Bush’s Visitor Center

by Bob Hoelscher 7. June 2013 01:10

Virtually everyone will recognize Jay Bush and his dog Duke from the numerous amusing television commercials which have featured the “secret recipe” for Bush’s Baked Beans. Built around the original 1897 A. J. Bush & Company general store in tiny Chestnut Hill, Tenn., you’ll also discover a most unusual visitor facility illustrating the company’s lengthy love affair with the humble bean. 

Jay and Duke will first “roll that beautiful bean footage” and entertain you in Bush’s Theatre. Then you can walk through a giant replica can of the company’s product, learn about Bush Brothers’ history and discover what your weight is in beans. Your group might also enjoy shopping in the old fashioned General Store or eating lunch in Bush’s Café.     

Also free, when you’re in the neighborhood: 
Don’t miss magnificent Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which receives more visitors each year than any other national park in the country.  Although there are plenty of attractions, lodging and dining facilities in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, as well as Cherokee, NC, that will be happy to take your money, there is no charge to visit the park.

"Roll that Beautiful Bean Footage"

Bush's General Store

In the Neighborhood: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Three favorite and free commercial attractions

Walmart Visitor Center

by Bob Hoelscher 7. June 2013 01:08

Who doesn’t have a Walmart in or near their community?  Whatever one thinks of this retailing juggernaut, there is no denying that Walmart is a true American success story. Here in Bentonville, Ark., near the corporation’s sprawling headquarters facilities, you’ll find the original little 5&10¢ store that Sam Walton opened on the town square in 1950.

Now housing the Walmart Visitor Center, the building holds an extensive gallery of interactive exhibits showcasing the company’s business philosophy and incredible growth. Guests can also visit a gift shop featuring typical ‘50s merchandise, the Spark Café, the stock Ford F-150 pickup truck that Sam used for hunting, and his personal office, left as it was on the day he died. 

Also free, when you’re in the neighborhood: The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the world-class museum complex designed to “celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape.” Opened during the fall of 2011, the museum was financed by, and filled with priceless American art objects collected by wealthy members of the Walton family.

Sam Walton's office

Sam Walton's Ford F-150 pickup truck

In the Neighborhood: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

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Three favorite and free commercial attractions

Korbel Champagne Cellars

by Bob Hoelscher 7. June 2013 01:05

To my knowledge, every state now offers wineries, some great, some good, others not so much, a few of them just plain awful. But champagne production facilities worth visiting are few and far between, which is all the more reason to plan a visit to the renowned Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, Calif. This commercial attraction produces some of America’s best bubbly, readily available at stores nationwide. 

Nestled on beautiful grounds in a picturesque, out of the way setting in Sonoma County, Korbel offers a film and tours to show guests firsthand they create quality champagne. You’ll also taste the finished product without having to pay the $20 a head that other Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries regularly charge groups for a tour and tastings. 

Also free, when you’re in the neighborhood: You’ll find Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, one of California’s great parks, right up the road. The park preserves pristine forests of towering coastal redwood trees. Just park the coach and walk the Pioneer Trail to such massive specimens as the 310-foot high, 1300-year old “Parson Jones,” and the 308-foot-high, 1400-year old “Colonel Armstrong” trees.

Beautiful grounds and facilities at Korbel

Korbel's Champagne Tasting Bar

In the Neighborhood: Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve

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Three favorite and free commercial attractions

Change is in the air

by Brian Jewell 22. May 2013 01:26

Change is in the air this spring. It’s not just the flipping of calendar pages that lets us know that life is changing. Examine the group travel landscape around you, and you might notice that it looks remarkably different from the industry you remember of 10 or even five years ago. The passing of the World War II generation and the entry of baby boomers into the group travel market have brought a profound shift in the way we think about tourism.

Along with this new generation and new attitude have come new travel tastes and habits. Savvy tour operators and destination marketers are finding new ways to package trips, even to the cities, states and countries that have been strong players in the tourism market for years.

Group leaders would do well to bring some of this new energy and perspective into the way they plan travel as well. Last year’s itineraries won’t cut it in 2013. This year, it’s time to take some risks and try something new with your travel plans. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done; it just means you have new adventures to discover.

In that spirit, we at The Group Travel Leader always try to highlight a number of new opportunities and new approaches to tourism that you can use to plan creative, enriching group experiences. For example, we recently included a round-up of outdoor music series and venues around the country where you can take your group to hear everything from symphonic performances to indie rock and electronica DJs. We’ve also shone a spotlight on shows around the country that go beyond standard musical revues to offer unique and memorable entertainment options for groups.

For a really groundbreaking experience for your group, consider taking a tour to Cuba. Since the U.S. government created provisions for certain types of group travel to Cuba in 2011, this country has become one of the most sought-after destinations in our industry. I was fortunate enough to visit with a group last summer, and wrote a feature article on my travel there.

We hope our articles inspire you to do something new with your group in 2013. Take a look at these ideas with an open mind, and let us know what you think.

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Travel Thoughts

Interesting sidelights

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 20:07

Plenty of ice to go around (the River Duchess)

I spent almost the entire month of March traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines…SeaDream Yacht Club (SeaDream II) on the Upper Amazon River in Peru and Columbia, plus Vantage Deluxe World Travel (River Splendor), Viking River Cruises (Viking Aegir) and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (River Duchess) on the rivers and waterways of The Netherlands and Belgium. 

Although my detailed reports on these programs will appear in our publications during the coming months, I thought it might be of interest now to share a few unusual occurrences I encountered along the way.

1.     I went through TSA screening at Miami International Airport soon after the notorious Congressional “Sequester” that promised layoffs of numerous federal employees. Immediately after going through the multi-million dollar, full-body screening equipment, all male travelers were being frisked by a TSA employee. The only conclusions one can draw from this situation are (a) the expensive electronics we have all funded either don’t work, or (b) TSA personnel previously accustomed to standing around were now being given unnecessary duties to make them look busy in an apparent attempt to avoid staff reductions.     
2.     Speaking of fancy electronics, US Airways’ deluxe boarding pass “reader” (complete with conspicuous flashing lights) allowed a Copa Airlines passenger bound for Panama City, Panama, to board my flight to Charlotte. It also boarded another passenger assigned to a seat that didn’t exist.

3.     Kudos to South American airline LAN for exceptionally clean and well-maintained aircraft. They also served a very tasty and filling dinner in coach, quite unusual in a time when tasteless, 99¢-TV-dinner-sized meals are the norm. United Airlines earned my “chutzpah” award by following a video presentation boasting of their celebrity chefs, flight kitchens and exciting new menus with a coach meal featuring the same nondescript “chicken or pasta” entrees they served a generation ago aboard DC-8s.

4.     I witnessed the captain (who will remain nameless) of one of the ships I cruised upon this month badmouthing his competition in front of several media representatives, on more than one occasion. This is just about the most unprofessional behavior in which a travel company employee can be engaged, so I hope that his employer sets him straight. Furthermore, if something does appear to be lacking or wrong with an industry supplier’s product or service, it is the responsibility of an unbiased media (people like me) to disseminate that information.

5.     In between a morning excursion and an afternoon concert of Amsterdam’s world-renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, I stopped off at a McDonald’s in a residential neighborhood for a burger to tide me over until dinner. Needless to say, it was startling to see the restaurant’s counter employees (apparently legally stoned) stumbling around aimlessly in a daze like zombies, and accomplishing very little in the process. I left hungry after standing in line for 15 minutes and getting no closer to placing my order.

6.     If you thought that winter had long since worn out its welcome here in the U.S., take a look at the accompanying photo which I took in Hoorn, The Netherlands, on the seventh day of spring, Tuesday, March 26.

7.     I am not a big fan of the fancy duvets (“comforters” to us Yankees) that are seemingly very popular these days atop beds in European hotels as well as on numerous cruise ships. Not being a small person, I have found that these padded “appliances” usually end up in a heap on the floor during the night, leaving my bulk uncovered.  Thus it was indeed a pleasure to find some of the most luxurious, high quality bedding I’ve ever snuggled underneath, tucked firmly under my mattress aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess. See the photo for a “happy camper” preparing for a night of restful sleep.

The author ready for a good night's sleep

Interesting People

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 20:05

John Harwood

Among the many nice folks I met in March, the following particularly stood out:

1.    John Harwood, a multi-talented Brit who resides in Manaus, Brazil…botanist, author, poet, troubadour and a member of SeaDream II’s Expedition Team

2.    Carl and Judy Eben from San Francisco: Very experienced world travelers and simply one of the nicest couples I have ever been fortunate to meet

3.    Myriam Hembrechts, lecturer aboard Vantage’s River Splendor, who appeared to know more about the subject of Belgian chocolate than would be thought humanly possible 

4.    Neil Oliver, archaeologist, BBC Television personality, and Viking River Cruises lecturer, who gave a fascinating presentation on the history of the Vikings

5.    Rik Sprengers, Cruise Manager aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess: The embodiment of cordiality, knowledge and customer service after 11 years on Europe’s rivers and waterways

Carl Eben (on Monkey Island, Colombia)

Myriam Hembrechts

Rik Sprengers

Interesting Places

by Bob Hoelscher 15. May 2013 19:56

The Leticia Fish Market

What would the travel industry be without unique places to visit? Sometimes it is the unexpected out-of-the-ordinary destinations that stand out in your mind after a trip.

Here are just a few of the gems I discovered during March while traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines to the Amazon River in Peru and Columbia and to the rivers of The Netherlands and Belgium.

1.    The Leticia Fish Market in Columbia is where I learned that, contrary to popular belief, residents along the Amazon River actually eat a lot more piranhas than the other way around.

2.    The Enkhuizen Museum in The Netherlands’ is the picturesque answer to Mystic Seaport, Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg.
3.    Museum Het Schip (The Ship) on a Viking River Cruises excursion is a fascinating example of social housing and Amsterdam School architecture dates from the beginning of 20th century.

4.    The Grand Café Horta in Antwerp is the site of a outstanding dinner gala and entertainment included for participants in Vantage’s Naming Ceremony and pre-inaugural cruise of River Splendor.

5.    De Doelen, Rotterdam’s performing arts center looks like an ugly box on the outside, but oh what aural pleasures await inside! The center boasts incredibly fine acoustics for a thrilling Rotterdam Philharmonic concert.

Enkhuizen (Zuiderzee) Museum

Museum Het Schip

Grand Cafe Horta

Two days on the Breakaway

by Brian Jewell 12. May 2013 00:38

I remember my first cruise well. It was a seven-day spin on a classic ship that was certainly stately but also somewhat stuffy. I left with a respect for the heritage of cruising, but also wondering if this form of travel was best suited for me.

This weekend's experience on the Norwgian Breakaway has allayed by concerns. I was invited to join a ship full of tour operators, travel agents, journalists and other industry VIPs for the inaugural of the Breakaway, the latest new ship to enter the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet. NCL showcased the new vessel with a pair of two-day sailings from New York, which will be its homeport thorughout the year.

My wife joined me for this weekend excurision, and we were almost immediately impressed with what we found upon boarding the Breakaway. A two-hour ship tour introduced us to many of the company's innovations. Perhaps most significant is the Waterfront, an outdoor thoroughfare that surrounds the exterior of deck eight. Many of the ship's restaurants and bars are located on this deck, and they feture outdoor sections that open up to the Waterfront. Guests can take a stroll to enjoy the open breeze and stop for an al fresco dinner or drink at one of eight restaurants and lounges that open up into this space. The Waterfront also features an a la carte gelato stand and bakery.

The Breakaway also represents Norwegian's next step in their "freestyle cruising" concept. Unlike my first cruise ship, which had one buffet, one dining room and one specialty restaurant, the Breakaway has a staggering 27 onboard dining options for passengers. Several — such as the primary buffet and three main dining rooms — are included in the price of the experience; many others are specialty restaurants that include an additional cover charge. The most notable of these establishments is Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zarkarian. A popular New York restaurateur and Food Network personality, Zakarian oversaw the development of the high-end seafood restaurant himself, going so far as to create the menus and chose seafood purveyors from among the most trusted in New York. His wife worked with him to select the furnishings, decor and place settings.

The restaurant is a small space in high demand, so we weren't able to get a reservation on the short cruise. Zakarian was on board, however, and we enjoyed getting to know him and his approach to Ocean Blue his question-and-answer session with guests.

Ocean Blue is one of several initiatives that NCL undertook to bring elements of the New York experience onto the Breakaway. In addition to the hull artwork, whcih features images of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, the city's presence can be felt in the Manhattan Room (a dining room designed to resemble a New York supper club), and Carlo's Bakery, a New York family bakeshop made famous by the television series "Cake Boss." Onboard entertainment reflects New York traditions as well: Regular entertainment includes an adaptation of the Broadway hit "Rock of Ages," as well as shows by Cirque Dreams, Burn the Floor and New York blues musican Slam Allen.

I must admit, though, that what we enjoyed more the restaurants and shows was the menu of onboard activities. My wife and I played mini-golf on the top deck of the shock, and watched as daring passengers tackled the most extensive ropes course at sea. Were the weather a little warmer, we surely would have tried one of the five twisting waterslides in the pool area. Inside, we enjoyed pool tables and a miniature bowling alley at O'Sheehan's, the ships irish-inspired 24-hour bar, grill and arcade. We played enough games to make us feel like kids again.

Cruise enthusiasts who travel on Breakaway will still find some of the traditional stapels of cruising. But newcomers and independent spirits will also find plenty of options, activities and autonomy to make them feel at home on the high seas.

Breakaway salis year-round from New York, with trips to Bermuda; Florida and the Bahamas; and the Southern Caribbean.


Savor, one of three main dining rooms aboard the Breakaway

Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zarakian is the ship's most intimate, in-demand restaurant.

Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian


“What is your secret to passing the time on a long flight?”

by Eliza Myers 24. April 2013 19:36

The staff at The Group Travel Leader, Inc. relate their secrets to passing time on a long flight.

"Fortunately, I have trained myself to sleep on long flights. As long as I have my travel pillow and don’t stare at any bright screens for too long, I drift off into a sort of half-slumber. Ideally, that way I’ll be a little more rested after I arrive."
Eliza Myers,
online editor

"E-readers have been a salvation for me. Long flights are a great time for uninterrupted reading. Instead of having to choose one or two heavy books, I now have a whole library on my Nook and iPad. Of course, I also work in a nap."
Herb Sparrow,
senior writer

"As a mom, passing the time really means keeping my 3-year-old son occupied. This basically involves having a stash of all of his favorite treats, a backpack full of crayons, coloring books, cars and of course his headphones and DVD player with as many DVD options as possible. It’s all about keeping him quiet in order to keep the peace on the airplane and not have the business travelers giving me the evil eye if he starts getting too loud!  If I am alone on a plane trip the answer is simple — I sleep!"
Laura Camic,
sales manager

"My answer is iTunes and an iPad.  Currently on long flights I’m reading “I’m Your Man,” a biography of Leonard Cohen, and listening to Van Morrison’s "Astral Weeks.'"
Mac Lacy,

"I’ve flown twice in the past 17 years, so I asked John Brewer, vice president of sales, Aetrex Worldwide, who flies about 200 days a year for his answer. He said “I get some very good sleep on flights between eight and 18 hours. I watch a lot of movies on long flights.

“Then there is always work to keep me busy. I actually enjoy long flights.  It is a time that’s just mine, no phones, no emails.”
David Brown,
art director

"Long flights give me a great opportunity to catch up on my favorite podcasts. As soon as we’re allowed to switch on electronic devices, I queue up an episode of “Stuff You Should Know,” “Freakonomics” or “The Dave Ramsey Show.” You may also find me playing games like pinball or Tetris on my iPhone while I listen."
Brian Jewell,
executive editor

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Travel Thoughts

Ocmulgee National Monument

by Bob Hoelscher 2. April 2013 23:01

Visitor Center Archaeological Museum

Surely countless coaches originating from points throughout the Midwest and Ohio Valley make the trip south annually on I-75, en route to Florida’s renowned theme parks and cruise ports. Although some may make stops along the way, I would guess that few groups are aware of three interesting and free National Park Service units that are just a few miles off of the highway in Georgia. Ocmulgee National Monument lies just three miles east of I-75 Exit 165. 

Ocmulgee shelters some of America’s most impressive Indian mounds, which were home to people of the early Mississippian culture from roughly 900 to 1100. A film and significant archaeological museum in the visitor center describe the human habitation of the Southeast from 10,000 BCE to the early 1700s, with special emphasis on the Mississippian village site. 

A walking tour leads guests to the Earthlodge, dating from around 1000. The interior reconstruction approximates the original appearance of this, the oldest native ceremonial chamber in the country. Nearby are the Cornfield Mound, prehistoric trenches, the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds, which were apparently topped originally by wooden structures likely used for religious ceremonials, and the Funeral Mound, where more than 100 burials have been uncovered. 

Staircases lead to the tops of both Temple Mounds, from which visitors experience panoramic views of the village site and the surrounding countryside. Near the Temple Mounds is also the location of an English trading post that was established about 1690 to trade with the numerous Creeks who had settled nearby.

Restored interior of Ocmulgee's Earth Lodge, America's oldest ceremonial chamber

Great Temple Mound

Walnut Creek Wetlands

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Traveling I-75 through Georgia

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