Destinations Archives - Page 2 of 6 - Starr Tours & Charters
  • Call us, we’re here to help: 800-782-7703

Give the Gift of Travel – Vacation Gift Guide

Why worry about the perfect color, fit, or style this year? Give something that will always be in season, never goes out of style, and keeps on giving for years to come – give the gift of travel! We’ve already covered how travel experiences enrich life, here are a few suggestions for the perfect vacation, no matter your price range.

For Day Trips by bus under $100:

Atlantic City Air Show – for just under $55 you can send your loved one on a comfortable bus to the Jersey shore for the high-flying excitement of the Atlantic City Air Show and even a little casino fun! They’ll be treated to a casino package with $25 Slot Play and a $10 Food Voucher, along with the intense thrill of the famed military and civilian pilots flying acrobatic maneuvers above their heads!

Coney Island
Credit Daniel Fleming

Coney Island Express – Brooklyn’s famed boardwalk destination is less than $55. Imagine giving them a day at the beach with all of the history and unique flair of Coney Island. They can try one of Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, explore the New York Aquarium, ride the Wonder Wheel, catch a thrill on the Cyclone, relax on the beach, and more! It’s a perfect day away from the daily grind.

National Zoo, Washington, DC – for just under $70, your loved one can enjoy a day at one of the oldest zoos in the nation! Over 2000 animals call this 163-acre park home including Giant Pandas from China, exotic birds, reptiles, rain forest creatures, and more.

Cars, Collectibles, and Yuengling – new for 2018 is a tour just under $100 that offers an afternoon of history and nostalgia as they visit America’s first brewery and revisit the ’50s! At Jerry’s Classic Cars & Collectibles Museum, they will take a journey back in time to the 1950s and leave with an unforgettable experience.

 

For Broadway Show Packages by bus under $200:

The Lion King – Disney’s classic movie takes center stage in an amazing production of artful puppetry and incredible music.

Carousel – “One of the most hallowed works of the American stage” (The New York Times) returns to Broadway for the first time in more than two decades. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless musical Carousel comes to life in a new production. Elevated to an epic scale with a sweeping musical score and incandescent ballet sequences, this story of passion, loss and redemption introduced Broadway to a new manner of musical drama – one that “set the standard for the 20th century musical” (Time Magazine) and would captivate theatergoers for generations to come.

The Phantom of the Opera – this timeless tale of seduction and despair is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterwork and has been running on Broadway for 30 years. The unforgettable score, heart wrenching story, and captivating set make this a must-see show.

Hello, Dolly! – Bernadette Peters takes center stage in one of the most cherished musicals in theater history. Featuring music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, “Hello, Dolly!” tells the story of an outspoken matchmaker and her attempts to marry “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder.

 

Multi-Day Vacations by bus under $500:

Boston, Massachusetts – The famed and bustling New England city has never been so easy to visit! Your loved one will be treated to a comprehensive city tour by one of Boston’s most knowledgeable guides and enjoy plenty of free time to experience all of the wonders of “Beantown.”

Cooperstown: National Baseball Hall of Fame – perfect for the baseball fanatic in your life. This tour includes a one year membership to the National Baseball Hall of Fame including a subscription to Memories and Dreams magazine, Hall of Fame Yearbook, complimentary admission to the Hall of Fame for one year, and other perks. Combine this with the fun shopping and dining found in Cooperstown and your gift will hit a home run!

Niagara Falls, USA – No passport required! Our newest option for a Niagara vacation makes this wonder of the natural world even more accessible! They’ll enjoy a boat ride into the horseshoe of the falls on Maid of the Mist as well as a tour of the area and accommodations in Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino. What a lucky gift!

Pittsburgh
Credit Derek Cashman

Pittsburgh, PA: The Golden Triangle – the intriguing “Steel City” awaits on this tour to western Pennsylvania. Truly a unique destination, Pittsburgh is home to a fascinating mix of historical landmarks, captivating architecture, compelling characters, and more! They’ll tour the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, be treated to an in-depth tour of the city, and more!

Foxwoods & Mohegan Sun Casinos – this tour is every casino lovers dream! Featuring two of Connecticut’s greatest casinos this tour includes a casino package at each and ample time to try their luck at a plethora of table games, slot machines, Poker rooms, and more! They’ll be saying “Jackpot!” when they open this present!

 

One size rarely fits all and with Starr, you don’t have to settle for the generic! In addition to our immense lineup of incredible bus tours, we also offer gift cards. Our gift cards come in any denomination, and never expire! Whether you purchase a gift card so they can choose their own adventure or surprise them with a vacation you know they’ll love, you can rest assured that when you give the gift of travel, you’re giving a gift that will keep on giving for many years to come!

 

The Birth of a Birthday Bash

Our 70th Birthday Bash was such a success (4 sold out buses!) that I had to figure out what to do for next year. I wanted to think of a destination we hadn’t toured in a while that people would get excited about traveling to. I looked back in the archives and discovered that we hadn’t visited Myrtle Beach in a few years. Since I knew two people in the office who LOVED vacationing in Myrtle Beach (Tour Director, Karen Coate, and Charter Representative, Jeanette Gilmore), I decided to dig in to this vacation destination. Having never been to Myrtle Beach myself, I knew I had a lot to learn.

Myrtle Beach Skyline

First, I logged onto Tripadvisor, a resource I frequently use to assist in tour planning. I look for the most popular things to do in the area and then I read the reviews. In this case I needed to look at Myrtle Beach as well as North Myrtle Beach.  North Myrtle was created in 1968 from four existing municipalities north of Myrtle Beach, and serves as one of the primary tourist towns along the Grand Strand. I put myself in my tour guest’s “seat” and imagine if they would like to do the things that are top attractions in the area. After I make a list of these attractions, I move on to hotels.

Myrtle Beach

Since Starr attends the American Bus Association convention each January, we meet with Destination Marketing Organizations, hoteliers, attractions, and restaurant contacts. We save all of our information for times like these where we need info to build a bus tour. Now I go through and mine this information for hotels that fit the needs of our tour guests. In Myrtle Beach there are so many beachfront properties that we have lots to choose from BUT we have to be careful to choose a property that is group friendly, clean, and updated.

Next, it’s time to select a date for our trip. This year we traveled to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in September so I know I want to travel to Myrtle Beach in the fall. The hotels can’t even open up to groups in the summer as they are too busy. September can still be hot so I opt for October. This is when I can use the newest buses in our inventory since we are not as busy with other tours.

With 4 buses and the possibility for more, I have to find a hotel large enough to host us in Myrtle Beach and I also need to find properties en route to/from Myrtle Beach since we can’t travel there in 1 day. This is a large undertaking. Once I find the hotels, I need to make sure they all have availability to host us and that they will be able to handle the large number of guests. It’s important to me that our guests don’t feel like a “herd of cattle” so I will most likely split the en route properties up and have no more than 2 buses in each property.

Pirates Voyage Dinner Show
ONE the Show

Since shows are so popular in Myrtle Beach, I pick my top 4-6 favorites and review their schedules and prices. Then I start to piece together the schedule. This is not an easy task and is very much like a puzzle.

One of the resources I have been talking with is Sandy Haines at Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sandy suggested I do a “site inspection” of the area. A good idea – I always like to check out an area before we do a new tour there. Even though the summer is my busiest time of year in the office (as we prepare for busy fall outbound and build tours for the following year), I carve a 3-day trip into my calendar. A tourism friend offers to host me at her home which is a great way for me to get the local flavor of the area and learn some background info that I may not have learned! I rented a car and set up my appointments to meet with tourism partners, tour hotels, and sample the shows. My three days were jam packed with appointments, meetings, tours, food, and fabulous performances! I asked a lot of questions, and took lots of notes to help me remember all that I saw. Southern Hospitality was certainly displayed during my whirlwind trip to Myrtle Beach! Below are some pictures of my many stops. You can see how busy I was!

As I boarded my plane home, ideas raced around in my head so once I was seated (in a middle seat, of course!), I opened my computer and put together the final itinerary. Now it’s time to make the reservations, sign the contracts, and start promoting this wonderful trip. I am so excited to go back and bring 200 (or more!) of my closest friends! I hope you can join me!

Click here to view this tour on our website for more information and to reserve your seat!

Sandy Borowsky
Vice President, Tours

Giant Crab – Waterfront Private Dining Room

 

Brookgreen Gardens

 

Pirates Voyage Dinner show

 

Barefoot Princess II Paddlewheeler

 

Carolina Opry

Top 10 Reasons I Loved Starr’s 70th Birthday Bash

Last week, we celebrated Starr’s 70th Birthday with 4 bus loads of passengers from all over the tri-state area. This fabulous 6 day vacation to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was filled with great shows, unique attractions, lots of food and many fond memories.

Here are my Top 10 Reasons why I loved Starr’s 70th Birthday Bash:

10. I got to meet 200 Starr bus tour travelers-some new and some seasoned Starr travelers. I learned what they loved about Starr and what we can improve on. I heard about so many experiences and wonderful memories. Our travelers were so incredibly thankful and kind and my heart was full hearing so many stories.

9. I got to see 4 wonderful Starr Drivers and Tour Directors in action and I learned why they are so beloved by Starr travelers.

8. I got to work with and get to know 3 wonderful tourism partners who planned and executed this wonderful trip. Thanks to Pete and Andrew of Smoky Mountain Resorts and Pamela from Fee-Hedrick Entertainment!

7. I was introduced to a wonderful city, Pigeon Forge, that I am certain I would not have visited if it wasn’t for Starr.

6. I saw 6 amazing shows from comedy to Broadway-style, from Circus-style to variety. They were all different and all terrific. Who knew Pigeon Forge offered such world-class entertainment!

5. I crossed another National Park off my bucket list. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was gorgeous and offered lots of history.

4. I ate and ate and ate! OK, it was mostly chicken but who doesn’t like fried chicken – and calories eaten on “vacation” don’t count!

3. We asked our travel partners across the USA to donate items that we could raffle off as part of our birthday celebration. We collected over 25 terrific giveaways including a fit-bit and a beautiful hand-made bowl from Corning Museum of Glass. These gifts, along with Starr gift cards that we supplemented, made this a fun event with lots of happy winners!

2. I learned best practices as we prepare for our 71st Birthday Bash in Myrtle Beach next October.

And my #1 reason…
I was able to experience this with my parents, the co-owners of Starr and the people behind the scenes who have kept this company going strong for the last 45 years!

For more photos, check out our Facebook page!

Stay tuned for next week when I share a behind the scenes look at what goes into planning a Birthday Bash tour! I can’t wait for our 71st Birthday Bash in Myrtle Beach next year – come join me!

Happy travels,
Sandy Borowsky
Vice President and 3rd Generation Starr Owner

Long Island?  Yes,  Long Island!

Long Island… or, as we NooYawkas say… Lawn Guyland.

Join me for a delightful getaway that’s a shorter ride than Washington, DC or Boston (which are also great trips!) there is so much to see, so close to home.

I grew up on Long Island, and always knew that there were interesting and beautiful places to see there, but would anyone else be interested?

Montauk Point Lighthouse

In the summer, my dad and mom would take us to Jones Beach or Oak Beach on the South Shore or maybe a longer ride out to the tip of the island: Montauk Point. My brother and I would climb up to the top of the lighthouse, look out over the Atlantic ocean and made believe we could see Europe. On a clear day, it really does seem like the view goes on forever!

Other times we’d visit my dad’s cousins in Glen Cove, part of the early 20th century Gold Coast of the North Shore, where I learned about the many mansions that the wealthy industrialists had built in that area between the 1890s and 1930s.

Around the turn-of-the-last-century, wealthy industrialists like Vanderbilt, Woolworth, Phipps, and duPont, seeking a retreat from urban life, built grand country estates surrounded by acres of landscaped grounds. Often modeled after English country houses, many of these properties were the work of America’s foremost architects and landscape designers.  The North Shore of Long Island, known as the Gold Coast, was a popular and convenient location that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in the United States.  Only a few mansions remain today as post-war inflation, the advent of property and income taxes, the expense of maintenance, and the need for more middle class housing, brought about the destruction of the large estates.

Westbury Gardens, Photo by Vince Kish

We’ll begin our Long Island experience with a stop at one of these grand country estates, Old Westbury Gardens. Built in 1906 and the former home of the Phipps family, this “magnificent Charles II-style mansion is nestled amid 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes.  Westbury House is furnished with fine English antiques and decorative arts from the more than fifty years of the family’s residence.”

Our hotel in Riverhead is the nicest around, right at the head of the Peconic River, hence, its name.  We’ll spend the next day exploring the south fork towns of Long Island: The Hamptons, where the rich and famous now spend their leisure time,

Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest

and Sag Harbor, an old whaling village with a fascinating history as one of the main ports of entry into the United States complete with antique shops and boutiques along its centuries old streets. And, of course, a trip to Long Island wouldn’t be complete without an exciting ride on the only road to Montauk Point and New York state’s oldest lighthouse that has stood there for over 200 years and still serves as an active aid to navigation.

Our trip rounds out the next day with a visit to the Eagle’s Nest, summer home to the Vanderbilts, with 24 rooms! We’ll learn about what life was like on the Gold Coast during this opulent time and all about the Vanderbilts’ eclectic collections.

 

There are plenty of reasons to take a trip to the island and Starr does a fantastic job of including the great highlights on their tour. I hope you will join me on October 1-3!

 

Fondly,
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

Cross Country By Bus Adventures – Part 2 (Eastbound)

The journey continues! Part 2 of Starr Tour Director, Gene Gray’s Cross Country report covers Days 14-26 on this incredible “Journey of a Lifetime!” Read Part 1 here.

 

Day 14: Friday, July 7, 2017

We woke up earlier than usual this morning since we needed to be on the road at 7:00 AM. Our Silverado bus arrived and after we loaded the luggage, we rolled away on time.

The Hearst Castle visit was a fabulous experience. We saw an informative 40 minute movie on the building of Hearst Castle. Then, we boarded buses for a 15 minute ride up the long and winding road to the mansion. We met our guide upon reaching the top. She spoke about William Randolph Hearst’s love for Europe as a child, particularly Spanish architecture and style. He patterned his home based on his passions by including numerous statues, ornate doors, artistic tapestries covering the inside walls, and carved ceilings. His outdoor pool was being renovated because it had been leaking 5000 gallons of water per day and when the California drought hit in 2014, the state mandated it to be fixed. It should be completely repaired and refilled by this September. We entered his living room where all his invited guests would gather to meet “The Man” and at 7:00 PM, Hearst would make his appearance through his private elevator that connected his upstairs quarters to this room. Guests would just have to mention his art collections and Hearst would happily talk for a good length. We then walked into his dining room. A long table with twelve chairs on either side decorated with (simulated) porcelain place settings regally extended the length of the room. The room looked familiar to me and my (fading) memory was confirmed when our guide told us this room was used in the Harry Potter movies as the dining room in Hogwarts. After dinner, where else did royalty go but into the smoking lounge. Everybody smoked something back then and our guide showed us the black tar on the ceiling that still remains and mentioned that one person comes in when crowds are down to painstakingly clean off the tar with a special liquid and a q-tip. Next door was his theater filled with comfortable seats for his private movies. After all, he produced more than 180 movies himself. We were shown slides of some of the famous people who visited his Castle including Hedda Hopper, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Warren Harding, FDR and countless others.  Hearst also challenged Wimbledon champs to games of tennis on his outdoor courts. Hearst loved showing off his life’s accomplishments to people. He even said he would rather spend a month on the top of his hill than be anywhere else in the world. After roaming the grounds, we caught the bus down the mountain.

We had plenty of time for lunch and strolling around the gift shop. Doug Murphy, our Silverado driver to San Francisco, was so caring of the passengers’ needs and kept feeding me information along the route to share with the passengers. Doug has a wealth of knowledge about this area.

I took the time to review my San Francisco packet with the passengers. Again, my goal is for them to have a plan for tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

Due to San Francisco Giants traffic at AT&T Park, we arrived at the Zephyr Hotel at 7:00 PM. This is a wonderful hotel with nice amenities situated in the most perfect part of San Francisco. I was so pleased that every passenger had a plan for this evening and everyone was talking about plans for tomorrow after Alcatraz. I saw many passengers hustling to Safeway to buy breakfast items while others headed to IHOP for dinner. Many went to scout out Pier 39 and have a late dinner. I took a practice walk to Pier 33, the Alcatraz Ferry, so I’d know how to lead the group. It took me 12 minutes exactly to walk there at a moderate pace. Then I went to Pier 39 and ate the most delicious New England Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl. I made arrangements for me to go to Muir Woods tomorrow at 2:00 PM. We are all meeting at 8:45 tomorrow morning at the Hotel entrance to walk to Pier 33. I’m also arranging for a taxicab to take our passengers who have difficulty walking to Pier 33.

Our new Starr Driver, Tom Lardani had landed in California. After taking a taxi to Solvang, he boarding our Starr bus and drove up to South San Francisco where he would spend Friday night. After dropping Buddy at the Greyhound Station, Tom headed over to the Zephyr Hotel.

 

Day 15: Saturday, July 8, 2017

We arrived at Pier 33, got our tickets and boarded the Ferry to Alcatraz. Once again, the weather was gorgeous with morning temperatures in the sixties.

It was a pleasant twelve minute ride to The Rock. The Ferry holds 300 people and this Ferry had 300. In fact, we were told that Ferries to Alcatraz are booked through the middle of August. Everyone appreciated Starr’s advanced planning upon hearing that. Upon arrival, we received a brief introduction from a Park Ranger and then headed up the switchbacks to the fourth level, The Top of The Rock. We were handed our very own set of headphones and electronic device that guided us around the Penitentiary.  We heard the excellent commentary and stories from inmates and guards alike. You felt like you were in prison and directly in the thick of everything. It was an exhilarating experience to see and learn what life was like in Alcatraz. Alcatraz really wasn’t as bad as its reputation dictated thanks in part to the first warden who wanted each inmate to have his own cell to avoid fights and disagreements, eat food that was decent since he knew that the worst behaviors took place in the dining hall based on poor food, and exercise often. For the deserving inmates, good behavior meant time outside in the courtyard to socialize and play games such as baseball and basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating spending prison time anywhere.

The hour flew by. It was so entertaining and interesting. I will play the DVD “Escape from Alcatraz” tomorrow on the bus. This true story was heavily featured on today’s tour. We then walked down the hill and waited for our Ferry back to San Francisco. We disembarked exactly 4 hours since leaving our Hotel this morning.

We were now on our own until tomorrow. Many of us walked to Pier 39 for lunch while others headed for their afternoon activities. Suddenly we heard a voice behind us say, “Make way for bike riders. Join the nude bike riders.” We stopped and looked and took in the scene. Seven guys, all ages, and one lady were riding their bicycles. Only the lady was partially clothed. The guys wore nothing. They hopped off their bikes to walk in the extremely crowded walkway of Fisherman’s Wharf. All we could do was laugh while other tourists took pictures. This is San Francisco!!! We shouldn’t be surprised by anything!!! And the bike riders gave new meaning to the San Francisco freedom movement!

My passengers and I separated for the day and did our own things. I had a delicious sandwich and cup of clam chowder for lunch and then hopped on a bus for a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods. I had a great time walking through the Giant Redwoods. I saw other passengers who had taken a different tour at Muir Woods as well. I returned back to San Francisco and met up with Tom Lardani for dinner so we could discuss certain details of the trip. Later, we happened to meet up with 2 of our passengers on Pier 39 and the 4 of us had dinner together at a delicious seafood restaurant named Louis. Both Tom and I ate Calamari. It was prepared to perfection. I finally returned to my room at 9:15 PM after another different, exhilarating, and fun-filled day. Tomorrow we begin our trek Eastward with our very own Starr Bus. The passengers were excited to see our bus parked outside our hotel. It’s a return to normalcy for all of us.

 

Day 16: Sunday, July 9, 2017

We departed San Francisco as Tony Bennett’s music serenaded us. Passengers loved San Francisco and the talk on the bus centered on the bicycle riders. We shared the many ways we were able to enjoy and find our way around San Francisco. Many did tours, many took the hop on hop off buses, and some rode the trolleys. Walking around and shopping was another favorite. We crossed the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge and settled onto I-80 East. I put the movie “Escape From Alcatraz” starring Clint Eastwood on the DVD player. Having seen Alcatraz yesterday, everyone could relate to the movie and most watched intently.

We passed the Donner Pass named for the Donner Wagon Train that got stuck in November snows as they were traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Out of the 87 people traveling, only 48 survived and their only food supply was the bodies of those that died. The 48 survivors completed their journey to California when the snows melted.

We arrived in Tahoe City before noon and enjoyed this beautiful area for 2 hours. Passengers walked around this picturesque town, shopped in many unique shops, and ate a good lunch in a restaurant of their choice. The Boathouse Mall was very small and included 2 restaurants overlooking the Lake, one souvenir type shop, and a handful of different shops. Walking down the street for a block or 2 opened up an array of restaurants and shops. Many passengers fell in love with Lake Tahoe and hope to return here one day.

We continued traveling East through the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. The scenery was so different than anywhere else we experienced. We were all taking in the rugged terrain dotted with a few Ponderosa Pine and spectacular array of color. As we entered into the state of Nevada, I played the theme song from Bonanza as we all pictured the Cartwrights riding their horses on this terrain.

Later we arrived in Winnemucca, NV for our overnight.

 

Day 17: Monday, July 10, 2017

Today was a traveling day 300 miles through Nevada and into Utah. I started the day playing “Good Morning Starshine” as our morning song. I now have passengers secretly dedicating songs to their spouses. They request a song from me, and if I don’t have the song, I’m able to download it from iTunes. There’s a lot of romance on this bus, and it’s so great to watch everyone having a great time.

After a quick, scenic rest stop, we drove another 2+ hours to lunch at the last exit in Nevada. In fact, the electronic devices all advanced one hour in time.

I showed the DVD “I Will Fight No More Forever,” the story of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians and how they were so wrongly treated by our American Government in the 1870’s. It’s a sad and heartbreaking movie. Tissues were needed at the end (especially by me) and the large majority of passengers intently watched. I would show this movie to all my classes on the last 2 days of school each year. I wanted to leave my kids with an appreciation of all people and show the horrors of discrimination. Every year, as the movie ended, the kids would look at me and say, “Mr. Gray, are you crying?” I couldn’t answer!!!

We continued traveling through the salt flats of Utah. Then, on our left, appeared the beautiful Great Salt Lake. We were able to pull into a State Park overlooking the Lake. We all walked around and took many beautiful pictures. The weather was sunny and 93° with 22% humidity. Another perfect weather day. After 20 minutes, we boarded the bus, drove to the Hampton Inn, and arrived exactly on time. Passengers had a little over an hour to freshen up before meeting the bus at 6:00 PM for dinner at nearby Christopher’s Steakhouse.

The manager greeted us at the door and we were all seated in a spacious multilevel section of the restaurant. The restaurant had a warm ambiance that was reinforced by the terrific and friendly wait staff that took our drink orders and served us a delicious plate of greens with a tasty dressing. Our main course, all 3 choices, were cooked to perfection and enjoyed by every passenger. I was never on a trip before with a large group of people where 100% were completely satisfied and had nothing but “that was absolutely delicious” and other great comments to say. The beef and chicken were very tender and juicy while the ravioli was extremely tasty. The meal was capped off with a generous portion of New York Cheesecake. Everyone was stuffed and walked out praising Starr for choosing another fabulous restaurant.

Since we were only 3 blocks away from the Salt Lake Temple, Tom agreed to drive us over to it. I gave everyone 20 minutes to walk around and take pictures. The Temple is located in a square with an art museum, the Tabernacle, and the Assembly Hall, that served as the first Mormon Temple while the main Temple was being constructed. We were allowed to enter all the beautiful buildings except the Salt Lake Temple. That is strictly reserved only for Mormons. The architecture for each structure is different and unique. Whereas each was striking and beautiful in its own way, the Mormons were not into overly ornate designs. The passengers appreciated this last minute stop and it was a wonderful way to end another very different day on our terrific journey.

 

Day 18: Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Today was a day of travel from Utah to Wyoming back into Utah then into Idaho for 10 miles and finally back into Wyoming for good. We traveled scenic Route 89A that not only weaved through the above states but also followed the meandering Snake River overlooking the beautiful mountains of the Rockies. We stopped for lunch in the small 3-block town of Afton, Wyoming.

Continuing onto Jackson Hole, we drove through more amazing scenery. The mountains were majestic with colors of whites, reds, and grays. The surrounding countryside was a lush green with pine trees growing in abundance. Cameras were snapping from both sides of the bus. We arrived in Jackson Hole ahead of schedule. The 49er Hotel was ready for us and the manager even got on the bus to greet us upon our arrival.  The Town Square of Jackson Hole is only 3 short blocks east and 1 short block north. It was an easy walk for most passengers. There were closer restaurants to the Hotel for passengers who wanted to stay local.

I walked into town and stopped in a few shops before dinner and ice cream. I saw a simulated gunfight on the streets of the square and bought a few souvenirs.

 

Day 19: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It’s Tom’s day off today so we have hired a guided tour bus to take us to Yellowstone. We were all up earlier than usual and were pleased with breakfast at the 49er Hotel. This is a really different, but cozy, hotel. Many of us had fireplaces in our rooms. When you open the door to your room, you enter the sink area of the bathroom. And in the room were rags for cleaning shoes, removing makeup, or drying your motorcycle, as the little attached notice suggested. I used a rag to clean off the screens on my iPhone and iPad.

Our Alltrans driver/guide Jesse arrived and promptly told us that the deluxe motorcoach that he was supposed to drive us in today had broken down yesterday so they had to substitute this 36-passenger (non-deluxe) vehicle. Jesse was very personable and extremely knowledgeable. About 30 minutes into our driving tour, we heard an explosion coming from the rear right side of the bus- pieces of thin wood flew up onto passengers seated back there and the vehicle began rumbling down the road. We immediately pulled over. One tire completely blew apart in the middle of nowhere. The explosion actually blew a hole in the floor. Luckily, no passengers were injured. However, the view of the Grand Tetons was beautiful.

Jesse jumped into action and called his company. A few minutes later, a State Patrolman pulled up and inquired about our status. He was wonderful. He treated this like an accident and stayed with us throughout this long ordeal. When the new bus finally arrived (on the flatbed), the officer stopped traffic to facilitate the transfer of vehicles. After an almost 3-hour delay, we were on our way to Yellowstone (again). I am very thankful for the patience of our wonderful passengers. (Note: Each passenger received a $60 refund for this unplanned part of our trip.)

We finally reached Yellowstone Park. Jesse narrated constantly, no breaks, no coming up for air. Although his information was fabulous (I took 8 pages of notes), the passengers drifted in and out on his words. This was similar to Chris, our Los Angeles Tour Guide. I guess these one day guides must think that silence means they are not doing their job. Despite this, the passengers learned a lot and were amazed at his knowledge.

The passengers loved Yellowstone and we missed no stops. We wanted the passengers to get a full taste of the amazing geothermal activities that this region produced. That meant that we would have to extend our day by 2+ hours. At 1:00 PM, we arrived at Old Faithful. It was scheduled to go off at 1:00 PM. As we pulled into the parking area, there she blew. We saw it from the bus. The next eruption would be at 2:30 PM. So, we had an hour and a half of welcomed time to eat lunch, shop in the gift shop, and stop in the Visitor’s Center, all at Old Faithful Inn. Old Faithful was right on time, spewing water 170 feet into the air (it averages about 130 feet, so this was even more spectacular). After Old Faithful settled down, we were soon back on the bus and continued onward to the Fountain Paint Pot stop, a ½ mile total boardwalk walk that overlooked many unusual natural features. We saw and smelled bubbling and steaming sulfuric water holes, bubbling mud pits, and small mineral geysers that erupt constantly and when the wind is blowing in the your direction, you feel the calcified water hitting you. We then proceeded to the Upper Falls, our first glimpse of the mighty Yellowstone River carving out the gorge. This was spectacular. We all took pictures of each other with the powerful rushing water in the background. Then it was onto Artist Point aka The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The scenes were breathtaking. Everyone marveled. The cameras were clicking. We stood in awe and disbelief at nature’s artistic abilities.

We arrived back at our hotel by 9:00! Once again I say, “All’s well that ends well.” It turned out to be another memorable day.

 

Day 20: Thursday, July 13, 2017

I promised the passengers that I would let them rest on the bus this morning in total silence. We each had a good breakfast and departed on time. Johnny J’s Diner in Casper, Wyoming graciously agreed to take us for lunch at approximately 1:00 PM. We have 500 miles of traveling today through some rugged terrain and beautiful scenery. After I told the passengers about our lunch stop within the first 20 minutes of our trip, there was total silence on the bus. Most were dozing off, others pondered the magnificent mountainous scenery, while some enjoyed reading and doing puzzles.

After a brief rest stop, we continued on to Casper. Johnny J’s is a nostalgic 1950’s Diner with pictures of Lucille Ball and others on the wall. They serve old-time milkshakes in those tall, thick glasses that brought me back. The food was good and enjoyed by everyone. The servers and management were very welcoming.

The passengers were more awake after lunch. I showed the 50 minute History Channel Documentary on Mount Rushmore. Since we’ll be spending time in Iowa in a few days, after our rest stop, I played Don McLean’s song, “American Pie” followed by the video “The Buddy Holly Story.” The plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Richardson crashed in Iowa in 1959, “The Day the Music Died.”

We continued to Deadwood, SD boasting, “The Town That Keeps the Wild West Alive” as its motto. The architecture of the town is original from the 1880’s. You can envision a lawless town, with people being shot from their 2nd floor balcony, falling onto a short roof below, and onto the ground. The passengers really enjoyed walking up and down the street and learning where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker. In fact, the hand he was holding, the ace of spades, the ace of clubs, the 8 of spades and the 8 of clubs, has become known as the dead man’s hand.

The Mineral Palace and Casino was the most friendly and welcoming. They provided us with our own personal wine, cheese, and meats reception. They gave us free bungee cord devices, and put a rubber duck on each of our bathtubs to take with us. Many passengers walked the town and went to bed by 10:00 PM. Tomorrow is a very early departure.

 

Day 21: Friday, July 14, 2017

Another beautiful day weather wise. Bright sunny dark blue skies, warm temperatures in the upper 70s with little humidity. A perfect day for viewing Mount Rushmore. We had a perfect breakfast (in my opinion but not the opinion of a few passengers) at the Mineral Palace consisting of pineapple, strawberries, grapes, and sweet rolls.

The ride to Mount Rushmore was an hour and 20 minutes. Anyone can describe Mount Rushmore as being sculpted in granite and be able to name the four Presidents who are immortalized in stone there, but to actually see it in person is awe-inspiring. For many of the passengers, this was the key reason they took our trip. It had been a bucket list item for them their entire lives.

Since I was here last in 1978, a Presidential Trail was built that loops around the base of the Monument. Many passengers and I walked this mile loop taking many magnificent close-ups of each President. It was here I met a group of ten to twelve year old boys who were part of a camp being chaperoned by some of their dads. Two of the boys were so eloquent in their speaking and excitedly described to me how they built their own shelter at the campground they are staying using a tarp and wood. And how the strong winds at night did not knock it down. Then, they looked up at Mount Rushmore through the sweet smelling pine trees and said, “God brought us here. We are so blessed to be here.” To which I answered, “You are blessed to see this at your age. I’m with 34 people in their fifties, sixties, and seventies who feel blessed like you do. It is their first time seeing Mount Rushmore and they are as inspired as you are.”

We had ample time to walk the loop, study the Monument, shop in the gift shop, view the ten minute movie in the Visitor’s Center, and get something to eat in the cafeteria. Next, we were off to Wall Drug Store. I’m still inspired by my conversation with the two boys.

After arriving at Wall Drug, many passengers ate immediately while others scouted out this massive department store all under one roof. We ate, walked around, shopped, and met the bus at 1 PM for departure to the Badlands.

We entered the Badlands at the Pinnacle Entrance and stopped at 5 key points that show the diversity of these beautiful sandstone formations. We enjoyed viewing the magnificent pinnacles infiltrated with brilliant reds, yellows, and whites. At one stop, we saw Prairie Dogs standing at attention and ready to ward off any intruder by its high shrill bark. Other Prairie Dogs were foraging around their holes, looking for something to eat. At the scenic overview called Panorama Point, we saw 2 Bighorn Sheep crossing the road and climbing effortlessly down into the rough terrain of the Badlands. They began eating the tumbleweed and thick brush vegetation below. We snapped pictures of both the Sheep and the beautiful scenery, which could be seen over 30 miles away on this glamorous clear day. Our final stop was a short minute bathroom stop, souvenir stop, and information stop at the Easternmost Visitors Center named the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center. We departed after a wonderful 2 hour drive through visit. That completes our National Parks for this Cross Country Trip.

We lost another hour as our clocks jumped ahead 1 hour into the Central Time Zone at approximately the 200 mile marker on I-90 in South Dakota. The skies continued to be a perfect blue with no clouds. Temperatures were over 100° outside but extremely comfortable in the bus. No movies today. People rested, talked, and slept on this day that began at 4:00 AM for most with our personal wake-up call or alarm. We arrived in Mitchell, SD at 8:00 PM. Another magnificent day of driving for Tom, who is outstanding to work with and a wonderful driver.

 

Day 22: Saturday, July 15, 2017

We began the day with a good breakfast and departed the hotel for the Corn Palace. Once inside, we saw a 15 minute video on its history. Our guide then spoke about the huge panels of mosaics hanging on the walls completely made of corn. Fabulous artwork. The passengers enjoyed this “different” attraction that portrays Americana at its very best.

In the morning, I showed the movie, “The Three Amigos” to add some humor and levity, knowing that I was planning to show a very sad tribute movie after lunch. Many passengers enjoyed the movie while some slept through parts of it or did word puzzles.

We stopped for lunch at The Ranch Family Restaurant in Fairmont, Iowa.

As we crossed the Minnesota-Iowa border into Iowa, the state where the plane crashed in 1959 killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and P.J. Richardson aka The Big Bopper, I put on the movie, La Bamba. It portrayed the difficult childhood of Ritchie Valens, his rise to fame, and his sudden death in Iowa at age 17. There wasn’t a dry eye on the bus. Following the movie, I played the music of Holly, Valens, and Richardson to complete the tribute. It wasn’t long after the music ended that we entered Dubuque and were at the Holiday Inn Express. Tom did another outstanding job of driving.

 

Day 23: Sunday, July 16, 2017

We all learned a positive lesson, today. As sung by Frank Sinatra, “My Kind of Town, Chicago Is.” The skies were overcast for the first time as we left Dubuque after a wonderful breakfast. We crossed the mighty Mississippi and entered into the Land of Lincoln within 5 minutes. Iowa and Illinois were both relatively flat states with corn growing as far as the eyes can see.

I began the morning by playing “My Kind of Town” by Frank Sinatra and celebrating Marcia’s birthday with a favorite song chosen by her. I then briefly spoke about the history of Chicago, being in the most perfect location for access to the transcontinental railroad, Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River and thus could easily ship manufactured products all over the country dating back to the 1870’s. I then discussed the Navy Pier and the Skydeck before I turned off the microphone for a while.

At exactly the 2 hour mark, we arrived at the Belvedere Rest Stop, an oasis of restaurants and shops, about 90 minutes West of Chicago on I-90. The passengers enjoyed this unexpected opportunity to shop. I took 2 great pictures here; one of the ladies shopping for jewelry and one of their husbands standing with their pockets hanging inside out with no money left. Everyone had a good laugh.

As we began to see the Chicago skyline in the distance, I played 8 classic songs from the group that shares the city’s name, beginning with “Saturday in the Park.” Tom, once again, made great time getting us into Chicago and we arrived at the Navy Pier at 11:45 AM. The passengers were told to meet the bus at 3:00 PM. They were very pleased with the amount of time they had to play on the Pier.

The Navy Pier is a most enjoyable place to just hang out in Chicago. The huge Ferris wheel stands out as the first landmark you see on approach. The skies continued to be overcast, but not a drop of rain fell. As the day progressed, the sun started to peak its way out and more people converged onto the Pier. There is a plethora of restaurants that include both fast food and sit down at the Pier. Being a baseball fan, I had to eat at Harry Carey’s, the late, great announcer for the Chicago Cubs who would always lead the Wrigley Field faithful in the 7th inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I actually met and dined with other passengers who had the same “need” as I. Three hours flew by and we all reconvened at the Bus Drop-off spot.

We had a short ride to the Willis Tower and the Skydeck. We all got off the bus and meandered our way inside to elevators that took us downstairs to begin our tour. There was a 10 minute looped video that many chose to see prior to taking the elevator to the top. Once at the top, the views were spectacular.  What had been a 1 mile visibility earlier was now about 30 miles. Once again, we were blessed. We got a chance to step out onto the Skydeck, a very weird feeling – almost like being suspended in mid-air. We all enjoyed taking many unique pictures. The passengers really enjoyed this wonderful experience.

Many passengers took advantage of their night in Chicago by walking around the city, eating at a suggested restaurant, or stopping in some stores that were still open on Sunday evening. Some grabbed a quick bite to eat directly across the street from the hotel at a pizza restaurant or a hamburger restaurant. Since it was Marcia’s birthday, Nancy and I took her out to the Italian Eataly in Chicago, about 6 short blocks from our Hotel. You can find anything dealing with Italian wines and foods in this 2-story grocery store/restaurant complex under one roof. It’s similar to the one in New York. We had a delicious dinner and Marcia was very appreciative. I ordered black spaghetti. It contained calamari and squid ink among other ingredients. It was very tasty but my mouth and teeth became black from the sauce. We all had a good laugh.

Before going to sleep, I completed all 34 awards for the passengers and they are now ready to hand out at our Farewell Dinner in Pittsburgh. It took me 2 hours.

Everyone loved the Fairfield Inn and its central location. The entire Fairfield Inn staff was extremely courteous and welcoming to us. Another great and memorable day was had by all. We loved our small taste of Chicago!!!

 

Day 24: Monday, July 17, 2017

We boarded the bus to prepare for another long day of travel. With the majority of our great trip behind us, I’ve overheard people beginning to look forward to getting home.

I played my morning song of the day, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” as we pulled out of Chicago. That was followed by “Chicago” and “My Kind of Town,” both by Sinatra. I played a few patriotic tunes and one request. And then silence prevailed so people could rest. I discussed the life of Ray Kroc, owner of McDonalds, since Ray Kroc opened his first McDonalds just north of Chicago. After lunch, I showed the video, “The Founder,” the story of Ray Kroc and the founding of McDonalds. Most of the passengers really enjoyed this and it was the talk of many people once we arrived at our Hotel.

We arrived at our hotel in Canton, Ohio at 5:15 PM. I can’t believe tomorrow is our Farewell Dinner. It has been an absolutely marvelous trip and I’m so fortunate to have had this opportunity.

 

Day 25: Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After breakfast we drove to the Fannie May/Harry London Factory. Our visit included an introductory video, walking tour and time to shop. Everyone enjoyed the Fannie May/Harry London shop and factory tour. The Guide was knowledgeable and served us many samples of their delicious chocolate. She pointed out that you can tell the more experienced chocolate makers by the color of their bonnets they wore while working. She also said the factory produces chocolate Mondays through Thursdays for 20 hours a day. To cap off our tour, we each received a spoonful of gelato, either vanilla or lemon, to clean our pallets after eating the chocolate.

After, we arrived at MAPS Air Museum and broke up into 4 groups. This is one fabulous Museum. We were guided by actual Sergeants or experienced personnel from the armed forces. They focused on the type of each aircraft, when and where it was used, and a riveting story to go along with the plane while used in combat. They even spoke from their personal experiences, which is unusual for a Veteran. He then introduced us to their Museum. He spoke about women in WWII and discrimination, black people such as the Tuskegee Airmen and discrimination, and how things have improved but we still have a long way to go to reach equality.

We stopped at the food court in the Belden Mall for a fast bite to eat. I told the passengers to eat lightly since we have a 5:30 PM reservation for dinner. Everyone was wonderful as we pulled away from the Mall at 1:30 PM. Pittsburgh was a short 2 hour drive away.

We arrived at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel and shortly after headed over to The Grand Concourse Restaurant in Station Square. I made a short speech saying how much everyone has inspired me throughout the trip and I thanked them on behalf of Starr for traveling on this trip of a lifetime. I hope to see them all again on future trips with Starr. I then handed out my Cross Country by Bus statistics pages to each; they absolutely loved and appreciated this complete summary of our trip. Finally, I gave out Awards. I read each one individually and handed it to the passenger while others applauded. Every person received positive accolades from me and applause from their fellow travelers. After I gave out the last award, one of the passengers stood up and thanked me for being the best Tour Director. To which I bowed and thanked everyone for their applause. At that moment, dinner was served. The delicious salad was served first followed by our main course. The Crab Cakes were outstanding. We had a wonderful apple turnover for dessert. Everyone enjoyed their dinner and reveled in each other’s company.

 

Day 26: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We departed Pittsburgh for home and arrived mid-afternoon. Sandy Borowsky (Alan & Renee’s daughter) greeted us with a big smile. Once all luggage and passengers were on their respective shuttles and we said our goodbye, we pulled away. It’s been an absolutely marvelous trip and I’m already looking forward to doing this wonderful Cross Country by bus trip again in September 2018!