What do you do when a tour does not live up to your expectations? Do you just write negative Viator and Trip Advisor reviews, or can you can take advantage of opportunities to make the experience better while it is going on? These are problems every traveler has experienced, including me.
Las Vegas to Sedona Day Trip
Last year while visiting Las Vegas, I learned that a local tour company offered a small-group day trip to Sedona, Arizona. I had heard so many great things about Sedona, that I made a mental note that when I returned to Las Vegas again, I would definitely look into this excursion. As soon as I knew that I would be returning to Vegas this summer, I eagerly booked the day tour with great anticipation. This was a tour I had waited a year to take.
The beginning of the trip was well executed. Four other travelers and I were picked up on time by our tour guide/driver in a very comfortable touring van at our Las Vegas hotels. Our guide was very friendly and for the most part, accommodating throughout the tour. The travel time to our destination of about 4 1/2 hours was nicely broken up with a bathroom break and a short stop in the town Seligman, Arizona, to view old Route 66. There were some gift shops here and it turned out to be a convenient opportunity to stretch our legs and get something to drink. I sensed we had stayed a little too long in Seligman, but two of the travelers in our group really enjoyed the souvenir shops, so I didn’t think too much of it.
Our tour to Sedona advertised that we would take a creekside walk in Slide Rock State Park, descend into Oak Creek Canyon, browse an artist’s village in town, and admire Sedona landmarks including Cathedral Rock from the Chapel of the Holy Cross scenic overlook. In actuality, we ended up accomplishing three of the four items, but not all were great experiences.
Oak Creek Canyon
As we entered the Sedona area, we first arrived at Oak Creek Canyon. One of the first things I saw was a sign for the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Overlook. Many cars pulled in there for photo opportunities and to get an overview of the canyon, but we drove right on by. My heart deflated a little, but I figured that our guide knew best and would probably take us to some other place more interesting. Unfortunately, as we descended the twisting roads into the canyon, we only saw close-up views of rocks and trees from the van.
Slide Rock State Park
Our first stop was supposed to be a lunch stop and creekside walk at Slide Rock State Park. I was really looking forward to this because I had seen many fascinating photographs on the Internet of people sliding down the rocks. Sadly, we were not able to go there because the parking lot was full. We ended up eating lunch at a picnic stop down the road, but we never did go back to Slide Rock State Park. Much to my dismay, this major stop was simply dropped from our itinerary. In my opinion, every attempt should have been made to make this stop, even if we had to efficiently tighten up our schedule to see this on the way back from Sedona. But again, I had never been to Sedona before, so I trusted that our tour guide would make good use of the time by taking us to bigger and better sites.
Airport Road Overlook
Our second stop was a photo opportunity at the Airport Road Overlook which is one of the best places to photograph Sedona. This was not listed on the itinerary, but it turned out to be an excellent location to take photographs of the West Sedona Valley area. I took many photos and was amazed by the scenery. I also began to realize that there was a lot of Sedona I would not be seeing.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Our third stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross was definitely the highlight of our tour. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Arizona and this spot is one of the most beautiful in Sedona. We toured the chapel and had great views of Bell, Cathedral, and Courthouse Rocks. After an hour, I realized that our guide never gave us any time to return, and I noticed our group was wandering around unsure of what to do. Eventually, I got our group together and encouraged everyone to walk down the hill to our touring van and guide. On the walk down, I realized that one thing we did not get to see was the famous view of the front of the chapel. At this point, I spoke up and requested that we stop at someplace to take photographs. After a little hemming and hawing, our guide did find a place to pull over to take photos. I was very glad that I spoke up, but strangely, no one else in our group got out of the van to take photographs – only me.
Unfortunately, our last stop was at an upscale artist’s village near the town of Sedona. Since most of us were day travelers and were not going to be hauling back large paintings, metal sculptures, or fine, breakable glass objects, this turned out to be a total waste of one hour of precious time. I asked our tour guide why we were here and he expressed that he also found it to be a waste of time, but he had to abide by the itinerary. As it turned out, a much better stop would have been the retail area along State Route 89A in Uptown Sedona. Here we would have had access to a greater variety of shops. Also, those of us who just wanted to enjoy the scenic beauty would have been able to take photographs of nearby rock formations such as Schnebly Hill (sometimes called Snoopy Hill). After this, we drove back through Oak Creek Canyon, sadly passed by Slide Rock State Park (no lines – no waiting), and headed back to Las Vegas.
I have very mixed feelings about my recent day trip to Sedona. The destination was spectacular, but overall, I felt that the itinerary offered by the tour company and our guide was very weak. My overall assessment of the day was that I invested a great amount of time and travel and ended up seeing very little of Sedona. This was more of a tease than a tour. A tighter and better-organized itinerary with multiple photo stops could easily have taken a mediocre tour and made it a memorable 5-star experience.
I also began to question, what could I have done to help salvage the day? I was somewhat handicapped because I had never been to Sedona before. I knew very little about the town and the places on our itinerary. The little I saw of Sedona was amazing, but even while the tour was going on, I was also aware that we could have seen much more. I did speak up a few times, but I was the only one requesting stops and questioning some of the locations on our itinerary. What should I have done when faced with a situation like this?
After I returned, I realized that I should have been a smarter traveler by doing more pre-trip preparation. I didn’t know the sights at all, so initially, I did not feel comfortable speaking up and requesting stops. I also should have been more assertive. Had I been more knowledgeable about my destination, most likely I would have felt more comfortable about speaking up and questioning various parts of our itinerary. I have found, that as an amateur traveler I am too quick to turn over my sightseeing experiences to tour guides and trust their guidance. I often do this because I have found that usually they do know best and are looking out for our best interest.
On the other hand, it is easy for them to pass over sights because they see them often and may not realize how important they are to us. I should have spoken up and requested more photo stops. I also should have suggested (and then insisted if necessary) that we tighten up the schedule and put Slide Rock State Park back on the itinerary. By not doing this, I was the one who lost out. Furthermore, when we were at the artist’s village, and I saw that everyone on the tour was bored within twenty minutes, I should have organized our group and requested that we go to a different area or put Slide Rock State Park back on the itinerary.
The advantage of taking a small group tour is flexibility. But if I choose not to use that flexibility, then the loss is mine. Next time I will be better prepared and more assertive. After all, it was my tour, my time, and my money – that means I have to look out to make sure that I have the best experience possible.