Eastern Discovery with Contiki

In August 2022, I joined Eastern Discovery with Contiki. Starting from Dallas and ending in Miami, we spent 10 days exploring some highlights of the USA’s southern states. Specifically, the trip stopped at some of the USA’s most iconic music and entertainment cities. There was also such a diversity of experiences, from beach days to alligator spotting to food tours. This blog post will outline each stop during Eastern Discovery with Contiki, and my thoughts and reflections at each one. 

Eastern Discovery with Contiki


Table of Contents

LA to the Bay

DAY 1: Memphis, Tennessee via Little Rock, Arkansas

The Eastern Discovery with Contiki tour started bright and early at 7am at the meeting point in Fort Worth, Texas. The Eastern Discovery with Contiki trip actually joins the Grand Southern trip halfway through. So, there were about ten of us newcomers faced with the challenge of getting to know a group of people who had already had a week to bond. I did not realise this before booking the trip, and found it was a bit awkward to find my place in the group. In the end, our small group of newbies ended up sticking together and forming lifelong friendships. 

The first day we jumped straight onto the bus and headed to Memphis, Tennessee. I was sad not to have spent any time with the group in Dallas/Fort Worth. The one day I spent here before the trip started definitely left me wanting to explore more, and this was shame. 

Little Rock, Arkansas

During the long bus ride, we stopped at Little Rock, Arkansas to visit Little Rock Central High School. This was the site of a significant civil rights movement during the late 1950s. The civil rights movement was not something I had previously learned about despite being such a crucial part of American history. In fact, this stop was certainly foreshadowing what else we would discover on our journey through the deep south. 

Memphis, Tennessee

Crossing the Mississippi and arriving into Memphis on the first night, we headed straight for Beale Street. This street is buzzing with music, nightlife and neon lights. We caught an incredible sunset before heading to B.B. King’s Blues Club. Actually, this was the place where we discovered American portion sizes and decided to share meals. We danced the night away with our newfound friends to some incredible live Blues music. This night was certainly our bonding moment. 

Dallas Advice

Although the trip started in Forth Worth, Texas, it did not spend any time here. It was simply a meeting point from which we would head straight for Memphis. So, I recommend arriving into the Dallas/Forth Worth area at least two nights prior to explore on your own. Spend one day exploring Dallas and the other exploring Fort Worth. 

DAY 2: Memphis, Tennessee

The second day of Eastern Discovery with Contiki saw us exploring Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis quickly became my favourite stop on this trip, and the fun we had on this day is the reason why. 

Rock n' Roll

The second day of Eastern Discovery with Contiki saw us exploring Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis quickly became my favourite stop on this trip, and the fun we had on this day is the reason why. 

Firstly, we headed to Sun Studio for a guided tour of the studio. This studio was actually home to Sun Records, with whom Elvis Presley recorded his first hits, as well as many other rock n’ roll legends. We were able to get up close to some of the instruments and equipment used during the peak of rock n’ roll. The guide here was incredibly knowledge and super funny, which made the whole experience even more enjoyable. The tour also provided great background for our next stop. 

This afternoon, we headed out to Elvis Presley’s Graceland. This is what Memphis is known for, and it did not disappoint. Included in our tickets was an audio tour of the Graceland Mansion. I was surprised by how funky and eclectic each room was. Our visit also happened to align with the forty-fifth anniversary of Elvis’ death, so the memorials were beautifully adorned with endless flowers and dedications. Afterwards, we also had some time to explore the museum on site, and were able to see the iconic pink Cadillac and other cars. 

Civil Rights

Before dinner, we still had a bit of time to explore Memphis. So, we opted to head to the Lorraine Motel to learn more about a darker side of Memphis and its role in the civil rights movement. The Lorraine Motel is the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, and the National Civil Rights Museum has lots of publicly available information to learn more about his mission here. It really opened my eyes to how significant Memphis is in American history in many more ways than simply its rich music history. 

We also headed to the Peabody Memphis at 4:30 to get our front-row seats for the 5pm Peabody Ducks parade. I’m pretty sure we were the only people above the age of 12 so excited for this experience, but it was well worth it. 

Today’s experiences set the mood for a night of grooving along to our new favourite rock n’ roll genre. We headed back to Beale Street, for an included dinner and a night of bar hopping.  

Memphis Reflections

Overall, Memphis felt like a step back in time to the 1950s. We had so much fun dancing our way down Beale Street, but it also weighed heavily on me to learn about the civil rights movement here. In fact, I left with a feeling of awe for a place for which I came in with no expectations. It is certainly still one of the most underrated destinations I have ever visited. 

DAYS 3-4: New Orleans, Louisiana

The third day was a big drive day, as we crossed through Mississippi into Louisiana. This was certainly my most anticipated stop of the trip. 

The first night in New Orleans we headed to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. New Orleans is famous for its Southern food and cocktails. It was interesting to learn another side of the city, and its growth during the prohibition era of the 1920s. We were even able to try some delicious Southern dishes, including gumbo and absinth. 

After our visit to the museum, we geared up for a wild night partying our way along Bourbon Street. We tried the infamous ‘hand grenade’ cocktail, sang karaoke, rode mechanical bulls and eventually got chased down the street by a man holding pythons. Bourbon Street is so crazy, and was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

We braved our killer hangovers the next morning to explore more of the French Quarter. It was beautiful to wander the streets and admire the colourful French-Colonial architecture. We ended up at the French Market, keen to try some beignets and fried gator for lunch. This morning would have been a great opportunity for a guided walking tour, and I wish I had organised this ahead of time to learn more about New Orleans’ rich history. 

Airboat Tour

Our afternoon in New Orleans was spent on an airboat on the Bayou. This was an add-on experience I am certainly glad I signed up for. The landscape of the Bayou was incredible, as the weeping trees hung low over the marsh in a scene that reminded me of The Princess and the Frog. 

However, we spotted a frightening number of huge alligators that made me glad I was safely inside a large boat. Our guide was the highlight of the tour, as he was able to share so much about the culture and way of life in this part of the US which depends largely on fishing. 

New Orleans Reflections

Despite New Orleans being my most anticipated stop of the Eastern Discovery with Contiki trip, I left feeling disappointed. For such a large city, I felt that we did not spend any time exploring its neighbourhoods. I would have loved to do a walking tour of the French Quarter or the Garden District. 

Upon doing my own research, I also learned about the history of slavery in this part of the US. This was barely mentioned by our guide, and I felt it was a shame to brush over such a haunting and significant part of both New Orleans and US history. I wish we could have spent another night in the city to explore some more of the hidden markets as well as visit some of the plantations. 

Nonetheless, I fell in love with Southern culture here and I cannot wait to visit this city again one day. 

DAY 5: Panama City Beach, Florida

On the fifth day of Eastern Discovery with Contiki, we were headed for Panama City Beach. We crossed into Alabama for some Chick-fil-A before entering our final state, Florida. 

Upon our arrival into Panama City Beach, we headed straight for the sand. There were a few beach bars and restaurants dotted along the beach, so we grabbed pizza and cocktails to share on the sand. 

Although we did not swim, we watched the most incredible red sunset. The group cozied up on the sand and told stories of our travels so far. It was such a great night where I was finally able to bond with some people from the first half of the trip. 

Panama City Beach Reflections

Although the group made this one a fun stop, I felt we could have spent the extra night in New Orleans instead of another beach. Especially given that we were ultimately bound for Miami Beach. 

DAYS 6-7: Orlando, Florida

We stopped in Orlando for one reason and one reason only: Universal Studios

However, I did not enjoy this stop. Whilst everyone else was busy riding the rollercoasters and fuelling their adrenaline, I was holding the bags at the back of the line. It was hot, sweaty and I actually got heat stroke and headed back to the hotel before lunchtime. 

I like to blame the migraine on the heat, but I am still unsure whether it was dehydration or adrenaline that caused it. In fact, my friends had pressured me onto one rollercoaster first thing in the morning. Little did I realise it was the biggest and fastest one in the whole park. The Velocicoaster was terrifying beyond the point of being fun, especially for someone who normally hates rollercoasters! 

Orlando Reflections

Orlando was the start of this trip’s downfall for me. I really did not enjoy my time here, and felt quite left out as I struggled to find anyone else in the group not wanting to go on the rollercoasters. Actually, I wish I had opted to explore on my own this day, perhaps buying a ticket to Disney World instead. I am certainly glad I did not end up opting for the express ticket add-on, as I ended up leaving Universal Studios after only a few hours. However, if you love theme parks then this may well be one of your favourite stops of the Eastern Discovery with Contiki trip!

DAYS 8-9: Miami, Florida

The final stop on the Eastern Discovery with Contiki trip was glitzy Miami. Unfortunately I was quite sick by the time we arrived in Miami, so was unable to participate in the activities on the last day. However, I still loved this city and it left me impatient for the next time I can visit. 

Upon arriving into Miami, we headed on a Speedboat Tour of Millionaire’s Row. It was unbelievable to see the wealth of the celebrities that live here in their huge waterfront mansions. The boat was also super fun, and provided incredible panoramas of Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. 

The following day, the group headed out for some glass-bottom kayaking and a Little Havana food tour. This sounds like the most perfect day with two of my favourite things: beaches and food. But, unfortunately I was stuck in bed sick for the day. 

Nonetheless, I was still able to explore Miami Beach and soak up some Vitamin D to recover. I also enjoyed wandering through the shops in the glamorous Art Deco District.

Miami Reflections

My experience in Miami was largely influenced by my experience being sick on the final days of the trip. However, it was a welcome respite from the intense partying culture of this group and I was glad to spend the time instead relaxing on the beach. I mean, what’s not to love about Miami Beach, even if feeling incredibly sick? 

However, I do think that the add-on activities in this stop were awesome. I would have especially loved to learn more about the Cuban influence in the city on the Little Havana Food Tour. I certainly cannot wait to visit Miami again one day for more authentic experiences like this. 


As with any road trip, there were many long days spend sleeping the time away on the bus. However, visiting Memphis for the first time was the highlight of this trip. I was also able to make lifelong friends who definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone on this trip. However, I do felt like the pace was very rushed and that we missed out on a lot of experiences along the way, particularly in Dallas and New Orleans. I wish we had joined the trip when the group first arrived into Fort Worth, instead of as they were leaving. So, I definitely recommend staying an extra two nights in Dallas prior to starting the trip. I also wish the trip spent an extra night in New Orleans so that we could learn more about its significant history and culture. 

When I travelled in August 2022, I paid AUD$3,065* for this tour. Whilst I had an amazing group of friends to travel with, I would also recommend looking at some other options if you are interested in exploring the Southern USA on a smaller budget. I do feel like this was a high price to pay, especially given that we did not spent any time exploring Dallas, and only one day in New Orleans. The tipping culture in the USA also pushed the budget even higher, especially in the Southern states where many restaurants only accepted cash. However, the safety of travelling in a large group was essential for this trip, and I otherwise would not have being able to experience the incredible nightlife in each city. 

Ultimately, I wish I had done more research and opted for a more in-depth trip like Boot Scoot N’ Blues with Contiki. I will definitely be considering this for my next visit to what has become one of my favourite regions of the USA. 

*Please note that all prices are current as of the publication date of this post.

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