LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA -- I decided that I wanted to see the USA and what better way to do it than a 26-day tour geared for young adults such as me, ages 18-35, offered by Contiki. Well, my first mistake was thinking that Contiki was reputable and top-notch. It was not. If I had known then what I know now I would have run, not walked far away from this tour operator.
Let me start off by saying that for a tour focused on seeing the USA, there are no Americans on this tour. If you go on this trip, you will be surrounded by mostly Australian youth who love to party very hard. The majority of the people on this tour were heavy partiers - literally from noon to night. If you don't like to drink or whatever, do not go on this trip. Many of the tourmates formed cliques from the start and were not very welcoming to anyone that they did not hand-pick to be in their group. Many of them were pretty brutal to outsiders.
The tour guide was a partier himself. He was not helpful, nor did he guide too much. If you have a problem with anything, forget about going to him for a resolution. The bus driver was a better guide than him and a little nicer. The tour guide was very rude and inferior to other tour guides that I encountered. He made no effort to insure that we were a cohesive group and actually perpetuated the 'cliques' and groups and was quite a gossiper. He did not hold any meetings to discuss the tour, the different sightseeing options, or anything for that matter.
He would distribute sign-up sheets on the bus while we were trying to sleep and sign us up for extra tours that were not included in the initial cost of the trip. If we didn't want to go on that extra tour, we had to pay for it anyway. If something were cancelled due to bad weather, he would not give us our money back. At the end of the tour we were each expected to tip him and the bus driver $3 per day amounting to $78 for each of them, which Contiki never tells you about in advance of the trip. The tour guide certainly was not deserving of that tip.
Contiki neglects to tell you that they combine tours. For example if you go on a tour for 26 days, in the middle of the tour some people leave and new people get on the tour. This presented a whole different set of problems due to the friendships formed with people leaving and the new people coming in feeling out of place.
Also, be aware that the price you pay for your trip will be based on double occupancy of your room. If you travel alone you will be assigned a roommate for the entire trip. If you don't mesh well with that roommate, too bad. Contiki will not let you change your roommate even though they tell you before you book it, that you can change roommates. The only way to avoid this problem is to pay double the price to have your own room.
The accommodations were mostly motels that one would only stay in if absolutely desperate for a place to rest. Most of the motels didn't even have an elevator- forcing us to walk up stairs carrying a 44 pound piece of luggage (which is the size limit on the bus). These motels were mostly bottom of the barrel and some were a bit creepy-looking. I didn't encounter any bugs or anything disgusting, but I was expecting to by the looks of some of these places.
Most were not near the center of town and if you went out to the bars at night, you would have to walk. The bus, on the whole, was not used to take us to the nightlife or most of our sightseeing. Only when the entire group went somewhere would the bus be used.
And speaking of the bus, if you like to cross your legs or stretch out a bit, then forget about that! The bus was very small with little room to move around. There are 50 people plus the tour guide and bus driver and it was extremely cramped. Contiki assured me that there would be charging stations on the bus for cell phones, iPods, etc. and the only charging station was in the front of the bus and was always fully occupied by the tour guide's devices.
The meals that are included on the tour are some breakfasts and some dinners - no lunches. The dinners were usually at cheap restaurants and not very good. You would have to pre-order your dinner days in advance from a limited choice of items and by the time you would go to the restaurant, you would forget what you ordered. On the days that you travel (which are most days), expect to stop at every Wal-Mart from New York to California so that you can buy snacks for the bus rides and clothes and give your money to Wal-Mart. I think that Contiki must have some sort of deal with the Wal-Mart Corporation because almost every rest stop was centered on those stores.
While the basic cost of this trip seemed reasonable, the extra money that was spent on lunches, meals that aren't included, snacks, nightlife, sightseeing, tipping, etc. was much more than Contiki would ever admit. Before leaving on the trip, I called the main office to ask how much money I should allocate for additional expenses. Their response was $50-75 per day - well triple that and that number is less than what you will spend.
As a matter of fact, there wasn't too much that Contiki was truthful about. Before you book the trip they will tell you everything that they THINK you want to hear like the additional expenses, the quality of the hotels, the type of tourmates you will have, the quality of the tour bus, etc. The information you receive from them is in fact incorrect and/or vague and the only way to find out the truth is to actually go on the tour - which I would NOT recommend.
Prior to leaving on this tour I was so excited to be able to take a trip like this. I expected to have the time of my life, but instead the trip was a sad, sad disappointment. It was nothing like I anticipated and that was due to the tour company and their false information as well as their tour guide who was as bad as you could get. There was not one redeeming feature of this tour that I can pinpoint and say, "At least that part was worth it". I truly discourage anyone from going on a Contiki Tour. Please stay away from Contiki!!!