Read This Before You Purchase Your Tickets
In 1970, my loving parents brought me home from the hospital for the first time. It was a small one bedroom apartment located on the west side of Manhattan. There I stayed with my little sister until I graduated from college. My cherished childhood, the awkward teenage years, and then the rambunctious years, all have transpired in this city of 8 million. This is the primary reason I decided to become a tour guide is my immeasurable love for this city. Being an informal ambassador of New York, my approach is to help guests have the best visit possible.
I've been a NYC tour guide for 24 years and worked on a double-decker buses for 10 years. These buses make poor transportation. Bus routes typically travel one direction on a 2-hour loop. Passengers can't not transfer onto a bus traveling in the opposite direction. What this means is, if you have to get to a stop that is 1/2 hour in back of where you're, it'll take you 1 1/2 hours to get there on these buses. Most municipal bus services have bidirectional routes.
Ideally, these buses are good for visitors with ample time hoping to get some historical or current details of the city. If you're sitting upstairs, it's an excellent place to take photos of New York. Otherwise you might not want to waste your money, especially when it's raining or too cold outside. If double-deckers are the right choice for you, then read on.
Disclaimer: This website and I did not charge advertising fees or accept any other compensation from the following companies for writing this article.
As of 2017, there are three major double-decker tour bus operators in NYC, Big Bus, Grayline/City Sights, and Top View.
Big Bus is the best-run company offering the best value in terms of quality and quantity of buses. They operate about 60 buses, which are relatively new and clean. Their prices are a bit more than the other companies. But if you can afford it, their excellent services are well worth the extra cost.
The managers, supervisors, bus drivers, and tour guides are well trained. The supervisors successfully oversees the drivers and tour guides, helping the company keep a high degree of professionalism. Keep in mind, people are not robots. Even with superior management, people do have bad days.
Big Bus uses a combination of taped audio tours and and live tour guides. Taped tours come in English and a variety of foreign languages. Check the company's website for their current selections. These taped audios are accessed by complimentary earplugs. These earplugs are also used to hear live tour guides, unless you're sitting close enough. Beware when the weather is humid or damp, passengers have received an electrical shock when using them. This phenomenon happens to all companies that use earplugs on open-air buses.
Their drivers and tours guides are regularly monitored via company installed cameras on the buses and rated by hired secret shoppers. The employees receive praises for exceptional customer services or get disciplined for not being professional. Tour guides are allowed to politely ask for gratuites.
The second best double-decker operator is Grayline/City Sights. Grayline and City Sights are owned by the same company. They have a much older bus fleet averaging 15 years in service. This company has approximately 75 buses making it the largest fleet in the industry. In addition, Grayline has the most official bus stops of all the companies.
They also have a combination of taped audio tours and live tour guides. Their tour guides on the average are knowledgeable but overall boring and lackadaisical. As with Big Bus, it's the luck of the draw getting a good tour guide. Their service staff can be a bit assertive when asking for tips.
The worst-run company is Top View. How poorly managed is this company? So bad they had to change their company name from Go New York Tours to Top View, because they were receiving so many poor reviews and complaints. Don't believe me? Here's the proof: Their TripAdvisor Reviews
Their double-decker buses are the oldest, if you can call these vehicles double-deckers. Because most of their fleet are refurbished airport commuter buses. They purchase retired buses at auction and add on a top deck. That's the reason most of these buses leak when it rains. Water drips through the flooring onto the driver and passengers. It also causes the electrical wiring to be waterlogged, which sometimes disable the buses. These buses weren't designed to support the weight of an additional 60 passengers.
Their fleet of buses are poorly maintained, regularly breakdown in the middle of a route. When this happens, passengers typically have to wait 30 minutes to be rescued. Since they have the fewest number of buses, this affects wait time at stops. Customers have complained they waited for a bus for over an hour. Some even stated when one did eventually arrive, the bus was full with no more seats available. To be fair, they do have two new buses purchased from overseas. Top view has the least amount of designated bus stops. Once you disembarked from their bus it will be difficult to find other stops, since most stops are not clearly marked.
They don't have live tour guides on the buses. Only taped audio tours are available, which frequently isn't synced with the landmarks. This means by the time the audio plays for a location, the bus have already passed it by. Their bus drivers are poorly managed and regularly talks on their phone while driving. It puts the passengers in an extremely dangerous situation. Don't believe me? Here's the proof: One of Their Accidents
Adding insult to injury, some drivers are utterly rude when demanding tips. A few even have the audacity to physically intimidate guests for money by blocking the exit door.
If you are interested in purchasing tickets, visit Groupon or Social Living first. All these companies list some of their tours on these websites, they might save you some money. You can also get good deals by buying a package with New York Pass or City Pass. The most expensive way buy your tickets is from their sidewalk ticket agents. Good luck and have a great time. Thanks for visiting New York!