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.

 

 

 

Wednesday May 11th 2016 – The Canadian Fairmont Bucket List

Since having started working for this company, I have decided to make a-

‘Canadian Fairmont Bucket List’ 

A list of Fairmont Hotel’s that I want to spend at least one night in at some point for here in Canada as well as the United States (since its just down the road)!

  • Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ✔️

Monday April 18th 2016 – The stayover

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  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel ✔️

The reason I want to stay here, and honestly I already have twice, I just haven’t written about it yet, is because it is only 45 minutes away from Lake Louise. Having a passion for spa, the iconic Willow Stream Spa is one thing I certainly will be checking out! I will potentially stay here with my parents, will see 😉

  • Fairmont Palliser, Calgary ✔️

Tuesday, March 15th 2016 – 48 Hours in Calgary

  • Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

I will be staying here in September with my parents when they visit! So I shall keep you informed 🙂

  • Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, Edmonton
  • The Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver

Again, in September, my parents will be lucky enough to check this place out with me!

  • The Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver

I would love more than anything to be able to stay here!!! They have by what I have heard, the best high tea next to The Savoy in London! They also have a Willow Stream Spa 😍 The only reason I couldn’t book here is because the staff rate wasn’t available for when my parents are visiting 😦  Doesn’t mean we can’t pop over to check it out!

  • The Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

Here I will be staying with my parents!! Woohoo

  • Fairmont Empress, Victoria

Victoria is a stone throw away from Vancouver and the hotel sits right on the waterfront. It is also home to another Willow Stream Spa

  • Fairmont Chateau Whistler

It’s Whistler, need I say anymore? And yes I will be staying here in September! 😁☺️😆

Americas-

  • Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda

Palm Trees, Beach and Willow Stream Spa. Ah, sounds like heaven! This place is very high up on the bucket list for a holiday getaway!

  • Fairmont Mayakoba, Mexico

I nearly made it here in January when I went on my Mexican trip with G Adventures! Friday January 15th 2016 – Cancun. There were no staff rates, so I didn’t book. But next time!!!

  • Fairmont Copley Plaza, Boston

I honestly love Boston! I was here in 2014 when I went on my first contiki trip, the Grand Northern. (I am yet to blog about it by the way. This trip was before I started blogging!) The historic city of Boston honestly fascinates me and I would go back there in a heartbeat to visit again. The Fairmont Copley Plaza is also recognized as one of the Historic Hotels of America, since its grand opening in 1912.

  • Fairmont Dallas

Dear god, I will never be able to explain in words how much I loved visiting Texas! Take me back!

Day 22 Monday 31st August- “Things do not happen, things are made to happen” JFK

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

  • Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii

The Fairmont Orchid is home to The Spa Without Walls. Imagine laying there getting a facial with the sound of the water trickling from the waterfall and stream only meters away. And stepping out of the door from your room straight onto the beach. Sounds like heaven to me. And I’ve never been yet to Hawaii.

  • The Plaza, New York

Day 4 Thursday 13th August- Sex and the city

New York is without a doubt my favorite city in the whole world! Not only was it the starting place of both of my contiki trips, which literally changed my life both times, but the city itself is so incredibly diverse and cultured. You walk in one direction to one neighborhood to see Wall Street and skyscrapers, and in another direction you are in the middle of suburbia eating local cupcakes in the park that looks like something out of the “Forrest Gump” movie.

And The Plaza, well is speaks for itself. Do you remember watching ‘Home Alone 2 Lost In New York’ as a kid? Yes, this is the same place! Central Park is right next door (and no its not as scary as the movie makes it out to be) And for those Australians, Crocodile Dundee when he arrives in New York ( you know the scene) his hotel suite is bigger than my whole apartment!

I won’t go on any further, we all know The Plaza.

  • Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego

Even though I had 2 trips to the United States, San Diego is one destination I am yet to get to.

  • Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Arizona

This place is also very high on the bucket list. If I am to one day able to work in the States and get a working Visa for there, here is the place to be! Home to the Well & Being Spa, a holistic overall wellness spa with a fitness center and the works. Right in the middle of Arizona where it is nice and warm, just how I like it!

  • Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle

I will be meeting my parents in Seattle in September when I see them for the first time in a whole 12 months! I tried to book here with the staff rate, but with no luck. We may just have to pop in for a visit though during out day in Seattle.

Eventually I will make my way to all of these incredible destinations. I know it won’t be any time soon, but one day in years to come, I will look back on this list and know just how achievable it really is!

Thank you Fairmont for being such an incredible place to work 💜

 

Day 30 Tuesday 8th September – “Home is now behind you, the world is ahead” Gandalf the Great/ Contiki Charity

It is always a sad day when contiki comes to an end.

You spend a month with incredible people, getting to know their ins and outs, see their ups and downs, and overall, become friends that will last a lifetime.

Travel isn’t about the places you see, it’s about who you travel with along the way. Contiki brings out the best people who are all looking to meet other fellow travelers.

On the final day of contiki, I realized that it’s not the places that we visited, or the hotels we stayed in or the food we ate, but the laughs that were shared along the way that will be missed the most.

On the very first day of your, everyone was nervous and shy about getting to know everyone else.

But we all pushed each other out of our comfort zones, to make the most of the opportunities that lay ahead.

After 26 days of being together, we knew that the reason it is so sad, is that we had all become so comfortable with each other, being around each other everyday or waking up to the company of your room mate.

The first day and last day of contiki are the most important to an individual.

The in between, we learn to push ourselves. But it is truly on the last day, where we have to say goodbye to everything that we know. Say goodbye to the life of the last 26 days and accept the fact that, life goes on.

For most of us, there will always be another trip or another contiki. Which means inevitably, more fellow travellers.

As Gandalf the Great, or our very own Contiki Charity once said, “Home is now behind you, the world is ahead”.

Each trip, or new chapter in the book, we are leaving what we know behind, and starting again.

I want to thank each and every one of amazing people that I travelled with during not only the 26 days of the Grand Southern, but the 4 days in New York as well.

What a journey it has been!



xx

Day 29 Monday 7th September – Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened 

 

 Well I must say for the most part of today, I didn’t do a whole lot except sleep!

I didn’t get in til 6.30am this morning after drinking with an old contiki friend back at the hotel! It was great to catch up!

So after sleeping til about noon, I managed to get myself up, get some food and begun getting ready for the last night of contiki 😦

Myself and a few of the girls went to the ‘High Roller’ Ferris Wheel to check out Vegas from a new view.

And as you can see from above, I’m sure Vegas got a view of its own 😉 haha, don’t worry no one saw anything, it was just for fun!


  
  
After the Ferris Wheel, we all met at MGM Grande for our Limo with champagne ride before heading to the club of the night, XS at The Encore, with 3 other contikians!!!

It was really cool to see people that I was in New York with nearly a month ago, I’d missed them so much.

Well there’s not much to say about the night, other than it was huge like the night before 🙂

I’m pretty sure there was a compliment drink with our entry, and we all ordered Long Island Iced Teas, I know I didn’t need another after that.

All in all, it was sad to say, but contiki has all but come to an end 😦

xx

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