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Throwback to the Days of Great Adventure

Great Adventure’s Safari Tours are a common snapshot in the family vacation albums of many families in the tri-state area. From 1974 – 2012, visitors to the safari park had the freedom to drive their family vehicles through the wilds and have up close and personal (at times very personal) experiences with the animals. Chances are you or someone you know has a story about the time the giraffe stuck its head through their sunroof, or the time the chimps climbed up on top of the car and stole their windshield wiper. These stories are a part of Starr’s history, too!

The motorcoach in the picture is parked in the hospitality area of Great Adventure. It’s #116, one of 6 sister coaches purchased in 1988 – with a 49 passenger capacity and onboard lavatory.

Starr ran a regular daily shuttle through Great Adventure’s safari for at least 5 years, providing up to 15 buses per day. Starr owner, Alan Glickman, dispatched the buses on the weekend when the demand was the greatest and even drove the route through the park from time to time! He often joked that the buses were going to the “Monkey Farm.”

The shuttle service began as a solution to the problem some Great Adventure customers encountered when the chimps in the safari started tearing up and eating the vinyl roofs and other parts from personal cars that drove through the park. For a small fee, customers who did not want to take the “Baboon Bypass” to spare their own fragile cars, could ride on safari shuttle buses through the park and avoid possible damage to their vehicles. We typically sent our older buses to run the Great Adventure Safari Shuttle because of the threat of damage by the animals and the off-road route they had to travel through the safari. The monkeys often tore off the bus’ wipers and ate the marker lights so we had to replace the plastic lenses with glass ones in order to stop the damage. Alan says there was other monkey business that occurred, too, but it’s “too dirty” to talk about in this post. On personal vehicles, over 100 vinyl tops were torn off daily and Alan recounts watching cars finish the safari trip with only bare grey metal left on the cars’ roofs.

Thunderstorms were another challenge as the safari tours ran rain or shine and the storms would often get the animals excited. Alan recounts that there were several lion and tiger attacks on the bus’ front tires and adds that breakdowns in the middle of the safari were an “adventure” for mechanics and drivers! Alan’s wife, Renee, recalls many a summer weekend when he would be away from home tending to his dispatch duties at the park.

When Great Adventure, now Six Flags Great Adventure, ceased allowing personal cars to ride through the safari in September of 2012, the decision was met with nostalgic regret and hopeful relief. It was the end of an era for many who fondly recalled the “great adventure” of driving through the park and making memories with their family and the animals. While for others, it was a shift in the right direction for the welfare of the animals.

Today, Six Flags still operates a safari park with the Safari Off-Road Adventure included in the price of general admission and visitors get to ride in rugged off-road vehicles specially designed for splashing through ponds, climbing hills, and over rugged terrain as they traverse the 350-acre preserve.

What’s your favorite memory of Great Adventure’s Safari? Share it in the comments section!

Reflecting Back – Moving Forward

As the height of the touring season was about to begin I started reflecting back on the bus tours I escorted last year.  Each tour is unique, even if I’ve traveled there before, partly due to changes in the landscape, different local guides, new venues to see and familiar ones to explore more deeply.  But my favorite part of directing tours is the people I come to know as we travel together – for they help to create my wonderful memories of these trips.

 

A few who come to mind are the 12 friends and a few family members who traveled on the Agawa Canyon, Ontario bus tour with us.  I affectionately named them the “dirty dozen” (their photo is below).  These 12 people were warm and friendly to everyone and included others in their conversations and adventures whether on the train or during the evening activities.

On the same trip were two brothers and their wives who were the “readers” of the trip.  They all were reading different genres of books and provided us with enough book titles to last for months.

 

During several of the trips I met fellow knitters. On one trip, a guest was kind enough to edit and write directions for a sweater to make it fit better.  We laughed and talked about knitting shops along the trip.  Just another guest helping another traveler and building memories of a fun-filled vacation.

 

So many guests last season were celebrating anniversaries and birthdays.  One couple wore color-coordinated clothing every day to celebrate their anniversary and the entire coach waited to see how they were matched each morning.  Everyone enjoyed watching their celebration.

 

Then there was the creative guest who turned my name into an acronym as a thank you for a fun-filled and exciting trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On that trip we were on a Shrimp boat (who knew there were so many different kinds of shrimp) and took great photos.

 

As I move through this tour season I realize that each trip, whether a new or a familiar one, will be interesting, exciting and fun-filled. They are always planned with fascinating sites to see, shops, buildings and monuments to explore plus beautiful scenery, but most importantly the coach will be filled with great tour guests who help create our wonderful memories.

 

I look forward to making memories with you one day,

Anndee Byers
Starr Tour Director

 

 

This year, travel with me to the Gaylord National Resort in August, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast or Pittsburgh in September, Savannah & Charleston in October, or Busch Gardens in December. I’m also directing a variety of day trips! Click here to find out more.

Conversation Starters

One of the most enjoyable things about traveling is the wonderful people you meet. Whether it’s across a continent or at a new coffee shop down the street, chatting with new people can be very rewarding. Starting conversations is hard, and continuing them is even harder. But fear not, because having great conversations with strangers is easy, and they can lead to some great new friendships.

 

Here are five tips for having great conversations:

 

Timing Is Everything

When starting a conversation, take into account the setting. If the area is busy and loud, you might not be able to keep your full attention on your conversation partner. Choose a person who looks happy, and make sure they aren’t busy. A conversation with a new person could be a wonderful and fascinating experience, but if the other person is in the middle of something, they can’t give you their full attention. Conversation with a new person is a great way to spice up a boring wait or a long bus ride, but can be awkward and annoying if it happens in the middle of a guided tour. If the setting is good, then it’s time for the next step.

 

Lead With An Observation

When starting a dialogue with someone new, it can be tempting to open with an introduction. This is a simple way to start a conversation, but it leads to a screeching halt after both parties say their names. Avoid the awkwardness by starting with an observation instead. For example, point out the great shirt they’re wearing or make a joke about the warmer weather. This is a great way to engage people in conversations other than the typical introduction. An observation can lead into a deeper conversation, and gives your conversation partner a chance to add on. When you compliment their coat, they can tell you where they purchased it, and before you know it you’re both talking about your favorite store. Then you can move on to introductions when it feels more natural and you’ve built a rapport already.

 

The Magic of FORD

So, you’ve started chatting with someone, led with an observation, and now you’re stuck. You’ve talked about the weather, introduced yourself, and the conversation has stalled. Welcome to the magic of “FORD.” FORD is a handy acronym that’s a great way to remember some great conversation topics. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. These are all great topics to converse about when talking to someone new. Their answers may open the door to other topics, allowing you to learn more about them. Until you know the person better, FORD is a great place to start, and an easy way to identify common ground when chatting with someone new. When the conversation hits a lull, ask a FORD question. The answer is a great way to steer the conversation to something more personal, thus giving you a stronger connection.

 

Fight Awkward Silences

Everything seems to be going great in your conversation, and then suddenly it happens: the dreaded awkward silence. It may have been something you said, or a joke that fell flat, or nothing at all, but now the silence is in the air, and the conversation is dying fast. When confronted with an awkward silence, don’t let it hang. Use this time to change the subject. Ask a follow up question to something that was discussed earlier, or use another observation. Awkward silence can be a great way to incorporate a new topic to a conversation. Chances are, your conversation partner will be relieved to end the silence, and happy to chat about anything else.

 

Get Deep

It’s great to hear about the surface details of a person’s life, but the most interesting conversations I’ve had are when the conversation moves on a deeper level. This is a hard thing to do when you’ve just met someone, but a simple tactic is to ask them a “why” question. If they say they are a retired teacher, ask them why they decided to go into teaching. Their answer will be much more telling and interesting then if you asked them what grade they taught. “Why” questions are a great way to glimpse a person’s psyche and really helps understand them on a deeper level, and opens the door for much more in-depth conversations than simply talking about the weather. “Why” are great follow-ups when learning about someone’s hobby, home or occupation.

 

So there you have it! These are five ways to have great conversations with strangers. Hopefully you’ll use some of these on your next bus trip and meet a new friend! Your next great conversation is just a person away. On your next Starr vacation, take advantage of the wealth of new people around you, and get to know them a little. Your new best friend might be on this very trip!

Be sure to check out our other blog post – 4 Tips for Making Friends While Traveling Solo!

 

What are your tips for carrying on a conversation?

Tour Directing – A Labor of Love

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

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

USS Constitution, Photo Courtesy of Greater Boston CVB

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

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

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

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

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

Laurentian Mountains, Montreal

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

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

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

 

See you on the bus!
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

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

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Ways to Go Green on Your Next Vacation

Contrary to what Vogue may tell you, green really is the new black. With Earth Day coming up, many of us are in the environmental spirit, but it can be hard to stay eco-friendly away from home.

The next time you’re exploring this beautiful planet, keep in mind these awesome travel tips:

1. Use Alternative Transportation
Forget trains, planes and automobiles. Did you know…

  • A couple traveling by bus will cut their carbon footprint nearly in half compared with driving even a hybrid car.
  • And if they take a bus rather than a plane, they will cut their emissions by 55 to 75 percent, depending on the distance they travel.
  • Buses emit the least carbon dioxide per passenger mile compared to other vehicles, and are 7 times more energy and fuel-efficient than single occupancy automobiles.
  • Buses are 3 times more efficient in reducing carbon dioxide output compared to commuter rail.
  • Buses are the most fuel-efficient transportation mode in North America when measured in terms of passenger miles per gallon of fuel providing 206.6 passenger mpg compared to commuter rail (92.4 passenger mpg), airlines (44 passenger mpg), and single occupancy automobiles (27.2 passenger mpg).

Switch up your usual style of travel and take a vacation by bus. It cuts down on emissions, making for a more fun trip with much cleaner air. Take a deep breath and enjoy the cool, clean clear air free of emissions and pollution.

2. Don’t Litter
Nothing wrecks a scene quite like a Coke can blowing in the wind. No matter where you are, it is awful to have a pretty picture ruined by some stray pieces of trash. Next time you have a wrapper, take the extra four seconds and toss it in a waste bin. You’re saving the view for others. Better yet…take care of someone else’s litter and improve the view for the next person.

3. Carry Your Own Trash
On a related note, sometimes you just can’t find a trash can. Whether you’re in a canoe, or on a long hike, it’s a good idea to bring a reusable bag to carry your trash. Whether it’s a bubble gum wrapper or your lunch debris, carrying a little extra trash can be annoying, but is worth it in the end. The earth and your fellow travelers will thank you.

4. Reuse Old Containers or Recycle Them
Reduce the clutter in your cabinets and reuse containers for other things. Old ketchup bottle? Clean it and use it for spare sunscreen! Recycle the ones you can’t use, but be sure to check to see what is recyclable in your area. Get to know your local Waste Management company to find out what is accepted in your recycling bin and what isn’t. For example, Mercer County, NJ only recycles #1 and #2 plastics and too much other plastic mixed into the batch could result in the entire batch getting tossed. “Understanding the seven plastic codes will make it easier to choose plastics and to know which plastics to recycle.”

5. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
In landfills, plastic bottles are everywhere. Cut down on your own personal waste, and save money by investing in a reusable water bottle. With countless colors and prints, you can even choose a pretty one. Stylish and environmentally friendly? Now that’s something I can get behind.

6. Pack Light
As anyone who has ever carried a heavy backpack knows, it can be a struggle. With sore shoulders, it can be a huge pain. But it is also a pain for the environment. The more weight on a vehicle (car, bus, plane, etc), the more fuel it uses. Every ounce counts, so save your back and your buck and forgo that extra four pairs of pants. The earth thanks you.

7. Bring Your Own Shopping Bag for Souvenirs
At the grocery store, we often hear the phrase, “paper or plastic?” Now, introduce a new option when you’re on the go. Bring your own reusable bags for souvenirs, and save the shop some money, and the world a few extra trees.

8. Go Digital Instead of Disposable
When it comes to capturing the perfect memory, there are a lot of strategies. Although many people are attracted to the convenience of a disposable camera, try a digital one on for size. It’s a long term option with great settings and HD. It can save the earth, and save your pictures – no print shop visit required.

9. Support Local Businesses
When out and about, it’s easy to go the Wendy’s or McDonald’s route rather than the local place. After all, we love something predictable. But trying out a local place is a new experience, it also helps support local businesses, and local farms. Take a bite out of the local agriculture and try Joe’s Grill for a change instead of Jack in the Box.

10. Leave the Aerosol at Home
Everyone loves the ease and quickness of an aerosol sunscreen or hairspray. It’s quick and effective, but it’s also torture on the ozone layer. Now, don’t forget the sunscreen, but protect your skin with a cream-based option instead. Every little bit helps. Even better, invest in biodegradable sunscreen to protect our oceans!

11. Avoid Paper Maps
In the wonderful age of technology we live in, there’s no excuse to waste money on heavy and wasteful paper maps. Print them out at home on recycled paper, or better yet, keep the information on your phone. Save a tree while exploring the forest.

This Earth Day, don’t leave the celebrations at home – take them on the go! Keeping it green at home or away!

What are your favorite ways to Go Green?

 

P.S. Go Greener with Starr!