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elitetravel

Beginner’s guide to planning group travel effectively

Back in July, my friend Alyssa was asked to organize a group trip to New York City for her church. She was asked to step in at the last minute because the original group leader, a woman with previous travel planning experience, was having some health problems and did not feel up to the job this year. Not wanting to disappoint the 30 church members who had already reserved a spot for the trip, Alyssa took on the responsibility with about five months remaining to complete the tour arrangements.

As you may have predicted, Alyssa ran into a few challenges along the way. Her predecessor had selected a suitable date, made a list of possible tourist destinations in NYC, and gathered a few quotes from local tour bus companies…that was about it. After a moment of panic, Alyssa got to work comparing different group rates and making reservations. Her trip is just around the corner now, and it seems that she was able to piece together a pretty interesting trip for her church. But Alyssa’s experience as a first-time group travel planner got me thinking: how many other people had an experience like hers? What did they do? What questions did they have? What should they have done differently?

So I decided to look into the topic and do my best to provide a short guide for anyone who is new to planning group tours. Since I’m not a group travel pro myself, I spoke with Dawn Dornes, a representative from Elite Coach, who was kind enough to answer my questions and offer some very helpful advice on the subject.

Top Priorities for Group Travel

Whether you are planning your first group tour or your twentieth, there are a few components that should be your top priorities.

  • Transportation – If you don’t have transportation, you won’t be going very far. The type of transportation you choose will depend on the number of people traveling with you. In some cases, you may be able to pile into a 15-passengar van or travel in a small caravan of cars and do the driving yourself. If you’re traveling with a larger group of people, you may require the services of a charter bus company.
  • Timetable – When asked about the appropriate timetable for arranging group travel, Dawn recommends that groups book their trips “no less than six months in advance to give folks plenty of time to plan and prepare. Long trips should be promoted 9-12 months in advance primarily because these trips cost a little more and people like to budget the expense.”
  • Know your Destinations – Although travel websites like Trip Advisor are fantastic resources for tour planners, Dawn warns against relying solely on these sites. “It’s important to know your destinations. Visit them if possible. Meet the sales staff.” If you are teaming up with a tour operator like Elite, reach out to them and ask about their experiences with the different attractions you are interested in visiting. It can also be helpful to contact the area’s group tour representatives for recommendations.

Best Ways to Save Money

Of course, a question that is always on people’s minds when preparing for group travel is “how can my group save money?” Most tourist attractions will offer some sort of discounted rate for groups. So if you are responsible for arranging every aspect of your trip, it’s highly recommended that you contact the sales team at each attraction to inquire about special group rates. Why not just look on their website? In some cases, a sales rep may be able to offer your group discounts or seasonal promotions that are not regularly listed on the business’s website.

Most attractions and restaurants typically offer a “tour operator rate” as well, which is an even lower price than a “group rate” and is only available for professional tour operators. “Sometimes, the more people in your group, the lower the price,” explains Dawn. “There may even be an opportunity to earn a complimentary package. Free is always a PLUS!”

Common Mistakes Made by Group Tour Leaders

What are some of the mistakes common among first-time group tour leaders? The folks at Elite Coach have noticed that timing is usually the biggest issue for new trip organizers. “It’s important to allow enough time from point A to B… the time it takes a car to drive is not the same for a motorcoach. What may take a family 10 minutes to do at a rest stop will take a bus full of people 20 minutes,” states Dawn. You should also account for traffic and traffic signals. “It’s surprising how much time this can eat up in your commute.” Allowing time for rest stops and other delays can help ensure that your group has plenty of time to spend at each attraction on the itinerary.

Travel Like a Pro

The best way to lead your first group tour effectively is to have a plan, ensure that everyone involved in your group’s transportation—especially your driver—is aware of the plan, and communicate with your travelers and destination personnel. If you’re arranging a trip for 25 or more people, it’s probably a good idea to partner with a tour operator who has years of experience planning group travel. “When a group leader calls one of our tour planners they want to know that we have handled every aspect of the tour on their behalf and all they need to do is put it into action,” says Dawn. “We like to make group leaders look like pros.” When passengers feel comfortable in their travel experience, they are more inclined to travel again with that particular group.

I hope these tips are able to make your group travel planning a bit less stressful. Though I regret that my friend didn’t have this information when organizing her trip to NYC.

If you are considering a group tour and would like to learn more about organizing a unique and exciting trip, be sure to contact Elite Coach for more information.

Emily Long is a Lancaster County native, singer/songwriter, and all around music lover. She is an Online PR Specialist and, on the side, works at her family’s business, Long’s Horseradish, at Lancaster Central Market. To learn more about Emily, visit her website: www.EmilyLongMusic.com.

exploreretirementliving

Enjoying the New “Non-Retirement” in Lancaster County

Nowadays, everyone says 30 is the new 20… 40 is the new 30, and so on…. Well, I’m going to take that one step further and say 62 is the new “Non-Retirement” age.

Joe works as an accountant, and is gearing up for tax season; his neighbor, Emma, is an associate pastor who leads her local church part time, and also volunteers with a local soup kitchen.  Their neighbor, Karen, takes extended birding vacations throughout the country to follow migration patterns and grow the extensive list of species she’s seen.  George and Shirley tutor local Spanish families in English as a second language, and several of their neighbors volunteer at the local “re-uzit” shop.  Lauren and Sue enjoy their swimming classes every morning, and also participate in Zumba classes on Thursdays.   Sounds like any neighborhood in America, right?  Well, you might be surprised to learn that this is also becoming a typical scenario of your average residents of Lancaster County’s retirement communities – which is why a team of Lancaster County retirement community leaders are advocating for change in the way America views the word “Retirement.”

No longer does Retirement mean sitting in a rocking chair twiddling one’s thumbs. Nor does moving to a “Retirement Community” mean life suddenly stops and one is instantly “old.” National trends show many younger families and individuals – in their low-to mid 60’s – are choosing a community lifestyle over the stress and hassle of home-ownership.  They’re also opting for the lifestyle of adventure, freedom, and companionship that comes with a full-time activities planning staff, maintenance staff, and community of friendly neighbors. Karen loves being able to travel freely without having to worry about leaving her house unattended, or coming home to an overgrown lawn.  And, as an added benefit, continuing care communities offer the peace of mind that health care services will be provided in the future, if needed.

As an employee at St. Anne’s Retirement Community for nearly eight years, I’ve witnessed this trend first-hand.  “Life’s short – why spend it mowing grass and picking leaves out of your gutters!” says one Resident with a laugh.  She continued to say how she detests shoveling, and has thankfully traded in all that “wasted time” for time that she’s now able spend doing what she wants – volunteering with our pastoral care department and providing spiritual support to other community members.

If you, or someone you know, is considering the costs and benefits of community living, don’t wait! There are so many wonderful options in Lancaster County, you’re sure to be surprised at the array of features and amenities that make each community unique and appealing to “younger-older adults.” Also, as an added value, Lancaster County offers lower cost of living rates than many metropolitan areas such as New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia.  “Plus, the people are much friendlier,” says another St. Anne’s Resident.

Check out www.Exploreretirementliving.org  for a listing of non-profit continuing care retirement communities in Lancaster County, or www.StAnnesRC.org to learn more about St. Anne’s Retirement Community.

applebininn1

Our getaway at the Apple Bin Inn

As parents of three young children you may imagine that getaways for my husband, Adam, and I are rare. However, we happened upon a Saturday night without kids. Although it was only for one night, we were excited to get away. We wanted to stay at a local Bed & Breakfast, so we chose the Apple Bin Inn in Willow Street.

When Adam and I arrived late Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by Steve, one of the innkeepers. Immediately we felt welcomed as if we were staying with long time friends. We were given a tour of the Inn then we met Steve’s wife, Jamie, and their sweet kittens Daisy and Ruby. As we toured the house, we noticed it had a cozy yet classical feel. Built in bookshelves filled an entire wall of the living room and housed every type of book you can imagine. They even have a few shelves devoted to books signed by authors as all of them had stayed overnight in the Inn. Our room was upstairs. It was comfortable, cozy, and named after the Gala apple (one of my favorites). Our bed was covered with a quilt made by Jamie’s grandmother – can you say CO-ZY? The shower was perfect (that’s important when you are on vacation!).

Steve and Jamie have plenty of information to help plan your perfect Lancaster County stay. They know Lancaster like the back of their hands. They can easily point you to restaurants, attractions, and family activities with confidence. My husband and I were impressed with their collection of real menus (not the paper takeout ones) from many local restaurants to peruse before choosing a location for dinner.

My husband and I enjoyed a date night alone that night – dinner and a movie – then heading back to the inn where we tried to force ourselves to stay up, but the welcoming bed lured us in at an embarrassingly early hour.

The next morning we managed to drag ourselves out of our comfy bed, but only due to the promise of a homemade surprise breakfast waiting for us downstairs. We met another couple staying at the inn and had a lovely breakfast with them and the innkeepers. The food served to us was AMAZING! (I’m actually drooling thinking about the French toast.) We began with orange juice, our choice of coffee or tea, and a delightful berry parfait. Then came the real treat – banana cream stuffed French toast with homemade caramel sauce. This was served with a side of local ham, which was the perfect salty balance to the delectably sweet main dish.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back to our precious kids fully refreshed, even though it was only a one-night getaway. Being parents of children ages 2, 4, and 5, we were pleased to hear that the inn is very accommodating to children. This is not common for bed and breakfasts, so to hear this was exciting for us. They even have a separate cottage with two bedrooms and a living room area – I can’t imagine a much more ideal situation when vacationing as a whole family… separate bedrooms and homemade breakfast!

We can’t say enough good things about Steve and Jamie Shane. They were very accommodating without being overbearing, and they communicated with us quickly and efficiently in the kindest manner. We will definitely be recommending this to out-of-town guests as well as local friends.

applebininn2

Christina Rohrer is a stay-at-home mom with three lively children, a musical husband, and a sweet little dog.

Studei-841-blog2

Getting “the perfect shot”

Nearly every great, small business has extraordinary people behind it. Tashina Roberson and her business partner, Brian Donnelly, are those extraordinary people behind Studio 841, a photography studio located in Downtown Lancaster, that specializes in food, portrait, and wedding photography.

Tashina and associate photographer, Whitney Huff, have a knack for capturing candid moments – those human moments like laughter, warm embraces, and silliness that sometimes escape the camera in the rush to capture a posed, smiling face. They go to great lengths to get the perfect shot in the studio, in the city, on location, or in one of the great parks in the area.

I experienced Tashina’s passion for getting the perfect shot first hand as she took my two sons, wife, and I out to Rockford Plantation, a bucolic, historic Revolutionary-era 18th century home in the Lancaster County Central Park. With two young children (ages 5 and 1), we were just hoping to get them looking in the right direction and smiling at the same time. We got so much more.

Tashina was exceptionally patient through the entire session, mixing poses with moments for candid interactions. We posed as a family at some choice spots around the grounds. Then we just had fun, trying to get each other to smile, setting the boys free to play, and collapsing in laughter. I knew Tashina was capturing every special moment as she laid flat in the tall grass to get a photo of our boys rolling around. The entire time she remained composed and in control.

It’s clear to me that Studio 841 can meet anyone’s wishes for their photo session whether it’s a 30-minute portrait shoot, an all-day wedding, corporate head shots, or your wildest dream.

Next time you’re considering a photographer for an event or portraits, you’ll know one that will meet your dreams with a passion.

Below are photos by Tashina and her team. To learn more about Studio 841 and to see more of their work, visit them at www.eightfourone.com.

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studi-841-blog2

Capture

 

nxtbook-media

Nxtbook Media – the Google of Lancaster

While not technically a tourist destination, Nxtbook Media is certainly a sight to be seen. Often called “the Google of Lancaster,” Nxtbook Media is determined to show the world that while Lancaster might be smaller than many cities, it is big and mighty in the tech world. July has been an exciting time at Nxtbook as they moved into their expanded location in the trendy Urban Place complex on New Holland Avenue. The historic architecture of the building is juxtaposed with the futuristic vibe of the renovated space.

The firm specializes in strategic marketing, brand management, technology solutions, digital content management, and workplace leadership. What allows them to excel is their progressive corporate culture of creativity, teamwork, and collaboration. “We exist to inspire,” reads the beginning of their vision statement. They have over 600 clients in over 20 countries throughout the world, and even have a sister office in Manchester, England, to whom they pay tribute with a large, red phone booth in their lobby. Over 2 million users access the digital content they manage. Want an “app?” They can do that. Want to produce a video? They can do that. Want to host your company presentation in their state of the art theatre? Sure, they can do that too. Or, if you just want to stare in awe at all the blinkey lights in their multi-color LED-illuminated server room, that’s probably ok too, because I have to admit – I did.

To increase productivity and creativity, Nxtbook’s 57 employees are provided with hula hoops, brain teaser games, inspiration stations, and even encouraged to “blow off steam” and regain concentration by engaging in an occasional Nerf gun battle! (Of course, to align with their mission, employees must donate to a designated charity to participate in the Nerf battles.) To excel in wellness, the organization sponsors employee running clubs (with employee running goals posted on their wall) and healthy snacks in their two kitchens. Employees are provided with modified desks if they wish to stand at their computer rather than sit, and ergonomic positioning of chairs, keyboards, etc., is apparent everywhere. It’s no wonder they are consistently rated by Central Penn Business Journal as one of the region’s best places to work.

Nxtbook also believes in giving back to the community, and supports many local charities including Pet Pantry of Lancaster, One Run Together, and JDRF. However, if you’re wondering if they raise money by the typical dinner gala, think again! Try Chocolate syrup chugging contests, communal meals, water wars, beard growing contests, and, of course, the previously mentioned Nerf gun wars.

So, if you thought that the only technology in Lancaster County is found plowing through a corn field, think again! Nxtbook is creating an awesome trend with it’s amazing people, amazing culture, and collaborative heart of gold.

To learn more, go to www.nxtbookmedia.com.

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stanneretirecomm

The perfect destination for retirement living

I’ve been working at St. Anne’s Retirement Community for seven years now. Seven! How time flies. This is my first “real” job out of college. In my initial interview when asked “have you ever worked with older people before” [my 40-something year old boss was referring to our Residents] I replied “why of course! I work with people your age all the time!” After the howling laughter subsided from our entire senior management team who were in the interview, I returned from lobster red to my normal shade of skin color, and they unanimously decided that I was perfect for the job – PHEW!

I came to settle in Lancaster after graduating from Messiah College, and after joining the St. Anne’s team. Originally, however, I’m from Ipswich, MA, a beautiful little shore town north of Boston. So, why did I choose to stay here? The same reason that many folks are choosing to spend their retirement years here – Lancaster is awesome!  And here’s why:

People: No. I’m not being cliché, it’s true. Everyone is so nice here. People smile, they lend a helping hand, and whether they’re a “native” or not, they’re easy to make friends with!  Many folks have vacationed in Lancaster for years and it’s the compilation of those happy memories that bring them to settle down here.

Variety: There are so many choices in Lancaster. From small city charm, to country farms, to gourmet restaurants to the local diner… there’s something for everyone.

Weather: While we still have 4 seasons, they’re not nearly as extreme as one might find in New England, and we don’t have hurricanes like Florida, or droughts like the mid-west. The majority of our days are bright and sunny. The farm land is green, the sky is blue, and – as long as it’s not manure spreading day – the air is fresh!

Location: Lancaster is within a few hours drive of Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, and Pittsburgh. Which means we’re conveniently located to major airports, attractions, and all that comes with that. On the other hand, if you’re more into the great outdoors, we’re also close to the Chesapeake Bay, Raystown Lake, Poconos, and Blue Mountains.

Health Care: Lancaster General Hospital, Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Center, Hershey Hospital, and other health facilities are all within minutes of downtown. In Lancaster County, there are also 17 non-profit Continuing Care Retirement Communities that offer a continuum of health care services while also providing excellent accommodations and amenities.

Cost of Living: Everything from real estate to groceries are more affordable in Lancaster compared to many larger cities. For those of you who are number crunchers, I also hear the tax benefits for older adults living in PA are better than average.

What’s great about St. Anne’s? We like to say we’re the “Just Right” community. We’re not too big, not too small  - approximately 250 Residents call us home. We’re not too fancy, but our campus is still beautifully decorated, maintained, comfortable and home-like. As a continuing-care community, St. Anne’s offers a variety of floor plans in independent living Cottages, Villas, and Apartments as well as Personal Care, Skilled Nursing Care, and Rehabilitation. Our Residents enjoy maintenance-free living so they can continue to be involved in wellness, volunteerism, and other life-enriching activates. As a non-profit organization, our Residents and our Mission will always be a priority.

Want to learn more about St. Anne’s Retirement Community? Visit: www.stannesretirementcommunity.com
Want to learn more about retirement options in Lancaster?  Visit:  www.exploreretirementliving.org

fallinlancaster

Fall in love with Lancaster

Fall in Lancaster County is beautiful!

For some of us, this time of year makes us feel nostalgic. Our childhood experiences – the sight of leaves changing color, the anticipation of jumping into a pile of fallen leaves, the feeling of cold days and warm sweaters, and the taste of hot cocoa — often flood our memories. For others, this season evokes feelings of romance. The cool weather brings thoughts of huddling by a cozy fire, cuddling under a warm blanket, and taking a romantic walk hand-in-hand.

No matter how you identify with the season, experience it with zest. Drink warm pumpkin lattes and hot apple cider. Pick your own pumpkin for decorating. Journey through a corn maze. See community members join together at their local fair. Dare to encounter scary Halloween attractions.

Lancaster County welcomes you to enjoy our Autumn – it’s everything you want.

 

kitchenkettle

Traditional & non-traditional gifts for the holiday

There are always a few people on my list who I’m not really sure what to get, or gifts for those White Elephant exchanges. So, in case you struggle with the same thing, here are a few ideas for some traditional, and some not so traditional holiday gifts!

Traditional

  • You can never go wrong with a gift certificate to one of our many theatres. Whether it’s to the Fulton Theatre, where they put on Broadway caliber shows, the Rainbow Dinner Theatre, where they do all comedy, all the time, or American Music Theater with live, musical experiences with amazing dancing, you’re sure to find the theatre that’s best for the recipient.
  • Another present that’s sure to be use is food! There are plenty of gifts of food that you can pick up from here in Lancaster County. Everyone loves a whoopie pie or shoo-fly pie, and stopping at Kitchen Kettle Village or Intercourse Canning Company for some jam & relish makes the perfect stocking stuffer or gift box!

Not-so-traditional

  • Tellus360 has so many fun quirky things, from wooden electric guitars and reclaimed wood furniture, to Irish antiques, cards & books, and MUCH more. It is definitely always worth the trip, and I’m sure you’ll find not only a gift for someone else, but something for yourself as well!
  • Make a donation to an organization, like the Long’s Park Amphitheater Foundation. Each summer this organization offers, Long’s Park Summer Music Series, 13 weeks of FREE music. Show your support this year by “lighting a candle” on their birthday cake. Read more about that organization here.
rvcamping

5 reasons Lancaster is an RV destination

Country villages, unforgettable landscapes and the simple joys of Amish life are just three of the many reasons to visit Lancaster County by RV. The family-centered attractions of Pennsylvania Dutch Country make it easy to bring the kids along on your journey. Here are five fascinating reasons to start planning a Lancaster County adventure for the whole family.

  1. Kitchen Kettle Village, a delightful collection of vintage homes filled with goody-filled shops, is located in Intercourse, PA. Take the family on a buggy ride, stop for a memorable lunch at the Kling House Restaurant and purchase local specialties as you stroll through the village shops. Be sure to take the kids to the Bake Shop for freshly-baked cookies and whoopie pies!
  2. It wouldn’t be a Lancaster County adventure without a side trip or two to photograph the area’s many covered bridges. Enduring structures like the White Rock Forge Covered Bridge near Quarryville and the Forry Mill Bridge over Chickies Creek near Marietta draw photographers from all over the world. CoveredBridgeSite.com contains an excellent guide to Lancaster County’s historic bridges.
  3. Take the Old Philadelphia Pike to the village of Bird-in-Hand to experience the joys of a farmers’ market. Vendor stalls line the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market every weekend year-round, and their hours are expanded during warmer weather. Comfortable indoor shopping in a quaint setting with something everyone in the family will enjoy — the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning. An RV travel tip: just five minutes out of town you’ll find Country Acres Campground, a highly-rated RV paradise waiting to be your home away from home.
  4. Follow Lincoln Highway over rolling hills dotted with neat and prosperous Amish farms to find Flory’s Cottages and Camping in the borough of Ronks, PA. Not only will your RV camping family enjoy the serenity of this rural campground, they’ll also love such local attractions as Lapp’s Wooden Toys and Furniture on Irishtown Road.

We’ve barely scratched the surface on why RV travelers should be planning a Lancaster County road trip! Whether your family comes for the quaint villages, glorious scenery or exceptional lessons in history, Pennsylvania Dutch Country doesn’t disappoint. There’s a Lancaster County adventure for the whole family waiting for you in South Central Pennsylvania.

Guest post by: Joe Laing, the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. You can see more great RV vacation ideas in their Monty’s Musings RV Travel Blog and be sure to check out their RV Camping Pictures.

oldesquareinn

Stately home, lovingly restored

One of our staff out in the Visitors Center here in Lancaster County was able to visit the Olde Square Inn, and she wanted to share about it, so this is what she had to say!

The Olde Square Inn is a beautiful stately home, lovingly restored, right on the Main Street of Mount Joy, where you can walk to numerous restaurants, shops, places of interest.  Strategically located between Lancaster and Hershey, close to a winery and several of our Rivertowns, and only 15-20 minutes to downtown Lancaster – and you can even see Amish buggies passing through on the way to their nearby farms.  The charming innkeeper is very knowledgeable about local history and can recommend some of the “out of the way” places in the area.  She serves an awesome breakfast consisting of homegrown and local products, and especially loves hosting teas and weekend retreats.

The elegant carriage house is perfect for a romantic get-away or family of four and is handicapped accessible.  Lovely gardens and a pool are additional amenities.

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