Grand Southern (Start Los Angeles)
Los Angeles to Las Vegas
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.
Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon
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.
Grand Canyon National Park
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.
Grand Canyon to Durango via Monument Valley
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.
Durango to Albuquerque
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.
Albuquerque to Amarillo
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.
Amarillo to Dallas
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 JKF’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.
Dallas to Memphis
With one foot in Texas and one foot in Arkansas, grab a photo of yourself standing in two states. Stop by Little Rock - a hot spot during the Civil Rights Movement and former home of Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. We’ll stop at the Capitol Building before heading into Tennessee. 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.
Memphis to New Orleans
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, join an optional excursion on a traditional Mississippi riverboat and head out along the famous river. With a live Dixie jazz band and loads of Creole cooking, you’ll soon get into life in the “Big Easy”. Then 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!
A free day means time to absorb the atmosphere and lose yourself in the energy and diversity of New Orleans. Hop on a historic street car and head to the southern end of the Garden District, where you can soak up the rundown elegance and old-world charm of the quarter’s Victorian mansions. Experience more of the stunning French Quarter, made up of hidden courtyards, soul-kitchens and jazz clubs. Hang out in Jackson Square and watch musicians, fortune tellers and artists. For a taste of tradition, sit down in historic Café du Monde and order the only two things on the menu: café au lait (milk coffee) and beignets (French donut). To learn more about local flavours, sign up for the New Orleans Cooking School optional and watch well-known local chefs make classics like gumbo (a type of stew), shrimp Creole and bread pudding, and then eat the food afterwards. Other ideas for your free time include rummaging through the farmers and flea markets on the square, visiting the Voodoo Museum for a look into more spellbinding traditions or reliving Mardi Gras at the Mardi Gras Museum.
New Orleans to Panama City Beach
With time to relax on the coach, enjoy a siesta or get some tips for the up-coming destinations from your Tour Manager. Travel through Southern Mississippi into Southern Alabama, where we stop in Mobile, Alabama for lunch. Afterwards, we head off to soak up some sun with an overnight stop at "The World's Most Beautiful Beaches" - Panama City Beach.
Panama City Beach to Orlando
Get ready to arrive in the former farming town of Orlando. This ordinary town was transformed into the most-visited place in the state by Walt Disney’s imagination, when he created Disney World. Now Orlando is all about wild rides, fantasy and amusement parks, so get some pointers from your Tour Manager and take you pick!
Free time means a day out in one of the many fun parks located here with some friends. There are loads of options; Disney World with its 4 parks, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and several water parks. The parks also serve up theme-bars and clubs, so if you’re keen, keep it moving tonight at one of them.
Orlando to Miami
Flamboyant, flashy and fabulous, Miami is hot and loud. Packed with diverse neighborhoods, each with their own character, Miami is great place to hang out. First up it's a look around the downtown. You’ll see the Miami Heat (basketball team) arena, the high rises of the financial district and the outdoor shopping area of the Bayside Marketplace. You’ll also get a feel for the city’s Latin vibe in Little Havana, with its Cuban influence and history. Then, discover stylish South Beach with its iconic art deco buildings, swaying palm trees and neon lights. Sizzling any night of the week, South Beach is where all the action is, so explore it in a night out with your friends.
Tropical Miami oozes energy and a free day here means time to get into this happening hub. Head down to Ocean Avenue and people-watch. If you’re looking to relax, kick back among the toned, bronzed bodies on South Beach and take a swim in the warm waters of the southern Atlantic. Have a go on 2 wheels in a fun included biking excursion with the group and get familiar with the waterfront neighborhoods. Your Local Guide will give you an insider’s view on this colorful town, and take you to many of Miami’s signature sites like Casa Casuarina (Versace Mansion), the Bass Art Museum and the Holocaust Memorial before winding down with something cool to drink at Miami’s Marina. If you’ve got time to live a bit of the local Latin lifestyle, return to Little Havana and order some Cuban rice and beans, followed by some sweet Cuban coffee. Try your hand at dominoes on one of the outdoor tables on Calle 8 (Eighth Street) or pick up a Cuban cigar and some salsa music at one of the little shops. Before you hit the shops, get some pointers about where to head from your Tour Manager, who knows Miami’s ins and outs. For shopping in style, stroll through the outdoor shopping promenade of the Lincoln Road mall and for bargains, head to Espanola Way. Tonight, live a slice of the high life and party it up Miami style out on the water in our optional harbor party cruise.
Miami to Cocoa Beach
Today, we roll on to the surfing capital of the East Coast, Cocoa Beach. Our hotel is in walking distance to the beach, so hit some of the biggest waves in Florida or try out some volleyball on the beach. Watch the locals fishing off the pier and order some fresh seafood later on at beachside grill.
Cocoa Beach to St. Augustine via Kennedy Space Center
Hit the Space Coast, home to NASA, and visit the fascinating Kennedy Space Center, the only rocket launch point for space missions in the Western Hemisphere. You’ve got time to explore the massive series of buildings, as you learn about space exploration and get up close to pieces of the moon, mission capsules, astronaut’s gear and space shuttles. You’ll also see the launch and landing pad first hand. Back on the coach, we cruise through a wildlife reserve and journey on to pretty St. Augustine, America’s oldest inhabited city, complete with cobblestones, a laid-back harbor and small beaches. Head to the timeworn streets of the Spanish quarter with the group, soak up the Mediterranean feel with its colorful buildings and courtyards, and visit the 16th Century Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
St. Augustine to Savannah
Free-wheeling Savannah is up next and its all about southern charm. Fall under its spell as you check out the old cotton warehouses, historic city squares and mansions. Spared from the destruction of the Civil War, you’ll see original historic buildings here. Visit stunning Forsythe Park and see gorgeous moss covered oak trees, surrounding historic homes and inns. Take in the sub-tropical plants, flowers and lush greenery that spill onto the town’s 24 public squares. Perhaps enjoy dinner along the waterfront tonight and experience southern hospitality at its best.
Savannah to Raleigh via Charleston
Practice your best Southern drawl and get ready for a little Southern hospitality as you cross the Carolinas today. On our way, we stop in charming Charleston for lunch before reaching the college town of Raleigh, where we’ll have a bit of fun tonight.
Raleigh to Washington D.C.
This morning, cross over the border into Richmond for a slice of history. After a look around the old center we head to Carytown, a young and funky district, for lunch. Next up: the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. It’s the USA’s political core, buzzing with decision makers and busy with museums, monuments and politics. Get inspired on our Illuminations Tour around D.C’s famous structures and see the city brilliantly lit up against the night sky. Your local guide will fill you in D.C’s signature sites and monuments, like the Capitol Building, Washington Monument and the White House. We’ll drive along the National Mall, a traditional place of protest and of key events in the USA’s past. Enjoy an overview of presidential history with a look at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, the Jefferson memorial with its famous columns and the Roosevelt Memorial. Remember those who died in Vietnam and Korea as you check out the memorials to those conflicts.
With two full days to explore the capital, you can visit some fascinating museums and monuments, or hang out in the city’s vibrant neighborhoods for a different feel. We’ll visit Arlington National Cemetery, where JFK is buried and thousands of US soldiers lie. You’ll see the sobering sight of endless rows of white headstones and have the chance to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then get some pointers from your Tour Manager on where to go next. Get a dose of culture at the Smithsonian Museums. This is a one-stop culture spot, made up of 19 different museums. It has it all – from natural history to space, so the choice is yours, and best of all, it’s free! You can also visit the world-class Holocaust Museum and learn about one of history’s darkest moments as you honor the victims. For something fun and intriguing, head to the Spy Museum. Find out about infamous FBI cases and what it means to be a secret agent, while you listen to bugs and play around with gadgets and interactive displays. Later, hit Georgetown, D.C.’s oldest district and see how it has injected itself with new energy. 200 year-old buildings hold hip galleries and boutiques – it’s a great place to pick up something funky. It’s also a global kitchen - try something from the 50 different types of ethnic food on offer. With a university crowd, Georgetown is vibrant and young, so spend some time exploring the laid-back lounges and upscale bars. For something more upbeat, get down and funky in Adams-Morgan, another trendy district.
Washington D.C. to New York
Leaving the capital behind, we continue on to New York. First up is Philadelphia. Check out Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the historic Liberty Bell – Philadelphia’s landmark that weighs in at 2080lb (944kg). Don’t forget to try a Philly cheese steak, a local speciality. We top off your travels with New York, where it’s time to say farewell to your new friends, as the tour ends here late this afternoon. Please note: It's best not to book flights before 9:00pm.