“Interesting? Sure. Good value? NOPE!”
I rode “The Big Bus” tours in the D.C. area on August 8th and 9th of 2012. It was either them, or the Trolley Town service, which would have been a little cheaper, but I succumbed to the allure of an open-top bus, so I spent the extra money on the big red bus.
I’ve read many of the previous reviews, so I think there is some basic information that needs to be updated. This service has FOUR lines: Red, Yellow, Blue and Green. Both Red and Yellow start and stop their lines at Union Station (which worked out great for me because I took the metro into town). The Red line is what I would consider their main line; the most common attractions in D.C., from Lincoln’s memorial to the capital are found on the Red line. The Yellow line has a few of the same stops as Red, but it also includes several hotels, Georgetown, and Georgetown Harbor (Harbor is a pretty grand word for what it actually is; it’s essentially a small dock on the Potomac River). The Blue line takes you to Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon (you don’t get to go in the Pentagon, just drive past it). And the Green line is a free 30 minute ride that starts and concludes at the Hilton where Reagan was shot and that line has only 2 stops, the zoo (and they drop you off a good 4 full city blocks away from the zoo entrance) and the National Cathedral (I can’t speak to where they drop you there because I walked from the zoo to the Cathedral (THAT was dumb)). Another thing that I learned the hard way was that I needed to be more intentional about the order that I chose to see the sights. Picking them randomly, AND using this company as transportation was terribly prohibitive. Because it takes 2 hours for the bus to complete one loop (the Red and Yellow line anyway), if you hop on when the stop you needed was just 3 stops prior; that’s 1.5 hours out of your day just waiting for the bus to drive you back around.
I must’ve ridden in 9 to 12 different buses and only 1 of them DIDN’T have air conditioning. So I would say that’s a noticeable upgrade from the previous posts. I only ran across 4 tour guides though, the rest of the buses relied on the bus driver to push start and stop on the recording(s), which really didn’t work out well. I don’t know what it is about those recordings; I mean they do provide information that I wouldn’t have gotten in any other way, but considering that I paid that company almost the same amount of money as an all-day pass to Disneyland, I expected more. It just felt like I was getting the short end. The longest I waited for a bus was 23 minutes (it was the Red Line near the Washington Monument). And by and large, the staff was friendly and courteous.
Here is where I am going to be critical of them. The handful of tour guides they do have seemed to have learned English as their second language. I don’t mind the occasional accent or two, but these folks were difficult to understand. I asked the guide why the flags were at half-mast around the capital, she didn’t know, one of the riders informed us it was because of the shootings in a church in Wisconsin. The open-air gets old FAST! I should have thought that one through. You’re in a major metro area, of course you’re going to be stopped more than you’re going, and when stopped, you COOK!! You sit there and baste with everyone else, some of whom haven’t seen the business end of a deodorant stick in a while.
If you pay for the 2-day tour package (which I did), you receive a free 45-minute river cruise. I noticed that nobody had posted on that yet, and so that was one of my primary reasons on going; maybe I would find the diamond in the rough. The cruise wasn’t awful, the seating is all patio furniture with tables; think floating sidewalk restaurant. I sat in the back hoping to get a better view of things to come, which was a good idea; because I could see well, but I was so near the engines I couldn’t hear the recording telling us about the attractions that we couldn’t see past the tree line. You get a really decent photo op of Georgetown University and Watergate, but then…trees. All you can see are roof-tops, steeples and pillars. The city isn’t laid out to flatter the river front.
There is a stop at the White House where 3 of the lines meet; if you want to hop off of one line and jump on the other, you get to stand on this sidewalk in front of a café. While I did this once, I saw a Trolley tour bus come up and drop off some folks; I got to see the same thing happen in front of the Washington monument. Those buses are Trolleys essentially; great big open windows (so no A/C), but there is a ROOF that keeps the sun off of you. And the driver also looks to be the tour guide. Well in both cases, I heard folks thank their driver BY NAME as they left the bus. I know, the grass is always greener right? Well, Big Bus was VERY clear that there were NO REFUNDS! Trolley Town? Money back guarantee. What U.S. based company is still doing that? I should have supported them on that basis alone. I paid almost $60 for those 2 days with Big Bus; and the same 2 days would have cost me around $53 with Trolley. In both cases that is WAY too much money for what little product you get. If I had to do it over again, I would have become a LOT more familiar with the metro train and bus schedule(s), and just Googled all of the information about the sites.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
August 13, 2012
Gray Line DC appreciates all of our customers’ reviews and feedback, as it helps us deliver an exceptional Gray Line product. We would like to thank you for the informative analysis and assure you that the mentioned issues, particularly the guide and recordings, will be looked into. Thank you again for being a valued Gray Line DC customer.
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.