Bette Barr, Author at Starr Tours & Charters
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On Being a Tour Director

When someone finds out I’m a Tour Director for Starr’s bus tours, one of their first comments is usually, “That must be fun. What do you need to know to be a Tour Director?”  All my Starr Tour Director counterparts have heard the same question over and over. Below are some answers along with additional questions I have received and my answers to these questions.

After answering with the usual “you have to like working with people,” and “you have to enjoy traveling,” I tell them that they have to be able to count to 54,  smile throughout the day -even when your day starts at 4:00am-, and project positivity as well as your voice to your tour guests.

On every trip, tour guest dynamics change, equipment changes, and drivers change.  But that is all part of what I call: The Challenge of the Day!  You see, even when I’ve done the same trip any number of times, I know that for my tour guests, it’s probably their first time.  I have to keep my narrative sharp, exciting and funny.  Yes, I believe having a sense of humor is another quality of a good Tour Director.   At the start of every trip, I always ask my passengers if any of them have traveled with me before. When no one has, I breathe an audible sigh of relief and tell them, “Great! Then you don’t know any of my jokes!”  And for those who have, most have forgotten them, by now anyway.

What about the excitement of motor coach travel? Some might say that it’s not quite as exciting as air travel, but then, any equipment problems are easier to handle at ground level. Speaking of which, we also have to manage technology on the bus like the outlets, WiFi, DVD player, etc. Times are changing and since I am a bit technologically challenged, I have had, on occasion, to get help from very young travelers. I am always thankful for help!

What are the most important qualities of a Tour Director?  Well, you have to like getting up very early in the morning, sometimes known as the middle of the night! Not to mention you have to be chipper all the time! From greeting your tour guests to the attractions we visit, places we eat and hotels we check into. Our days are long so it’s important that Tour Directors pace themselves.  We are certainly not allowed to fall asleep in our dinner plate nor are we allowed to catnap while traveling on the bus.

Tour Directors have to work in partnership with their driver – as equal partners. I have worked so closely with drivers in the past that I have been known to even sing a duet with them.  Oh, and we have to be good at writing on a moving bus. The worse we write, the harder it is for those back in the office to read our reports. That’s not always a bad thing! But they do give us a hard time since it’s hard for them to decipher our handwriting. But we have to tell the story of each trip so the office can review and plan more effectively for the future. Yes, they really do read my reports and our Tour Guests’ surveys too!

Being a Tour Director is a bit like being a stand up comic: you want everyone to love you, laugh at your jokes and then want to see you again. So do you think Tour Directing is for you?

 

Bette Barr, Tour Director

It’s Who You Meet Along the Way

It’s said that it’s not the journey but who you meet along the way that is important in life. Well, as Tour Directors, we are fortunate to be able to do both: travel and meet interesting people along the way!

Sometimes we meet people at our various stops and attractions, but most often it’s right on our tour bus.  After I introduce myself, and before I get into the details of the trip, I will ask if there are any veterans aboard the bus.  Sometimes I’ll get a few gentlemen to raise their hands and I thank them for their service… often the rest of the tour guests will applaud.  On occasion, a woman will raise her hand and she will not only get applause, but many times tour guests will take time during the trip to ask her about her service.  On a 4-day bus trip to Vermont last year, I had two women who were traveling together and still in active duty in the Air Force.  The gentleman sitting across the aisle from them suddenly perked up and said he just retired after 20 years in the Air Force… and the three of them then became a fun trio during the bus trip!

St. John’s, Newfoundland

On a bus trip I recently escorted to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, I had a family group from Philadelphia aboard, taking their Canadian cousins to the Big Apple.  Talking to Lisa, one of the Canadians, I found out that they were from St John’s, Newfoundland.  I had seen a program on the Food Network from Newfoundland and asked about it. She told me about the filming of that show and how everyone in town was involved in it. Then she said that they were going to see a Broadway show the next week: taking the train into NY. It would be her first ride on a train! And the show they would see was “Come From Away,” the hit show about all the flights that had to land in Newfoundland on 9/11.  Yes, she was involved in that too, although she didn’t take anyone into her home, they were cooking for and helping all the unplanned visitors to their town.

On the 9/11 Museum trips, I talk about the early history of New York and about the many first settlers who came in 1624 who were Walloons: French speaking Belgians who were fleeing persecution and went to Holland. They petitioned the government and were allowed to come on the first ship that sailed to the New Netherlands’ colony of New Amsterdam.  As they were getting off the bus in New York City, one tour guest said to me: “I was surprised and very moved, to hear you talk about the Walloons because I’m a Walloon… well, my ancestors were and I never really understood their place in American history!” She was quite happy the rest of the trip.

And last, but not least, on another trip into New York City, I talked about the early explorers and the dangers of exploration back then. Henry Hudson was put adrift by his crew in the Hudson Bay in the winter, and Giovani Verrazzano met a horrible end on a Caribbean Island. I mentioned that today’s explorers also experience danger, such as in the space program. On that trip I had an astronaut/payload specialist from the Space Shuttle Columbia, onboard. (A rather poignant example of the dangers of space travel – the Space Shuttle Columbia completed 27 missions from 1981-2003 before disintegrating upon re-entry on the completion of its 28th mission. All seven members of the crew were killed.) He concurred that space exploration was just as dangerous as exploring was in the 15th and 16th  centuries, but the dangers are different as there are no cannibals in space, as far as we know anyway.

 

I can’t wait to meet more interesting people on my bus trips this year!

Hope to see YOU soon!

Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

 

P.S. Travel with me to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in May, August, October, and November, the Hudson Valley in June, Boston in July or September, an overnight in New York City in August, the Tall Ship Festival in Erie, PA in August, the Poconos in October, and more!

 

Get Ready For An Overnight in The City That Never Sleeps!

Get Ready For An Overnight in The City That Never Sleeps!

This summer, for the first time, Starr is offering a weekend bus trip to NYC!  I will be the tour director/tour guide for this 2-day getaway so let me tell you a few things about it and why it is a really cool trip… even if it is August in New York!

In addition to being a Tour Director for Starr, I am also a licensed NYC tour guide and I will be using my in-depth knowledge of NYC to give you an introductory riding tour of the city before you go off on your own.  As a native New Yorker, I love sharing “my” city with you.

Included in the cost of the bus trip is your transportation to and from Manhattan and an overnight at a wonderful hotel located at the northern end of Times Square, convenient to all the Broadway theaters and restaurants.  It’s also an easy walk to Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and Central Park (and their delightful zoo).

If you don’t want to visit those places, you’re also near the American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium on the west side, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim as well as all the other museums on New York’s Museum Mile, on the east side.

The 9/11 Museum and Memorial is just a subway ride away, but I would suggest that you take our Starr bus trip there, separately, since I do a great narration on that trip!

How will you get to those places that are not as close? Well, I will give you a comprehensive tutorial on using the subways on our bus ride into the city. I’ll also be available to give you directions to specific destinations.  The subways are the best way to get around and, unlike when I lived in Queens and worked in the city, they are AIR CONDITIONED AND ANNOUNCE THE NEXT STATION.  And, if you are over 65, you can get a senior discount (50%) on the subways. (You’ll need a photo ID)

Another great thing about this trip is that you can catch a Broadway show! Starr offers a chance to get discount tickets in advance, with great seats, or you can visit TKTS in Times Square, and sometimes, at the box office just before the show (but the seats might not be as good). When the show is over you can relax and have a late dinner and then see Times Square at its best, at night, as you casually walk back to the hotel.  No rushing to catch a bus home or bail out your car from an outrageously priced parking lot!  You could even see a matinee on Saturday afternoon and another show that night!

The next day you can sleep in a bit, if you wish,  and then do some more sightseeing.  You’ll have the better part of the day to see the things you didn’t see on Saturday and maybe do some shopping.  Although breakfast is not included, you can get the best breakfasts within a short walk of the hotel: there are dozens of places to choose from. Again, I’ll give you suggestions and I’ll tell you this: New York bagels are the best in the world… bar none! (Sorry, Philly.)

So, if you’d like a weekend getaway that’s not too far but a world of difference, come on a bus trip to New York with me August 2-3, 2019!  I’m looking forward to it and trying to decide where I want to go and what I want to see. There is just so much to do!

 

See you on the bus!
Bette Barr
Tour Director

Tour Directing – A Labor of Love

Passengers often ask me the same question again and again… “Do you work full-time?”

I explain that being a Tour Director for Starr is not a full-time job. (Although some times it feels like it is – while I on tour I am working 24/7!)  As much as I like to think I could escort bus trips every day, in reality, there is no way I could.  I travel with Starr about 50 days a year; sometimes more, sometimes less.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Before I even leave on a trip, there is information to be gathered, especially if I’ve never done the itinerary before or it’s been a long time since I’ve done it.  I have to check on all the stops we’ll be making – whether they are restaurants, hotels, attractions or even rest stops.  I call ahead to ask questions so I know what to expect. And even if I have been there before, I need to find out if there have been any changes since the last time I was there.  I also talk to the driver who will be driving the trip.  A Driver’s input is very important and helpful since we work as a team while on tour.

USS Constitution, Photo Courtesy of Greater Boston CVB

The history of a destination is also important and some require more study than others. For example, I enjoy going to Boston because I love the early history of our country. Seeing its historic places, such as The Old North Church and USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), gives me a thrill. I want to share that feeling with my passengers.  American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is one of the things I entertain tour guests with on the bus ride north.  I only memorized half of it as a kid, so I have to read the rest!

Starr Tour Directors like to play games that have to do with the destination on trips to help the time pass by, and those games need preparation.

Preparation for a trip can take many days before we depart but it’s not done by day one. You’ve probably seen your Tour Director doing paperwork on the bus and there is also a paperwork and reports to be completed after the trip ends.  In approximation, as a rule of thumb, it takes as much time to prepare for a trip as the actual trip itself!

For other trips, such as the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, a favorite of mine, I already have a lot of information that I readily share with my passengers on the way into the city because I escort this trip so often. But, I am always reading and learning more about the history as well as finding out what is new in the area… and there is always something new in downtown New York City!

Oh, and one more thing I have to do before I leave on a multi-day trip: be sure that there is food in the house and go over meal suggestions for my husband, who will be home with our dog. “Who’s babysitting who?” I often ask!

Laurentian Mountains, Montreal

I started preparing for this year’s trips in the beginning of the year by going through my files from years past and going over the planned itineraries of any new trips I am escorting this year.  Montreal and the Laurentian Mountains, October 7-10, is new this year. I love the mountains, so I am really looking forward to this bus trip. I will be spending lots of time preparing by reading up on everything we will be seeing there.

Now that you know a little about what’s behind the average trip, perhaps you’ll see your Tour Director a little differently.

I would love to know what things you do before you depart on your Starr bus trip!

 

See you on the bus!
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

Join Bette in the Hudson Valley in August, Savannah in September, Atlantic City in October, and more. Click here to see a listing of where your favorite Tour Directors are heading.

BFFs and Bus Travel

To tell how I came to work at Starr, I have to go back to July 1981 and the beginning of my 36 year friendship with fellow Starr Tour Director, Jane Peters Estes. Jane and I met at Hightstown High School (as employees, not students!). We both were new employees in the principal’s office so we spent that first summer getting to know each other as well as the school.

I had never worked in a school before and came in from private industry with a business background. Jane, on the other hand, had spent years in the elementary school system so she had a more colorful background. While my time had been spent dressing up for business, Jane’s time had been spent in costumes ranging from Santa’s helper to the Valentine Princess. All that changed my first year, and every year after that, as I traded in my business clothes and we collaborated for every holiday to add fun to our office. One Halloween we created bars on the windows between the office and the hallway and dressed in prison stripes. Another year, we painted flames on the windows and dressed up as little devils. During the winter, our decor included a working fireplace with a mantle with ice skates and skis next to it and winter scenes on posters on the walls. Snowflakes hung from the ceiling. Our first Valentine’s Day was an explosion of hearts all over the office walls and hanging from the ceiling.

We worked together for 6 years until Jane took another position in the school district, but we remained close friends. She is the Abbott to my Costello, the George Burns to my Gracie Allen, the… well, you get the idea. She’s taught me and opened my eyes to a lot over the years.

Jane began as a Starr Tour Director in 1992 and she took to escorting bus trips quite naturally. While I thought it sounded like a cool job, I had other things going on in my life and didn’t give it a second thought. A few years later, Jane asked if I’d like to go on a Starr day trip with her to Gettysburg. We always had a good time together so I decided, why not? It was a fun trip with a small problem to solve and happy passengers to interact with. I watched how she handled everything and started to think that I’d like to do it, too. My kids were grown and I had more time on my hands…

I finally got an opportunity to join Starr’s team of Tour Directors in September of 2004. Jane contacted me to say that Starr was hiring and asked if I was interested. I said yes without a second thought. At the time it worked well with my schedule and when I retired a few years later it worked even better. I trained under Eileen Markey, a delightful lady, and of course Jane helped me a lot too. She still does!

Since then, I have had the opportunity to train a few new Tour Directors myself, including Gene Gray, and have built many more friendships along the way. All of the Starr Tour Directors and Drivers have been wonderful to know and work with and the passengers have been pretty great, too! Starting your day before the sun has come up isn’t always easy, but the rest of the day is always uphill from there. It’s been fun learning about new places and expanding my stand up comedy routine. The only time I’ve taken my comedy on the road has been in a Starr coach, and although I have a captive audience, I realize that the driver really has the last word. I just keep an eye out to make sure he hasn’t opened the door and gotten the hook out… that’s a joke!! I’ve enjoyed meeting new people all the time and by the end of the trips I’ve gotten hugs and even applause on occasion, which I humbly accept!

In my first years at Starr I got to do a few Maine bus trips as well as a bus trip to Savannah and Charleston. They were both especially enjoyable because of the scenery as well as the people I met. As a Tour Director for Starr, I get to travel at a discount (it’s a perk!). So I traveled to Canyon Country as a tour guest last year. It was a wonderful trip and I got to know our passengers – as one of them! But out of all of the trips I’ve taken with Starr, Long Island remains my favorite – as I mentioned in my previous blog post! It’s not a long drive, and it’s a walk down memory lane for me, having grown up on the island. I guess there really is no place like home!

I have loved working as a Tour Director at Starr for the past 13 years (even when I have to get up at 4AM for a trip!) and hope to continue working and traveling for many more years to come. And I think I’m very lucky to be able to continue to share experiences with my BFF.

Hope to see you on a tour soon,
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director