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Group tour to Yellowstone
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-08-05 13:46:36 | Denver, Colorado, United States
Keywords: bus, tour
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 wrong.

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 highlights

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 our hotel.

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.


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