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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 – Charming Ports of the South

New Year’s Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart – Charming Ports of the South

We continue our Bucket List Resolutions for the Young at Heart series with our Charming Ports of the South tour. If experiencing the charming south has always been a dream of yours, then this Bucket List destination is for you! Featuring St. Augustine, Jekyll Island, St. Simon’s Island, and beautiful Savannah, this bus tour offers a wonderful taste of some of the south’s most beautiful port cities.

After making your way down south on Starr’s comfortable motorcoach with expanded legroom, your experience begins with two overnights on the picturesque and tranquil Jekyll Island. What was once a private retreat for families with names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Morgan, is now one of the largest preservation projects in the southeast; earning state park status in 1948 from the governor and Georgia state legislature. Discover miles of wide-open beaches and live oaks draped in Spanish moss on a tram tour of the historic district including a tour of two of the many mansion-sized “cottages” that still stand today. After the tour, you will have an opportunity to visit the museum exhibits and view a video presentation that reveals the fascinating story of Jekyll Island-from its earliest inhabitants, across its fabled Club Era, to its wondrous restoration programs today.  This afternoon, you’ll visit St. Simons Island, voted America’s #1 Favorite Beach Town by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2014. Enjoy a two hour tour that includes a view of Fort Frederica – built in 1736, a stop at Christ Church where John & Charles Wesley held church services and where author Eugenia Price is buried. You’ll also see the fabulous “Avenue of Oaks” on former Retreat Plantation, and enjoy free time at the village as well as a visit to the St. Simons Lighthouse. Full of history and southern hospitality, St. Simons Island has a distinctive charm with an unhurried pace and abundant natural beauty. Later this evening, you’ll enjoy dinner at the famed and historic Jekyll Island Club, which opened its doors in 1888 and was once one of the most opulent structures in the south, serving as a centerpiece of the social lives of the nation’s rich and famous. Today, this beautiful resort is still a fabulous destination.

Moss Cottage

The next morning, you’ll board the bus to heard over to the lovely Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, representing the history and culture of Georgia’s rice coast. The plantation and its inhabitants were part of the genteel low country society that developed during the antebellum period. During your visit, you’ll view a brief film on the plantation’s history, and then enjoy a guided tour that features the home as the last heir, Ophelia Dent, kept it with family heirlooms, 18th and 19th century furniture, and Cantonese China on display. After your tour, you’ll travel to St. Augustine, Florida – the nation’s oldest city. You’ll have some free time for lunch on own on St. George Street, one of several quaint and walkable streets in the historic district, before checking in to your St. Augustine hotel for two nights. This evening, enjoy dinner and a performance of “The Lives and Wives of Harry Flagler” a theatrical portrayal of the Flagler legacy and the man that brought commerce to St. Augustine.

Your next day is filled with fascinating history as you explore St. Augustine on an extensive sightseeing tour by bus that highlights over 430 years of history. Discover the roots of the Timucuan Indians that were native to the North Florida coast and their contributions to the Spanish settlers. Then, embark on a walking tour of the Mission of Nombre de Dios, the landing site of Pedro Menendez, founder of St. Augustine. After, experience more of the history of Harry Flagler on the Legacy Tour of Flagler College, the former Hotel Ponce de Leon that was one of the most exclusive resorts of its day. Last, visit the Lightner Museum featuring one of the finest collections of turn of the century art. Afterwards, quench your thirst at a wine tasting at San Sebastian Winery – tour included! You’ll finish your fun-filled day with dinner at a local restaurant.

Lightner Museum; Photo by Diane Uhley

As you begin your journey back north, you’ll stop in Savannah for an overnight stay beginning with a trolley tour. Enjoy hop-on/hop-off privileges as your trolley tour takes you throughout the historic district and your driver regales you with fascinating history and entertaining stories as you drive past beautiful buildings under the canopy of huge live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. You’ll also pay a visit to the Massie Heritage Center to learn even more about the history of Savannah, its city plan and beautiful architecture, and the people who have lived here for centuries. After a day of guided sightseeing and time to explore on your own, you’ll understand why Savannah is “the town Sherman refused to burn.”

Savannah, Georgia

As you finish your journey back home, memories of beautiful nature scenes, picturesque towns, and fascinating history will make you realize that you have truly been charmed by these wonderful southern ports.

This is a bus tour you won’t want to miss. Click here to join us in October!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

One of the first multi-day trips by bus I escorted as a Tour Director for Starr, about 12 years ago, was to Savannah and Charleston.  I had never been to either city before but had heard so much about both southern destinations. I was excited to go and, of course, so were my passengers.  Savannah was a place that I’d heard about way back when I first became a Brownie Girl Scout in 19__??  Well, you can guess that one. 

I wanted to see the Juliette Gordon Low house where the first Girl Scout meeting was held and where Forrest Gump sat with his box of chocolates. I also wanted to see the Mercer House where the story behind “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” happened and was filmed.  So much to see in such a small town.

We saw all that and more.  In Charleston, I discovered why the city was named “the friendliest city in America” – everyone smiled and said hello! I wanted to return, but I didn’t get that opportunity again until last year. I would finally get to see those two cities again, and it would be even better.

Marine Recruits training at Parris Island – the men and women train separately

The trip now includes a stop in Beaufort, SC, a lovely small, southern town with a big mission…it’s home to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Boot Camp. I was excited to see where my Marine friends and family spent 13 wonderful weeks of their young lives (well, it might not have been so wonderful at the time!). We enjoyed a complete tour of Parris Island including a stop at the museum and gift shop.  From there we went to Savannah, for two nights in a lovely hotel right in the historic downtown.

When I awoke on my first day in Savannah and turned on the weather channel (a habit all Tour Directors have), the weatherman was being pelted with rain and wind from Tropical Storm Julia, which he said had developed overnight and was now hitting Savannah.  Huh??  I immediately ran to the window, pulled back the curtains and looked outside.  It was cloudy, but there was no wind or rain.  I wondered if was he on some sound stage at the Weather Channel and someone was throwing buckets of water at him while a big fan blew stuff around? T’was a puzzlement. So we proceeded to our morning trolley tour, which would go on rain or shine. Sure enough, they picked us up, on time, at the front door of the hotel and we rode around Savannah, hearing wonderful stories about that lovely city. There was some rain, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We made a stop at the Massie Heritage Center, a pre-Civil War building that was originally a school for Savannah’s poor children.  It is now a museum and has an outstanding exhibition documenting the Greek, Gothic, and Roman influence on Savannah’s architectural history. In addition, an educational program called “The Nineteenth Century Classroom,” allows youngsters and adults to experience a 19th century school day. It was so much fun!

When our tour ended at noon on River Street, I found out what that weatherman was talking about! The rain suddenly came down, the wind came up, and I was instantly soaked (even with my rain poncho)! So were my passengers, but they smiled and we decided it was time to go inside for lunch. Good timing! With so many restaurants to choose from, everyone found what they wanted and sat out the worst of the bad weather. Afterwards, with all of the various and wonderful shops so close together, it was easy to get in and out of the rain and buy lots of good stuff from local merchants! 

A Trolley Tour driving past the Owens-Thomas House

Our tickets for the trolley allowed us to get on and off for the rest of the day, which was so convenient in the rain. So with umbrellas and raincoats and unlimited transportation, the passengers thoroughly enjoyed everything Savannah had to offer…even in the bad weather!

That evening we saw a delightful Broadway-style show at the Savannah Theatre. The next day we hopped aboard our bus and headed north to Charleston, where we met our local guide who showed us all around the city she loved, including the Citadel, which both her husband and son had attended.

With time on our own in the afternoon, we walked through the Charleston City Market filled with so many wonderful shops. Our biggest decisions were what to buy!  Again, so many friendly people and smiling faces and delightful weather as a bonus, in spite of the weatherman’s report that Tropical Storm Julia was going to Charleston with us.  Other than a brief sprinkle, I don’t know where Julia was, or that weatherman for that matter!

Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise

A dinner cruise along the Cooper River capped off a relaxing evening. The next morning we set off for our final stop at Magnolia Plantation, a 17th century estate.  It felt like we had stepped back in time. The nature train tour took us around the beautiful gardens,  ancient magnolia trees covered with Spanish moss and past a number of ponds where alligators were resting in the sun!! WHAT??? ALLIGATORS??? Only a few feet from where we passed?  Our guide assured us that they were not hungry… Well, he thought that they weren’t hungry so, we were safe… I think!

As we made our way home on our comfortable Starr bus, we talked about all the wonderful things we had seen and the friendly people along the way.  It was truly a delightful trip that I was so happy to have been able to take again and hope for more visits in the years to come. Now that I have shared one of my favorite memories, what are your favorite memories of the south?

Happy travels,
Bette Barr, Starr Tour Director



Photo Credits: Giant Oak by Nagel Photography, Marine Recruits by Bette Barr, Savannah Trolley Courtesy of Savannah Chamber of Commerce, Dinner Cruise Courtesy of Spiritline Cruises