Last June I visited my mom who lives in the beautiful San Francisco bay area, and since I had lots of time to spare and lots of unused and constantly devaluing Delta miles, I decided to redeem my miles for a free round trip flight, pack up, and head to New York City and see the concrete jungle all by myself for 10 seriously adventure packed days (it was so much fun I was able to write about the 15 ways NYC will inspire you, a guide about celebrity spotting in NYC, and also on how to survive NYC without breaking the bank). I actually lost about 5 pounds in this trip due to my constant brisk walking hehe.
It was my first time in the east coast and, thinking I needed to maximize my 10 day tour and tick Niagara Falls and Washington DC off my bucket list, I called up my sis who previously went on a tour of these two incredible places (and other extra destinations) from NYC to know the details. Turned out, it was a really good deal so I had to get the contact details of the tour agency. I only realized I needed to take an extra tour of the east coast when I was already in New York so I had little time to prepare, it was really a good thing that i got myself a Cricket sim card with unlimited call and text plus 2GB of mobile data for only $45 (P2,000) for a month so I had the advantage of doing research and call people up when in New York.
I went to L&L travel agency’s Flushing, NY branch to find out the price and itinerary (see below for contact details). The price for a 3 day tour of east coast, including accommodation for 2 nights is $132 (P6,000) per person. Now that’s a really great deal, but the catch is, the price is based on a group of 2 persons or more. I was travelling alone so the agent informed me that I would have to add an additional $100 (P4,600). Realizing I had already saved around $600 because of my free Delta flight, I agreed to pay an extra $100, but I made an arrangement with the agency that if there’s another lone traveler who’s willing to share a room, the agency would give me back my $100. Talk about extreme cheapskate-ness. LOL
Now I’m not one who’d usually recommend group tours, but hey, the price is unbelievably cheap and you’d go to many spectacular attractions in just 3 days it’d be a crime to miss this opportunity. Plus, I’m in the east coast already so might as well squeeze it in my 10 day NYC itinerary.
The only thing that was holding me back was that I thought it was too good to be true and there might be some setbacks to the unbelievably cheap price, and this is why I’m writing about my experience to enlighten you in case you’re also looking into doing this.
A few things you should know about this tour
- Since you are on a group tour and since you’ll be visiting five cities in only three days, expect that the whole group has to adhere to the strict timelines set by the tour guide. If the guide only gives you 30 minutes to walk around and take photos, you’ll have to be in the bus before or exactly in 30 minutes, or you’ll have to walk the walk of shame inside the bus when you’re the cause of delay, or worse, you’ll be left behind by the group.
- If you are on a budget and if you only have a few days to spare but want to tick these destinations off your bucket list, then this quick, and easy tour is perfect for you. You’ll save yourself from the hassles of planning your itinerary and ensuring yourself a great yet within the budget trip.
- Your group will have your own tour guide who will be informing you of the history and the fun facts about each attraction in English and Chinese languages (since most of the tour group members are Chinese).
- Expect that the quality of customer service that you’ll get from the tour guide will just be average. The tour guides have to ensure that the tight 3-day schedule is met and the tour is made really cheap by the agency, so you really get what you pay for. In my group’s case, our tour guide never smiled, but since you’re free from the headaches anyway of planning your own tour, just sit back, relax, and just enjoy the road trip whilst taking in all the incredible views from your comfy seat in the tour bus! Expect to meet people within your group and make new friends, too!
- The $132 price per person already includes transportation via an air-conditioned bus and hotel accommodation for two nights, but the price excludes meals, $8 tip for the tour guide per person per day (total of $24, to be collected at the end of the tour), and entrance fees to the attractions, which are all optional.
- If you do not wish to pay for an attraction, you can just wait for the group outside your bus (you cannot wait inside the bus, just to ensure the security of the group’s belongings). Each attraction will take about thirty minutes to two hours.
- The hotels you’ll be staying in are pretty decent (sometimes four stars, e.g. Holiday Inn where we stayed at), but note that the hotels are usually far from town centers so you may not be able to take your nightly stroll.
- Since your hotels are pretty far from town centers, try to stock up on food, water, and other personal necessities whenever you can, during meal time or whenever the bus takes a rest stop.
- When booking your tour, you can choose to depart from a list of bus stations nearest you.
- Since the Niagara Falls tour will not include crossing the border to Canada, passengers will not need a visa/passport to join this tour
The travel agency
L&L Travel Agency – there are lots of other travel agencies in New York’s Chinatown who offers the same package with the same price, but it doesn’t matter whom you purchase the tour package from as it is L&L Travel Agency who will be conducting the tour..
Address: 87 Bowery Suite 301, New York, NY 10002
Phone: 1-212-226-6628 ( 7am-7pm 7days a week Eastern Time )
Package: 3 day Niagara Falls, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Watkins Glen Tour from New York
Price per person: $132 (excluding tips, food, and optional entrance fees)
Meet up with the group and the tour guide in your chosen bus station at 6:30AM.
In my case, meetup point was in Chinatown in Manhattan. That’s the point when you’ll be assigned your seat number for the rest of the 3 day tour. If you have a seat preference, let the tour guide know, but of course that is not guaranteed. Preference will be given to the elderly and those with disabilities. The bus will then proceed to other bus stations to fetch the rest of the group. This was also the time when the tour guide informed me that we can just share the hotel rooms for the next two nights (since the tour price is based on 2 or more persons) so I can get my $100 back. Nice!
Howes Cave, NY – Secret Caverns ($18)
After a few bus stops and about 4 hours, we arrived at this family run ‘underground cave’ and variety store. I decided to just skip the tour (and save $18) and just look around the store as they sell unusual stuff like overpriced rocks and quirky toys. Nice and clever decor, though. While waiting I also had a quick chat with the members of the family (who are really nice, by the way) who are running the business. The tour took about 45 minutes.
Niagara Falls, NY – Maid of the Mist ($17), Thundering Water Cultural Show ($20)
The Thundering Water Cultural Show uses dance as a storytelling medium through which to showcase the impact that the falls have had on native culture. Since my main goal was to see the Niagara Falls and go on board the Maid of the Mist and also so I can skip the $20 entrance, I decided to just skip the show, ride the boat, and just spend the rest of my time walking around the falls and seeing the wonders from many sides.
*If you wish to experience the Maid of the Mist, visit during summer (attraction is closed during winter months). Click here to find out the updated schedule.
Dinner at Made in America store in Niagara Falls, NY.
This small mall is located just right at the USA side of the border entrance, and just 3 minutes walk from the raging Niagara falls. Though the name of the store sounds great, expect to find only a handful of small restaurants and food choices. Choices include Asian, Indian, & American cuisine. Since there are no other food options within the area, prices are quite expensive (around $13 for a Chinese take out meal for one person with drink).
Overnight at Best Western Summit Inn at Niagara Falls, NY.
This inn is only about 20 minutes from the actual falls. Nothing much to see here, just a nice and comfy bed to soothe you after a long day of sightseeing. Buffet breakfast (no bacon here) is at around $12.
Niagara Falls, NY – Old Fort Niagara ($12), Niagara Falls Adventure movie ($12)
After a heavy buffet breakfast of stir fried noodles, homemade sausages, eggs, bread and cereal, we started our day again at Niagara Falls to visit the remaining attractions in the same area. We first went to Old Fort Niagara to find out about the 300 year old history of the area, wherein the French, British, and American once fought for control of the land and ultimately the initiation of friendship and trade within the Native American Indian community. The fort shows what each country had contributed to the structure of the fort and how life and trade was back then. The most interesting part was the demonstration of the firing of a gun powder rifle by a costumed old man (see below video). Since our schedule was really tight, we were only given about 45 minutes, just enough to take a few photos around the huge fort. I decided to forego the adventure movie since I wanted to take in all the majestic glory of the falls from another angle. Good thing the Niagara is only a walking distance from the cinema.
#Shooting 101 at #oldfortniagara #niagarafalls #newyorkstate #empirestate A video posted by FrustratedBillionaire (@frustratedbillionaire) on
Watkins Glen, NY – Watkins Glen State Park ($10)
We then had to leave around 11:30AM because our next stop, Watkins Glen, is about two and a half hours away, and we had a lot of traveling to do after that. This attraction is actually quite refreshing, as you are given an ample 1 hour to walk from the top of the creek where you alight from the bus to the end of the stream where you are met by the tour guide and the bus (total length of the path is about two miles). While walking you can take time to reflect, as the beauty and sound of the gorges, cliffs, and 19 waterfalls soothes and calms your mind, especially when you’re traveling alone.
Travel to Maryland and stay overnight at Holiday Inn
Our last goal for day two was to arrive at Holiday Inn Express & Suites just in time for dinner in the suburban town of Germantown, Maryland, which happens to be a good 5 hours drive from Watkins Glen. Unfortunately, out tire exploded while passing through Pennsylvania freeway, so an extra hour was added to the trip since we had to wait for help to arrive (which also left us starving).
We arrived at Germantown at around 9:00 PM and since we were told we cannot eat at a local KFC store because it will take forever to serve a busload of people, the guide dropped us off at a nearby Wegmans supermarket which was about to close in a few minutes. Food from the self service cooked food area ($7-9/pound) was not that great but edible enough. Maybe it was because they were about to close and all they had were leftovers. Just enough to fill our stomachs in preparation for a good night’s sleep at Holiday Inn.
Germantown is around 27 miles or about 45 minutes to Washington, DC, which gave as a very good head start for our day 3 tour.
Catch the buffet breakfast! Around $10-$12 per person
If you are also staying at the same hotel on your second night, I have a valuable tip for your Day 3: wake up early, because the buffet breakfast at this Holiday Inn branch is deliciously superb! Lots of choices, including bacon, sausages, eggs, french toast, toast, all kinds of pastries, cereals, and different kinds of fruit juices, milk, and coffee of course to awaken our tired senses, and make you forget that horrible dinner you just had the night prior. Also, fill your tummies because Day 3 is free day and you’ll need a lot of energy to enjoy all the free Day 3 stuff.
Washington, D.C. – White House, US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument (Free!)
You’ve seen them all in Hollywood movies and international news. This is the scenic and historic capital of the United States that lies along the Potomac river. In each of these attractions, you’re given about 30 minutes so you have ample time to take photos.
Washington, D.C. – Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (Free!)
This is located along the National Mall (No, not the shopping mall. It’s actually a park!) which has 12 Smithsonian museums strategically next to each other. Since time is limited we only visited the National Air and Space Museum. I really wanted to visit National Museum of American History too which was just right around the corner but we were only given 1.5 hours to see the Air and Space Museum I initially planned to sneak out to see the other museum but was afraid I might get left behind. Anyway, the Air and Space Museum was cool as well – the most exiting display for me was the actual plane invented and used by the Wright brothers to commence the world’s first flight. Too bad I wasn’t able to fully comprehend and read through all the other exhibits due to time constraints.
The Air and Space Museum has a pop-up McDonald’s store next to it and that’s where we had our lunch (time to eat was already included in the 1.5 hours given to us to roam around the museum, so better hurry) before heading for Philly.
Philadelphia, PA – Independence Hall, Liberty Bell (Free!)
You may not have seen them in films (yet), but this is also a very important part of the tour as this city is the birthplace of American Democracy, aside from this city being the birthplace of the famed and delectable Philly cheesesteak.
The four walls of the Independence Hall in Philly was witness to the tumultuous birth of the United States because this is where the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were both signed. The building was completed in 1753 which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another highlight of this tour is the Liberty Bell, which is an iconic symbol of American Independence. Formerly placed in the steeple of the Independence Hall, the bell today is located in the Liberty Bell Center just across the street from the Independence Hall.
New York City, NY – Time to go home!
After about 2 hours and 96 miles of travel from Philly, we arrived at our home base at around 8PM. I was dropped off at my origin point in Flushing, NY where I was met by the beautiful, surreal. and love/hate reality of New York City in below photo.
Tips for solo travelers joining this tour:
- Selfies – if you forget to bring your own selfie stick, you can always ask your group members to help take a photo of you. In my case, I always offered to take a photo of them, and it’s almost automatic that they’d volunteer a photo of me too.
- Bedroom sharing – since you’ll be paying an extra $100 to cover for the would-be-vacant bed your own solo room, you can always ask your tour guide to ask around if there are other solo travelers who’d be willing to share the room and save $100.
- Making friends – do not be shy. Add them on Facebook if you can! When our group returned to NYC, it was clear that everyone made new acquaintances.
- This is not only for solo travelers. If you’re bored during the trip, take a look at the scenery, and how the countryside is different from your home town. Trust me, 50% of the tour and its educational value lies on the great and scenic road trip.
All that costing P6,000 ($132), excluding tips, optional entrance fees, and food. Do I think it’s worth it? Definitely YES!
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