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Christmastime in New York 2019

On Saturday, December 21, 2019, I traveled into New York City as a tour guest on Starr Bus #207 with  skilled Bus Driver, Andrzej Prawica. Our itinerary provided us with the magnificent Christmas Spectacular featuring the world famous Radio City Rockettes sandwiched between a generous five hours to explore the dazzling displays and holiday magic that only New York City can provide this time of year. Being that the temperature was below freezing, I decided to spend my entire day in the Rockefeller Center vicinity; 5th and 6th Avenues between 49th and 51st Streets.

Radio City and NBC Studios are the cornerstones of Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center was named after billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 and developed it beginning in 1930. Since the Great Depression hit America in 1929, and money was difficult to come by, Rockefeller had the choice to abandon development of this property or finance the entire project himself. He choose the latter. Between loans from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and profits and sale of company stocks from his oil business, Rockefeller was able to supply the $250 million price tag in 1930 to commence construction. The buildings were completed and opened in 1939. The entire project employed over 40,000 workers.

I first walked to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Adorned with over 50,000 colored LED lights stretching some five miles in length, this magnificent Norway Spruce from the city of Florida, New York, stood tall and proud, especially with its brilliant Swarovski Star planted at the top. People were everywhere snapping pictures and taking selfies. Ice skaters were giving their best efforts on the famous Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink below. The City was alive with people from all over the world as many languages and accents could clearly be heard.

It was a bucket list item of mine fulfilled twenty years ago to ice skate under the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. While watching the skaters from above, many fond memories from that day came roaring back. Being a decent ice skater, I remembered skating with Santa Claus and dodging novice skaters as they slipped and fell. My exhilaration came from feeling the cold air against my face and staring up into the beautifully lit Christmas Tree and gold statue of Prometheus just beneath it. Today, you can wait on line and pay general admission to skate for 90 minutes on this prime New York real estate for $38 per person during the holiday season. Skate rentals are an additional fee. However, I learned that you could enter the ice from the very special VIP entrance, located in the basement of NBC Studios, for a mere $175 for 90 minutes (skate rentals included and no line to wait on). I also learned the VIP admission comes with free hot chocolate.

Last year, FAO Schwartz reopened their infamous toy store in Rockefeller Center. At 10:30 in the morning, there was already a fifteen minute wait outside to get into the store. I decided to wait and soon entered FAO Schwartz. At first glance, I was faced with giant stuffed giraffes and pandas lurking above me on platforms. Salespeople were demonstrating items from magical colorful drawing boards to flying objects that soar in the air. The stuffed animals placed strategically around the store are FAO Schwartz’s trademark and prime sellers. Three floors of toys including a section for Legos and a Build A Bear Workshop provide children from ages “one to ninety-two” with smiles, dreams, and memories. It was a fun experience for me.

I was feeling a bit hungry so I walked into the NBC Studios Building for lunch. I learned there were many fast-serve restaurants one level down in the basement. But first, the NBC Studio Gift Shop was directly in front of me on street level, so I decided to walk in. There was much excitement going on today at NBC. This evening, Eddie Murphy was scheduled to host SNL (Saturday Night Live) with special musical guest, Lizzo. I learned that NBC creates a Tee Shirt commemorating each SNL show with the date, host, and musical guest printed on it. However, tonight’s shirt had been sold out within minutes of being placed on the floor. The staff was putting an additional number of shirts out for sale at 7:00 PM tonight, but I knew I’d be leaving New York at 5:00 PM. I would have loved to have purchased this one of a kind shirt (despite its $40 price tag) but couldn’t. I had a very good lunch consisting of chicken noodle soup and a half sandwich for under $10 (not bad for New York and Rockefeller Center). By the time I finished lunch, Radio City had opened its doors letting people into the 1:30 PM matinee.

Radio City is arguably the most iconic Music Hall in the world and is the largest indoor theater with a seating capacity of 6,000. Radio City was built with funds supplied from both John D. Rockefeller and the Radio Corporation of America’s (RCA) and was opened in 1932. The Art Deco Masterpiece was designed by Donald Deskey. The magnificent stage is 100 feet in length and 60 feet in width and still features the original hydraulic-powered elevators that allow for all the spectacular special effects used in staging their performances. In 1999, Radio City underwent a seven month, $70 million dollar restoration.

The Radio City Rockettes, as you would expect, were the highlight of the Christmas Spectacular. The first Christmas Show featuring the Rockettes occurred in 1933. At that time, a first- run movie was featured at Radio City followed by a 30 minute live stage performance featuring the Rockettes. In 1979, Radio City removed the movie and created the format, a 90-minute live stage show, that still exists today. The high-kicking, exact precision, and perfectly choreographed dance steps define the Rockettes. Adding brilliant costumes and creative scenarios, one sits in awe and amazement whenever this talented group of ladies perform. A well deserved standing ovation at the show’s conclusion was eagerly provided by the audience. I was pleased to see that the Rockettes “March of the Wooden Soldiers” segment continues to be performed year after year and is, for me, the highlight of the show.

Following the Radio City Spectacular, I meandered around 49th Street to 51st Street taking in the larger crowds around the Christmas Tree. Tourists from all over the world were dancing in the streets (since the streets were closed to vehicular traffic) to the sounds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” I walked towards the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the beautifully decorated windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. It was there I saw and heard motor-cyclers dressed in Santa Claus outfits roaring down 5th Avenue. After stopping into a few stores, it was time to return to the Starr Bus for our relaxing bus ride home.

It was a magnificent Christmastime visit into New York City, one that encompassed all the senses and brought back magical Christmas memories from years past. I highly recommend traveling into New York City during the Holiday Season, and especially with Starr. Starr offers lots of different bus trips to New York City. Creating new memories at Christmas is magical for children of ALL AGES.

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?

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

The Magic of Radio City

The Magic of Radio City

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the movie Annie when I was a little girl and delighting with wonder and fascination at the scene where Daddy Warbucks takes Annie to Radio City to watch the Rockettes perform. I stared at the beautiful dancers in the same way Annie did, with such wonder and fascination, as the Christmas carols played in the background. Although I am far from being a red-haired orphan living in the 1930s, the wonder of the Rockettes is a universal feeling, one that many have shared for decades.

 

There is nothing quite like the holiday magic of Radio City Music Hall, which opened in 1932. Over 300 million people have flocked to the theatre to escape to the world created between the velvet curtains. Despite being 80 years old, the theatre still creates that pure sense of joy and wonder for people of all ages, while staying true to its history and roots. This season, millions will take a step back in time and enjoy the Christmas Spectacular which has wowed audiences from around the world with sparkling costumes, twinkling lights, and of course, the high-kicking Rockettes.

 

The first Christmas Spectacular, which debuted in December of 1933, was only thirty minutes long, but today the show has bloomed into a 90-minute celebration of the holiday season straight off the pages of a storybook. However, to the delight of audiences everywhere, two iconic numbers done by the Rockettes have remained completely unchanged for decades. “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity” give the same holiday joy to millions over, and over again while transporting them back to a similar, classic era.

 

Every April, hundreds of New York’s best dancers strap on their tap shoes to audition for a chance to dazzle audiences on one of the world’s most famous dance teams, the Rockettes, and continue this iconic piece of history. Over 3,000 women have performed as Rockettes, and even more hope of someday joining the kick line that so many dancers dream of being a part of. Those dances have become a part of history, and many want to continue that tradition.

 

This season, you can be part of history and experience the timeless beauty of the Christmas Spectacular. Take a relaxing motorcoach trip and gawk at New York City, glistening and shiny with the Christmas season. Then, take a step back in time to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Spectacular like no one has seen it before. Watching from Orchestra Seats, you’ll be immersed in the sounds and sights of show. Finally enjoy some free time, and look at the cheery holiday energy in the City, maybe watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center, or just enjoy a bite to eat under that massive Christmas tree. This is an experience that is essential for the holiday season. Dazzle your eyes, maybe bring a little dancer with you, and book your trip now. Starr tours has 28 departures this year – but tickets are selling fast. Spend a day in the city with us and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Broadway by Bus or Bust

It’s only August, but now is the time when we start planning our assortment of Broadway Show Bus trips for 2018. I bet you want to know how we decide which shows to book on which dates! A crystal ball of course! Doesn’t everyone have one of these?

Okay, so we don’t really have a crystal ball, but since we’ve been doing this for so long, we do have an idea of the type of shows our tour guests like. There’s the steady eddies like: The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and Wicked. Then there’s the shows that are still bringing people in after a couple years like Beautiful, and School of Rock. There’s the newer shows like Come From Away and Anastasia. And, of course, there are the untouchables like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen – we get laughed at when we request those shows! Perhaps the most exciting, but most unknown, are the newcomers. Late 2017 and 2018 have their share of newcomers and it looks like there will be lots of new shows to deliver to our tour guests.

Check out the newest musicals coming to Broadway:

The Band’s Visit
The critically acclaimed new musical that celebrates the deeply human ways music and laughter connect us all.  After a mix-up at the border, an Egyptian Police Band is sent to a remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert. With no bus until morning and no hotel in sight, these unlikely travelers are taken in by the locals. Under the spell of the desert sky, their lives become intertwined in the most unexpected ways. The Band’s Visit celebrates the deeply human ways music, longing and laughter can connect us all.

 

Escape to Margaritaville
A new musical featuring both original songs and your most-loved Jimmy Buffett classics. Follow Tully, a part-time singer, part-time bartender, and full-time charmer who thinks he has life all figured out until a beautiful career-minded tourist steals his heart and makes him question everything.

 

Once On This Island
Bursting with Caribbean colors, rhythms and dance, the story of Ti Moune comes to vibrant life in a striking production. Ti Moune is a fearless peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island. When their divided cultures keep them apart, Ti Moune is guided by the powerful island gods, Erzulie , Asaka , Papa Ge , and Agwe, on a remarkable quest to reunite with the man who has captured her heart. Come and gather around for Once On This Island, a triumph of the timeless power of theatre to bring us together, move our hearts, and help us conquer life’s storms.

 

Frozen
Elsa and Anna take the stage in the Broadway adaptation of Disney’s hit film! This is the timeless tale of two sisters, pulled apart by a mysterious secret. Both are searching for love. They just don’t know where to find it.

 

 

Half Time
An original musical about a group of ordinary seniors with extraordinary dreams. Take the uplifting  journey with these dreamers—and the young coaches who inspire them along the way—as they battle self-doubt, stereotypes and even each other for a chance to bust a move at center court in front of 20,000 screaming fans. Together they remind us that in life, when the odds are stacked against you and the challenges seem too great to overcome, it’s not the end of the game—it’s HALF TIME.

 

My Fair Lady
Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical returns to Broadway. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion, My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway on March 15, 1956. Boasting a score that contains such now-classic songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” My Fair Lady was hailed by The New York Times as “one of the best musicals of the century,” and by the NY Herald Tribune as “a miraculous musical.”

 

Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Part 1 & 2)
The eighth story in the Harry Potter series arrives on Broadway! It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable trust: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

We already have great seats reserved for many of these shows, and as always, if a show isn’t listed on our Broadway shows lineup you can still count on us for great seats to any show when you book with our NYC Express Option – you choose the show and we take care of the rest! We’ll drop you off at 11am and pick you up at 6pm – we make it super easy for you to enjoy New York City and Broadway!

When Starr takes you to Broadway, we drop you off right in the heart of the Theatre District where you’ll have access to great restaurants, shopping and people watching! Starr makes it easy to see a Broadway show so check out our assortment, sit back and let us take you there!