
stop in Grand Teton national park before heading to the city of
Jackson Hole for lunch. After lunch, it was a long drive to reach
Salt Lake City, where we had a visit of Temple Square before reaching
the hotel. That's where I left the group while they continued to
return to Denver.