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 19 Friday 28th August- “Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane, touched down in the land of the Delta Blues” Mark Cohn

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While it is very sad to have to say goodbye to New Orleans today, we are trekking it all the way to Memphis, Tennessee. The home of rock and roll music 💜

While some of us were a little bit wounded on the bus after 2 big nights in New Orleans and slept on the bus, others joined in on a very competitive game of uno.

Good fun to make the tie go by I guess, nothin like a bit of friendly rivalry.

We arrived into Memohis kid afternoon and once we off loaded our luggage and freshened up, a large part of the group headed to the famous Peabody Hotel for the marching of the ducks in the lobby.

Myself and a few of the other girls walked out of the hotel together, and all though it was no more than a 10 minute walk to The Peabody, we were talked into taking a gorgeous horse and carriage with a beautiful mix breed in the back named Jack. I think it was all more about the dog than anything else in that moment. We all have dogs at home that we are missing, so nothing like some puppy cuddles along the way 🙂

Not much could be clearly seen at The Peabody; the lobby was absolutely jam packed with people. We did manage to get a half decent view when one of the nice bellboys moved the rope for us at the back so we could see closer 🙂


There was about 5 or 6 ducks that followed the masters orders by following them into the lift down the red carpet after The Duck Master told the history of the ducks being in the building and living in the fountain of the lobby.

Once the ceremony was complete, we headed back to the hotel for the ritual of pre drinking and getting ready to head out for an enjoyable night on the town!

Our first stop for dinner was a place called the Kooky Canuck, which means crazy Canadian.

The place was full of animals hanging above us, lodge like walls and a very Canadian menu.

The menu also included the Kookamonga Challenge which is a 4 pound burger and fries, which was featured on Man vs Food.

A few people took part in the challenge but unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it, no one completed the challenge.

I settled for a steak and a very large cocktail, The Maid of the Mist!


  

After dinner we were treated with smores before heading up Beale st the the Jerry Lee Lewis cafe and honky tonk.



The view was absolutely amazing from the balcony, where all of Beale st could be seen.

It was similar to Bourbon st in New Orleans, but cleaner and safer. People were somewhat happier and it was all about the music, but a different kind of music. New Orleans it was jazz, but here, here was pure rock and roll.

After a pricey drink at Jerry Lee Lewis cafe and honky tonk, we decided to head downstairs and across the road to our new go to place, Wet Willies for a slushie 😀



These slushie a are purely lethal, but don’t taste it. In fact they taste amazing. And so cheap! I think that’s why they have become the go to place, especially when we can get a drink from there, walk around the street with it, and even take it into the next bar with us no problems!

The evening was is to the Coyote Ugly bar here in Memphis.

Due to a few pre drinks, a couple more cocktails along the way and my slushie in hand, myself and a few other girls made our way onto the bar with the encouragement of the rest of our group and bar staff who were already on the bar.

It was only short lived as I knew my balance wasn’t at its best and quit while I was ahead!

After a couple more dances on the dance floor, a group of us headed back to the hotel to call it a night.


xx

Day 8 Monday 17th August- “Headed down south to the land of the pine, I’m thumbing my way into North Carolina”

Raleigh, North Carolina.

In May and June of 2014, I was on another contiki, the Grand Northern in the United States.

The song, Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show always reminds me of that trip, it was sort of an unofficial day song I guess you could say.

At least once a day it would be played on the bus and if it ever came on in some small country pub we were at, the slut dropping and booty shaking would stop and the contiki family would come together and sing along ballad style.

I’ll get back to this in a moment.

Our first stop this morning was to the famous Arlington National Cemetery.


A cemetery that was once a battle field during the civil war and is now home to American service men and women who have either fought for their country or served as president.

The walking tour was amazing. It the midst of melting heat even at 9 o’clock in the morning, we managed to see as much as possible before the changing of the guards at 9.30am.

The changing of the guards takes place every hour on the hour during winter and every half hour during summer.

The guards are guarding the Tomb of Unknown Soldier, representing all of the unknown military personnel who are unable to be identified ranging over at least the last 150 years in every war that the United States have been involved in.

It is a very symbolic duty, all of the guards that are doing shifts are volunteering and take it very seriously. The saying is “May God only know their faces”.

It was a very moving process to watch and I would highly recommend to anyone who is visiting Arlington Cemetary to pay visit to the Tomb of Unknown Soldier and to watch the changing of the guards.

Right behind the Tomb of Unknown Soldier is the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater where every year on Memorial Day, Barack Obama gives his powerful speech to the nation.

Once our tour of Arlington Cemetery  had completed, it was back onto the contiki coach and off to Richmond North Carolina for lunch where I had my very first “Five Guys” burger experience.


Now just like the song, Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, “thumbin my way into North Carolina” the contiki tour manager played the song as we journeyed into the city of Raleigh.

Tonight we had an included dinner at the Golden Corral Buffet where we ate, and ate and ate some more, and even made room for dessert!

Across the road from Golden Corral Buffet is a place called Adventure Landing that houses Go-Karts, Lazertag, mini golf and a games arcade.

Well like the big kids that we all are, majority of the group headed over for some friendly rivalry of go karts and lazertagging 🙂

It was a really nice night and we were due for some contiki family bonding

xx

Day 7 Sunday 16th August- “I have a dream”

So as you might imagine, this morning was a little bit rusty after a night at Shenanigans.

The contiki family is becoming a lot closer now and everyone has everyone’s back.

This morning, we decided an epic Burger King feed was in order to fix us up right.

Nothing like sitting in the hallway of the hotel with a dirty Burger King burger reminiscing on the past evenings events.

 
It really is such an amazing bond that is building between this incredible group of people.

After our mid morning session, another girl and myself ventured to the Newseum.


The photo doesn’t do the view of Washington DC justice at all.

As we made our way through the Newseum, we were slowly starting to feel better.

The exhibitions were certainly interesting.

There is a Berlin Wall exhibition, a very moving 9/11 exhibition, a section where the front pages of all of the newspapers from around the world as well as news breaking headlines dating back from at least the last 200 years.


The next stop for myself was the Lincoln Memorial.

The rest of the group had already seen it on Friday night in the city tour when I was at the Zac Brown Band concert, so I went by myself on the Metro.


  
  
The view was grand, beautiful and absolutely spectacular!

Although outside, the weather was hot and steamy, I enjoyed the afternoon exploring by myself seeing everything of what was left on my Washington DC bucket list before we leave tomorrow.

Having an early one tonight! Heading off to Raleigh, North Carolina tomorrow 🙂

xx

Grand Northern 2014 – Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon, Kanab and The Grand Canyon

Wednesday 11th June/ Thursday 12th June/ Friday 13th June

This morning most of the group joined the optional extra of White Water Rafting (Sorry, I don’t know the name of the company) I didn’t choose it, I scored a sleep in instead.

Today our tour saw us travel south through Wyoming and into Idaho. Our stop was at the beautiful area of Bear Lake.

The scenery was amazing. It looked like the kind of place that people had their summer holiday homes in the movies.

Grand homes stood by the fresh water blue lake. It is the second largest natural freshwater lake in Utah, after Utah Lake. A fresh sunny area to stop for lunch and a stretch before a movie afternoon back on the bus and on to Salt Lake City.

We arrived in the late afternoon to our motel, the Comfort Inn Salt Lake City We had time for a quick freshen up before a walking tour to Temple Square. This is the Mormon Temple and Salt Lake City’s most visited attraction. This luxurious church took 40 years to build and contains open gardens, historic art, visitors centres and assembly halls.

I’m not personally a religious person, but this visit was quite breathtaking.

 

 

That evening we had reservations for dinner at the Red Rock Brewing Co. Most of us were eager for food after a long bus day. We ended up walking several blocks in the wrong direction to the Red Rock Brewing Co. Beer Store – the actual brewery! That’s when we all found out that this was our tour guide’s first Grand Northern trip.

Finally when we reached our destination, we found a seat ate. The food was hardy and filling. Really great meals, almost pub like comparison to here in Australia and to die for wood fired pizzas. You won’t be disappointed!

After dinner, a large group of us contikians went for a drink at the Beerhive Pub. Being a Wednesday night and Salt Lake City not being known as a party town, one drink was all we enjoyed before turning in for the evening.

The following day, we departed Salt Lake City for Kanab. Along the way, we stopped in at Bryce Canyon for a hike and some fresh air. Trust me its needed when you sit on a coach for hours day in day out. Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah and consists of dry red rock formations known as hoodoos. There are several different hiking trails, with different distances and difficulties, all the trails connecting.

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That afternoon, we checked into our accommodation at The 4 Seasons Motel Kanab. I was sad to find out that since the contiki, it has since closed down. While it was a little run down and tired looking, the rooms were a great size. Perfect for the ‘not-room-party’ party 😉 If you ever go on a contiki, or top deck etc, they will tell you ‘no room party’s’-  that’s a load of crap, everyone has them! Just don’t make a mess of the room or damage anything and you’ll be fine. But more of that to come later.

We had an included dinner across the road at the Chuckwagon Cookout located inside the Little Hollywood Museum. The food was just as good as the home cooked meal from the cookout at Teton Trail. Some much love and warmth put into their food. Can not recommend enough. Yum!

So back to the room party part. After we explored the little hollywood museum following dinner, we all headed back to the motel. The night was still young for us partiers, and with no night life in the town- the guys in a corner room (which was huge!) hosted a room party. I think most of the group managed to fit themselves in and we played never have I ever and drinking games for hours.

The evening may have ended in a nudie run or two through the carpark on behalf of a small group of gentleman. It was a night to never forget and full of many laughs and contiki bonding moments.

On Friday June 13th, the day finally came for one I had been waiting the whole trip for- the Grand Canyon! I was so excited, this was something that had been on my bucket list for probably the longest out of everything.

We arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon early in the morning and began the day with breakfast before going for a hike through North Kaibab Trail. It was some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. The photos that I took will never do it justice, and the real images I’ve saved in my memories I’ll never forget. You can talk about it and show people pictures, but it really is something to be seen for yourself to truly understand the magnitude of the park and the beauty of nature.

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We spent all morning on the trail until it was time to return and have lunch at the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room. It wasn’t an included lunch and was a little pricey, but you expect that in a high tourist traffic destination. I chose the buffet and great food with a lot to choose from, and fresh too.

I took a few more photos out on the deck, then it was time to pack up and leave to go back to Kanab for one more night.

Most of us had a quiet night of laundry catch up and chinese for dinner from Fusion House. If your looking for an affordable, fresh and filling meal, I would highly recommend this place. Great options for sharing too.

An early night that evening was in order. After all, the three biggest days we were about to have on contiki were almost upon us. Viva Las Vegas, here we come!