We took this bus tour recently, visiting some of the famous National Parks in Nevada, California, Utah and Arizona. The tour is 14 days long and YMT offers this tour from May to Sept, you can get the detailed itinerary and specific dates from their website (YMT Vacations) but here is a brief account of our experience and what we liked about it. This review is posted in Utah Travel Forum as this State contains most of the Parks that we visited (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion), but we also visited Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite.
We had some misgivings about going with YMT initially as we could not find any review about this particular Tour by YMT, and we read some negative reviews about YMT on the internet. However we liked their itinerary and choice of parks, and their price was simply unbeatable. Other Tour Companies we looked at such as Trafalgar, Globus, Cosmos, Brendan, Intrepid, Contiki ...., were much more expensive (see Vacations To Go website). Although price should not be the only consideration, it turned out that we had a very good experience with YMT on this particular tour and we recommend it without hesitation.
The clients were mainly Americans and Canadians, majority were retirees with a few younger travellers but everyone interacted quite well and we all had a good time. Travelling with seniors is not a disadvantage as the Tour Guide and Driver were very aware of this and treated us exceptionally well, no rush, lots of time for sightseeing, and provided multiple stops along the way for bio breaks. On the longer journeys it was nice to hear the various personal stories, where they came from, how they met their spouses, which part of the tour we liked best so far, what are our favourite world trips.
The tour begins and ends in Las Vegas, we were put up in the Golden Nugget (great downtown hotel and casino) on Fremont Street which is a fantastic tourist area by itself (Fremont Street Experience and nightly Light show), but it was very easy to hop on the local bus and get to The Strip for the full Vegas experience. A tip here - Las Vegas and surrounding areas get very hot during the summer months, if you want to see Death Valley which is mentioned in the YMT preliminary itinerary then plan your trip for the earlier or later months, we went in mid-July and did not get to see DV as the temp there was over 115F. However we saw all the other NPs and places as advertised and enjoyed the tours and visits immensely. This tour is about breadth and exposure to some of the best National Parks of the southwest, and not about any detailed depth and intensity of visit – you would need to spend several days at each park for that kind of experience. It is also a photographer’s dream as the highlights and points of visit are well chosen, you can trek some of the trails, the views are simply stunning and we had enough time and saw most of the popular and famous points in each park visited. Some faves included General Sherman redwood in Sequoia and General Grant Grove in Kings Canyon; Tunnel view, Bridal Veil, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and half Dome in Yosemite (Ansel Adams country); Landscape Arch and the other arches, windows and formations in Arches; the sweeping views of Canyonlands; the Petroglyphs in Capitol Reef; the fairytale hoodoos in Bryce; the panoramic vistas and deeply carved stratas of Grand Canyon; and the towering formations of Zion.
Plus we visited places along the way that we would not have seen otherwise – Calico Ghost Town, the Tufas of Mono Lake, historical Virginia City, Bonneville Salt Flats, Kennecott Copper mine, the Humboldt History Museum, Lovelock Town, the California Trail Interpretative Centre in Elko, Seligman and Route 66. We also took some optional tours, cost extra $ but well worth it in our opinion - unforgettable was the Lake Tahoe scenic cruise with lunch; having dinner at the top of Garden Restaurant then listening to a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City; the Canyonlands dinner cruise and Lightshow down the Colorado River at Moab; hiking to the Grand Canyon rim at 4:15 AM to catch the sunrise, coming across a herd of deer, and then having breakfast at the famous El Tovar.
Contrary to what the YMT site said, these tours do provide a full time tour guide along with the driver (their site said that the driver also does the narration). A good tour guide and driver can make or break a tour, and we had two exceptional people here who really took care of us. Brian our driver made sure that the bus was always on time, that all luggage was on and off promptly, kept a clean bus, provided cold bottled water, and knew the best supermarkets to shop in and best places for bio-breaks. Our tour guide Steve (ex-teacher) was very knowledgeable about the areas we visited and would give us the geographical facts and figures, and engage us on a variety of American history and world travel topics. As examples of great service and commitment, they organized and provided snacks and drinks for a picnic lunch in Winnemucca; they got in touch with and drove back to the McDonalds near Great Salt Lake to retrieve a travellers’ purse that was lost there; they took us back to see a featured view of the hoodoos (Inspiration Point) at Bryce Canyon because it was raining the evening before and not everyone was able to see it then.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the choice and quality of the hotels in view of the very reasonable package cost, they were mainly superior or better than average for the areas (Golden Nugget in Vegas, Best Western in Bakersfield, Fresno and Bryce Canyon, John Ascuaga Nugget in Reno, Shilo Inn in Elko, Red Lion in Salt Lake City, River Canyon Lodge in Moab, Yavapai Lodge West in the Grand Canyon). The accommodations were either centrally located or else close to food and shopping, all rooms had coffee makers, all had AC with the exception of Yavapai (AC wasn’t needed and there was a ceiling fan), the beds were comfy for a good night’s sleep and amenities were generally very good, some had swimming pools, most have fridge and microwave making it easy to prepare snacks or breakfast, quite a few provided complimentary breakfasts, many had large screen LCD TVs, most provided free wi-fi, and a few had in-room safes.
Bus tours are not for everyone, you have to get up early and be on the road, the routes can be very long but frequent stops give you a chance to stretch and refresh (this tour covered four States and over 2,000 miles) but we could not have done the driving by ourselves. Like most bus tours, YMT rotate your seating on the bus so everyone gets a front seat/view and you get to meet more fellow travellers that way. Hotel room keys are distributed on the bus so there isn’t a congregation in the hotel lobby, luggage is delivered to your rooms and picked up by hotel staff in the morning. Plus wakeup calls every morning.
Booking the land-tour with YMT was relatively easy and friendly (we made our own flight arrangements), they send you confirmations by e-mail and regular mail. Plus there is an area on their website where you can log in to see your reservations/confirmations, the list of hotels, and to pre-book optional tours. All in all I must say that I really enjoyed this particular Parks Tour by YMT, it was really excellent value for the money.