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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

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