I recently took a 7 day bus tour of Yellowstone via this agency between August 3rd and 9th 2013. Since there have been so many questions about this tour company and some comments from people who have not even taken this tour I will thought I will give an honest unbiased opinion. It is still my opinion but I have no ties to this agency.
How is it arranged: Take tours.com, like may other tour agencies, contract with other agencies that arranges this tour. Ours was PCC USA Vacations. The PCC in turn hires the guides and leases a bus from an agency. Ours was from Smith Tours based out of Hunter, Utah. The bus with the driver and guide picked up passengers from Denver airport by 11 AM on the 3rd and dropped us off on the same place at 1.30 PM on the 9th.
Composition of passengers: As someone pointed out the majority of the tourists are of Chinese ethnicity. Our bus carried 56 passengers. Other than two Caucasian families (4+2) and our family of Asian Indians (6) the rest were all Chinese. of those about 50 % were Chinese who were quite fluent in English and the rest spoke only Chinese.
Why is it predominantly Chinese: I learnt from the fellow passengers that they like to see places. They do not want to hike or climb or Kayak or do any activities. They just want to see the places and be photographed in front of them. I see those sentiments among my own fellow Indians and also among other South East Asians who want to go back to their home countries and rattle off the places they have seen and show the photographs of themselves standing plumb in front of the landmarks.
Who are these tours for: It is for people who do not want to plan out and do the whole itinerary on their own. For some it is lack of time to plan. For others it is inertia to do it. For many it is cost and convenience. They have no interest in staying 3 or 4 days in Yellowstone and exploring it in detail. They just want to see the dominant sights and be done with at the lowest cost. For example our tout was $504 person and if two people joined the 3rd person cost was only $67. For 6 of us that came to $360 per person. Try doing that tour on your own for 7 days for that amount, especially in peak season where hotels are very expensive in places like Jackson Hole or Yellowstone Cabins. I calculated my cost to be two or three times the amount and the additional cost of renting a minivan and having to drive 2000 miles on my own ( I had no other persons with me who could drive on highways).
Who is it not for: It is not for people who cannot get up early. Not for those who cannot sit in a bus for log periods of time. For those who like to hike, climb, camp, kayak, take it easy. For photographers who like to wake up at 4 AM and trudge to the landmarks and wait in the cold to take the photographs in the golden hour. For people who do not like the idea of being a minority among Chinese tourists.
Places where we stayed: We stayed at fairly decent hotels. Some were being renovated like Red lion in Denver. Some were good like Holiday Inn in Billings or Clarion Inn in Gillette. The Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone was OK. A couple of properties were dated like the Airport Inn in Salt Lake city and Grand Vista in Grand Junction, CO. Almost all were neat and had good amenities like free internet and clean linen. Three of them had free breakfast. In any case, we came in by 7-9 PM and were out of the hotel by 6 in the morning. So the places served the purpose without adding to the cost.
To be continued in the next post......