Back in 2015, I made one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. After dreaming about visiting New York City for most of my life, I started to do some research. There wasn’t anyone who I could travel with, so I looked into solo travel. There are a ton of options available when it comes to safe and easy solo travel, but I decided to go with Contiki. I had previously heard a little about Contiki online, but not enough to make an educated decision right there and then. So I researched as much as I could on the topic, and spoke to some people I know had done a Contiki tour before. Eventually, I took a chance a booked my very first overseas solo adventure.
Technically, I wasn’t traveling solo. There were over 20 other people in my Contiki group, most being fellow Australians, but there were a few people from other countries scattered amongst the group. I was a little nervous, knowing I would be forced to communicate with a group of very different people. But after a deep breath (and a little alcohol) I was ready to dive into the wild, weird and wonderful world of Contiki.
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The Best of USA Contiki Tour
I studied the different Contiki tours very hard before making my decision. All I knew for sure, was that I had to go to New York City. The rest didn’t really bother me too much, as I would be stoked to travel anywhere in the United States. One day, I came across the Best of USA Contiki tour. This tour would take me to four major cities in the USA: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and yep, you guessed it – New York City. We would have at least four days in each city to explore, which is the perfect amount of time for a fast-paced, yet once in a lifetime, absolutely incredible trip. I was sold.
Generally, most Contiki tours are road trip style. Which means you travel across the country on a bus, as opposed to flying between cities like you do on the Best of USA tour. That was also another main draw for me in choosing this particular tour. I wanted to spend as much time as I could exploring each city, instead of wasting hours on end stuck on a bus.
The Best of USA Contiki tour is the perfect way to see the most popular and well-known cities across the United States. The Best of the United States you might say. See what I did there? Here is a (fairly) accurate recap of my itinerary, back in June of 2015 when I embarked on my first overseas solo adventure, on the Best of USA Contiki tour.
Day One: Los Angeles // Tour of LA
The first day of your Best of USA Contiki tour may be a little bit nerve-wracking, especially if you haven’t previously met your fellow group mates. There was a Facebook group made specifically for the Best of USA Contiki tour that I was on, so I was able to talk to some of the people who would be traveling across the United States with, weeks before we even arrived in the country. This made things far less awkward, and allowed us to make plans to hang out before the tour officially began.
Walking Tour around Downtown Los Angeles
The first official day on the Best of USA Contiki tour started with a short walking tour of Downtown Los Angeles. Since our hotel was located in the heart of Downtown LA (spoiler alert: it’s a very, very loud place with a crap ton of sirens), that’s where we started our tour. It was cool walking through the heart of Los Angeles, seeing all sorts of crazy characters and unique sights and landmarks.
Before June 2015 when I did this Contiki tour, I’d visited Los Angeles many times before. I had explored Hollywood Boulevard a few too many times before and of course, being a Disney-aholic, I was very familiar with the city of Anaheim. But before that day, I had never walked around Downtown LA. It was interesting, to say the least.
If you choose to do the Best of USA Contiki tour, your hotel will probably be located in the same general area. Make the most of this and explore further in your own time. Take note during your walking tour of Downtown LA, of places you’d like to go back to.
Bus Tour around Hollywood
Once we finished the Downtown LA walking tour, we hopped on a bus and headed out to explore the rest of Los Angeles. It was cool being able to see all sorts of different sights, and being taken straight to Hollywood Boulevard was super convenient. We were given a couple of hours to head out and explore Hollywood on our own, try to get a good shot of the Hollywood Sign or do some celebrity spotting. The only rule being, we were required to return promptly to the bus at the agreed time.
This is where Contiki is super strict. If you’re late back to the bus after having some free time or sleep in and miss the bus to the airport, you’re on your own. The tour manager won’t wait, and your group will leave without you! This happened to one guy in our group, and he had to find his own way from Hollywood Boulevard to Santa Monica Beach. Moral of this story: don’t be late!
Bus Ride to Santa Monica & Venice Beach
After exploring the eccentric Hollywood Boulevard, we were back on the bus, headed to Santa Monica Beach. Personally, Santa Monica is one of my favourite places in California, and no matter how many times I visit, I will always go back for more. We had another few hours on our own, exploring as much as we could of this wonderful beachside town, before it was onto the next: Venice!
Venice Beach is the total opposite of Santa Monica. The locals, the beach itself, the vibe, the buildings, shopping and just about everything else, will remind you nothing of Santa Monica. Although I do prefer Santa Monica, I love what Venice Beach represents. I love the brightly coloured buildings, street art and locals selling beautiful hand-made products. Keep an open mind during your visit to Venice, and try to appreciate the unique and contagious positive energy.
Hollywood Pub Crawl
One of the cool things about Contiki, is the cost of the tour includes some meals and activities. The first night’s dinner was one of those included meals! After dinner there’s an option to head out on a Hollywood Pub Crawl. You’ll be taking the metro though, so there’s quite a bit of walking involved. Wear appropriate clothing and shoes!
Day Two: Los Angeles // Disney Parks
Disneyland & California Adventure Park
Day two was our first proper free day. We had the entire day and night to do whatever we liked. Our group was split on this day, as half spent the day at Universal Studios, and the other half headed to Anaheim for a day of magic at the Happiest Place on Earth – Disneyland.
I was in the second half, because no matter how many times I visit Disneyland, I always have to go back. We all decided we would stay for the fireworks, because if you’ve visited Disneyland before, you know just how incredible this fireworks display truly is.
Well, around 10 minutes before the fireworks were due to start, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker, informing us the fireworks display was cancelled due to bad weather. That was a bit of a punch in the gut, especially considering we were all extremely hungover from the previous night’s pub crawl.
After complaining all round, we decided to make our way to the bus stop where we had been told to wait, 12 hours prior when we arrived at Disneyland!
Suggested Post: Disney Parks Guide: Tips For Anaheim & Tokyo’s Disney Resorts
Day Three: Los Angeles // Universal Studios
On day three, our second free day, a small group of us headed to Universal Studios. Just like Disneyland, I had visited Universal Studios before. So instead of doing the VIP Tour* like the rest of my friends, I bought myself a regular day ticket and explored at my own pace. I have to say, though, it sure is weird walking around a theme park alone and going on rides by myself. It was nice not having to wait for anybody, though. If you don’t want to spend the day at Universal Studios, it’s another free day to do anything you like! Ask your Tour Manager for some suggestions, if you’re unsure.
What’s the Universal Studios VIP Tour?
The Universal Studios VIP Tour is a private guided tour with your very own Universal Studios expert. You’ll have your own personal guide all day long giving you ride, dining and Studio Tour privileges. Upon arrival in the morning, you’ll be treated to a breakfast of fruit and delicious baked goods, before being escorted around Universal Studios like the celebrity you are! Read more about the Universal Studios VIP Experience.
Day Four: Los Angeles to San Francisco
Bright and early on day four of Contiki, we headed to the airport to fly with Southwest Airlines from Los Angeles to San Francisco! Remember when I mentioned what’s included in your tour cost? Well, domestic flights between cities are one of them. This is another one of those don’t be late under any circumstances moments. If you’re late to the hotel lobby, you’ll be left behind and will need to find your own way to the airport!
San Francisco City Tour & Golden Gate Bridge
After landing in San Francisco from Los Angeles, a bus picked us up from the airport and took us on a short tour of some of San Francisco’s main sights. On the way to the hotel, we stopped at one of the best places to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and had a short amount of time to admire the view and take as many Instagram photos as we could!
After our short city tour, the bus dropped us off at our hotel. We had a couple of hours of free time once we checked in and put our luggage in our rooms, so a few friends and I headed out to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. There are a ton of shops, restaurants, dessert stores and tons more in Fisherman’s Wharf, so it was the perfect place to kill a few hours before we had to meet up with the rest of our group and Tour Manager, before our first San Francisco group activity!
NBA Finals Game
I did the Best of USA Contiki tour back in June 2015. It was the tail end of the NBA Basketball season while we were in the United States, so we had the awesome opportunity to attend an NBA street fair/outdoor party, to watch the Golden State Warriors finals game.
I love watching basketball, so this was one of the highlights of Contiki for me! Cool things like this tend to happen quite frequently on Contiki tours, and it wasn’t the first time during our two week trip! Keep reading for a surprise in New York City.
Days Five: San Francisco // Alcatraz
Day five, and the first full day in San Francisco, is a free day. Just like those couple of days in Los Angeles, you can use it to do absolutely anything you want. This is a great opportunity to ask your Tour Manager for some suggestions, or head out on your own to explore San Francisco. It’s the perfect time to see some places that aren’t on the Contiki schedule.
Myself and a couple of friends had previously booked an Alcatraz tour for early that morning. There are a few different tour options available, but each of them include the ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz. The tour itself was really interesting, and rewarded us with some pretty spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. The Alcatraz tour was a great experience, and I definitely recommend using a couple of hours from your free day to do it yourself!
Bike Tour around San Francisco
The afternoon of day five consisted of our optional bike tour around San Francisco. The tour went for around three hours, and departed from Blazing Saddles in Downtown San Francisco. We were taken through many different, beautiful places in San Francisco, and even rode across the Golden Gate Bridge! As this is an optional extra, there is an added cost of around $30 that is not included in the price of your Contiki tour. If you choose to do the San Francisco bike tour, be prepared for some incredibly steep hills!
Day Six: San Francisco // Catamaran Cruise
Shopping in Downtown San Francisco
Day six was another free day to explore at our own pace. A couple of friends and I decided to spend the day in Downtown San Francisco for some shopping. We all needed some outfits for our next stop: Las Vegas! There are some great shopping malls and familiar stores in Downtown San Francisco, so we made a day of it!
Catamaran Cruise around San Francisco Bay
Our last night in San Francisco was spent on an incredible catamaran cruise around the Bay. This was probably one of the highlights from my experience on the Best of USA Contiki tour. Being able to admire the views of the city, while cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge was unbelievable. The best part is, the catamaran cruise is also included in the cost of the tour!
Tip: Make sure to wear warm clothes on the catamaran cruise. Even during summer, when I did the Best of USA Contiki tour, it can still be cold at night. Even more so while you’re on the water, so be sure to wear layers just incase. And don’t forget to bring a camera!
Day Seven: San Fransisco to Las Vegas // Dinner & Clubbing
Dinner at Planet Hollywood
Our included flight from San Franctisco to Las Vegas left quite early on the morning of day seven. After being dropped off at Harrah’s, our hotel, we were able to explore at our own pace until the included group dinner at Planet Hollywood Restaurant later that night.
After dinner, the entire Contiki group headed out for a bus tour down the Strip, then it was onto a night of clubbing and partying! You can either choose to head out for the night to party, or have a more laid back night in Las Vegas. The bus will drop you back at the hotel if you decide not to head out after dinner.
Las Vegas Clubbing Night
I had visited Las Vegas a couple of times before this, but I hadn’t been 21 yet. That meant I couldn’t drink or party. It was fun being able to go back and enjoy Vegas in a totally different way. I can’t remember which clubs we visited or really any other information about that night, as I’m sure you can imagine!
It was a wonderful experience, though, and I definitely recommend waiting until you are 21 to do the Best of USA Contiki tour. It will allow you to have the full being-legal-in-the-United-States experience.
Day Eight: Las Vegas // Free Day & Grand Canyon
Helicopter Flight over the Grand Canyon
One of the optional extras (not included in the cost of the tour) is a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Of course I decided to pay the extra $300 for this once in a lifetime experience. If you’re a bit concerned about spending such a large amount of money on a helicopter flight, let me just say, I truly believe it’s worth every cent.
Not only do you fly over the Grand Canyon, you also land at the very bottom for a champagne lunch. With endless incredible photo opportunities and breathtaking scenery, it’s definitely something that you should budget into your Contiki trip. I promise, it will be worth it!
Limo Ride down the Las Vegas Strip
Later that night, we all headed out for an included limo ride with champagne down the Las Vegas Strip. This was an awesome chance to act a little silly, feel like a celebrity for an hour and make the most of being in the crazy city of Las Vegas. For optimal drunken happiness, indulge in some pre-limo beverages beforehand.
Day Nine: Las Vegas // Free Day & Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil Show
Day nine was another free day in Las Vegas. Depending on the time of year your Best of USA Contiki tour falls on, there will be a ton of different available activities. Your Tour Manager can suggest some attractions to see, food to eat or the best places to shop. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have the chance to see one of the incredible Las Vegas shows.
We were lucky enough to see a Cirque du Soleil show, was which incredible. My advice is to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. That’s the beauty of a Contiki tour. Being able to do and see incredible things, without having to plan a single one of them!
Rooftop Club & Bar on Las Vegas Strip
The last stop on our Las Vegas adventure, was an epic rooftop club and bar on the Strip. With incredible views of Las Vegas, while drinking and dancing the night away, it was definitely a fitting way to end out time in Las Vegas. One thing to keep in mind when visiting Las Vegas, is to always bring your passport out with you.
I know this might seem a bit strange and even nerve-wracking, given how important your passport is. But the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. So although Contiki tours are created for people between the ages of 18 and 35, you will only be able to purchase alcohol if you’re over 21.
Please Note: The optional extras that are offered for each city don’t have to be decided on when you first book your Contiki tour. Before arriving in each new city, you’ll be given the list of extras that are available, and will then have the option to say yes or no. Payment is generally taken by your Tour Manager either at the airport before boarding the next flight, or at the end of the trip.
Day Ten: Las Vegas to New York City // Times Square
I had been waiting for this day my entire life. Visiting New York City had been at the very top of my Bucket List for as long as I could remember. To this day, I still cannot explain the feeling I had when boarding the plane from Las Vegas to New York. Spending five days in New York City, and although that week will forever be one of the best times in my life, I still hope to one day visit again with Russell. There’s nothing better than living your dream with the person you love.
Seeing Times Square for the First Time
The day I had been waiting 23 years for. Our included flight from Las Vegas to New York City left bright and early on day ten. Since we were flying from the West Coast to the East Coast, it was quite a long journey. By the time the shuttle dropped us at our hotel, it was close to eleven o’clock at night. Of course, that didn’t stop us from catching the New York Subway for the very first time, to Times Square though.
Our hotel was within walking distance to multiple Subway stations and surprisingly, it’s pretty easy getting the hang of New York City public transport. You just have to remember the difference between Downtown and Uptown.
Day Eleven: New York City // Free Day
Day eleven is your first full day in New York City, so make sure to enjoy every minute of it! You’ll be taken through quite a bit of the city, so have your camera ready and plenty of caffeine in your system – it’s gonna be a big day.
Bus Ride around New York City
Our first full day in New York City started with an included bus ride around the city. We were taken past lots of famous sights, landmarks and well-known attractions and were able to hop out and explore on our own throughout the bus journey.
One of our short stops was Rockefeller Plaza, where we saw a live filming of the American Today Show. You may or may not have seen me waving my arms around like a moron. I’m sorry, America.
Right next door to the NBC Studios, is an NBC Studio Store, selling a huge range of TV show merchandise. I bought myself a huge Friends mug, which is actually more conveniently used as a small bowl, it’s that large.
Helicopter Flight over New York City
After the scheduled bus tour around New York City, the rest of the afternoon is free time. The group scattered off into different areas of New York, either going shopping or heading off to explore on their own. I decided to do one of the optional extras I booked myself in for – a helicopter ride over New York City.
Before leaving for this trip, I spoke to some people who had previously done the helicopter ride on their own Best of USA Contiki tour, and they highly recommended it. Being able to see New York from the sky was an incredible experience. It was a little foggy on the day, but that didn’t matter too much.
If you’re concerned about this though, be sure to research the weather in New York City to find out the least foggy months throughout the year. The helicopter flight over New York City tour costs $150 and goes for around 20 minutes.
Dinner and Shopping in Times Square
On the evening of our first full day in New York City, we headed to Times Square for one of our included group dinners. From memory, we ate at some pub style restaurant right in the heart of Times Square. After dinner, the night was free and ours to do as we pleased.
Some of the group headed out to experience New York City’s nightlife, but myself and a couple of friends decided to do some shopping. After all, I had been dreaming of the day I would finally step foot into the giant Times Square Forever 21, and I just couldn’t wait any longer!
Day Twelve: New York City // Statue of Liberty & Free Day
Statue of Liberty
Day twelve began with the highly anticipated ferry ride to the State of Liberty. This was one of the inclusions in the cost of our Contiki tour, which meant we didn’t have to pay any extra to visit. Given that Lady Liberty is one of the most famous attractions in New York City (and the world), to say I was excited is a huge understatement. It’s definitely one of my favourite memories from the Best of USA Contiki tour.
Have your camera ready, you’re going to want photos of the beautiful Statue of Liberty from every angle imaginable. Here’s a tip, too: move past the giant crowds of people and head towards the sides of Lady Liberty. There are far less tourists and you’ll be able to get a photo without anyone else in the background!
World Trade Centre Museum & Memorial
The rest of day twelve is a New York City free day. A friend and I decided to spend the afternoon visiting the World Trade Centre Museum and Memorial. I highly recommend that anyone who is visiting New York City, takes the time to walk through the museum. It was one of the most upsetting and unexplainable moments in my life, and definitely an eye opening experience.
Remember back when I was telling you about our opportunity to watch the Golden State Warriors basketball final, at a street fair in San Francisco? I mentioned that there was another awesome, unplanned opportunity when we got to New York City. Well, this was it! One of my favourite memories from the Best of USA Contiki tour, was our evening at a Yankees baseball game! Having the chance to not only watch a Major League Baseball game, but a New York Yankees game at that, was awesome and definitely worth the extra $50.
Tip: Make sure to budget a little bit of extra money for these types of unplanned occasions. Sometimes they will be once in a lifetime experiences, so it’s best to come prepared. We were told about the Yankees game opportunity while we were on the bus from the airport to our New York hotel.
Day Thirteen: New York City // Free Day
Central Park Bike Tour
The last official day on Contiki was another chance to explore New York City at our own pace. However, most of the group decided to spend the morning on a bike tour through Central Park. This was another awesome optional extra, however, it’s only available during the warmer months in the year. Don’t worry though. It doesn’t matter which time of year your Best of USA Contiki tour falls on, there are always going to be a ton of amazing New York City experiences.
Shopping in Soho & Friends Building
The rest of day thirteen was spent with a good friend of mine, shopping up a storm in Soho. Considering it was my second to last day in the United States, spending almost $300 on clothes probably wasn’t a good idea. But the sales were crazy good, and I had been dreaming of spending far too much money on shopping in New York. Mission accomplished!
We also tracked down the exterior building used as Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends. If you’re a huge fan like me, type 90 Bedford Street, New York into Google Maps. You’re welcome.
Day Fourteen: Last Day in New York City
Top of the Rock Observatory
The Best of USA Contiki tour officially finished on day thirteen, but when I booked this tour many months beforehand, I decided to stay one extra night in New York City. On the morning of my very last day in New York, a friend and I (who also stayed longer) visited the Top of the Rock Observatory in Rockefeller Plaza. It’s definitely the best place to go for absolutely incredible, panoramic and unobstructed views of New York City.
Conclusion: The Best of USA Contiki Tour
There are a lot of awesome things about a Contiki tour, and the Best of USA Contiki tour is no different. Your tour manager organises absolutely everything, so all you have to do is show up at the time you’re told and not be late! I loved having everything planned for me and being able to see a lot of places in a short amount of time. This can be disappointing for some, but sometimes fast paced travel is fun!
The Best of USA Contiki tour is perfect for someone who wants to visit the highlights and – essentially – the best of the USA! If you’ve dreamed of seeing the bright lights of New York City, or you’ve always wanted to take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, the Best of USA Contiki tour is perfect for you.
Have you done a Contiki tour before? Which one did you do? Tell me in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means, if you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. As always, I will only ever share my 100% honest opinion, and would never endorse a company or product I would not use myself!