On Touring by Bus

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My recent blog break (in May) centered around a vacation. I not only was a 2-week vacation visiting numerous national parks and monuments, the trip was our first-ever bus tour. My wife says she entered the venture with low expectations. For me, I started the journey with two angsts; people being late for departures and living out of a suitcase.

Although one tour is not a reliable sample, below is a list of positive and negatives about bus tours. Besides, I wanted to get this post out for Jo, ahead of her first bus tour.

Positive 1: Vacation planning is time-consuming – especially a two-week trip to a new area covering many miles. With bus tours, the tour company does all the planning. From all the hotels, numerous meals, special activities, setting the times, load/unloading luggage, and more, this long journey required little planning on our part.

The Downside: A bus tour resembles a forced march! Travellers are on the tour’s schedule – not theirs! “Instructions as the following are common: “Breakfast starts at 6, bags out by 7, and be on the bus by 8.” – “We are stopping for x minutes, so be back on the bus by 2:20.”

Positive 2: The tour guide provides the pertinent information of the area. Landmarks, history, people, culture, wildlife, geology, and more. A positive, knowledgeable tour guide makes a big difference. A major thumbs up to ours (which veteran bus tourists confirmed his excellence).

The Downside: Just like cruising, visitors are “in port” long enough for a taste – a sampling – not an immersion. All the major parks have much to offer, but we weren’t there long enough to take in everything. Like cruising, that is the nature of the beast. Given the available time, the tour director planned well so we could see, experience, and learn as much as possible.

Positive 3: Besides having a tour guide providing information, someone else is driving! Travelers now have the time to do as they please – read, sleep, watch, write, photograph, chat, or just relax.

The Downside: Although the tour company sets the schedule with the tour guide (who has some discretion) implementing the plan, travelers are at the mercy of fellow travelers. If one person is late, everyone is late because the rest are waiting. We were lucky because our group was very timely most of the time. However, our tour guide told me this is not always the case.

Positive 4: Our bus was more comfortable than we anticipated. A smooth ride. Ample leg room. Sufficient overhead storage area. Reclining seats. Although a toilet was present, the tour director encouraged us to only use it for necessities – so we stopped about every 90 minutes as off-the-bus breaks.

The Downside: When cruising, the ship travels in the evening and overnight to the next port while passengers are entertained and sleep in the same room. Bus tours travel during the day. Given our aggressive itinerary, we saw a lot of moving land.

Positive 5: We ate well – very well! It seems two of the differences in tour companies are the types of hotels and the number of included meals. The old saying “You get what you pay for” is very fitting. In our case, all breakfasts, several lunches, and about half the dinners were included.

The Downside: Yes, we ate well, but the breakfasts were very similar. While the hotels had more than the cheap continental breakfast, many in the group got tired of seeing scrambled eggs – but some breakfast offerings had greater variety than others. Plus, (it took me a while to figure out this one), adjusting one’s eating schedule each day is important. Breakfast time is relatively consistent, but lunch can vary from early, normal, or late, which will affect dinner. So some meal planning would be helpful.

Positive 6: Given that we had 14 different rooms in 13 hotels over 15 nights, we were happy with our accommodations. No – they were not a string of 5-star hotels – but the hotels weren’t budget-oriented either. In Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, we stay within the park (not in the surrounding area). The lodge at Custer State Park in South Dakota had an interesting history as the Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge. The Rustic Inn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming was my favorite. Their individual cabin concept was unique and the room are beautiful.

The Downside: Living out of a suitcase isn’t easy – well, until one learns a routine for themselves – which we did. Each of us had our toiletries bag in the overhead bin, then set out (and put away) clothes before going to bed.

The Bottom Line: Our first bus tour involved an aggressive agenda over 2800 miles (4500 km). Not only did it exceed our expectations, we were very pleased with the our company – Globus – and yes, because the positives of this experience outweigh the negatives, we would take another bus tour. Is bus touring for everyone? Absolutely not.

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