Contiki 2014 – Grand Northern USA

For a while, I’ve wanted to write about my contiki in 2014.

I hadn’t started my blog yet when I traveled then but I definitely want to do a review on the tour. So I what I think I’ll do, is an over all overview of the contiki, then another blog of each of the place we stopped in at!

The tour started on a rainy morning in downtown New York at the Doubltree By Hilton, Chelsea. The night before, most of us met in the lobby for a quick meet and greet and exchange paperwork of insurance and passports with our contiki manager Craig, a typical American with a very strong southern accent, which threw me at first. Christ, what am I doing? Why on earth did I book this trip, everyone is terrifying me!

My anxiety of new people went into overdrive and I was stuck in the middle of a tiny cramped lobby with 30 or so other people introducing themselves to everyone while I managed to back my way out of the group after I had given my copies of the paper work and nudged towards the elevator and back to my room to try to get a good nights sleep after an extensive day of trying to get over my jet lag and the fact that I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life by coming overseas.

I missed home, my family and my friends already and I had only been out of the country for no more than 48 hours and I still had 30 something days to go!

Mel, pull yourself together, you are going to enjoy this trip no matter what!

The next day we all jumped in the bus and spent the next few hours playing ‘get to know you’ games before reaching our first destination, Boston. We did the touristy stuff in Boston for a couple of days then headed up on the bus to Canada!

We explored in Quebec City, Montreal and of course Toronto where we hit up way too many bars and drank way too much vodka to have our last trip in Canada at the beautiful Niagara Falls.

Before we crossed the border back into the States, we stopped in at the duty free store to stock up for the rest of the trip with more alcoholic goodies.

Next stop, Cleveland Ohio! We only spent one afternoon/night here. We ventured through the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame then spent the night ten pin bowling.

Over the coming days we stopped in at Chicago Illinois, Madison Wisconsin, Sioux Falls South Dakota, the incredible Badlands’ National Park, the tiny historic town of Walldrug and Mt. Rushmore. I got to go to my first baseball game and check in at the Spam Factory (needless to say, like most days we were hung over and the spam tastings were an interesting experience to say the least).

One place I remember fondly is Keystone, a town next to Mt. Rushmore that   I loved the little old town and I was caught it wanderlust of it all. A few of us spent an evening in the most amazing bar I have ever seen.

It was a cross between an old wooden small town bar, and a thrift shop. Yeah I’m serious, and I’ll go into more detail about it in my other blog and review about each town.

The next day would have been my favorite part of the bus trip by far!

We drove from Keystone through to the Wyoming Mountain Ranges, where for the first time ever, I saw snow. The forty or so of us proceeded to have a snow ball fight then return to the bus with blue frozen fingers and toes. It was totally worth it though 🙂


That afternoon we arrived to the small rodeo town of Cody, Wyoming. We all brought out our cowboy boots and hats and headed off the to rodeo for the evening!

The following days were spent in numerous national parks and time for some fresh air! We visited Yellowstone National Park, went on a horse ride through a local ranch, hiked through Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and finally, the one and only Grand Canyon!


We finished off our trip by spending three amazing days in Las Vegas where, like usual, we drank too much, spent too much and partied too much. It was the final hoorah for the contiki trip so we made the most of Las Vegas before everyone parting ways in Los Angeles, not without several tears and hugs and exchanges of phone numbers.

Contiki’s are infamous for that, creating bonds and friendships like no other. Not only are you travelling to incredible places for the first, and potentially one and only time, but you are sharing that experience and wanderlust with 49 other travellers.

People who are inspired by the world and want to achieve so much. Some already have achieved so much which inspires everyone else even more.

Thank you contiki for creating life long lasting memories and friendships for me with like minded travelers and world seekers.

 

 

 

Day 28 Sunday 6th September – “Birthday Celebrations”

 

 

Good Morning Ya’ll :)So yeah… As you can guess, today is MY BIRTHDAY!

And today, we are off to Las Vegas, the original sin city 🙂

This morning we left and on the way to Las Vegas, we stopped in at a little town on Route 66.


It was a hot town in the middle of the desert full of quirky signs and attractions.


  
The bus journey was a fun one with party music and games for an amazing day ahead.

We played plenty of Calvin Harris, because tonight, myself and the girls are heading to Hakassan at the MGM Grande to see him live in Las Vegas!

When we arrived at Las Vegas mid afternoon, we unpacked all of our luggage and headed up to the rooms.

Some went shopping while others began pre drinking.

I headed down to the salon at the hotel to get my hair done for my birthday 🙂

After getting all dolled up for the night, I returned back to the room to find a beautiful surprise waiting for me…


And there was so much more confetti throughout that what is in that picture!

My contiki girls are amazing and I love you all for making my birthday such a special night 😀

We had dinner at the Planet Hollywood at Caesars Palace Forum Shops.

After we finished our meals, I was given a birthday ice cream with a sparkler and everyone sang happy birthday.

It was beautiful 😊


We left Planet Hollywood and hopped on the bus to do a Las Vegas city tour and stop at the infamous sign at the end of the strip!


We spent an amazing night visiting an Elvis chapel and visiting the lights on Freemont Street and partying on the bus along the way.

Finally, we ended up at MGM Grande where we continued to party it up and see the one and only Calvin Harris 😍

xx

Day 27 Saturday 5th September – “Not I, not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself” Walt Whitman

The Grand Canyon is one of the marvels of the world that, only when you see it in the flesh, do you appreciate its enormity.

People can go places and see things, and when you get home, you tell your friends and family and you show them photos.

But there are some things, that no matter in how much detail, or how many pixels your camera is, somethings just need to be seen for themselves.

The Grand Canyon is one of these things.

“Not I, not anyone else, can travel that road for you. You must travel is for yourself” said Walt Whitman.


This morning started off with doing laundry which was desperately overdue!

Others had helicopter rides over the grand canyon which I decided not to do, as I had done it last year and decided to keep my money for other optionals.

When everyone got back from the helicopters, Monique and myself went to the village shopping centre to get supplies for the sunset picnic we had planned this evening with the group.

Once the shopping was complete, Leigh and myself took a walk to the Bright Angel Trailhead at the canyon to explore the amazing view and get some cool touristy snaps 🙂

  
  

After an afternoon of exploring, we headed back to the cabins to get our things together and head to Mohave Point for the sunset picnic 🙂

When we arrived, we took a few sneaky photos at the point!


  

Unfortunately, it turned very cold and very windy quite quickly, so we all headed back to the cabins and gathered up for a couple of room gatherings before our big journey tomorrow to the one and only, Viva Las Vegas 😉

Day 26 Friday 4th September – “You’ve got to put the past behind you, before you can move on” Forrest Gump

I’ve been traveling so far for 25 days now, and a full on ride since the beginning with no doubt. There has been many ups, really great days, moments and experiences with people. But what comes with travelling, there has also been downs, being home sick, missing my friends and family at home, tired, run down and exhausted from travelling.

But thanks to the amazing people that you travel with along the way, they will always pick you back up.

You have to remember that, although you are allowed to miss your friends and family, you are in an incredible place that you may only ever get one chance to experience, to just keep moving forward.

As Forrert Gump would say “My Mumma always said, you’ve got to put the past behind you, before you can move on”

This morning was cold, wet and drizzly morning in Durango.

I made my way to breakfast early to beat the rush. My bags were all ready to go along with my travel pillow and bus blanket for a sleepy day on the bus.

As we left Durango, we knew it was going to be quite a drive today along the way to the Grand Canyon, through Monument Valley along the way!


After a couple of hours on the road, we reached our first destination, the road on Monument Valley.

We all stopped for amazing photos and to admire the scenery.

This is the road that we all know so well, that was made more famous than it already was in the movie Forrest Gump.

The scene where Forrest is doing his running scene, and at the end of his run after over 2 years of running through the country, he turns around to the crowd behind him and says “I’m pretty tired, think I’ll go home now”

We decided while on at the side of the road, to reanact a famous Forrest Gump scene.

One of the girls had a Bubba Gump hat and poncho so she was put at the front while everyone else ‘ran’ behind 🙂

After our stop on the road, we headed to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the visitors centre that is on Indian land.

A really great place for more incredible photo moments.



  
  
It was also extremely windy so getting a good photo with the flag was a challenge haha.

Once we finished having photos, we headed through the rest of the valley, and on our way to the Grand Canyon!


It was still early in the afternoon when we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park!!

Even though I’ve been to the Grand Canyon before, it was just as impressive as it was before. Last time I had been in the North Rim on my previous contiki.

This time, we were on the South Rim and even lucky enough to have two nights in the Grand Canyon 🙂


  
Haha I even attempted the almighty contiki jump!

That night, we had an included dinner at the cafeteria at the Maswik Lodges we were staying at.

A few people were having ‘room drinks’ but myself and my room mate decided to have a night in watching The Lion King on my laptop!

A good quiet night in 🙂

xx

Day 25 Thursday 3rd September – “Not all who wander are lost” J. R. R. Tolkien

“Not all who wander are lost”

I love this quote because I feel it is about exploring and not limiting to what you can explore and discover.

One in not lost, nor are they exploring to find anything in particular, but exploring to see what can be found.

While on contiki, there are many ‘optionals’ that can be chosen while you are in your travels. They are local experiences that we can get at a discounted group rate through contiki.

This morning, the optional that I have been looking most forward to was hot air ballooning over Albuquerque!


  
  
  
  
I can not describe how spectacular the view of the Albuquerque sunrise from the air was.

A few of us in our basket even face timed our families from the air.

It was a pretty special morning!

We watched the balloon set up before getting into the air. While we were up, we watched the view of the mountains while below us, the town was waking up and getting ready for work or the day. We even managedtoe flow enough at some points to say hi and wave at the neighborhoods below as people waved up at us!

Once we had been up in the air for our lovely ride, we landed in a small suburban street where we had more pictures taken, locals coming out of their houses to watch the balloon get let down and we had our champagne breakfast with a pop up table while the guys from the ballooning company packed the basket, ropes, ties and the ballon into their trailer.

The company is called Rainbow Riders. You can find them at rainbowriders.com and I would highly rate and recommend them 🙂

When we got back to the hotel, we received a cute personal certificate from Rainbow Riders.

Once we pulled all our bags out of our rooms, we packed up the bus again and once again, we had another bus morning on the way Durango, Colorado!

When we arrived Durango not long after lunch time, some of the group went to go horse riding while others when white water rafting.

Some didn’t choose either including myself and a few other lovely ladies I’ve become good friends with.

We decided to explore around the town, which isn’t overly large, but very cute, country but contemporary at the same time 🙂

We started at one end of the Main Street, going into gift stores, candy stores, a mountain chocolate shop 🙂

There were second hand books stores, coffee shops, cards readers and cafes.

We had an afternoon of wandering around the town and discovering the culture. It’s a cute place for sure!

When the others had finished with their optionals, we all met back at the bus to go and check into our hotel in Durango.

We checked in and began to get ready for the night ahead.

It wasn’t a night to get overly dressed up but we still had an included dinner at a place called Carver’s Brewing Company.


I had what I assumed was a ‘taco’ but all of the ingredients of the taco were on a hard base, sort of like a pizza base. Not the greatest meal I’d had on contiki. I ate it but probably would not have it again if I had the opportunity.

We all finished our odd dinners before heading across the road to Moe’s Tavern 🙂

It was a quirky small bar that had a dark staged area out the back for small bands or stand up comedy and inside was a ping pong table and booths across from the main part of the bar.

We all only just fit in.

It was an interesting place and we didn’t stay for overly long before heading back to the hotel.

xx

Day 24 Wednesday 2nd September – “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And, I was really… I was alive” Walter White, Breaking Bad.

Travel has always inspired me. Seeing beautiful landscapes, meeting amazing people, experiencing once in a lifetime opportunities.

Knowing that there is so much in this world to discover and knowing more than anything, that I have to do it all, and that I can.

What makes you feel more alive than amazing people and and a picturesque world?

This morning, before we left for Albuquerque, we made a special stop at the Cadillac Ranch just outside of Amarillo.

The amazing contiki tour manager bought spray paint for us to leave our mark at Cadillac Ranch (which yes it is legal to do) 🙂

The day was beautiful and bright and the most perfect was to start the day.

I could tell that our special little group was forming a unique bond that can never be broken 💜

I could see that the individuals at the beginning of the tour that had originally been the shy and quiet ones, had opened up and shared their lives and their true personalities with everyone in the group.

A sense of freedom and self expression at Cadillac Ranch today was one of the happiest moments on contiki so far. Not just myself but the whole group 🙂



  

We had to get back on the bus and after a couple of hours, we had a lunch stop in Santa Fe where we explored around and had some yummy Mexican food for lunch.


Finally we made it to Albuquerque that evening.

I was exhausted and wanted just a night in. There was an included dinner at the hotels buffet style followed by karaoke in the small bar.

I stayed to watch a couple of people sing but myself and my room mate had an early night, watching a little bit of Family Guy on to before turning in for a big day tomorrow!!

xx

Day 23 Tuesday 1st September – “Brace your backbone and forget your wishbone”

Hi everyone!!

Wow, what a blast contiki has been so far.

It’s sad because I know before long now, it will all come to an end!

And it’s my birthday soon which really will be the end of contiki when we are finishing up in Las Vegas.

For those who have previously traveled on a contiki or a group tour that travels so closely together for an extended period of time will understand just how easily and quickly you can create a connection with some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.

People who you know are like you, who think like you, who look at life the same way that you do.

I know just how much I am going to miss this wonderfully group of people.

So a notification to anyone who is going on a contiki or group tour, prepare yourself to fall even more in love with life and with people.

Let yourself be inspired and motivated. Let people push you outside of your boundaries. Let people bring out the best in you and encourage others that they can do more and be more.

Anyway, enough of the soppy stories for now. Because there is still much more to be updated from today and still another whole week to go on contiki!

This morning we left for Amarillo, Texas at the Big Texan Inn. It wasnt an overly long bus day but out tour manager had us play contiki olympics on the bus with games to keep us busy and occupied 🙂


  

Around mid afternoon, we arrived! It was a hot steamy day so a lot of us went for a swim in the Texas shaped swimming pool!


We had plenty of time to relax in the pool before getting ready for dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Four people from the contiki  group were participating in the infamous steak challenge.


This place is incredible! So much fun.

So the steak challenge involves eating 4.5 pounds of steak, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, salad and a bread roll. The contenders have an hour to complete the challenge by themselves and if the meal is completed within the hour, the $72 meal is free.

For more information, check it out here-

http://www.bigtexan.com

That night we also had our contiki cowboy/ cowgirl party at the Big Texan I mentioned in a previous post.

We dressed up in our cowboy and cowgirl gear, did our hair and out on our hats and bandanas!


Once the steak challenge was complete, which unfortunately no one was able to finish, we headed into the bar and put on numerous requests into the dukebox and played the shooting games in the bar.

They had special Texas cocktails at the bar and we danced late into the night boot scooting, nutbushing and even the Cupid shuffle 🙂


  

It was a really great fun and carefree night and we could stay as late as we wanted because our hotel was right next door at the Big Texan Inn!

Slowly one by one we headed home to our funky hotel rooms and get ready for another day on the bus tomorrow.

xx