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Wipe Your Feet

As a Tour Director for Starr, there are many days and nights throughout our busy travel season that I, like my fellow Tour Directors and like our passengers, are away from our own homes.  I have to admit, passengers aren’t homesick for too long, especially when the tour includes visiting some pretty unique, historic, and even haunted houses.   All guests have to do is “wipe their feet” and they are welcomed into the private homes of rock stars, corporate executives, historical figures and sometimes homes of those who have left this world… or have they?  Below is a short list highlighting some of these intriguing homes that open their doors to Starr customers.


GRACELAND, Memphis, Tennessee—Available on the Memphis/Nashville Tour.

Home to Rock n’ Roll Legend, Elvis Presley, this colonial mansion has been frozen in time complete with original furnishings and shag carpeting.  You’ll be treated to a glimpse of the famous “jungle room,” and billiards room where a large tear can be seen on the pool table.  Culprit unknown.   You can pay respects to Elvis and his family members in the Meditation Garden which is adjacent to the house.


HEARST CASTLE, San Simeon, California—Available on the Cross Country by Bus Tour.

Sitting high on California’s Central Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is William Randolph Hearst’s Casa del Mar.  The media genius built his dream house in 1947.  It boasts 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens.  Actors, politicians, business executives, and newspaper moguls were often guests to his “Enchanted Hill.”  It was here that they would meet for cocktails, conversation and just plain fun surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque tapestries as well as masterpieces of paintings and sculptures.  The Neptune and Roman Pools are only two reasons to see for yourself what money and power looked like back then.


Photo by anoldent on Flickr

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, Charleston, South Carolina—Available on the Savannah/Charleston Tour.

It’s easy to fall into the Southern expressions of “yes ma’m” and “bless your heart” after visiting these 70 acres dating back to the 1670s.  The primary crop was rice which eventually took a backseat to the beautiful gardens which were constantly being expanded deserving the title of “America’s Oldest Romantic Gardens.”  The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.  The plantation bore witness to both the American Revolution and Civil Wars.  So its no wonder that stepping onto their grand porch gives you the feeling of being greeted like long lost relatives—much like in “Gone With the Wind.”


Photo by David B. King on Flickr

LIZZIE BORDEN HOUSE, Falls River, MA—Available on Ghosts of Providence, Rhode Island Tour.

Now a Bed and Breakfast Inn as well as a museum, this house is especially popular during the Halloween season.  Registered with the Fall River Historical Society as a tourist attraction, this three-story Victorian house is where the 1892 infamous axe murder of Abby and Andrew Jackson Borden occurred.  Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was tried and acquitted.  Visitors can see most rooms in the house and then make their way over to the gift shop for some unique purchases.  In case you have a family gathering, wedding or need to schedule a seance, the entire house or individual floors are available to rent!


Photo by Christopher Hollis

MONTICELLO, Charlottesville, VA—Available on Presidential Homes of Virginia Tour.

Visiting the home of our third US President, Thomas Jefferson, gives you the opportunity to share in the interests of this Renaissance man.  The estate shows off his 43-room house that he designed in 1769 and finished in 1809.  His plantation was a source of food as well as a laboratory for plants from all over the world.  Jefferson’s parlor is one of the rooms where he would entertain his political peers.  On your visit, be sure to check out one of three house privies or as Jefferson called them his “air closets.”


STEGMAIER MANSION, Wilkes Barre, PA—Available on Pocono Fall Foliage Tour.

If you are fond of the Victorian Era,  then you will absolutely love the home of Frederick and Mary Steigmaier, founder of the Stegmaier Beer Company.  Said to be the aristocrats of Wilkes Barre, the Stegmaiers weren’t only highly regarded because of their world-renown “Gold Medal” beer, but for their philanthropy as well.   Restored by its present owner as a Bed & Breakfast and venue for special events, you are in for a real treat as each room is over the top Victorian—wallpaper, furniture, household furnishings.  Doesn’t matter if you have lunch in the Ladies or Gentlemen’s Parlors, you are transported back in Victorian time!


Photo by Jay Peterson

BEAUVOIR, Biloxi, MS—Available on Mississippi Gulf Coast Tour.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico from his large estate.   Willed to him by, Sarah Ellis Dorsey, Davis lived out his final years at Beauvoir.  With his passing, his second wife, Varina Howell Davis sold it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that it be used as a Confederate veterans home.  It is on the National Historic Landmark Registry.  Besides touring Davis’ home, visitors are treated to museum and library Civil War artifacts.  Be sure to ask about the Camel Corp—it is fascinating!


EDSEL AND ELEANOR FORD HOUSE, Grosse Pt. Shores, MI—Available on Agawa Canyon, Ontario Canada Tour.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all!  Although Edsel, the son of Henry Ford, had multiple houses, this one on Lake St. Clair was where he and his wife Eleanor raised their four children.  Built on 87 acres and designed by the premier landscape designer, Jens Jensen, this house tour is as much about the outside as the inside.  Jens managed to combine woodlands, meadows and wetlands in such a natural way that guests are mesmerized.  Each building on the estate is fashioned after English cottages including their daughter’s playhouse complete with plumbing and electricity!  The wood paneling, doors, fireplaces, and chimney piece come from various areas of England.  The kitchen counters made of sterling silver and a secret photography darkroom are more reasons not to miss this tour.


So, when you feel like “running away” from your own home for a at least a little while, consider taking a Starr bus tour and visiting one of these wonderful homes! You won’t be disappointed!


Happy travels,
Christine Durling, Starr Tour Director

New Year’s Travel Resolutions for the Young at Heart – JFK’s 100th Birthday Celebration

MA_JFKPresidentialLibraryandMuseum-familyphoto_CreditCityPass_TTO--For the final edition in our New Year’s Travel Resolutions series we offer you a once-in-a-lifetime tour like no other. We’re whisking you away to New England for a special 100th birthday celebration for John F. Kennedy. On this special trip you’ll get to learn all about the Kennedy family while enjoying many of their favorite places and activities!

President John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. His family spent summers in Hyannis Port, in Cape Cod and built the famous Kennedy Compound on the shore. Beyond a summer residence in childhood, Hyannis Port would also become the primary headquarters of JFK’s presidential campaign. Stroll the streets of Hyannis that were lined with his supporters and explore the shops and boutiques before embarking on a special Hyannis Harbor Cruise where you’ll get a view of the historic compound as well as the Kennedy Memorial, Egg Island, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, and Point Gammon Light.

Your time in Hyannis will be highlighted with a New England Clambake and 1960s Beach Party at a spectacular Hyannis venue where we’ll dine and dance overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This meal is complete with “steamahs, chowdah and lobstah,” plus, an escape entrée for landlubbers. After dinner, gather round for live entertainment. Hear tunes from the ’60s and ’70s as “Kokomo,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Surf City” “Summer Wind,” and “California Girls.”

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

The Kennedy family’s roots are firmly planted in Boston and the city is home to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum as well as many of JFK’s favorite places including his and his father’s alma mater, Harvard University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in government. You’ll enjoy a tour of Boston that includes the sights and landmarks that played an important role in John F. Kennedy’s rise to the White House. Join a local guide and walk past sites such as the JFK Statue on the State House Lawn where JFK delivered his famous “city upon a hill” speech, The Bellevue Hotel where he resided during his run for the congressional seat, The Omni Parker House notably the site of his announcement for his bid for Congress and his proposal to Jackie Bouvier, Old City Hall, the Irish Famine Memorial, JFK”s Senate Headquarters, Faneuil Hall, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. You’ll also enjoy dinner at the Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the United States and a favorite of JFK – see Booth 18 where JFK would sit and enjoy his favorite clam chowder.

Visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, “dedicated to the memory of our nation’s 35th President and to all those who through the art of politics seek a new and better world. Located on a ten-acre park, overlooking the sea that he loved and the city that launched him to greatness, the Library stands as a vibrant tribute to the life and times of John F. Kennedy.” Tour the Museum “which portrays the life, leadership, and legacy of President Kennedy, conveys his enthusiasm for politics and public service, and illustrates the nature of the office of the President.”¹ There will be special exhibits and events at the Library to commemorate this milestone birthday.

Travel to Newport, Rhode Island, known for its gilded-age mansions and its connections with the Kennedy Family. Visit St. Mary’s Catholic Church where in 1953, Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier were married. See Hammersmith Farm, Jacqueline Bouvier’s home where her wedding reception was hosted. Also, visit The Breakers, the Vanderbilt Home which is the most lavish summer “cottage” in town. We’ll also visit the Green Animals Topiary Garden where, for several years, Alice Brayton hosted a “Harvest Party” to entertain the Kennedy children, Caroline and John, Jr.

Our trip’s highlight is “A Night in Camelot.” Join us as we celebrate JFK’s 100th Birthday. As we remember the “High Hopes” of that youthful administration, and dance to the music of the era (1960-63) during a show that is a tribute to both the celebrities and songs he liked best. The entertainment is a live orchestra, with a crooner and an MC, performing as they once did for the President of the United States. It’s a night of music that the President would have enjoyed and a night filled with songs that you will remember.

So, come with Starr on an exclusive, one-of-a-kind, tour and travel event to discover these highlights and more in celebration of our 35th president.


¹ John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum