Hoover Dam Las Vegas Tours

Las Vegas-Hoover Dam tours come in all shapes and sizes. Bus, helicopter, and airplane. Take your pick. Each offers a great way to experience this western icon while in Vegas.

The dam is located a mere 45 minutes from Las Vegas. The arch-gravity structure has been holding back the Colorado River for more than 75 years. The dam epitomizes what it means to be huge. Check out these facts:

1. It’s 726.4-feet tall, making it the second tallest dam in the U.S. behind the Grand Coulee in Washington state.

2. It’s 1,244-feet long. The dam crosses formidable Black Canyon and connects Nevada with Arizona.

3. It’s 660-feet thick. Before the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened in Oct. 2010, the top of the bridge was a two-lane road on which 13,000 to 16,000 cars crossed daily. How popular is the dam? Between eight to 10 million people visit it annually, coming by bus, helicopter, and airplane.

Bus tours are the most economical way to see the bridge. Trips include hotel pick up and drop off and lunch. The motor coach goes through Henderson and Boulder City, NV, and then along Lake Mead National Recreation Area before descending into Black Canyon. Now starts your Hoover Dam tour, which may include:

1. Strolling atop the dam from Nevada to Arizona.

2. The official U.S. Government’s V.I.P. Discovery Tour of the Interior (takes you to the bottom to see the turbine generators at work).

3. Exploring the Visitor’s Center’s exhibits, movie room, and observation deck.

It’s possible to bundle a helicopter flight, plane ride, or boat cruise into your bus tour package. Trip duration for the basic bus package is 3.5 hours.

Helicopter and airplane air tours are also available. Flights leave from Las Vegas every day of the year. The flight plan includes Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. Helicopters fly at a lower altitude than airplanes, which usually include Hoover Dam as part of a Grand Canyon West Rim air package. Tour duration ranges from 3.5 hours to 5.5 hours. Both packages bundle free hotel shuttle service.

Reserve your tour to Hoover Dam in advance. There are two reasons for this: 1) It’s cheaper; and 2) you’re guaranteed to get a seat. For the cheapest prices, I strongly recommend you purchase your tour online. Buy direct from the tour operator if you want the best price. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s the company that’s running the tour that will sell it to you at the lowest price.

Hoover Dam tours are perfect for travelers looking for a quick day trip from the Las Vegas Strip. There’s an adventure for every budget. Bus tours are the most economical. Helicopters are best for getting a true bird’s eye view of the dam. Airplane tours include the dam as part of the flight to the West Rim. Hoover Dam’s been fascinating visitors for years. View it airborne or by foot – you will not be disappointed

Student Travel Recommendations For the

The excitement is building for the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington D.C. For student tour groups that are traveling to Washington D.C. for the presidential inauguration there are specific rules which must be followed for this event. Security for our new president is a top concern among the intelligence and crime fighting community. Not only do these professionals have to do their part, but each American that attends this event will have to observe the rules to ensure greater security for all.

It is predicted there will be over two million people attending, so the lines are going to be long. Security checkpoints will be common and unauthorized belongings will be confiscated. Avoid losing your property and prepare appropriately.

Following are some requirements for inauguration day. Please read this list carefully if you are attending.

1 – Please do not let your group carry baggage of any kind, no umbrellas, coolers, strollers, canes, chairs, knives, thermoses, signs, posters, backpacks, packages, bags exceeding 8″x6″x4″ or anything that might trigger security concerns. There are no childcare facilities. All attendees will be subject to security checkpoints and if you have any items not allowed, they will be confiscated.

2 – There will be around 10,000 motor coaches transporting groups into Washington D.C. The coaches will not be able to get the groups in close, so I advise you to wear very comfortable walking shoes as student tour groups will most likely be walking long distances (up to 2/1/2 miles) and standing for several hours. The coaches will be parking at RFK Stadium or elsewhere along the route and either taking a shuttle, metro or walking to the Mall area.

3 – Dress warmly in layers and wear a raincoat, as umbrellas will not be allowed. It can typically be a rainy or damp 37 degree day on Inauguration Day in Washington D.C. which is in the full throes of winter. So, dress appropriately.

4 – Student travel groups may have other activities scheduled for the Presidential Inauguration day. In that case, don’t be surprised if they have to be cancelled. It will take much longer than usual to get to the Mall and departing will take a significant amount of time also. A tour escort will be in charge of your trip and can guide you around that day. Be patient with your guide, do everything that he or she asks of you, and be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting. You are very fortunate to be attending this inaugural event and our advice is to just go with the flow and enjoy the celebration.

5 – Plan to eat early and get on your way to the Inaugural event. An early breakfast at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. will allow student tour groups to get to the Mall to be in line for the security checks starting at 9:00 a.m.

6 – If all goes as planned, student tour groups will be inside the Mall area for the Inauguration event on time. Many student tour companies will not be able to guarantee arrival on time. The parade is not scheduled till 2:00 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. Groups will depart for a motorcoach as soon as the parade is over.

Student travel groups and others are looking forward to the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington D.C. They are excited about witnessing history. Take care and follow instructions carefully in order to truly maximize enjoyment of this student trip. Be aware of surroundings and do not carry disallowed possessions so they will not be lost at checkpoints. Remember to leave items not allowed on the bus or in the hotel room. Student travel companies, tour guides, teachers, students and parents main concern is that everything goes smoothly and that students are secure. Be flexible and most of all have fun!

10 Steps to a Fun Filled Bus Trip


You want to go places people want to go to. A trip across town to the local Mall or Movie theater is not something people want to do on a Bus trip. Also a place with a high entrance fee is not always appealing, for example if the bus cost $30.00 and the venue cost $100.00 many may not be able to afford to this.

Some place like New York City, Washington D.C. or Baltimore, MD. Have many options and a trip On Your Own works well. Where as places like Annapolis, MD. Atlantic City, NJ., PA. Grand Canyon have less options and need to be more structured.

Generally speaking the more structured the higher the cost. Bottom line you need to know your people, Age, Interests and Physical abilities.

I once had a senior group on tour that had 5 or 6 places to tour, by the time we got to the last place most were so tired they didn’t even get off the bus, as a matter of fact they didn’t even want to stop for supper they were so tired. So this tour was too much for the age and physical ability.

Once you have a place or Destination you need to decide on a date. Sometimes this can be the hardest decision. Everyone gathers around checking their date books and seeing what works for everyone. This won’t happen, schedules are too busy. You need to pick a date making sure it is far enough in advance that plans can be made, announcements given and flyers prepared. Again know your group. If they are middle-aged with younger children, work and school have to be taken into consideration. Were as a Senior group is ready most any date or time of the week.

Once you know where your going and when you are going. Now what time are you going to start and end your trip. The families with younger school aged children need more time to get ready in the morning, some seniors are not ready to start their day at 5 AM and also many need a little more time to get ready. Starting your trip between 7 AM and 9 AM is a normal starting time. What ever time you decide you must make it FIRM.

As for an Ending time, again, know your people. Children need rest and those who have to work the next day also need their rest. Seniors usual tire earlier than others and most don’t like to drive late at night. Also you need to consider how long from your destination it will take to get home. If it is a 3 hour drive and you want to be home by 8PM you can’t leave for home at 7PM.

The Bus has one set cost that can be divided by 47 the number of seats on the bus. This is simple division with the exception of the needs of others and or the addition of added personnel such as Tour guides or Host if applicable. Also if there are any admission cost, this also needs to be added to the trip cost. You also need to decide if meals are included or if that would be extra for everyone to provide for themselves

Having a contact person or team is vital to the success of your trip. Don’t have more than 2 or 3 people in charge. The old adage To many cooks spoil the soup comes to mind. Make sure the contacts keep in communication with one another so everyone is on the same page. Knowing how many seats are sold, and who has or hasn’t paid. Also if the trip is sold out it is good to have a cancellation list just in case someone needs to back out or there is a sickness at the last moment.

Now that you have the elements of your trip, it is time to get people onboard. Advertising your trip doesn’t have to be expensive. If this is a social, school or church group, members can pass the word. Bulletin boards, Church handouts, School papers just to name a few. You can’t start to early even is the trip is 6 months away fill the trip (ASAP) as so as possible.

Have a sign up sheet or Trip request form so you can track how many people are going and how many are needed. It is very important to keep the tally up to date so you know where you are at. It is wise to request a deposit when someone signs up to make sure the people are really interested, than have final payment due some time before the trip date, so there are no last minuet surprises the day of the trip. Tickets are not necessary but some people want tangible evidence that they have a seat reserved.

For your people who are seasoned travelers this is redundant. But there are always new travelers who just don’t know. On our Bus trips we allow people to bring food and drinks onboard. Let your people know this, for kids it is extremely helpful and some people have medication and need to eat or drink with it. On every bus there are hot and cold spots. It is advisable to bring a sweater or small blanket also a pillow or an extra cushion can be helpful. Encourage your people to bring reading material, games, puzzles, etc. Also our bus is equipped with video both VHS and DVD feel free to bring some along. It is also acceptable to play game and have prizes this makes the ride go faster and it is more fun.

If there are admission tickets purchased DO NOT give them out until the day of the trip preferably on the bus while on your way to your destination. The reason for this advise is so no one has forgotten or lost their tickets prior to the trip. Lost of forgotten tickets are just that. The venues have prepared and sent the tickets. No ticket No admission.

Everyone traveling should have someone at home, either a family member, neighbor or friend that knows where they are and what times they will be away. If they are going on an extended trip be sure to have your mail and papers picked up or delivers halted until your return.

Everyone or at least every group should have a cell phone. Even if you don’t have a cell phone plan go to Wal-Mart and purchase a disposable one for the duration of your trip. This is for emergencies or if you get separated from the group so you can contact your leader or they can contact you. It is very hard these days to find a pay phone or at least one that work.

Looking For Bus Tours? Questions You Must Ask To Get The Best

Bus tours are very popular in cities mainly because they offer an easy way of enjoying all the best features of the city affordably and within a reasonable period of time. If you are visiting a city for the first time and you don’t have much time for a holiday or vacation, you can take advantage of the tours to help you enjoy the city highlights within a day or the time you can spare for the ride. However, to enjoy the best experience, a few questions can help you choose the most rewarding tour in your preferred city.

What places of the city will the tour take me? If you are choosing the tours, it is because you expect they will take you to the best spots of the city. They include shopping areas, attractions, theme parks and some of the best eating spots too. To determine how worth the bus tour will be, take time to look at the areas it will help you visit and find out the possibilities of alighting to enjoy such areas before continuing with the tour.

What bur tour options do I have? Apart from being different in the size of the bus and features within, the bus tour can vary according to the city route it takes. Find out all options available to you from your service provider before making the last choice. For instance, if you are travelling with your family, you might be more inclined in getting a bus that offers you the chance to bond without too much crowding. When looking at the tour options, consider the time schedules and duration of the tour to make sure it matches with your personal schedule or business schedule you are working within the city. Also important are the days of operations.

Are your buses children friendly? This is a very important question if you wish to tag your family along for the bus tour. You want to find out which children you have to pay fees for on tour and what ages can enjoy the tours free of charge. This can differ from one operator to another and you will find one with a child policy you love. Apart from children enjoying the tour with you, find out how possible is for your handicapped member of the family to enjoy the tour with you. For instance, find out whether the buses are wheelchair friendly or not. If you wish to travel with pets, find out if they are allowed in the buses or not.

What about foods and drinks? Whereas it is possible to find a bus tour that offers refreshments, most don’t and will not allow any food on board. However, you still might get a chance to hop off the bus at designated areas to get food and refreshments. These policies are very important, especially when touring with children who can get hungry unexpectedly. Find out how convenient they will be for you and anyone accompanying you.

Charter Bus: Washington, DC for a Tour of History

Washington, DC is the ultimate place for a tour of history where visitors can feel at one with the early beginnings of the United States by seeing and reading the original Constitution. One of the most notable memorials in Washington, DC is the 19-foot President Lincoln statue. Organize your group and travel by charter bus. Washington, DC is best seen with a large tour group, travelling together for glimpses of history.

Other Washington, DC memorials and museums include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Museum of Natural History, National Air & Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Zoological Park, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, National Archives, the Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Capitol Building, all symbolic of significant events or persons in American history.

A tour of Washington, DC should start at the White House where there are lots of photo opportunities for visitors. Breakfast can be delightful at the White House Fresh Farm Market at Vermont Avenue where visitors can have a feast of fresh-baked breads and choices of healthy fruits. A visit to the Newseum should be next on the itinerary. This 250,000 sq.ft. museum is dedicated to news and its history. The Wolfgang Puck famous restaurant named The Source can be found next to the Newseum where visitors and tourists can have a sumptuous lunch. Another good place to have lunch is the Good Stuff Eatery, offering simple low-key burgers.

At the National Portrait Gallery, the famous Obama print by Shepart Fairey is on display, together with portraits of the previous presidents of the United States. From here, visitors can just walk to see Madame Tussauds’ The Presidents Gallery and pose with lifelike figures of the First Couple in wax. After this itinerary, the group can now choose to board the charter bus. Washington DCs sports teams including the Washington Wizards basketball team can be seen at play at the Verizon Center if members of the group are into sports.

The National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institute is another must-see in Washington, DC. Many of the First Ladies’ gowns are on exhibit here. There is also the American Presidency exhibition for viewing. Cedar Hill, the former residence of Frederick Douglass, one of America’s most gifted orator and statesmen is another place to visit. Its location on top of a hill will give visitors a breathtaking view of the surrounding city.

The Washington National Cathedral, the site of President Obama’s Inaugural Prayer Service is another landmark that is worth a visit. Nearby is the Equinox where Todd Gray serves farm-to-table food for lunch. The Restaurant Nora is another eating place nearby featuring organically grown food. Georgetown can be the next stop of the charter bus. Washington, DC retailers, shops and boutiques are located in Georgetown Park where many young designers feature their creations. Watching a performance at the Kennedy Center can be a fitting end to a busy sightseeing day. Citronelle by Michel Richard is a recommended place to have dinner. Another stop at the Abe Lincoln Memorial will be inspiring to see at day’s end when it is illuminated by moonlight.

Bus Tours Are The Best Way To Enjoy Travel

There are people that only want to travel by taking bus tours. The advantages of traveling this way are many. When deciding to take a trip, you are the one that would usually map the trip as to the best road to travel. Since you are driving, you miss the beauty and sights in the surrounding areas as you pass by them because you are concentrating on the road. The driver rarely enjoys the ride itself.

Try to imagine what it would be like trying to find the important attractions that New York City has to offer if you are driving. Think of the many times that you would take a wrong turn. A tour takes you to visit almost all landmarks that you expect to see. You receive suggestions for other locations of interest that you may want to visit during the time that you have available.

This method of travel is wonderful because it eliminates decision making. Your only decision is the actual destination you want to visit. When booking the tour the company is responsible for making all the arrangements. They have extensive experience and they know how to make every tour successful and enjoyable.

The buses are extremely comfortable. They have air conditioning and on longer trips they have washroom facilities. The windows are very large and give you the best possible views of your surroundings. You stop along the way for your meals and enjoy a stretch. In reaching the destination, the agent has previously arranged everything. Your hotel, some meals, entrance fees if there are any are all included in your price.

A guide provided by the company gives you information of interest regarding the destination. The guides are a great resource as they are very knowledgeable and trained to keep you entertained during the trip. Your guide can address any questions or concerns that you may have. The tour is also an opportunity to make friends and meet new people.

Your best way to see the highlights of a city is taking a city tour, which shows you the interesting sights that the specific city offers. You receive information about popular landmarks and learn the history of many of the locations. The guide on the tour will show you all the areas of interest and perhaps even guide you to some secret location in this city. City tours are normally a very affordable price.

The tour company is very flexible and can build any tour that your group would like to have. Give them a location and they will arrange everything for you. They then give you all the details you need to make your decision. They also build in free time on these tours and give you information as to alternate locations you may want to visit.

This is ideal. The company is responsible for planning the itinerary, booking the hotels, doing the driving, and knowing the correct route. This is a holiday that is free from stress. Bus tours take you to many cities where you will have many new adventures.

Washington D.C. and Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown – Educational Tour

If an educational travel group is bound for Washington D.C. and the educators wish to expand that group’s exploration of our nation’s history, a visit to Virginia is in order. Just 2 ½ hours south of Washington D.C. by bus, Early American history awaits in Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement.

In 2007, Historic Jamestown celebrates its 400th Anniversary of the settlement of the English Colonies. This year kicks off many living history programs that explain the early colonial era from diverse perspectives. Even after 2007 is complete, many of these educational programs and exhibits will stay in place so the student traveler may learn from them, even if they do not make their visit during the 400th anniversary year.

The challenge for any educational travel company is how to make all of these destinations work for one student travel tour. For a four to five day tour, it takes advance planning and coordination to include educational tour highlights of Washington D.C. and Williamsburg & Jamestown in one tour — with many participants.

Here are some of the highlights I include in my company’s student travel tour of Washington D.C., Williamsburg & Jamestown:

Washington D.C.

Student travel groups enjoy a guided tour of the complete Washington D.C. area that includes sites such as The Capitol, The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court, National Archives and more. Students may also visit sites in Northern Virginia such as Mount Vernon and the Arlington Cemetery. As with all of our student travel groups, accommodations are in three diamond interior corridor suburban hotel, with 24-hour security provided.

Williamsburg Virginia

After two days of touring the Washington D.C. area, students embark on a short 2 ½ hour journey to Williamsburg Virginia to experience the colonial era with living history on the educational program. The Colonial Williamsburg complete sightseeing tour will include a visit to 18th Century historical buildings such as the Capitol and the Courthouse, the Public Hospital of 1773, Raleigh Tavern, and the Peyton Randolph House.

Jamestown Settlement Virginia

Jamestown Settlement is a recreation of the first English settlement in Virginia, Jamestown Island. Student travel groups will see replicas of the ships that made the journey from England: the Discovery, the Godspeed and Susan Constant. They will enter a living history exhibit of an Indian Village, and see a recreation of James Fort, where the colonists first lived. This interactive approach to history, called living history or even active learning by some educators, is a great way to engage students in learning about the colonial era.

The educational student tour of Washington D.C. and Williamsburg/Jamestown is balanced by fun and educational experiences. Students benefit from a guided tour of Washington D.C. and historic Williamsburg and living history educational programs at Jamestown Settlement. With this approach to educational travel, students are given a great learning experience as well as a trip to remember for a lifetime.

The Great Inn of Washington DC

My wise choice of the Intown Uptown Inn made my NYC to Washington D.C. Tour perfect and amazing. Before I came to the city, I searched for many hotels online and this hotel had many positive reviews. Comparing with other hotels in the down town, it also had relatively cheap price. So I booked one room for a week. Finally it turned out that the hotel is fabulous.

It is designed as a 19th century house, and I like its decor at the first sight. When I entered my room, I felt comfortable as I was at home. The rooms are spacious and the bed was very soft and comfortable. Everything is terrific. As I had a really full schedule of this Washington D.C.Tour, I had to save every minute. But this hotel offered great hospitality during my tour and I got everything that a traveller could want. The server is very polite and friendly; the food is very delicious; and everywhere is immaculately clean. I still remembered that my first buffet breakfast were so delicious that I ate them up in 5 minutes. I had never eaten such super tasty crab cakes before. The inn is full of convivial atmosphere and graceful music, so every guest has a good mood at the beginning of the day. When I came back at the dark, I would take a drink hour at its pub. And then I would fully relax myself and enjoy this splendid time.

However, it also has a disadvantage. Though the bus stop is less than 500 metres from the hotel, it still took me around half an hour bus ride into the down town. So everyday I would spend at least one hour on the way. But I managed to find that the area and the bus have some special characters. May be it is a little secret of Washington D.C.. A week passed very quickly, I had to leave this city. I enjoyed a thoroughly relaxing stay here, and I would still choose this lovely and economical hotel next time. I also told my friends that they must stay there for one time. And I think they wold love it immediately.

A Junior High Class Trip to Washington D.C. And Williamsburg VA

This past spring, a junior high school from Texas traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia and Washington D.C. on a class trip that was organized around the theme of American history. This was the first time that 8th grade teacher Bobbi Goodson led a school group on a trip. She had many interesting observations about the trip and the process of bringing nearly 50 people across the U.S. for a learning experience they will never forget.

Q. What made you decide to sponsor a class trip to Williamsburg and Washington D.C.?
A. In previous years, other teachers had taken this on. I always heard great stories when students came back. The teacher who had done this previously was unable to organize a trip this year because she had a new baby at home. I decided it was time for me to lead a trip.
Q. What course do you teach at Pleasanton Junior High School? How was the trip related to your curriculum?
A. I teach 8th grade special education. My students need assistance with reading comprehension. The object of my course work is to improve reading skills and get kids focused on the study of math, science and history. In eighth grade history courses, students learn about Colonial American history. They study Jamestown and the inception of the colonies, as well as the life of George Washington and the Revolutionary War, among other things. So, a trip to Washington D.C. with an additional day or two in Williamsburg was the perfect complement to course work.

Q. What sites did you visit in Williamsburg, VA?
A. We visited Jamestown Settlement, where living history actors were dressed in costumes. The students saw replicas of the three ships colonists landed on and they saw what a settlement encampment might look like. We also took the lantern tour in the evening in Williamsburg, and a daytime tour of Colonial Williamsburg.

Q. How did the students (and you) respond to the idea of learning from living history?
A. The living history actors and actresses are dressed in period costumes. This type of learning is very hands-on. I found it to be kid friendly and interactive. There was certainly an awe factor and students responded well. Compared to a museum setting, listening to a story about history by a dressed interpreter was far more appealing and engaging for this age group.

Q. What sites did you visit in Washington D.C.? And which were most memorable for students?
A. We visited the Washington Cathedral, the Holocaust Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, Mount Vernon, and we even had a photograph in front of the White House. The number of dead buried at Arlington National Cemetery astounded students. There were also plenty of comments about the Holocaust Museum. I don’t think students had any idea how many died there, until they saw a room filled with shoes, and numerous videos that described the events. They also found the trip to Mount Vernon and Jamestown Settlement memorable because of the exciting way history was presented at each site. Also, their history course had prepared them pretty well for Jamestown and Mount Vernon.

Q. How were your tour guides and bus drivers? Were they personable and responsive to your needs?
A. Ann Greenwald was our Washington D.C. tour guide and she was fabulous. She had a deep knowledge of the area and helped to adapt our itinerary to meet our needs. When time was running out she helped us to hit the hot spots in Washington D.C. She helped students by pointing out things they might have missed along the way. She had an excellent rapport with the children. Everyone in the group loved our bus driver. It felt like we would not have had the same experience if we did not have this tour guide and bus driver. We were on the go from morning until night and I was surprised we could all keep up – but we did!

Q. What type of response did parents have after the class trip was completed?
A. I ran into some parents afterwards while shopping around town. Many said they never could have done a family trip to Washington D.C. for their child. They were thankful their children were able to experience this. Some of the parents who were chaperones appreciated the time they had to spend with their child before they became high school students.

Goodson also mentioned that the five day, four night trip offered a great deal, but kids were missing their parents by the end of the trip. “Of course you always lose at least one cell phone to a swimming pool,” said Goodson. She was most appreciative of the security provided at the hotel at night, which made her sleep sounder, too. “If I ever lead a trip again,” commented Goodson, “I will make sure security is included.”

For junior high school students from Texas, a trip to the East Coast helped to enrich their study of American history and give them a new perspective about the founding of our country. It was also a welcome change of pace and scenery they will remember for years to come.

Chinatown Bus Lines are a Budget Traveler’s Dream

A Guide to the Chinatown Bus

The word is out–the cheapest way to get from one major U.S. city to another is on the “Chinatown bus”. In recent years this has become transportation option of choice for budget travelers in New York, Washington DC, and Boston, and more recently on the West Coast. Students, backpackers, and an array of other savvy travelers have long loved the rock bottom prices that these bus companies offer. Despite the popularity of these bus lines it can still be difficult to find information on Chinatown bus service.
What exactly is a “Chinatown Bus”? Read on and you will have the inside track on this great budget travel option.

Chinatown Bus history

The Chinatown bus phenomenon began in the late 1990s when an entrepreneur in New York’s Chinatown started running daily bus service from Chinatown in New York to Chinatown in Boston. The service was aimed at Asian immigrants who wanted to shop or visit relatives in either city and needed cheap and convenient transportation. The service was bare bones–no advertising, customer service, or bus stations. Customers simply went to the bus stop, waited for the bus (or van), and paid the driver upon boarding. For those willing to do without frills, they offered virtually the same service as traditional bus companies at a substantially lower price. Before long, the word spread and all kinds of people started using the service. It became especially popular with students, budget travelers, or people for whom the service was simply more convenient.

Soon more bus companies duplicated this model and started offering service in other cities. Now you can find this type of bus service in Philadelphia, Virginia, Baltimore Washington DC, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. At this point the term “Chinatown bus” is used more loosely to describe this sort of low-cost/low-frills service. Many, if not most, of the companies do not have Chinatown as their main location and may not cater to the immigrant population at all. These operators are also sometimes referred to as “curbside” operators.

How can tickets be so cheap?

$15 between New York to Boston? $25 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles? It seems hard to fathom. Chinatown bus companies are able to keep prices low because they operate in a fundamentally different way from traditional carriers. Foremost, the service is very basic. There is little in the way of customer service or amenities. Most of these operators do not have formal stations, picking up passengers at bus stops instead. They eschew traditional advertising in favor of word of mouth. Further, many of the operators play a very hands-on role in the operation–you will not see idle executives at a small independent bus company. Finally, these operators make sure they fill their buses. That is why Chinatown bus operators usually only operate on heavily trafficked routes. Indeed some companies only run buses at peak times.

Are they safe?

When these companies first started operating, concerns were raised about safety standards. There is still controversy within the bus industry about whether these newcomers are complying with the same regulations as the traditional companies. However, a task force set up by the Federal government to look at safety issues found that Chinatown bus companies did not perform better or worse than other types of bus companies (ie. charter, tour buses). All bus companies operating in the U.S. must undergo the same inspection standards and must comply with the same rules. Realistically there is probably a range of quality among Chinatown bus carriers. Some are fly-by-night operators trying to make a fast buck, while others are legitimate entrepreneurs who plan to grow and operate a long term business.

What you should expect

No frills service–the driver may be the ticket collector; there will not be a lot of customer service.
Comfortable buses. Despite the low fares buses are usually quite nice. Most buses are comparable to Greyhound and many are actually more deluxe.
Communication challenges. Drivers are legally required to speak enough English to help passengers in the case of emergency. In reality this is often adhered to rather loosely. At the very least, expect your driver to have an accent.
Possible delays. Many of these bus routes are on highly congested roads. When the roads are busy, expect delays.
Rest stops. Buses will have a lavatory on board but there is usually a 10 or 15 minute bathroom break on trips over 4 hours. Don’t be late returning to the bus, the driver will not count heads before leaving at the appointed time.
Full buses. Buses definitely sell out at peak times (weekends and evenings). Book ahead or get there early if you want secure a seat.
Plastic Bags. An odd little quirk on Chinatown buses is that every aisle seat usually has a plastic grocery bag tied to the arm. I guess they find this is the best way to keep the buses clean.

How do I find the Chinatown Bus?

Again, “Chinatown bus” is a term used to describe a type of operator and not an individual bus company. Many unrelated bus companies fall into this category. Since most Chinatown buses do not spend money on advertising it can be difficult to find out details about schedules and bus stop locations. Many of the carriers are becoming savvier about the Internet and quite a few have websites with information. Usually an Internet search will yield links to bus service to your destination. There are also several directories, such as chinatown-bus.org that include links for most Chinatown bus companies and the author’s employer, GotoBus.com, is a centralized booking site that has schedules and sells tickets online for most Chinatown bus companies.

The Chinatown bus is not for everyone. If you want an orderly system with American style customer service, you should probably stick to traditional carriers. However, if you know what to expect and come prepared with a sense of adventure and humor, you should enjoy the trip just fine. You will also enjoy the money you save!