Day Trips Archives - Starr Tours & Charters
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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?

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!

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

The Color and Wonder of PHS’s Most Popular Event

The Color and Wonder of PHS’s Most Popular Event

Everyone seems to brighten at the sight and smell of flowers. With the dark winter months and the chilly cold air, there is nothing like a nice batch of springtime to make winter go by much faster.  Take a bus trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, where you can wander through gorgeous gardens during the time of year when you need it the most. Whether you are a gardening fanatic, or don’t have a green thumb in your body, anyone can appreciate the wonder of the Philadelphia Flower Show! Even for those who can’t tell a sunflower from a succulent, the show is the perfect way for people to escape the dreary cold weather outside and immerse themselves in a wonderland of flowers and gardening.

The Philadelphia Flower Show was started in 1829 by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. In fact, it is the world’s longest running and largest indoor flower show! Every year, the show wows audiences with the newest plant varieties, gorgeous garden and design concepts, as well as organic and sustainable practices. This year The Flower Show will celebrate the beauty and life-sustaining interplay of horticulture and water with the theme “Wonders of Water.” “America’s leading floral and garden designers will create tropical jungles, temperate forests, native woodlands and arid landscapes, showcasing the astounding plants that thrive in each environment, from exquisite orchids and flowering vines to luminescent desert blooms.” Each year, horticulturalists from around the world compete in world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic floral arranging, gardening presentations, and demonstrations centered around the chosen theme.  The competition is fierce, and the Flower Show judges have a nearly impossible job: selecting which exhibits are most deserving of a blue ribbon! The judges pay attention to quality of design, horticulture, plantsmanship, visitor experience, and many other uniquely demonstrated qualities. Who knows? Maybe on your trip you’ll spot a winner!

The Philadelphia Flower Show is held annually at the Philadelphia Convention Center and is a beloved tradition that attracts 250,000 visitors from around the world each year! With all of this fame comes a great amount of responsibility; before the end of the flower show, horticulturalists are already tending to flowers that will be next year’s potential stars. Then, designers and artists spend the year collaborating and designing the eye-catching displays that will fill the Convention Center with color at next year’s show. Years of dedication and hard work have earned The Philadelphia Flower Show the honor of being named the best event in the world by the International Festivals & Events Association.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is a wonderful and “must see” horticultural experience and Starr makes it easy for you to get there! Take a trip on one of our luxury coaches and walk through rows of roses and promenades of peonies as you escape the cold to a wonderland of flowers. It’s the perfect fix for those with spring fever, and is great to hold you over until you sprout up seedlings of your own. After you’ve basked in the colorful glory, you’ll stop for a delicious dinner at Aldo Lamberti’s Positano Coast before sitting back to relax on your way home. The only thing you’ll have to think about are the amazing displays you’ve just seen! Take in the Philadelphia Flower Show with Starr, and book your tickets now!

 

Have you experienced the Philadelphia Flower Show? What are your favorite memories?

 

Photos Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society