Meet up with your Contiki crew and Tour Manager before we hit the road. Journey through Southern California and the vast Mojave Desert, with its iconic Joshua trees, into Nevada. Get ready to arrive in larger-than-life Las Vegas - a manmade entertainment oasis smack in the middle of the desert. Dubbed “Sin City”, it's all about glitz, neon lights and excess. See the bright lights of this city and its world famous casinos in a first taste of Vegas kitsch. As the group heads down the main drag, the “Strip”, your Tour Manager will fill you in on the story behind the city. Then cruise downtown to Freemont Street where you'll experience the spectacular light and laser show in a massive pedestrian mall.
With a free day, you've got time to get a real feel for this outrageous town, so keep an eye out for Elvis impersonators and fast-paced chapel weddings! Explore more of the Strip and check out over-the-top versions of international icons, like the Eiffel Tower, Venetian canals and gondolas, a Roman temple or the pyramid, whose nightlight can be seen from the moon. Try your luck at one of the casinos, sit yourself down at a blackjack table and watch the high-rollers or go for a ride at one of the casino's theme-parks. If you work up an appetite, tuck into an all you can eat buffet, and lunch American style. For something different, discover Las Vegas' trademark art at the Neon Museum and for a look into this town's atomic heyday in the 50s, visit the Atomic Testing Museum. Tonight, get some pointers on Las Vegas' hot spots from your Tour Manager and make the most of this towns' 24/7 action with some of your new friends.
Leaving the desert of Nevada, we head into Arizona's high country. With down time on the coach, plug in your iPod, catch up on some sleep or chat with your new friends. Following a section of the legendary Route 66, we stop in the town of Seligman. This historic town will give you a feel for the old style as you check out 1940s shop fronts and motels. This is a good place to pick up a souvenir for back home. We continue on to the mind-blowing landscape of the Grand Canyon, one of the world's most recognizable natural wonders and pride of Arizona.
A day here means time to take in the immensity and spine-tingling beauty of the scene-stealing Canyon - it has got a rep for a reason! This morning get up close to this UNESCO World Heritage site on an optional helicopter ride and get another angle on the Canyon as you fly over it. Hike along the South Rim for mind-blowing vistas of the dramatic scenery. See some of the oldest exposed rocks on earth, take in the deep abyss and soak up the wildness of the area. There are trails for all levels of hiking, so take it up a notch or cruise along at your own pace. Wrap up the day with a canyon sunset and take in the stunning changes of light while the sun goes down.
It's into the Wild West today as we travel past cacti, rocky plateaus and the iconic desert backdrop of Monument Valley. Packed with stone spires and mesas (flattop mountains), the valley is also home to Navajo culture. Learn about the American Indian and Navajo way of life as the group visits the Navajo Tribal Park. Your jaw will drop as we travel through a narrow gorge to the Painted Desert, where colorful rock formations dot the desert. Get your camera ready for a rock shaped exactly like a Mexican sombrero (hat). Then it's off to Colorado's adventure capital and old-mining town, Durango, with its rugged nature and masses of trees.
Get into the region's outdoor lifestyle in an adrenaline-pumping river-rafting optional or choose to discover the back country and an old mine on a four wheel drive excursion. This afternoon, it's a total change of scene when we enter New Mexico, where sun-baked earthen brick buildings stand out against the bright blue sky. When we pull into Albuquerque, you've got time before dinner to uncover the city's Spanish heritage. Check out the pueblo (old town), where the original settlement still stands, as well as small shops that sell knick-knacks, antiques and souvenirs.
Enjoy an unforgettable experience by choosing an optional hot air balloon ride over New Mexico in the early morning. This region is famous for hot air ballooning, so grab hold of your camera for the full-blown vistas over the desert and the Rio Grande. Next up is Santa Fe. It's a prime example of how New Mexico mixes up Mexican, Spanish, Anglo and American Indian cultures. Walk around town and see pueblo style architecture or experience Santa Fe's artistic flair and visit some of its 250 art galleries. It's a great place to pick up some turquoise jewelery - a traditional craft of the American Indians. For lunch, try out some local spicy specialties like caldillo (green chilli stew), fajitas (sizzling meat and vegetables wrapped in tortilla) and tamales (cornmeal, meat and chili). Eastbound, we travel into the heart of cowboy country to laid- back Amarillo, a small, quirky town known for its ranches and cattle auctions. Get your dose of Americana at the Cadillac Ranch - a roadside open-air collection of off-beat art. Cast your eyes over the time line of Cadillac models and learn about this classic American car. Make the most of our “old west” accommodation tonight, complete with a Texas-shaped pool and horse hotel (stables for those travelling steeds). Later on, if you're keen, put your hand up for the Big Steak Challenge and take on a 2.1kg portion (4.4lb) of beef.
Home to the Dallas Cowboys football team, oil millionaires, rich ranchers and a famous soap opera, Dallas doesn't do things by halves. The “Big D” dishes up big attitude. You'll get your bearings as your Tour Manager shows the group some of downtown Dallas' core spots. Then there's time to get out there among the city slickers and pound the pavements for a first taste of the Lone Star State's famous city.
With a day to discover why things are bigger and better in Texas, you'll get a real feel for this fast moving city. This morning, get the low down on one of Dallas' darkest moments at the Sixth Floor Museum. Learn about the background on JFK's life and assassination and even stand in the “gunman's nest” (from where Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have taken aim). In your free time, chalk up a local experience and move around at your own pace on the city's easy public transport. Check out where Dallas' elite shop at the landmark Neiman Marcus - an upscale department store complete with 6 stories of luxury items. For something different, head to Deep Ellum, a neighborhood packed with funky clothing stores, up-and-coming galleries and loads of affordable restaurants. Later, we visit Fort Worth and its historic stockyards. Pick up some cowboy boots and keep an eye out for the Texas long-horn steer.
With one foot in Texas and one foot in Arkansas, we visit the town of Texarkana! Make sure you grab a photo of yourself standing in two states. Stop by Little Rock and see the Central high school - a hot spot during the Civil Rights Movement! Then we cross over the mythical Mississippi River and pull into the 'musical mecca' and BBQ capital, Memphis. Hometown to blues, soul and rock'n'roll, Memphis moves to a lot of different beats. Get a feel for its rhythm as your Tour Manager points out the Gibson guitar factory, the Orpheum Theatre, Rock'n'Soul Museum and Beale Street.
Jump start the day with a tour of Graceland and pay homage to the King of Rock'n'Roll. Your Tour Manager will tell you Elvis' story before you tour his 70s style mansion and get up close to his lifestyle, gold records and jumpsuits. After Graceland, you've got free time to explore Memphis. If you're keen, we'll drop you at the Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel, this is where Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. You can find out more about the American Civil Rights movement and its legacy here. Stop by at Memphis' signature site, Sun Studios, where Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash all recorded. If you want to find out more about Memphis musical heritage, have a look around and even make your own record! If you're hungry while your here, make sure you try out some Memphis BBQ, as this place is known for it. Later, head to Memphis' core and former hub of African American culture, Beale Street. Birthplace of the blues, stomping ground of famous singers like B.B. King and Tina Turner, this historic street is a major landmark and a great place to listen to live music, kick back with a beer and party.
Drop by Jackson, Mississippi, and then cross Lake Pontchartrain on the longest causeway in the world. A meeting point of European style and Caribbean flavors, swinging New Orleans is busy with soul, flamboyance, festivities and a whole lot of jazz! Get your first taste of the city's romance as the group looks into New Orleans' spiritual heart: the historic French Quarter. See New Orleans' main drag, the city's original coffee shop Café du Monde, the French Market and thriving Jackson Square, with its pretty wrought iron balconies. Later, turn the energy levels up with a visit to Bourbon street. Humming night and day, it is all about music and bars. So make sure you live the New Orleans' motto “Laissez les bon temps rouler” - let the good times roll!
Our tour ends after breakfast. It's time to say goodbye to your new friends and Contiki Crew.