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AAT Kings 5 day Monkey Mia tour from Perth, Oct 2012

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We recently came back from a great 5 week trip in Australia (trip report/accommodations reviews, etc. to be published separately). The 5 day AAT Kings Monkey Mia tour was a MAJOR and the only disappointment, waste of our time and a lot of money. We never before took an AAT Kings tour and never again will. Some of our tour companions however took another AAT Kings tour prior to this one to the South of Perth. When asked about what was the best experience they had the answer was: “getting off the bus”…

This 5 day tour to Monkey Mia is for:
- People who love to sit in a bus for 8-10 hours/day (with very few stops to relax your legs, to have some fresh air or to see something that warrants a stop) to watch the wheat or canola grow or the endless desert land in a stuffy, warm environment in the company of hungry flies that attack you.
- People who love hot temperatures and do not mind spending an average of $800/day/couple to travel in uncomfortable conditions to see little that is really interesting from any perspective (art, culture, nature, local specific fauna, etc.)
- People who enjoy flies all over the place. These hungry and thirsty flies went for your eyes, tried to enter your nose and loved the insect repellent we brought from home that had no DEET and worked well at home. We had to buy (for $15) a small tube of repellent with 80% DEET to keep them away for a while.
- People who have no issues getting up and down in the bus on very uncomfortable, steep stairs

The guide and driver were very good, the disappointment has nothing to do with them.

The major reasons for our disappointment are the following:
1. Modern bus that we were supposed to travel with broke down the day before our tour started. As a result, we ended up in a quite old fashioned bus which could not handle a coffee maker, didn’t have enough room for the promised water, had a non-functional TV, had very uncomfortable stairs and air conditioning that took at least 15 minutes to do anything in the bus and kept the bus too warm at all times. I suffered through the trip due to this.
2. We picked this tour based on advice from a travel agent who is supposedly an Australia expert (Julie Garcia from Journey Peak Travel in Portland OR) after we reviewed the tour description on AAT’s website. We specified that we do not want to go to any hot places (that’s why skipped the beautiful North and center). We were told that in the West we will have very pleasant spring time (not 33-38C) and that we will see lots beautiful wild flowers….
2. There is a lot of misinformation or lacking info on AAT King’s website, such as:
a. The wildflowers (the real places where one can see fields with them as in the pictures) are not on the route. We saw a few from the bus when we passed by them either at 100 km/hour or some at short stops near the road. As we learned after the fact, there are many 1 day tours available from Perth to see the real wild flower fields for a lot less money and with a lot less travel ... Best way/place to see wildflowers: spend 1 day in Kings Park and the Perth Botanical Garden in Perth.
b. The wildflower “farm” where we stopped is a business that buys and dries some wildflowers
c. The Monkey Mia “resort” is not a real resort. It is a place in the middle of nowhere with little else to do as part of what we paid for than bake on the beach (no shade), sit in a very expensive restaurant or pay for “optional” tours. Since we didn’t want to fly, hike in hot desert land for 1 day or go out with the boat for 3.5 hours this was a totally wasted day as we didn’t plan to spend $800 for that day to do/see nothing. Some of the people who went on with boat came back scorched and suffered for the rest of the tour..
d. We were not told that the average driving distance per day on this tour is about 550 Km and this info is not readily available in the description of the tour. Who wants to spend days on a hot bus watching desert country?
e. We were told in no uncertain terms on the first day that we should buy the water or take it from the tap in the hotel (despite the promise on the website for water in the bus).
f. The previously uncommunicated and unwritten rules about the travel in the bus supposedly imply a thermostat never set under 24C. However the temperature in the bus was 28-30C and despite the attempts of the driver could not be set lower.
g. There were a few interesting places on the route. But the majority of the few places where we stopped did not justify traveling the long distances in this bus and the money spent on the tour. Also when finally we got to a place that had something interesting to see we had to rush such that I took pictures while running to ensure to be back in the bus as requested.
h. It took 3 hours to get late dinner on the first day. We left the restaurant after quickly eating the desert at 10pm.. When I mentioned my unhappiness about this to the manager the next morning she just said that the one chef that they had on duty needed time to prepare all the meals and didn’t even apologize for the experience.. AAT Kings should not take customers to places that are ill equipped to handle groups.
i. At Monkey Mia the Internet terminals were down, the WiFi didn’t work, the ATM was not functional, the morning movies were not shown due to the school holiday and the dolphins didn’t show up (nobody’s fault).

Some good things about the tour: Our energetic guide, Carolyn, who is like a walking encyclopaedia and organized everything very efficiently; very good driver; nice company of friendly, helpful tourists from Australia; some nice beaches; a few wildflowers; the air conditioning in the room at Monkey Mia, the very good breakfasts and nice staff at the places where we stayed.

I sent a letter to AAT Kings. A few weeks later I got their answer in which they acknowledged my reluctance to travel with them in the future… While it is not easy to make 35 people happy, one would expect much better than what we got for the money...

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