Tree-level Views of the Strip Can Be FAB!
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Have you seen the open top buses in Las Vegas? Have you ridden one of the buses? In the delightful weather we had last Thursday, this reporter played tourist and hopped aboard an open-top bus.
In summary, I loved seeing Las Vegas from treetop level, but I also had a few “suggestions” for company management.
When I originally looked online for an open-air Las Vegas tour, I saw several websites advertising tours. I wasn’t looking for a celebrity impersonator tour, so I skipped those posts. I checked a number of other sites and found most of the them led back to the same company, “Open Top Sightseeing USA/ Big Bus“. (Last year’s merger of Big Bus Tours and Open Top Sightseeing and its parent company produced the long name.)
The prices on each website varied by only a few dollars, but the posted schedules were the same: a Red (or Strip) Route had ten “hop on, hop off” stops, and a Blue (or Downtown Las Vegas) Route had ten additional “hop on, hop off” stops. For those who didn’t leave the buses at any of the stops, each trip would take about an hour and a half.
The cost of the day tours individually for adults was $20. To take both tours in the same day, the combined price for an adult was between $31.50 and $35.00 (depending on discounts). A three-hour night tour which included time at the Fremont Street Experience cost $20 and covered the Strip and downtown emphasizing the lights of Las Vegas. Other prices were available for families, for two days of tours, etc. “Hop on, hop off” routes, mean, of course, that if a person wanted to hop off the bus at a location such as the Atomic Testing Museum, he or she could visit the museum and then hop on a different bus which would come along later. (Though the buses do not have restrooms, the hop off destinations usually do.)
Twelve London-style double-decker buses make up the Open Top Sightseeing USA/Big Bus fleet in Las Vegas. The company itself is international in scope with operations as far away as Dubai and Shanghai. The local arm of the company employs 65 Las Vegans, 15 of whom are tour guides. Tickets can be purchased online, through travel sites or at many of the “hop on” sites.
The launching point for my tour(s) last Thursday was the Excalibur Las Vegas. The entrance servicing buses at the Excalubur is full of activity. While waiting, I saw buses for a Grand Canyon tour, a trip to the Gun Store, Trail Riding at Red Rock Canyon and trips to the airport. I was supposed to see a company salesperson in the area, but I must have come at lunchtime because the salesperson was nowhere to be seen, though a bus did arrive. I was then assisted by the bus’s tour guide, Rick Hernandez.
I climbed to the second floor of the bus (on a somewhat narrow rounded staircase) and found a seat next to Canadian car salesman Max Newham visiting Las Vegas with his daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Rog Provost.
The weather was lovely, but the sun could be hot, so I was glad to be wearing a visor. Only two ladies on our bus were taking the tour and sitting inside on the bus’s first level. Anyone with vertigo or difficulty climbing stairs will want to ride inside during the good weather, and of course, during the hot, hot weather or the cold, the enclosed first floor of the bus will look very inviting.
In our case, except for the two ladies, the rest of us were upstairs, and most of us didn’t “hop on, hop off”, we just rode the route, listened to the guide (through a good sound system), looked around and took pictures. The buses were clean and looked to be in almost-new condition.
Hernandez was quite a knowledgeable guide and all of us, including three generations of ladies near me, each celebrating birthdays in Las Vegas, seemed quite interested in his storehouse of Las Vegas information.
The Red Route bus eventually ended its trip at Circus Circus where, if we had an all-day pass (I did), we boarded a second bus for the tour downtown. One of the stops on that route was near the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop. A young couple boarded the bus there and I asked if they had gotten to visit what is now the world’s most famous pawn shop. Nope, the couple reported. They had waited a half hour in line, but the store was filming a”Pawn Stars” episode, so the long line never moved.
The guide for the second part of the tour was not as knowledgeable as Hernandez. In fact, his patter included some rather outrageous facts which I won’t repeat here. (He also twice reminded passengers that his was a service business and tips were always welcome.) Because the bus company had been nice enough to give me a free ticket on the buses, and because I love Las Vegas stories – the true ones — I called the company with my report of the second tour guide’s “facts”.
After retelling what I considered the worst misrepresentation of facts, General Manager Rich Goldstein immediately said, “That’s not true at all!” He assured me his company’s training manual did not include such information and that Tour Guide No 2 would be “counseled”. He said that the company encourages guides to give information in their own way, but not to invent information. He also told me that when customers have complaints and call the number listed on the brochure, he takes those comments seriously and always offers the customers a second chance, at his expense, to have a better experience. (I may take him up on that.) I mentioned to Goldstein that an updated version of the book, “Sun, Sin & Suburbia, A History of Las Vegas” by Geoff Schumacher debuted just last week.
Back to the bus rides.
To return to the Excalibur and finish the Strip tour, I transferred buses again when the downtown bus returned to Circus Circus headquarters. This time, we had no complaints about a tour guide because we had no tour guide! We were told our tour guide had become ill and had recently gone home. Our bus driver attempted to give information over the loud speaker, but he was busy driving and the information was spotty. I didn’t get the bus driver’s name, but he must like German food because he became particularly animated on the microphone when the bus passed the Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas restaurant.
With regard to the drivers we had, they all did a fine job, and unlike some cab experiences, we didn’t come close to collisions or pedestrian mishaps. The pace was slow enough to see everything and we had the feeling of complete safety, being high above the traffic. With regard to hopping on and off the bus, the most exiting I saw saw occurred when we stopped at the downtown Premium Outlet Mall.
All in all, I do recommend the Open Top Sightseeing USA Big Bus tours. In good weather, the experience is friendly, fun and (mostly) informative.
And if you have a complaint…..talk to Mr. Goldstein!