I found a great travel agent (through IgoUgo, actually) who was an Oz specialist, and she recommended AAT Kings for my trip to Australia. The trip would start in Melbourne on Jan 1 (though I would be on my own in Sydney for New Year’s Eve). We spent three nights, in Melbourne, then flew to Alice Springs, where we would stay for one night. We’d take a five-hour bus ride from there to Uluru, where we’d park our behinds for two nights. From there, we’d fly to Cairns for three nights, and then fly to Sydney for our final three nights. It was a 13-day trip that would cover the highlights of Australia.
All in all, I’d say that AAT Kings did what they promised. We were escorted around in an air-conditioned coach (and since it is summer there in January, we were always grateful for that a/c.) The bus drivers were all well-informed and friendly – and the ones that were with us for a few days usually became one of the gang. Our tour director, Mick, was also well-informed and full of tidbits for us.
As a 30-something, I was a bit worried about being stuck on a bus with a bunch of AARP folks and having to wait on them all the time. That wasn’t the case at all. There was a diverse range of ages on the tour, with three of us single (so naturally we gravitated to each other and became friends), another dad/hubby traveling on his own (a present from his wife), a family with their college-aged daughter, an aunt with her college-age niece and goddaughter (a graduation present), two slightly older couples from NY who all went to high-school together, a farmer and his wife from Kansas, etc.
My one complaint about the tour is that I never felt like I had enough time anywhere. I also thought that there was a lot of wasted time. I think the tour company gets kickbacks, or maybe is just trying to support the locals, but we stopped in places that I didn’t think were necessarily highlights. Plus, on days we flew from town to town, the flights were late in the morning or afternoon. Let’s just fly in the a.m. and get it over with. Every other day started early, so why not give us more time at our destination?
That said, I certainly don’t think I could’ve done the trip on my own and stayed in the same quality of accommodations for the same price. Plus, the center of the country is harsh – I’m not sure I would’ve relished driving (on the left, no less) by myself through the Outback.
The tour cost me about $2300, and that was land-only. The travel agent got me the airfare from LAX to Sydney, all the stops within the country, and then home again. My bank account will be feeling the pain for months to come, but I’m glad I got to visit my dream destination.