One day, as we were driving around downtown, I noticed something out of place: a double decker bus. I made a mental note to check it out when I got home. Sure enough, I learned that there is a new company in town, Double Decker Austin, which provides tours of downtown and beyond on its bright red buses.
The next time I noticed one of the buses, I asked my son if he’d like to take a tour. Under normal circumstances, I’m usually met with a “nah”, so I was surprised when he said, “Sure! Those look cool!” My parents live in town, and we plan a family activity every weekend, so I thought this would be the perfect thing to try out with all five of us.
As I was booking the tickets, I learned that Double Decker Austin recently completed its first year in business. Tours operate Thursday through Monday, and you can choose to either purchase a Single Loop ticket, which lasts about two hours, or you can choose to Hop On Hop Off, which gives you the chance to spend the whole day exploring. The bus makes the following brief stops during the tour:
- Austin Visitor Center
- LBJ Presidential Library & Museum
- Bullock Texas State History Museum
- The South Congress District/SFANTHOR (the castle across the street from the Texas School for the Deaf)
- Restaurant Row (Barton Springs)
You can either reserve tickets online, at the Visitors Center or STANTHOR. Tours depart from the Austin Visitor Center downtown, and the Convention Center parking garage is located conveniently on the same block (parking is $6 for 3 hours and $13 for the whole day).
We chose a Saturday in late April for our tour. Because my son had a soccer game in the morning, we opted for the 2:30pm departure time. We were determined to get seats on the upper deck (these are first-come, first-served), so we arrived at the Visitors Center right at 2pm. After we checked in at the Visitor Center, we used the restrooms and took our place outside to await the arrival of the bus. I had my receipt ready to show the driver as the line of fellow passengers grew.
My mom became part of the unofficial Austin Hospitality Committee, as she chatted it up with an older couple who were visiting from Minnesota. I later learned that we were the only locals on our tour, which surprised me. The bus arrived soon after 2:30, and we all filed on. We went straight for the front row on the upper deck – mission accomplished!
As our luck would have it, it was the first really warm day of the spring. I was ready with ice water for my son and I, and we slathered on the sunscreen as everyone took their places. The guides offered water and cool towels as we were getting settled.
As the bus departed, we could see why a double decker tour provides a completely different vantage point. Sure enough, we enjoyed a nice breeze and had the chance to see downtown from a different perspective. Our tour guide shared facts about the city and downtown, most of which were familiar since I am a native, but which I appreciated nonetheless. As promised, I was able to get lots of great photos.
As time wore on, the heat put a slight damper on the experience. The temperature was hovering around 90 degrees, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The cool towels and ice water certainly did help, but my son, having had a soccer game and an outdoor playdate, started to fade about three quarters of the way through the tour. At the Bullock stop, I took advantage of an umbrella I found near our feet to make us some shade. At the fourth stop, we retreated to the lower deck, where we were able to still enjoy the scenery and take a break from the sun. My parents stayed on the upper deck all the way to the end. We hit some traffic due to a festival going on at Auditorium Shores, so we were a little delayed getting back, which I can imagine would happen on occasion.
We all agreed afterwards that we enjoyed the tour. The guide was funny and engaging. It would be perfect for out of town guests. The stops really put you in great places to get out and eat, walk around or go see some other places like Zilker Park, the Bullock, Blanton, the Capitol and even Barton Springs. In the future, I would certainly book the tour earlier in the day to avoid the heat, or try again during the cooler months. Here are a few other things you should know:
- Bring sunscreen and a hat, just in case. I’d bring your own water, even though it’s provided.
- $3 discounts are offered for college students, military, seniors, firefighters and police officers.
- Only 4 and up can ride the upper deck. Everyone on the upper deck must wear their seat belt at all times while the bus is in motion.
- Kids who are prone to carsickness might want to try the lower deck.
- The bus does not operate on the following holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, or New Year’s Day.
- Buses do not operate on days drivers cannot maneuver safely around town due to street closures, the rain, or in inclement weather. You will receive a full refund if the company must cancel the tour for any reason. If the weather is looking dicey, you can receive a full refund if you cancel within 24 hours.
- Notify the company by phone 24 hours in advance if you need wheelchair access. Wheelchairs must be 28″ or less wide.
Have you been on a Double Decker Tour in Austin?
Disclosure: Double Decker Austin provided us with four tickets to enjoy the tour. We purchased the other ticket. LiveMom was not compensated for this review, and the opinions expressed above are all our own.