Sandy Borowsky, Author at Starr Tours & Charters
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The Hamilton Effect at Starr

The Hamilton Effect at Starr

The other night I experienced the smash-hit Broadway musical, Hamilton (for the third time). The 2016 Tony Award winner who took home a massive 11 trophies is still going strong with sold out theaters eight times a week and now in five cities, including Philadelphia where I was lucky to see the show last night. I know many of you are thinking that I am lucky or even spoiled to have seen this show even once! Each time has been its own experience and every time left me yearning for more. How many musicals have you seen where you can say you would want to see it over and over and over again? 

Much has been said about why the show has become a phenomenon that draws these kinds of crowds. It’s certainly a scene! There’s a crowd outside the theater when you arrive, there are long lines for merchandise and the bar and the bathroom. And after the show ends, don’t expect to be out the door in less than 15 minutes – which is fine as you need that time to let the show sink in once the company has taken their final bows. And since I walked out the door and drove the 45 minutes home, I thought about how the broad effect this show has had on so many people. And then I started thinking about the effect this show has had on my bus tour company. 

 

550 PEOPLE were lucky enough to see this show through the efforts of Starr. We first ordered our tickets in March! When the first buses sold out, we ordered more in July and another batch in September. All in all, we sent seven busloads full of people of all ages from Central Jersey, Bucks County, and Philadelphia. So many tour guests have sent us their thanks and praised us to be able to offer this tour package and we are thankful to have made so many people happy! We also sent three busloads of 10th graders from a local high school studying a civics curriculum to Hamilton with stops at Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution as well as the National Constitution Center prior to seeing the show. Talk about experiential learning! WOW! Those were some lucky 15 and 16 year olds – of which my son was one of them. Lucky kid! Every Starr guest was dropped off and picked up right in front of the Forrest Theatre! VIP Service for sure!

 

Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti is the restaurant we brought our tour guests to for a wonderful dinner before the show. Thanks to the show coming to Philadelphia, Positano Coast fed 400 additional hungry theatre-goers who had a choice of Salmon Scampi, Chicken Marsala, and Penne Primavera all served with Ciabatta Bread, Mixed Green Salad, Dessert and Beverage Service. Yum! And the restaurant was founded and started by immigrants – just like Alexander Hamilton. 

 

22 ELATED STARR STAFF were able to see the show in Philly. 7 Tour Directors got to see it for free since they escorted each of the 7 buses. And 15 additional staffers used our generous employee discount to see the show! Many brought friends and family! One of the many great perks of working for Starr!

 

A NEW TOUR DEVELOPED AROUND HAMILTON: In 2017, our Tour Development team developed a tour program called Alexander Hamilton’s Footsteps.  Three busloads of tour guests were lucky enough to experience the following destinations in Elizabeth, NJ and learned about their relationships to Hamilton:

Liberty Hall, a mansion that welcomed many distinguished guests, such as Alexander Hamilton, George and Martha Washington, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and George Herbert Walker Bush.

Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown, one of the oldest and most historic sites in New Jersey. The Old Academy School was attended by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Burr attended the school several years before Hamilton. However, Burr spent time in Elizabethtown during 1773 while Hamilton was a student here, so it is possible, but uncertain, that they may have met at that time. 

Boxwood Hall where Hamilton was a frequent visitor and developed a friendship with the Boudinots that would last his lifetime.

 

 

 

 

NO CONNECTION HERE: Starr’s Headquarters is located in Hamilton, NJ – but alas, this relates to John Hamilton, who served as acting governor of the Province of New Jersey from 1736–1738 and from 1746–1747. No connection to Alexander here! 

 

There is no doubt that this musically told story of an impoverished immigrant who went on to shape the very nature of this country will win your heart and mind like it did mine! So how do you relate to Hamilton? Do you have a rapper grandfather? What stories do you know that blend music and history?

Fall’s Beautiful Foliage

Fall’s Beautiful Foliage

When you spend every day thinking about travel, and your entire family is involved in the business (my husband became Starr’s President back in November of 2017), you get a bit caught up in the jargon of the industry. So I guess it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when, while chatting with a 20-something young woman the other day, she gave me a bit of a blank stare when I mentioned the phrase “fall foliage trips.” During our conversation I had mentioned that our bus tour business is very busy during September and October because lots of people want to take trips to see the fall foliage. By the look on her face, I was reminded that not everyone is as ingrained in the business as most of the people I encounter on a daily basis.  I reviewed the definition of “foliage” in order to better explain myself and shared that many people travel during the fall in order to catch views of the changing season.

Hues of red, orange and yellow enhance already picturesque sights in the fall and people travel across the continent, and certainly the world, to see the beautiful views these hues create. People of all ages can appreciate the change of season from summer to fall as they watch the colors of the leaves change before they descend to the ground. The season starts and ends at different times based on the geographic location and predicting peak foliage season is hard to do as each year it varies based on the weather, but we aim to schedule our fall getaways at the optimal time of the months based on past history. Although, let’s be honest, even the beginning of the changing of the leaves can be breathtaking, no matter where you are!  (If you’ve ever wondered about The Science Behind Fall Foliage, check out our blog post!)

 

Quechee Gorge in Vermont

 

New England’s dramatic explosion of color each autumn starts in the northern New England states of Maine and New Hampshire typically in late September and moves down to the southern New England states – Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – around late October.  There are quite a few fall foliage forecast maps out there these days that help predict when the leaves will be at their peak, but since we are often reserving our trips a year in advance, we rely on history to steer us in the right direction. Thankfully, we tend to have a decent track record!

Check out this link for a State-by-State Guide to Fall Colors.

 

Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts – Photo by Kevin Sprague

 

Starr’s tour development team has been building itineraries revolving around “fall foliage season” since as long as any of us can remember. Below is a list of the most popular destinations Starr travelers choose to visit in the fall:

Maine
New Hampshire & The Indian Head Resort
Railroads of New Hampshire
Ithaca, NY
Vermont
Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts
Lake George & Lake Placid, NY
The Poconos in Pennsylvania
And so many more!

We are almost ready to publish our 2020 fall foliage trips on our website but not quite yet. Click this link after November 15th to see our offerings for next fall.

Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon – Photo by Scotty Wong

 

I hope you will join us this year or next on a Starr bus trip designed to highlight our country’s beautiful fall colors.

Here’s an afterthought: No one ever talks about what a pain it is to rake these leaves however!  I guess the beauty is worth the misery of an aching back!

Starr’s 72nd Birthday Bash – A blast!

What a trip! Our 72nd Birthday Bash Bus Trip was a resounding success! I think I can honestly say that everyone on the trip had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Me included!

I put together this list of highlights for you with a special treat at the end…

Sandy’s highlights – In no particular order:

Birthday dinner and private concert with the Lennon/Cathcart trio and a SURPRISE performance from Janet Lennon of The Lennon Sisters! As one of the most acclaimed, admired and longest performing female vocal groups in popular music, The Lennon Sisters are entertainment icons who have captivated audiences with their legendary harmonies throughout a dazzling 60 year career! Janet was nice enough to meet and greet with Starr tour guests after the show.

 

Lamberts Café, Home of the Throwed Rolls was not to be believed. Yes, they actually threw rolls at you when you asked for them. And the rolls were hot and delicious! The food was ridiculously plentiful. Did you try the Sorghum? This lunch stop was an unexpected surprise for sure!

 

 

 

 

Dogwood Canyon! So much to say about this beautiful place that I can guarantee you none of us would have known about if it wasn’t for our fabulous itinerary planners at Starr! Four terrific guides took us on trams that traveled throughout the park and even into Arkansas!! Cross another state off our bucket list! The animals were beautiful and we got to see them close up. What a special attraction in the heart of our country! Thank you Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, for this lovely experience!

 

Our last and final show, Clay Cooper’s Country Express was super! This is a wonderful extended family of performers that knocked our socks off. And our private talk back after the show was the icing on the cake. (Okay, icing on the cupcake as it were, since we were served cupcakes after the show!) Clay and Tina Cooper were most gracious hosts and they presented me with a special plaque commemorating this special visit to Branson.

 

 

Starr’s fabulous Tour Directors and Drivers were also a highlight! At least that’s the feedback I received from most everyone on the trip. Christine, Angie, and Karen were a great team and Malek, John, and Kenny did a fabulous job keeping everyone safe on our journey. We couldn’t have done this without them. Truly!

 

I can’t close without mentioning some of the other highlights of this trip like seeing the St. Louis Arch, experiencing a replica of the Titanic, having fun at The #1 Hits of the 60’s Show, seeing the Presley’s Country Jubilee Show and cruising Tablerock Lake while enjoying the Showboat Branson Belle. Wasn’t that comedian hilarious?!

In addition to my highlights, I want to share with you a video I made using some great photos from the trip! Were these your highlights too? Let me know.

We really had so much fun on this trip and we were so lucky to be able to experience so many special things offered to us only because Starr planned it! Thank you for putting your trust in us to plan such a fun and memorable bus trip!

Next year we’re staying close by but don’t think this bus trip won’t be any less fun! Lancaster and Hershey have so much to offer and we promise that you’ll see and do things you’ve never done or seen before! Click here to learn more about our 73rd Birthday Bash bus tour!

Thanks for traveling with Starr and sharing your memories with us!

Sandy Borowsky
3rd Generation Owner
Starr Bus Charter & Tours

 

 

Starr’s 2019 Alaska Cruise Experience

Our annual Alaska Cruise aboard Carnival Cruise Lines returned last week! Tour Director Gene Gray led 19 travelers across our great country and into our 49th state, but he didn’t take the bus this time…he flew! As many of you know, on each of our trips, the Starr Tour Director is responsible for providing a write up of everything that goes wrong, and right, while on the road. Gene goes above and beyond to make sure his passengers are well informed, and entertained, and even manages to keep those of us stuck in the office entertained with his Tour Director report, which never disappoints. Since this was Gene’s first trip to Alaska, his report gave such a vivid sense of being on the trip with him! We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Overnight Tour Summary Report – Alaska Cruise
Date: August 20 – August 28, 2019

Day 1: Tuesday, August 20, 2019
We left the Starr Garage at 12:15 AM (yes, that’s in the middle of the night!) and drove to our first of four pick ups. The weather was very warm and humid with thick patchy fog in spots. The fog persisted as we proceeded from Northeast Philly to Mount Laurel, Hamilton, and finally Jamesburg. All nineteen tour guests were picked up without incident and we were running ahead of schedule as we began traveling up the New Jersey Turnpike towards Newark International Airport.

I kept my tour guests awake by welcoming and thanking them for being so prompt and efficient with their paperwork. I have leaned that being prompt is the key to success for all bus trips. Everyone had their Passport with them and their Starr Emergency Form filled out. Each guest had one piece of luggage to check under the airplane and one carry-on bag to bring onboard with them. I handed out and reviewed the Starr welcome letter, discussed the many details regarding our air travel this morning, and provided specifics on boarding the Carnival Legend later this afternoon. Just as I was wrapping up my overview (and before anyone closed their eyes), we arrived at Newark Airport at 4:00 AM.

Our bus driver, Gary, removed our luggage from the massive bays underneath the bus and lined up the bags neatly on the curb. We each took our large suitcase and carry-on items and entered Terminal A at the Alaska Airlines Desk. Many of our tour guests used the handy kiosks to get their boarding pass and checked luggage tag while others waited on a short line to be serviced by one of the two Alaska Airlines check-in employees. The entire process went very smoothly and soon we all had our boarding passes and saw our luggage placed on the conveyor belt. We were now all heading to Gate 32 to meet our plane. It was 4:30 AM.

Time for SECURITY!!! Off with the belts. Off with the shoes. Cell phones, iPads, and all electronics placed in a plastic bin and kept out in the open! Pockets emptied and items put in another plastic bin! All carry on bags placed on the conveyor belt. We were motioned to walk through the metal detectors. Most of us got through swimmingly. One guest had a larger bottle of lotion confiscated while another forgot to take out a metal bottle opener from his bag. Both guests, consequently, had their bags emptied and checked with a fine tooth comb. Of course, the guests had to surrender those aforementioned items, but luckily the items are easily replaceable.

All travelers had arrived at Gate 32 by 5:10 AM and boarding began promptly at 5:20 AM for the frequent flyers, parents with babies under 2 years, and those who pay extra for the privilege. We were Group C and ten minutes later, we were walking down the ramp and entering the Boeing 737-900 Aircraft.

We had no difficulty finding our seats and placing our carry-on luggage into the wide and spacious overhead compartments. After checking to make sure each Starr traveler was seated in their assigned seat, I sat down and relaxed. We were soon taxiing away from Terminal A towards the runway. We only had to wait a few minutes and away we went, soaring into the sky with a magnificent thrust from the engines. It was exactly 6:18 AM (just a few minutes after our scheduled time).

As we were taking off, I couldn’t help but think that it took the Starr Cross Country Bus 10 days (with many stops in between) to reach the west coast and today, three weeks later, I’d be reaching the west coast in Seattle in 5 hours 32 minutes of flying time. It’s amazing! Once we reached 10,000 feet in the air, we were allowed to take out our electronic devices and move about the cabin. The flight attendants served drinks and biscuits followed by a small variety of breakfast foods for purchase, and then more drinks. A few travelers fell into a deep sleep and missed all the food and drinks. I wonder if they still received their free biscuit…

Starr bus travelers and Tour Directors are used to stopping every two hours of travel to stretch, use the restroom, eat or purchase items. Close to six hours of sitting takes some getting used to. The plane ride was mostly very smooth. People got up often to stretch or use the restroom. Before long, we began our descent into Seattle Airport. We were on the ground at 8:48 AM and our phones reflected this new time that was 4 hours earlier than the east coast.

People holding signs saying “Carnival Cruises Transport” were waiting en masse at the Baggage Claim Area. Once we gathered our luggage, we checked in with the Carnival Transport staff who then took our checked luggage for transport to the Ship. We were then instructed where to walk and wait for the next bus. We waited 40 minutes before we were told to board the bus for the Seattle Pier to meet the Carnival Legend.

The ride to the pier was informative and humorous. Our bus driver drove us through the center of Seattle, past both the beautiful ballparks of the Seattle Mariners and Seattle Seahawks, and presented us with a great view of the Seattle Space Needle. He told a few jokes against the Boston Patriots and Tom Brady who defeated his local Seahawks in 2015’s Super Bowl XLIX. The 40 minute trip to the Seattle Pier flew by and we reached the ship at 11:40 AM.

We got off the bus and all of us simply walked onto the Carnival Legend. It was immediate because there were no lines. Lucky us! All we had to do was to show our Carnival Legend Boarding Pass and our passport. There were a few other checkpoints along the way where we only had to show our stamped Boarding Pass as we meandered onto the ship. We were all aboard by noon. Up to the 9th deck we went where a plethora of food awaited us.

Our cabins became available at 1:30 PM so we all had the opportunity to drop off our carry-on luggage. There was a mandatory Safety Drill at 3:45 PM where we were instructed how to put on our life jackets and where to go in case of an emergency. During the Drill, the Carnival Legend slowly slipped away from its Pier and we were officially on our way. At this time, most of our tour guests made the mistake of returning to their cabins and lying down. Some missed dinner after falling fast asleep.

This was a long and tiring day of travel. Everyone handled it extremely well and were so happy to be cruising to Alaska.

 

Day 2: Wednesday, August 21, 2019


The seas were choppy as we made our way northwest from Seattle, through the Puget Sound, past Vancouver Islands, and into the northern Pacific Ocean. A few travelers reported feeling discomfort and nausea. Soon, announcements were made by the Carnival Legend officials suggesting people use their sea-sickness strategies and drink Ginger Ale. The rough seas were expected to persist until mid afternoon. Later, the security staff told me it was the roughest day they had ever experienced on the ocean. It had to do with the wind and tides joining to smash into our ship directly at the side.

The Starr Hospitality Table was set up by 8:30 AM as promised. I contacted Carnival’s Group Coordinator, Anina, and we arranged to meet at 8:50 AM to discuss disembarkation for Tuesday, August 27. I know it was early but planning ahead is my modus operandi. Anina was marvelous and provided all the details: The plan is to gather on Deck 2 in the Alchemy Lounge at 8:00 AM. She told me of a new service the Carnival Legend created in partnership with the Airlines, named Port Valet. We each had to simply fill out a form with all the information for our returning flight and Carnival would provide us with our Boarding Pass and a sticky Luggage Tag for our checked piece of luggage. Carnival would charge the $30 luggage fee to our ship’s bill and pay the Airlines directly. Once we put our checked luggage outside our cabin door on Monday night prior to departure, we would not see it again until we landed at Newark Airport. Anina handed me forms for each of our travelers and I had to make sure they were turned in to Guest Services no later than Saturday at 10:00 AM.

Five of our nineteen Starr travelers showed up at the hospitality table between 9:00 and 11:30 AM. I left urgent messages in each cabin of the guests who did not visit me regarding the forms that needed to be filled out and instructions for disembarkation. I continued to contact everyone throughout the day and by day’s end, all guests were contacted. By tomorrow, all forms for our return flight home will be handed in to Guest Services.

The food on the ship is absolutely wonderful and the choices are endless. You can eat in five different places, each with its own advantages. You can choose a sit-down breakfast, a continental breakfast, a full buffet breakfast, or even a breakfast with Dr. Seuss by ordering “Green Eggs and Ham.” Of course, there’s always room service for the ultimate relaxation. Dinner was more formal tonight as people dressed up and had many pictures taken by the ship’s staff of professional photographers. The dinner menu featured prime rib and lobster tail and at 7:00 PM, everyone had the opportunity to meet the Captain and enjoy a wine toast.

By today, I have noticed each Starr traveler has created a routine of places to eat, attractions to attend, and fun activities in which to participate. Many took naps in the afternoon to make up for the lack of sleep the day before and from the toll on the body from the rough seas. Tonight’s show featured music from the sixties and those that attended enjoyed the performance. Today was a very good day to create routines and simply do as much or as little as one pleased.

 

Day 3: Thursday, August 22, 2019
ALASKA! THE FINAL FRONTIER! (Sounds like the opening of an episode of Star Trek.) Temperatures outside were in the forties as we cruised across the Alaskan border. Light rain was falling as low, thick clouds blended in with the beautiful rock formations creating a sense of eeriness and mystery. We immediately got the sense of Alaska’s uniqueness and how different it is from the rest of the United States.

As the day went on and we meandered into the breathtaking aqua blue waters and surrounding mountains of Tracy Arm Fjord, the winds picked up and the light rain felt like sleet pelting against your face. Wind chills must have been in the thirties as we floated by small, and then larger chunks of blue and white glacial ice that sat motionless in the cold water. The mountains on both sides of this glacial passageway were dotted with low hanging clouds. You could see greenery from large pine trees to small bushes precariously rooted into the mountainside. Trickling waterfalls fell from time to time from cracks in the rocks. The rugged weathering of the mountains refracted colors of gray and purple. The scene as a whole was extremely serene.

For the next two hours, many braved the cold, damp conditions to experience this magnificent natural wonder in full 360° panorama from the outside deck. Others hunkered down near windows inside. In either event, people were snapping picture after picture as the ship turned right and then left exposing even more majestic views. After thinking that nature could not get more beautiful, we all suddenly gasped as we got our first glimpse of the spectacular Sawyer Glacier directly in front of the ship.

Surrounded by 600 foot rounded and pointed mountains on both sides, this large chunk of ice stood 150 feet high as our ship came to a complete stop about 200 feet away. The colors were dazzling like diamonds even on this overcast day. The shades of blues, greens, and whites refracted and reflected in all directions. I overheard a guest describing the glacier as a giant piece of multicolored cotton candy. And just as we were staring at the Glacier in amazement, a large chunk of ice on the left side came roaring down with a reverberating splash into the cold, blue waters of Tracy Arm Fjord. Again we gasped in the realization that this work of nature is temporary and ever changing. No one will ever see this glacier the exact same way as we are seeing it now. And yes, the term global warming did come up in conversations from many people.

After spending about a half hour marveling at the Sawyer Glacier, the ship made a brilliant 180° turn and motored back out of the Tracy Arm Fjord. At this point, most people ventured inside to warm up and try to get some feeling back into their fingers and toes. The beauty of this area, like the Grand Canyon of Arizona, cannot be described in words. One must see this for themselves to appreciate the splendor of Tracy Arm Fjord.

By this time, evening activities were beginning on board. Another delicious dinner, followed by a musical show featuring music from the 70’s and 80’s, comedy club comedians, or a piano man were among the many choices for tonight. One can never get bored on a Carnival Cruise. Your involvement simply depends on your stamina.

 

Day 4: Friday, August 23, 2019

We arrived in Skagway, Alaska as most people began waking up. We have been on the Carnival Legend since it left Seattle three days ago, so we were eager to get off the ship and explore unknown terrain. The weather was cloudy with 55° temperatures and a 30% chance of rain. However, after some morning drizzle, the weather cooperated with us for the remainder of the day and the visibility was perfect for sightseeing high in the mountains.

The town of Skagway, with a population of less than 1,000 people in the winter months, is 22 blocks long and 5 blocks wide. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains on all sides. Skagway is proud of the role it played throughout the Klondike Gold Rush Era of 1898. Skagway was the starting point for gold seekers in search of gold in the Yukon. The White Pass Railroad was built to take miners from Skagway up the mountains some 40 miles to Lake Bennett. From Lake Bennett, miners had to paddle in icy waters and hike through severe cold weather to reach pay dirt some 500 miles further away. And if they reached the gold region, less than 1% were fortunate enough to strike it rich.

Today, Skagway is a charming little town that caters to tourists. It is a short walk from the Pier where our ship docked. Tee shirts, sweatshirts, and souvenirs of all kinds are sold in many stores at extremely reasonable prices (I’d even say very inexpensive). The buildings have a fresh, restored look and are facsimiles of the buildings from the Gold Rush era. The National Park Service runs the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway and has a Visitors Center with a wonderful museum highlighting the Gold Rush years. Train and bus excursions bring tourists through the most scenic parts of the area along the beautiful White Pass that was once the first leg of the journey for Gold Seekers.

Those that took the White Pass Railroad twenty miles up the meandering trail to the summit some 3,000 feet in elevation were treated to views unparalleled by any train excursion in America. In one inspirational view in particular, one could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean with colorful mountains on two sides and brilliant colors from many different forms of vegetation from trees, shrubs, and flowering plants down the middle. We saw the remains of the narrow trail the early Gold Seekers were forced to climb prior to the railroad being built. The train rode over historic man-made trestles and through tunnels so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. At the summit, we actually passed the Canadian Border into British Columbia before the turnaround that began our descent back to Skagway. The scenery was breathtaking throughout and the train guide did a wonderful job explaining the history and many nuances of the White Pass.

The day went by quickly as we all took in the magnificence of Skagway, Alaska. Some of us shopped and explored the town on foot while others paid for an excursion that allowed us to explore deeper into this beautiful region of our country. Everyone enjoyed their day in Skagway.

Entertainment on the ship this evening was on the calmer side. You did have one lounge pumping out dance music but the main show featured a hypnotist that put volunteers from the audience into a trance and forced them to do certain behaviors on stage. It was fascinating. Most of us were tired from a long day of fresh air and beautiful sightseeing and retired for the night earlier than usual. We are now looking ahead to tomorrow in Juneau.

 

Day 5: Saturday, August 24, 2019

We awoke in the capital city of Alaska. Juneau was chosen as the capital of Alaska in 1906, some 53 years prior to statehood. A man whose last name was Juneau struck it rich in gold and wanted his town to be named after him. Others disagreed so a vote was taken to name the town. The night before the vote was to take place, Mr. Juneau treated over half the town to free drinks. The next day, his name won and Juneau became the capital.

Juneau is the largest capital city in the United States in terms of area. It has an average yearly population of 32,000 people. Juneau annually receives rain 85% of the year or 310 days. However, people were very concerned this summer when it failed to rain for 90 consecutive days! Juneau is so spread out but most shoppers getting off the cruise ships shop near the docks. Three long blocks are filled with souvenirs, clothing, drinks, food, and all essential items a traveler might be searching for.

Today the temperatures were in the mid fifties and the weather was cloudy with periods of heavy rain. But that didn’t stop us from leaving the ship to explore Juneau or catch a bus for an exciting excursion. Many in our group chose a whale watching expedition and saw many whales in the cold waters off of Juneau. Some chose to simply walk around the town and explore downtown Juneau. The Capitol Building of Alaska is a five or six story square building with an American Flag on top. I was looking for the golden dome that usually adorns a state capitol, but not here. In a ranking of the prettiest state capital buildings in America, Juneau was ranked 50th. If the building wasn’t pointed out to me as the capitol, I never would have guessed it.

Many guests went on an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier, Salmon Fish Hatchery, and Rainforest Gardens. When the bus arrived at the Mendenhall Glacier, the rain and fog encompassed the scene, but luckily, the weather began to improve about a half hour later. We were able to see magnificent views of the Mendenhall Glacier along with the powerful Nugget Waterfalls off to its right. Mendenhall Lake, a cold water area in front of the glacier, did not exist in 1930 as the glacier extended the length of the lake. In fact, more than a half mile of the glacier has melted into the Lake since 1990. Despite the loss of much ice, Mendenhall Glacier is still the fifth largest glacier in the Western Hemisphere at 90 miles long, 45 miles wide, and 4800 feet thick in some spots. Of course, only a small piece of the glacier could be seen from our vantage point.

For me, personally, I got off the bus here at the Mendenhall Glacier amidst pouring rain and mistakenly started walking in the wrong direction away from the glacier. Suddenly I heard a Park Official holler “STOP!” As I froze in place, I turned around and saw an average-sized Black Bear (whose fur was a beautiful brown color) calmly walking across the street next to me and up into the hills. Security appeared from all around and stopped every person and vehicle from proceeding while the Bear plodded along and reached its destination. I did manage to take a few pictures of the Bear. It was really a cool experience!

The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery was our next stop. We stepped off the bus and onto a ramp. Upon looking down, we saw long tubulars open from the top and filled with hundreds of huge 5 year old Coho and King Salmon preparing to spawn. These salmon already lived their lives in the ocean and their elocution sensors bring them back to the place they were born to spawn. Once they spawn, they die. In fact, at the hatchery, the salmon’s sperm and eggs are removed and fertilized by professional breeders. The fertilized eggs are incubated until the salmon are born. One incubation tray holds 200,000 eggs and the Hatchery produces 650 trays each year. Once born, the salmon stay at the Hatchery to grow for about a year before being set free into the waters where only 10% will survive to adulthood. The salmon that have been spawned die and are sold to processing plants and made into cat or dog food and salmon powder. Humans only eat the salmon caught at sea years before spawning age. At spawning age, salmon use all their energy to carry out their final deed and their meat lose their taste and nutritional value for man. They are unsafe for human consumption. We all certainly learned a lot during our visit here.

The final stop of our tour was the Glacier Gardens Rainforest. Mr. Thomas, at age 20, gave up a possible career in deep sea fishing and began arranging flowers and gardens. He is now 60 years old. His masterpieces are large tree trunks inverted and buried deep into the soil so that its roots are exposed at the top. He plants beautiful flower arrangements within the root system of each stump. They are spectacular to see. Mr. Thomas does all the arrangements himself each spring and keeps up with 50 inverted trees on his property. He does allow his employees to take down the flower arrangements each October. They store the good flowers in his greenhouse for the cold winter and send the rotted vegetation to compost.

Since Mr. Thomas’s property lies within the Tongass National Rainforest, he received permission to buy additional lands above his property that leads to a beautiful view of Juneau at 580 feet. He constructed a boardwalk from which people could enjoy this view. To get to this view, Mr. Thomas built a series of roadways that meander through the rainforest. Guided tram rides take tourists up to the 580 foot viewpoint as the guide provides information on the rainforest such as its many plants, the variety of trees, and the 150 mph winds that have blown through this area and have broken trees in half. The Tongass National Rainforest is the largest temperate rainforest in the world and second only to the Tropical Amazon Rainforest in size.

We left Juneau at 2:00 PM. The lunch choices onboard the Carnival Legend are so plentiful each day; pizza, burgers, tacos, deli sandwiches, salad bar, Italian Faire, Chinese Faire, and incredible desserts. These fast food, all-you-can-eat eating establishments are all located on the 9th deck. There are other restaurants that you can sit down and be served as well. Only the pizza station and ice cream self serve machines are open 24 hours.

Entertainment tonight consisted of a magnificent show featuring music from the British Invasion of the sixties (the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, etc.) as well as comedy shows, a DJ, and a Piano Man. It was another wonderful day.

 

Day 6: Sunday, August 25, 2019

We awoke to a clear and sunny morning in Ketchikan. Ketchikan, like Skagway and Juneau, sits in the Tongass Rainforest, so it is likely to rain sometime today. Tour guides continue to emphasize the need for rain, snow, and freezing temperatures to maintain the ecosystem as is. They fear that drastic changes will begin killing off wildlife at some point.

Many guests booked excursions into the countryside of Ketchikan. They saw salmon jumping out of the waters and stopped at historic lighthouses. Others visited totem poles and learned details of their construction and symbolism to the Native American Tribes. What appears to be the biggest attractions in Ketchikan (the most advertised by ship personnel) are the logging shows, eating crab legs, and sampling different varieties of salmon. As soon as you walk off of the Carnival Legend, you are in the midst of the shopping and attractions district, obviously built for the tourists. In fact, the stores will be closing down for the winter in September, as soon as the cruise ships stop coming in. The town is very colorful and vibrant in appearance and is visually welcoming to the visitors.

Many of our travelers booked the logging show in advance while others simply went up to the ticket window and bought a ticket on the spot. People sat on risers in a semi circle in front of an open-air “stage” already set up for five logging events. The audience is divided in half down the middle and encouraged to root for their team while booing the other. Four strong young men compete against each other in such events as chopping thick logs in half using a hatchet, cutting off a slice of a log using a two-person saw, and balancing on a rolling log in the water while trying to knock the opponent off. The show was fun and entertaining to watch and was enjoyed by everyone.

Being the tail end of the tourist season for Alaska, most of the shops offered deep discounts on their merchandise to entice the shopper and move their inventory. Many guests returned to the ship carrying large shopping bags (which were given away free) filled with souvenirs and gifts. This scene was repeated in each of our port-of-calls. The trick will be packing everything in an already tight suitcase for our plane trip home.

Tonight was a special dinner that I set up in the Nouveau Steakhouse on Deck 10 of the Carnival Legend. This restaurant was a la carte, meaning it would cost extra to dine here. I was joined by four Starr guests and the five of us had a wonderful time together. Conversations flowed very smoothly and the food was delicious. We chose from steak, lobster, shrimp, and other delectable menu items. The presentation of each course was worthy of a picture. Our server took a very nice picture of the five of us dressed up in our finest clothing when our main course arrived. We all enjoyed our dinner and camaraderie.

The entertainment for tonight was plentiful as always. The main show was titled “Epoch Rock” and featured songs from eighties rock bands such as Bon Jovi, Led Zeppelin, and Queen. Each song was powerfully presented through brilliant choreography. A new comedian was featured in the Comedy Club. The DJ and Piano Man played into the wee hours. At 2:00 AM, we changed our clocks ahead one hour to match Seattle time. We had officially left Alaska behind.

 

Day 7: Monday, August 26, 2019

The rising sun was shining brightly on the Pacific Ocean as we continued our journey south towards Victoria, Canada. Today was a full day at sea with a scheduled arrival time in Victoria at 7:00 PM. The seas were calm and the warm 65° temperatures felt delightful. Many guests used the morning hours to catch up on some sleep. Today was a day for rest and relaxation, good ole R&R!

I set up the Starr Hospitality Desk a little before 9:00 AM. Anina, Carnival’s Group Coordinator, met me at 10:00 AM to review any final details and to find out how we all enjoyed the cruise. Ten Starr travelers stopped by to talk about their fabulous experiences in Alaska and review details of disembarkation for tomorrow. I also had many pleasant conversations with other Carnival guests as well as Carnival Staff. The two hours seemed to go by very quickly.

Every Starr guests has had a magnificent cruise and an extremely positive experience. Many enthusiastically complimented the great food and variety of activities onboard the Carnival Legend. They spoke highly about each of their excursions and enjoyed comparing notes with one another. Many positive comments were made about the friendly staff onboard who went out of their way to make things perfect for each guest.

By 2:00 PM, all but two Starr travelers had received their Boarding Pass for our flight tomorrow and Luggage Tag for their checked suitcase. This was the Port Valet Program that we all signed up for last week. I accompanied the two to Guest Services later in the evening where they both eventually received their paperwork after glitches were worked out.

Dinner began fifteen minutes earlier tonight to accommodate our arrival and eventual disembarkation in Victoria, British Columbia at 7:30 PM. After the Ship was cleared by Canadian officials, we disembarked at 7:50 PM. Two guests selected a horse drawn carriage tour of Victoria. Some did a tour of the beautiful Butchart Gardens. Others took public transportation via taxi or bus into Downtown Victoria. Downtown was alive with people playing bagpipes, jugglers doing all sorts of tricks, and loud music blasting out of nightclubs. The shops were all open catering to tourists. Three guests even tried, but failed, to get out of a haunted house attraction alive! Some people ventured to walk into town, but that wasn’t possible. The closest place to walk was Fisherman’s Wharf some twenty minutes away. Downtown was at least a 35 minute walk. Fortunately for walkers, a small souvenir shop existed at the Ship’s Dock and they were able to make purchases. Nothing in Victoria was close to the ship docks. One needed to purchase transportation for all tourist stops.

We all returned to the ship by 10:00 PM, put our luggage outside our door for pickup in the morning, and went to sleep. Tomorrow is a full day of travel.

 

Day 8: Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Homeward Bound!

We were all up to the 9th deck for breakfast before 7:00 AM and met each other in the Alchemy Lounge on Deck 2 with all of our carry-ons in hand at 8:00 AM. We were now waiting for our Letter C to be called so that we could disembark. I took the opportunity to review procedures and encourage everyone to stay together as we leave the ship. I handed out the Starr surveys for them to fill out at their leisure throughout the day. Most guests filled it out immediately upon receipt.

It was 8:30 AM when Letter C was called. We gathered our belongings and headed to Deck 3 where security scanned our Sail Pass. We were now officially off the Carnival Legend.

Being that we had no luggage to pick up, we walked straight to United States Customs with our Passports in hand. The Customs Officer simply asked us a question related to our Passport, asked if we enjoyed our cruise, and sent us through. Now outside the terminal, we continued walking straight ahead to the Airport Shuttle Buses where an efficient lady checked off each of our names. We all boarded the bus to Seattle Airport together. We arrived at 10:00 AM. I can’t believe how easy and fast it was to leave the ship, find our shuttle, and reach the airport.

Our flight was scheduled for departure at 3:40 PM. Despite the crowds, it only took us thirty minutes to pass through Airport Security. We arrived at Gate C before 11:00 AM, found seats, and began to relax. The four hours were filled with lunch, shopping, good conversation, and periodic walks around the airport. We took a group photo by a wall painting of an airplane taking off. I airdropped and emailed this picture to everyone. We all began sharing other special pictures and memories from the trip with each other. It was actually a pleasant change of pace to be able to sit and relax for a spell. We were so used to activity after activity through excursions and onboard the Carnival Legend for 7 days.

At 3:15 PM, we boarded Alaska Airlines Flight 14 to Newark International Airport. We put our carry-on luggage in the huge overhead bins and took our seats. Soon, the aircraft backed away from the terminal and taxied to the runway. At 4:00 PM, we were in the air. The pilot announced that our flying time to Newark would be a speedy 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Heading east, the skies turned completely dark before 7:00 PM (we were still on Seattle time). We were served our choice of beverages and the ever popular biscuit. Our travelers stood up often to keep the blood flowing in their legs. The time flew by (pun intended) and the flight was extremely smooth.

We landed in Newark at 11:25 PM and our phones adjusted to the 4-hour time difference. We stayed together as a group once off the plane. I contacted our driver Walt Deminski, and settled on a meeting spot outside. Our luggage was already on the conveyor belt when we approached Baggage Claim. With luggage in tow, we went up the escalator to departures and met Walt outside the Alaska Airlines departures door. Walt quickly loaded everyone’s luggage and we were driving away at 12:15 AM. Everyone was dropped off without incident.

From start to finish, the trip went as smoothly as possible. Each port of call was unique, with its own history and attractions. The variety of activities offered on board the Carnival Legend and the variety of excursions offered in each port of call made this a most fascinating cruise. From blue chunks of ice floating in the Tracy Arm Fjord, gold mining related train ride in Skagway, glaciers in Juneau, to totem poles and logging in Ketchikan, this cruise had something for everyone. Alaska is unique. Alaska is picturesque. Life is definitely different in our 49th state. There is so much more to see and explore. We only experienced “the tip of the iceberg.”

 

Until next time, Alaska…

Gene Gray
Tour Director

 

P.S. For more pictures from this tour, check out Starr’s Facebook page!

The Ideal Equation for a Great Birthday Bash

The Ideal Equation for a Great Birthday Bash

Remember that feeling in high school when you solved a tough equation? How about middle school algebra when you were trying to solve for Y? Yep, that’s what it feels like to have planned, executed and personally enjoyed a Starr Birthday Bash! And here’s the Y… OK, The WHY – Because we love our Starr Tour Guests!

 

So let’s start at the beginning. What does it take to find a destination for a Starr Birthday Bash?

Here’s what we look for – The “X” if you will:

  • A different destination than somewhere where we already offer a lot of trips to
  • Somewhere with a hotel that can handle 3-5 busloads of tour guests
  • Somewhere with a restaurant or banquet room that can hold approximately 200 guests

Then we add the “Y” or, the WHY:

  • Why would people want to go here?
  • What does this tour offer that would excite them into booking this trip?
  • What can we include that would make this trip different that other trips that they have taken?

Put those things together and what does it equal? A great Starr trip!

X+Y = Great Starr Trip!

   

I was lucky enough to join our 4 Tour Directors and Drivers and 175 Starr tour guests in Myrtle Beach this past October. We had an excellent trip and here’s why:

We picked a destination that offered beautiful weather (we ordered it!).

We picked a hotel where every room had an ocean view and a balcony! The staff was so excited to host our Starr customers and showed us warm southern hospitality!

We had a great Birthday Dinner at the Giant Crab where the buffet had 171 items-I counted! We ate birthday cake and gave away lots of prizes to over 30 lucky winners!

We saw 4 fabulous shows! Each one was entertaining and dazzled us beyond expectation!

Everyone went home with smiles on their faces and wonderful travel memories!

   

So for 2019, we did the same equation and we’re going to Branson and St. Louis, Missouri!!  https://www.starrtours.com/bus-tours/index.php/branson-mo-birthday-bash/tour-detail/3575

We’ll see 5 shows on this trip plus see the Gateway Arch and tour the Anheuser Busch Brewery! Join us! I promise you will be glad you did. We have over 30 people on board already and we’d love to have YOU!

   

Now it’s time to plan for 2020? Got any ideas for the “X” in the equation?