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It’s Who You Meet Along the Way

It’s said that it’s not the journey but who you meet along the way that is important in life. Well, as Tour Directors, we are fortunate to be able to do both: travel and meet interesting people along the way!

Sometimes we meet people at our various stops and attractions, but most often it’s right on our tour bus.  After I introduce myself, and before I get into the details of the trip, I will ask if there are any veterans aboard the bus.  Sometimes I’ll get a few gentlemen to raise their hands and I thank them for their service… often the rest of the tour guests will applaud.  On occasion, a woman will raise her hand and she will not only get applause, but many times tour guests will take time during the trip to ask her about her service.  On a 4-day bus trip to Vermont last year, I had two women who were traveling together and still in active duty in the Air Force.  The gentleman sitting across the aisle from them suddenly perked up and said he just retired after 20 years in the Air Force… and the three of them then became a fun trio during the bus trip!

St. John’s, Newfoundland

On a bus trip I recently escorted to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, I had a family group from Philadelphia aboard, taking their Canadian cousins to the Big Apple.  Talking to Lisa, one of the Canadians, I found out that they were from St John’s, Newfoundland.  I had seen a program on the Food Network from Newfoundland and asked about it. She told me about the filming of that show and how everyone in town was involved in it. Then she said that they were going to see a Broadway show the next week: taking the train into NY. It would be her first ride on a train! And the show they would see was “Come From Away,” the hit show about all the flights that had to land in Newfoundland on 9/11.  Yes, she was involved in that too, although she didn’t take anyone into her home, they were cooking for and helping all the unplanned visitors to their town.

On the 9/11 Museum trips, I talk about the early history of New York and about the many first settlers who came in 1624 who were Walloons: French speaking Belgians who were fleeing persecution and went to Holland. They petitioned the government and were allowed to come on the first ship that sailed to the New Netherlands’ colony of New Amsterdam.  As they were getting off the bus in New York City, one tour guest said to me: “I was surprised and very moved, to hear you talk about the Walloons because I’m a Walloon… well, my ancestors were and I never really understood their place in American history!” She was quite happy the rest of the trip.

And last, but not least, on another trip into New York City, I talked about the early explorers and the dangers of exploration back then. Henry Hudson was put adrift by his crew in the Hudson Bay in the winter, and Giovani Verrazzano met a horrible end on a Caribbean Island. I mentioned that today’s explorers also experience danger, such as in the space program. On that trip I had an astronaut/payload specialist from the Space Shuttle Columbia, onboard. (A rather poignant example of the dangers of space travel – the Space Shuttle Columbia completed 27 missions from 1981-2003 before disintegrating upon re-entry on the completion of its 28th mission. All seven members of the crew were killed.) He concurred that space exploration was just as dangerous as exploring was in the 15th and 16th  centuries, but the dangers are different as there are no cannibals in space, as far as we know anyway.

 

I can’t wait to meet more interesting people on my bus trips this year!

Hope to see YOU soon!

Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

 

P.S. Travel with me to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in May, August, October, and November, the Hudson Valley in June, Boston in July or September, an overnight in New York City in August, the Tall Ship Festival in Erie, PA in August, the Poconos in October, and more!

 

A Few of My Favorite Things (Actually, Favorite Places!)

After more than 25 years as a Starr Tour Director, I have noticed that the most frequently-asked question by passengers is “What is your favorite destination?” With the wide variety of options offered by Starr, it is not an easy question to answer. However, in an effort to share my experiences with you, I have narrowed down the long list of choices to my personal top three picks (not in any specific order):

 

Niagara Falls – My husband was born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, and we still have relatives residing in the area.  That means I have visited Niagara Falls often and have been able to experience its beauty in all four seasons.  While they have “real winter” in that part of the country, the ice forming on the falls is absolutely spectacular and worth donning my long-johns to see!  On the Canadian side (which I believe has the best view of the falls), the gardens in springtime are ablaze with color.  Parks Canada does a magnificent job in keeping the planting beds filled with a dazzling array of plants and flowers.  While summer in Niagara Falls can be hot and humid (honest!), it is also the busiest and most crowded season and a frequent family vacation destination.  There are so many attractions, restaurants, and natural wonders to explore!  The leaves in autumn start to turn earlier in the Niagara Region than in New Jersey, so even a bus trip in September can reveal fall foliage at its best.  In short, I think Niagara Falls is a destination that can be enjoyed year round – based on your personal preferences.  No matter how often I visit, the view from Table Rock (very close to the fall’s precipice) still takes my breath away!  And for folks who do not have a passport, Starr now offers bus trips that stay on the New York side of the border!

Visit Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls & Toronto, Niagara USA, or Niagara during the holidays with Starr!

 

Nova Scotia, Canada – This is quintessential Maritime Canada at its best!  Starr offers the option of a motorcoach tour or visiting the area by cruise shipPeggy’s Cove, a small fishing village located about an hour from the provincial capital of Halifax, provides magnificent views of the rocky coast.  It is said that the best scallops in the world come from Digby, Nova Scotia – and if you like seafood, the options are endless!  While the adventuresome can try the local favorites (poutine and beaver tails), there are familiar American restaurants as well – something for everyone. The scenery alone would rank a #1 reason for this bus tour, but the people of Nova Scotia are also responsible for my many visits.  I have found the folks in this area to be kind, welcoming, and helpful to travelers.  Several years ago on one of the bus trips I escorted, we had free time for lunch in one of the local towns and two of my passengers became confused and could not find the bus.  A local woman (on her lunch hour from work) saw their distress, offered to help, and took the time to walk them back to the bus parking area.  She could have ignored them or just given verbal directions, but she took the time to be of true assistance to these travelers.  Last, but not least, is the Titanic connection to Halifax; there is an excellent exhibit on the ship as well as the Halifax Explosion.  Don’t let different currency or the metric system scare you!  Your Starr Tour Director will have you well-versed in all the details you need to know before your bus arrives in Nova Scotia.

Travel to Nova Scotia with Starr, see the Nova Scotia International Tattoo Festival, or cruise there on Carnival Sunrise.

 

Civil War Trails (or almost any history tour!) – On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2010), Starr began offering bus tours with an historical theme and we called the series “Civil War Trails.”  Over the years, these itineraries have included Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Washington, DC and much more.  I have had the pleasure to serve as Tour Director on these bus trips and it has been an exciting, enjoyable and educational experience for my passengers and me.  These tours have much more than battlefields and always include a component relative to the people who were not fighting, but trying to survive a tumultuous time in our country’s history.  In addition, I highlight something about the women of the period—often overlooked in folks’ zeal to learn about the politicians and Generals.  Join me this year as we explore the Civil War History of Fredericksburg, VA!

If the Civil War is not your favorite period in our history, you still have lots of options!  Starr regularly offers tours to Salem, Massachusetts, Williamsburg, Virginia and other historical areas.  There are even itineraries regarding specific historical figures (Franklin Roosevelt, Harriett Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc.).

Personally, I did not enjoy learning history while in school.  However, actually walking in the footsteps of the people who helped to shape our country has always been an exciting and illuminating experience for me – and I try to share that enthusiasm and curiosity with my passengers.

 

I hope that this information will be helpful as you look through the myriad of choices Starr is offering this year and select the destination of your next journey.  My favorite quote from Saint Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

 

So… Keep traveling!  And I hope to see you on a bus trip soon!

Jane Peters Estes, Tour Director

Make Your Bus Trip Better with a Book

Make Your Bus Trip Better with a Book

While traveling around the country as a Tour Director on many of Starr’s bus vacations, I am always thrilled when I stumble upon historical fiction titles dealing with people, cultures, and events that showcase the places we are visiting.  Sometimes, I find a book while on tour as I did in Chicago. I purchased Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson in the gift shop of the Willis Building—the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  It is a great read detailing the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair while unraveling a sinister killer luring young victims to his hotel.

Book recommendations from friends, tourism folks and fellow travelers rank high on my reading list.  So, I couldn’t pass up reading Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom after our local guide in West Virginia presented me her paperback copy on our last day in town.  A real page turner chronicling the capture of Mary Draper Ingles by the Shawnee Indians and her 1,000 mile journey on foot back to her family.  Having read multiple books by Sue Monk Kidd, I was happy to pick up The Invention of Wings” when I found out the plot centers in Charleston, SC—one of Starr’s best-selling bus tours!  It takes place at the beginning of the 19th Century when a young slave girl is given to a young wealthy girl as a birthday present.  Although their birthrights were significantly different, their loyalty propels them towards liberation and empowerment.  Then there is “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil” by John Berendt.  This novel was on the New York Times Best Sellers List longer than any other non-fiction narrative.  The true story is traced to Savannah, GA. Starr passengers, while on a trolley tour, will stop in front of the infamous house where the murder of a well-known male prostitute took place.  Passengers can also see the famous Bird Girl Statue featured on the cover of the book and premiered in the movie of the same name at the Telfair Museum.

While doing my research for the Cross Country tour, there were two books that caught my attention.  I was intrigued by The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff.  Expelled from the Mormon Church as an outcast after separating from Brigham Young, the Church’s leader, Ann Eliza Young, his 19th wife begins a crusade exposing polygamy in the United States.  While visiting Salt Lake City Utah, Starr passengers can stroll Temple Square, the entrance to the Church of the Latter Day Saints—the Mormon Church.  Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline takes the reader from Maine to Minnesota on trains carrying thousands of orphaned children from 1854-1929.  The premise of such a journey was to have children adopted into loving homes needing help on farms during the Westward Expansion.  Unfortunately, many children were adopted into a life of servitude and endured many hardships.

As this new travel season approaches, I am on the hunt for additional historical fiction titles that will expand my knowledge as well as enhance our bus tour guests’ travel experiences.  So, if you have any book suggestions for our upcoming Starr bus tours going to Dublin, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; or Block Island, Rhode Island, I’d love to add them to my reading list!  See you on the road and don’t forget to bring your favorite book with you on the bus!

 

Christine Durling,
Starr Tour Director

New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart – Virginia Beach: Under the Boardwalk

New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart – Virginia Beach: Under the Boardwalk

Even though the weather is cold, it’s never too early to start thinking about having fun in the sun. This week, we explore our Virginia Beach: Under the Boardwalk vacation in our final installment of our New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart series. With your New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions in mind, get ready to plan an amazing trip to Virginia Beach and join Starr for this large group celebration with three straight nights of music near the Virginia Beach boardwalk featuring the festive beach songs of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Your vacation by bus begins with a sightseeing tour of the waterfront city of Norfolk, home of the world’s largest naval base. Your bus tour will highlight the port city’s colorful 400-year history as you ride through the historic district. “The history of Greater Norfolk coincides with the birth of our nation, and throughout the region, evidence of this important past can be enjoyed today.” Next up, experience the MacArthur Memorial, a museum and research center which is dedicated and committed to preserve and showcase the life and times of five-star General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur. “In 1961 General MacArthur executed a deed of gift in which he gave the City of Norfolk all his trophies, medals, prizes, decorations, uniforms, flags, swords, battle souvenirs, personal papers, documents, records and other personal memorabilia. The city restored the historic 1850 city hall to house this collection.” The memorial offers an extensive glimpse into our nation’s history through its outstanding collection which traces his life and achievements as well as the story of the millions of American men and women who served in the Armed Forces from the Civil War through the Korean War. Take a look at the past, and feel thankful for our future through this fascinating look back at some of the bravest American men and women. The General and his beloved wife, Jean, are entombed in the rotunda of the memorial. You’ll enjoy some free time on your own to have lunch in the Waterside District, Norfolk’s premier dining and entertainment district where you can dine, shop and gaze out at the beautiful water, before visiting Nauticus, an exciting science and technology center exploring the power of the sea and home of the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest battleships ever built. Before returning to the hotel, we’ll stop by Doumar’s, a leader in the world of ice cream since 1907 and home of the first ice cream cone machine. Doumar’s has always made homemade waffle cones, and they even use the same recipe and machine that Abe Doumar made in 1907! Bridge the past and the present as you take a lick of a delicious and historic treat. Tonight, don your flip flops and brightly colored Aloha shirts for an “Evening in Margaritaville,” filled with live music, dancing, and a Caribbean-style meal as you kick up your feet with one of the best Jimmy Buffet Tribute bands in America, Changes in Latitudes. You’ll love this festive themed party, with a show band, a shag dance floor, and a cash bar with margaritas!

Changes in Latitudes Jimmy Buffet Tribute Band

The fun doesn’t stop there. Rise and shine the next morning for a sightseeing tour of Virginia Beach showing us beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean as we learn all about this resort city. Next, we’ll fly back to the past and explore the Military Aviation Museum. This fabulous museum holds one of the world’s largest private collections of World War I and World War II era military aircraft. Each of them are restored in beautiful condition, and they look like they could fly away at any moment. In fact, many of them can, as most of the planes are air worthy, and are flown in demonstrations and air shows throughout the year. Later this evening, get ready for a concert by Charlie Thomas’ Drifters! The men in this vocal group are members of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, The Vocal Group Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame; they also have 13 Billboard Hot 100 Hits! Hear songs such as “Under the Boardwalk,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Stand By Me,” and “Fools Fall in Love.” This is a big musical concert on a full theatrical stage with Broadway quality sound and lights so get ready for a fantastic night!

Charlie Thomas’ Drifters

Enjoy a relaxing morning, then board the Spirit of Norfolk for a luncheon as you travel along the Elizabeth River for great views of the waterfront and the mighty Atlantic Fleet at Norfolk Naval Base. You’ll love the casual yet festive atmosphere as you dance along to DJ entertainment, listen to their live narration, relax or enjoy interactive games on their skyline deck! Later this evening, it’s time to don those flip flops and floral shirts again for a big Beach Boys Boardwalk Bash! This themed party is a California blend of dinner and dancing that starts the night right. Hear the great tribute band, Still Surfin’, play the best of the Beach Boys including “California Girls,” “Surfer Girl,” “Little Deuce Coup,” and “I Get Around.”

Still Surfin’ Tribute Band

Treat yourself to a relaxing and enlightening trip, and achieve your new year’s resolution. Be yourself and find yourself through the sounds and sights of the past. Relax your body through beautiful music, and your mind through enlightening historical landmarks. This trip is a cultural masterpiece, from the music to museums, and is truly a vacation for the senses, and one of the best ways to  start off your new year.

Join us in October for celebration after celebration in beautiful Virginia Beach!

New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart – New Orleans

New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart – New Orleans

Last week, we introduced our Kentucky Derby bus trip as part one of our New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart. This week’s tour destination is “The Big Easy” – New Orleans!

Your October vacation will begin on the road to one of the world’s most exciting cities well known for its nightlife, vibrant live-music scene, and spicy, signature cuisine that reflects its melting pot history of French, Creole, and Cajun cultures. This destination is sure to be unlike any city you’ve ever encountered with its beautifully unique architecture (from Shotgun Houses to Creole Cottages and Raised Center Hall Villas), fascinating history of a city founded by pirates, famous jazz music, and captivating personality. It is nearly impossible to walk down any street in the French Quarter without hearing live music being played either on the street by talented performers, or billowing out of their many bars and jazz clubs. Come fall in love with the character and passion of this lovely city!

Your hotel is conveniently located right in the French Quarter, a walkable series of streets filled with restaurants, music clubs, art galleries, unique shops, and plenty to see and do. On your first full day in The Big Easy, you’ll enjoy a guided sightseeing tour of the fascinating French Quarter, and the beautiful Garden District filled with stately mansions, some of which belong to famous movie stars! Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without experiencing some of the mardi gras magic for which the city is famous. Your vacation includes a visit to Mardi Gras World where you’ll learn all about this festive tradition, see former floats and decorations and get a sneak peek at the studio where the floats for the next Mardi Gras are being created. Photo opportunities abound! This evening, the New Orleans fun and tradition continues with a special dinner cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez! Experience the lively sounds of one of New Orleans’ best (Grammy-nominated) live jazz bands while enjoying a lavish buffet as the sweet Mississippi River breezes and the city skyline slips by. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture breathtaking views of the city from the water and be sure to visit their museum quality engine room.

Steamboat Natchez, Photo by Bald Eagle Bluff, Flickr

The following morning you’ll enjoy a live jazz brunch in the French Quarter courtyard of the award-winning The Court of Two Sisters. Once you’re all fueled up and ready to go, you’ll pay a visit to the National World War II Museum, a top-rated New Orleans attraction and the #1 thing to do in New Orleans according to TripAdvisor.com. “Offering a compelling blend of sweeping narrative and poignant personal detail, The National WWII Museum features immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories, taking visitors inside the story of the war that changed the world.” The rest of your day is on own to explore all that the city has to offer.

Cajun Pride Swamp Tour

On your final day in New Orleans, you’ll leave the city for an epic adventure into a privately owned wildlife refuge for an authentic Louisiana swamp eco-tour where you’ll learn about the early days of Louisiana bayou and swamp explorations and have plenty of opportunities to view the unique flora and fauna as well as the abundant wildlife, including the American Alligator! You don’t want to forget your camera for this one! Your native Cajun Captain is chock full of knowledge and humor, making this excursion a wonderful, outside-the-norm, experience. Upon our return to land, we’ll head out to Oak Alley Plantation. View the beautiful canopy of giant oak trees lining the impressive avenue leading to the classic Greek-revival style antebellum home. Later, you’ll visit the New Orleans School of Cooking to learn about the wonderful food and rich culture of New Orleans and Louisiana from Creole and Cajun experts who teach New Orleans’ specialty dishes and season them with history, trivia, and folklore.

Oak Alley Plantation

As you make your way home on a comfortable Starr bus, you’ll be reflecting on all of the fantastic sights and experiences you’re taking with you – memories to truly last a lifetime!

So, join us in October for this truly remarkable vacation!