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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kicking it in Cairns

Day 3 of my trip down under. My first trip overseas in 7 years and my first experience with the famous Contiki tourin group.

A word of advice with planning a trip with Contiki: it's a skeleton tour. The base fee for any tour really just covers accommodations, transport and the all-encompassin supervision of a gregarious, rapid-fire delivery Aussie tour manager. Unless you are going to be motivated to plan your own day outings, all the "special events" are optional and count as additional charges should you decide to do any of them. These include white water rafting, skyrail rides, sailing trips to the Great Barrier Reef, ATV and horseback riding, intro an certified scuba diving, skydving, bungy jumping, and more.

During our tou orientation we were given a rather thorough summary of all these optionals, along with prices. I have to say, even after dropping $1800 total on airfare and another $1600 on the tour, plus several hunder dollars kitting myself out for my vacation, these optional fun trips all seemed quite appealing. Still, with most optionals costing an average of $175 dollars, it became apparent to me that I would have to be very discerning with my purchases. It was easy to rule out the water-heavy activities like scuba and more extremem excercises like skydiving. I had also already pre-booked a 2 night sailing trip from Whitsundays to the inner corrals of the Great Barrier Reef, so all the other sailing excursions felt redundant. That left ATV riding during our stay in Cairns. The ATV experience immediately caught my eye and at $125 for a half-day joyride, it was reasonably priced.

So, the lesson here is be prepared to dish out at least another few hundred dollars if you want to add "content" to your baseline tour experience. Even after we leave Cairns and Whitsundays, we have a good 8-9 days left of touring, with each stop offering yet more optional excursions. It really will add up fast if you're not carefule and happen to be an "experience junkie" when you go travelling. For tamer souls n a budget, such as myself, you'll need to do a bit more soul searching and wallet scraping to pick out the very best activites for yourself and be able to entertain yourself during those "free days" when many other more spend-happy tour participants have gone off on their own day trips.

Another minor grumble I have with this tour is the paucity of included meals. When I booked my tour, I knew before hand that there were only going to be about a dozen packaged-in meals, mostly lunches and dinners, but it's still a disappoint to be 3 days in to your trip and still shelling out cash for overpriced hotel buffets. Or in the case of last night's pub crawl, 20 Aussie bucks bought us a rather tepid BBQ consisting of 3 kinds of sausages and way too much salad, plus a complimentary beer, shot or glass of wine at a succession of 4 different clubs and pubs. Overall, it wasn't a bad deal, but the BBQ was weak and these comp drinks only fetch you the Aussie equivalent of a bottle of Bud or Kokanee in Canada. Thankfully, we'll be treated to our first included breakfast the mornng we leave Cairns for Whitsundays. I'm eager to assess the quality of the foods... whether it's of a baseline quality or something sloppy they just turned out to appease us hapless, ignorant tour participants.

But the clock is counting down on my Internet cafe access. It's been a slack day of sleeping in, gorging on overpriced breakfast buffet and aimlessing wandering the Cairns espanade and tourist centre. Another 2 hours and I'll dutifully hope back on my hotel shuttle bus and retire to my room share of 4 travellers. More on that and the rest of my Cairns stay later.