Travel With Bradley

Travel With Bradley

Going Topless on New Years Day in Amish Country!

Going Topless on New Years Day!

Its feels and looks like a Spring morning in Lancaster County, PA.  The temp is so mild, you definitely do not need to wear a coat.  The sun is beaming,  The grass is green.  Some hotel guests are outside bouncing a basketball.

From Intercourse, PA to the main highway its around a 8 minute drive and during that short time we counted 17 Amish buggies on the road including 2 courting open air buggies.  The young couples sitting on the Courting Buggies looked so proud.  The young men obviously were trying to impress their dates by picking them up with their open air, “courting” buggies on New Years Day and of course the weather was ideal for their journey.

What a fun “New Years Eve Day and Night” we experienced in Lancaster County.

Our day started with a beautiful sunrise.

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Dolly met us once again – this time to tour us around the Amish countryside and of course we could not have asked for a better expert – Dolly is just amazing.  The musicals she writes about the Amish are exceptional and my family looks forward to having Dolly and her cast of actors back at our Walters Theatre this summer.

We a number of unique stops as we traveled through this beautiful countryside  – Amish Bakery, Amish Craft Shop, Amish Hardware Store.  Many Amish farmers were busy working in the fields.

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Most importantly and a tour highlight was a luncheon in the Miller’s Amish home.  Ruth Miller prepared us a delicious meal – salad with homemade dressing, boneless chicken (slow cooked for 3 hours so its very tender), beef that my passengers said was delicious, fluffy mashed potatoes that obviously had been whipped for a long time, homemade thin noodles, green beans from her garden, homemade warm bread with Amish peanut butter spread, strawberry jam, pickled beets and finally a very satisfying apple crumble with ice cream.   I loved the look of the old barn on their property.

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After our leisurely Amish luncheon we arrived back in Intercourse at 2:45pm so there was finally time to enjoy this quaint town.

We gathered a bit later for our New Years Eve event – an upscale dinner followed by a very entertaining Beatles Tribute Show from Atlanta, Georgia.  These entertainers played the parts really well.  My passengers really enjoyed their performance and were singing along to the many Beatles hit songs.  A dance band, then took the stage and soon a lively countdown brought us into 2019 with a live feed from Times Square in New York City.  Champagne was served and there was more than enough hugs and kisses to go around.  The theatre was packed so you could feel the excitement in the air.

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When we arrived back at the hotel, the staff put out platters of cheese and sausage for us to enjoy before we turned in.

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In this part of Pennsylvania, New Years Day dinner for most of the locals, primarily consists of pork with sauerkraut.  This is considered a “good luck” meal to start the New Year.

We certainly enjoyed an exceptional start to the New Year!  

What a fun journey this has been.

Today’s New Years Day Massive Luncheon Buffet will be an earlier 11am one at Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, PA.  I have brought many groups here over the years.  Its a wonderful spot.

We’ll then continue North to Canada.  Its a fairly long drive so we won’t return until early this evening.

Thanks to my amazing passengers.  Most of them booked this journey many months ago.  I could not have asked for a better group of friends to share New Years with.  Thanks again to our Motor Coach driver, Paul.  My upcoming winter travels take me and my groups to International destinations so I’ll miss not working with him until the Spring.

Happy New Year from all of us to you!

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Day 2 – Didn’t need a Wake-Up Call this morning!

Yesterday morning in Intercourse, PA just after 6am a siren drowned out the sound of horses hooves hitting the payment as they pulled the Amish buggies.  I didn’t know what the siren was indicating.  My first thought was a tornado so I called the front desk at our hotel and the reception host giggled when I mentioned tornado – it was the siren for the volunteer fire department.  My passengers are VERY sound sleepers because only a handful of us heard the deafening noise.

We enjoyed a wonderful day!  The weather was beautiful – so mild and sunny.  I didn’t wear my coat most of the day.

Dolly Fowler who brings her Amish shows to the Walters Theatre was our terrific guide in the morning as we traveled to Hershey, PA.  She shared with us the amazing life story of Milton Hershey – a man way ahead of his time.  He built an empire while giving back so much to the community.  The town of Hershey is beautiful.

We spent some time at Chocolate World.  Their “Disney style” ride is a fun attraction and you learn all about the making of Chocolate while on it.  I purchased my passengers a “special edition” oversize bar of milk chocolate imprinted with “Happy Holidays”.  It ended up being an ordeal for the staff to get cases of them from the warehouse but my passengers were very happy to receive them.

Our luncheon was an elegant affair in the “Circular Dining Room” at Hotel Hershey.  This was an extremely pricey event to include but I felt it was perfect for a New Years Journey.  We relaxed while we enjoyed the culinary feast.  The seafood selections were so fresh and my goodness, the desserts were luscious. There was even a bit of time often brunch to gander in the beautiful shops at this very upmarket historic hotel.

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We then traveled to Lancaster, PA.  Our destination was the American Music Theatre.  We enjoyed prime front seats for “The First Noel”, their massive in-house produced Musical show.  I don’t believe you can find a more elaborate Christmas production than this one anywhere in North America.  The staging, costumes, lighting, choreography – just everything is beyond exceptional.  You leave the theatre going WOW that really was an amazing event.  I’d like to start bringing groups every year to see this thrilling show that changes yearly.

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We arrived at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre just as they opened their hearty dinner buffet.  Once again our seats were prime for the their production of “The Christmas Carol”.  As one of my passengers said all 3 shows that we have seen so far on this journey have each been “outstanding” in their own way.  The production of “The Christmas Carol” was so impressive.  It was amazing how many actors they fit on their smaller stage.  

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We were back at the hotel just after 9am so many gathered in the comfortable lobby, sipped on wine and reminisced about our excellent day!


Where Did the Year Go? New Years Mystery Tour is Back Again!

I have been running New Years Mystery Journeys for a number of years.  Many of the passengers are yearly regulars.  They are like a little family.

We enjoyed a bountiful turkey dinner in Woodstock, ON the evening before travel and were the road after breakfast at 7am yesterday morning.

This journey sold out a number of months ago so the coach is full.

When we finally were to the point of getting cleared at the  border it was a very easy procedure but we were delayed over an hour getting to that point.  There was a very long delay getting to the initial custom booth – not sure why – possibly a shift change?  A full line-run coach was just a couple minutes ahead of us and since 1 coach is looked after at a time they were first.  Unlike a charter when you travel on a line-run they really check passengers over and luggage has to be taken off the coach.  That ate up a chunk of time while we waiting for them.  In a few minutes we were done and the custom agents were very friendly but the waiting put us behind an hour and we were unable to make that up during our travels.

I treated everyone with a taste of Canada (Tim Horton donuts) at our New York State break stop.  Even though we were a hour late arriving for lunch we still sat down at a very decent time 12:15pm.  The Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY always treats my groups extremely well.  We ended up with prime private seating in their beautiful auditorium.  The 3 courses they served were excellent.  Everyone enjoyed the beef medallions and I heard rave reviews about the pumpkin/raspberry torte (a combination you would not think of).

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Our next rest break was a Walmart stop – so convenient when traveling through rural towns as they always have ample, clean facilities.  

Our 1 hour border delay mean’t we lost the hour we would have had at the hotel before dinner so I asked my regular Motor Driver, Paul to take us directly to dinner in the town of Bird n Hand.  The buffet was as excellent as always, featuring a large variety of homemade Amish specialities.  This restaurant is well known for their speciality – ham balls.  The many dining rooms were packed.

Paul and I headed to our hotel in the town of, “Intercourse” PA to drop our passengers luggage.  This beautiful hotel came highly recommended by Dolly Fowler who brings her Amish Musical Productions to the Walters Theatre.

As soon as I stepped into the hotel lobby I was impressed.  The hotel has a very homey feel, unlike most corporate run hotels.  Its the little details that makes this property so much better.  The staff is obviously hand picked – they are overly friendly and so professional.  Most important the hotel is spotless clean.

After dinner we entered a theatre to see the heartwarming Musical Production of, “A Christmas to Remember”.   Everyone loved the show – one passengers told me it should be on broadway.  This production was an earlier 7pm start so we were on back on the coach at 8:30pm.  Our hotel is conveniently just a couple minutes away so after a travel day everyone appreciated the early night.

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A wonderful first day of traveling with a wonderful group of passengers!


Day 3/5 – Stowe At Christmas is like “Opening A Christmas Card”!

The legendary Bing Crosby enjoyed a White Christmas in Vermont and the tourists have been flocking here ever since.

Stowe at Christmas is Like Opening A Christmas Card!

We could not have asked for more ideal “Christmas tour” weather – yes, the air was frigid BUT since over 90 inches of snow has already fallen in Stowe, it was truly a winter wonderland.   

Stowe combines a classic 200 year old village with the beauty of Mt Mansfield, Vermonts highest peak.

The “Trapp Family Lodge” attracts guests from all over World, mainly because of the family history and the movie “Sound of Music”.  The lodge was our home for 2 nights.  Its atmosphere is homey, its layout a bit of a maze so it takes a while to get your bearings, its location is isolated and that adds to its rustic charm.  The mountain views looking outward from the lodge are amazing.  

I arranged for my passengers to meet and chat with “Sam Von Trapp”.  He is Grandson of Maria.  As a “surprise souvenir” I purchased the “Maria” biography for my passengers and Sam graciously signed them.  

The cuisine at the lodge and their nearby brewery was delicious and well presented.  In fact all of our meals in Vermont were excellent.

We visited some of the local culinary attractions – cheese shops, pewter operation, spirits shop, made-in-Vermont stores and of course Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory.  Over 750,000 visit Ben and Jerry’s every year making it one of the top 3 attractions along with a store that attracts thousands because they want to taste their freshly made hot apple cider donuts.

There was time to take pictures at the base of one of Stowe’s beautiful Ski Hills. 

Strolling along Stowe’s Main Stree, decorated with twinkling lights put us all in the Christmas spirit.

On our way home our “surprise” luncheon was at Quebec’s top sugar shack.  We were transported to this complex in the middle of a forest by horse and wagon.  This was a tour highlight for many.  A traditional québécois family style feast and live entertainment added to this wonderful experience.

We spent one night in Kingston, ON at the Delta which is rated the best in the city.  

There were a couple more highlights as we traveled home – pie for everyone at the Big Apple attraction and an exceptional farewell luncheon at one of the finest culinary establishments in Toronto – the elegant, Old Mill.  One of my passengers recalled  dining here with an agricultural group 66 years ago!

All in all I don’t think one could have asked for more beautiful Christmas Journey.  

We returned home to green grass and no snow which certainly doesn’t look like a Christmas card but we can cherish our wonderful wintery memories from picturesque Stowe, Vermont.  


Day 2 – Onwards to Picturesque – Stowe, Vermont

It was a wintery crisp morning when we woke.

Breakfast and service was excellent.

We were met by a couple Montreal experts who showed us the sights of this city which is known for having the “largest Underground City in the World”.  Their tour highlighted some of the many “one-of-a-kind” Christmas displays around town.

Todays luncheon was at an excellent Steakhouse in Old Town – owned by an immigrant family from Greece who arrived in Canada many years ago with very little but after a great deal of hard work, now own many restaurants and even a few top hotels in the city.  My passengers had a choice of 3 entrees but most picked the steak with Montreal “frites”.  Many restaurant critics rate their steakhouse as one of the top ones in town, some say its the very best.

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After lunch it wasn’t too long of a drive before we crossed into scenic Vermont.  Border procedures were very simple.  In fact we didn’t have to get off the coach.  The very friendly customs official collected our passports and scanned them in the customs building.  She then passed them back to me to distribute to my passengers.

The Mountain View’s on our way to Stowe were just spectacular.

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Stowe looks like a Christmas postcard.  There is plenty of snow here – a few feet of the white stuff is on the ground,  but the roads are perfectly clear.

Our home for 2 nights is the famous Trapp Family Lodge.

After our arrival we gathered in a meeting space for a historical tour of the Trapp family who we all know thanks to the movie, “The Sound of Music”.

As an added surprise I arranged for Sam Von Trapp, Grandson of Maria to chat with my group and answer their questions.  He is going to return tomorrow for a private book signing.

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The Trapp Family Lodge is a bit of a maze to get around but everyone is getting their bearings.  My group has basically filled the rooms in this small, very homey resort.  The rooms are fitting with Stowe’s mountainous terrain.  Its the sweeping views that are most impressive due to the higher elevation location of the lodge.

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Some of my passengers are making themselves right at home – wearing their slippers as they walk around.918C29A2-60E4-4B4F-B633-CBFCC7721CC8.jpeg

 

Dinner was off-sight at the Trapp Family brewery.  This is a very large operation.  My group is the largest that they have ever had dine with them.  Their chef is top notch as the cuisine was exceptional – so much variety and everything was delicious.  Some of my passengers were after recipes – they even make their own mustards.

The lodge is filled with many “private” areas where you can gather with family and friends to chat or play board games so many of my passengers took advantage of this last nights before retiring for the evening,

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The weather has been gloomy here for a couple weeks so the locals are happy to see todays blue sky.  I teased the locals telling them that we brought Canadian sunshine with us!

 

 

 


Day 1 – Christmas Cheer in Montreal

When I announced a “Christmas Themed” Journey to Stowe, VT it sold-out in record time.  Vermont is a perfect Christmas holiday destination.

There are 90 of us on this getaway.  We enjoyed a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings and an overnight stay at the Quality Inn, Woodstock the night before this “Travel With Bradley” departure.

After a hearty breakfast we were ready to depart.  I’m pleased to have Bonnie hosting one of the coaches.  She has traveled the World with groups and is just as excited about this journey as I am.  Paul and Kevin are our professional coach drivers.

We stopped in the small community of Napanee, ON for an old-fashioned luncheon smorgasbord.  What a spread – turkey, roast beef, red snapper, pasta, variety of homemade salads, real mashed potatoes – the list goes on and one….  The dessert table was so tempting – it was filled with freshly baked tortes and cakes.  Thanks to this family run operation for opening especially for us on a Sunday morning.

Surpringly we have more snow at home than they do in the Montreal area, where there is just a dusting of the white stuff on the ground.  The temperatures are cold but we are dressed for it.

The boutique hotel that I hand selected for our stay is an exceptional one.  Our suite accommodations dazzled my passengers.  All rooms are unique so it was “open house” for a while as my passengers checked out each other’s accommodations.

 

3ABF3031-17E8-49E1-8BB0-2DB919DE12A2  My passengers then dressed in their festive finery for our Welcome Banquet which reminded me of wedding reception – without a bride and groom….

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The surroundings in the elegant banquet space was ideal for this festive occasion and the delicious dinner was perfect!

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The staff at this family run, boutique property are so professional.  Its a pleasure dealing with them.  I’ll look forward to bringing them more groups.

After dinner some enjoyed the large indoor pool, others strolled and took pricture of the beautiful Christmas displays.  Everyone eventually relaxed in the beautiful accommodations. 13257D2D-7004-482A-8287-5D5EA38119AF


The NEW “Celebrity EDGE” – Bradley’s Review

When I am asked how I would describe the “Brand New” Celebrity EDGE – the first word that comes to mind is “WOW”!

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If you have sailed on a cruise ship in the past, don’t expect the EDGE experience to be the same – the EDGE has dramatically raised the bar and is a totally NEW innovation.  

This ship is very high tech and creative.  Its design is beautiful.  The public areas look spectacular.  It reminds me of an ultra-luxury hotel.  The colors are calming – nothing loud and brash.  As I walked around the ship I kept saying that word “WOW” over and over again.

When stepping on its many interior carpets I noticed how plush they are – you sink into them.

A new cruise terminal was built in Ft. Lauderdale/Port Everglades to accommodate the EDGE.  Its by far the most impressive cruise terminal I have ever entered.  It definitely matches the quality of the EDGE – it is stunning.

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Celebrity now allows you to pre-register for your cruise by using their app.  You take a picture of your passport and yourself using your tablet or cell phone – then fill in a few questions and you are basically done.  If you take a few minutes at home to do this prior to sailing, it makes check-in at this new terminal an absolute breeze.  When you finish this at-home process you end up with a bar code on your phone or tablet which a staff member at the new terminal scans.  Next you go through security (just like at an airport) and after one more scan of your unique bar code you walk on the ship.  Your stateroom keys are waiting for you at the entrance of your cabin in a very secure package.  If the package has been tampered with you take those keys to the front desk for replacement.  No lines – no waiting – I could not believe how seamless this procedure is.  The competition cruise lines will take note of this.  Certainly, Celebrity now has the easiest and quickest check-in process.  Well done.

The Edge is 129,500 tons and can cary 2900 passengers.  I was very fortunate to be one of the very few invited to the EDGE naming ceremony 2 night innagural cruise. 

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On board were a few top tier tour professionals but it was mainly VIP’s along with press and bloggers who were invited.  I mingled with some very exciting people – the owner of Fine Cooking Magazine, a pair of male bloggers from England who have over 1 million subscribers, a UK film maker who often works with the Royal Family and is personal friends with Price Harry, the publisher of the #1 cruise magazine in Germany, a staff writer from People Magazine and an eccentric instagram foodie from NYC.  I learned a great deal from all of them.

Since there were so few of us on board its impossible for me to comment on how busy this ship will feel when it is full, but I have to assume that this was carefully considered when designing this one-of-a-kind cruise ship.

When I entered the Grand Lobby for the first time my first word was WOW.  Its design is cutting EDGE.  When I walked into my infinite balcony stateroom I said WOW again.  I spent hours walking around the ship – and kept repeating WOW over and over again!

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Over 80% of the staterooms on board the EDGE are either balcony or outside.

I was fortunate to be placed in an infinite “balcony” stateroom.  The infinite balconies on the EDGE are unlike other cruise ship balconies – somewhat similar in design to what you will find on newer river cruise boats.

The EDGE “infinite” balcony is an extension to your stateroom making it 23% larger and features a floor to ceiling window.  When I walked into my stateroom for the first time the first thing I saw was the ocean – the view was incredible.

There are up and down buttons beside the balcony window – which allows you to bring 1/2 of that window glass down and back up – this quickly transforms the outside space to inside space.  There are 2 very comfortable balcony chairs to sit on while enjoying the vast views and fresh air, but unlike some cruise ship balconies I don’t believe you are going to be able to sit in this area to get a suntan.  Easy to close Bi-fold doors make this area even more traditionally Balcony like.

The EDGE Stateroom restrooms are much larger than you are going to find on most cruise ships and the curved glass door shower compartment is SO large which is an added bonus.  Electrical plugs are out-of-sight to keep a clean look.  The hairdryer is stored in the vanity drawer (glad my rooms steward pointed that out because I didn’t realize a drawer was there as it so easily blends into the vanity).  The bathroom towels are thick and fluffy just as you would expect on a luxury cruise vessel.

In the main part of the stateroom there is a decent size closet which contains a very generous 22 removable clothes hangers (you can always request more) along with a number of drawers.  

The extremely comfortable stateroom bed has 8 pillows on it (4 oversize useable ones plus 4 decorative), there is also a small lounger and a desk with chair.  

An oversize flat screen television sits on the wall in front of the bed.

The colors in the staterooms are calming – greys and dark purples with a pop of red in the framed wall print.

A white box on the desk nicely keeps out of the way, many electrical outlets and usb plugs.  There are also usb plugs conveniently located next to the bed making it easy to charge your cell phone and tablet.  The phone which is next to the bed is a treated anti-bacteria device.

Bedding is of a high tread count.

The wall panel controls are very simple to use.

The EDGE staterooms are very high end – so beautiful yet so comfortable.

 

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There are some outside and a handful of single occupancy staterooms that also have incorporated floor to ceiling windows but they do not open – another innovation improvement over other other ships that feature small port holes or no-view single staterooms.

I toured all the suite categories – these include some very glamorous suites that are bi-level.

Ok – what next?

Let’s talk about the restaurants on board.

The EDGE dining is innovative too.  There isn’t just one main dining like you find on almost all cruise ships – on the EDGE there are 4 smaller, very intimate main dining rooms that are as elaborate as any cruise “speciality” restaurants.  These main dining rooms are themed – French, Italian, Greek and Cosmopolitan.  Their interiors are totally unique and remind me of very high end, big city restaurants – absolutely beautiful.

These restaurants offer extensive menus with some items exclusive to that restaurant (these themed selections don’t change from day to day), and there are classic food items that are the same in all 4 restaurants and remain the same from day to day (Caesar Salad, Shrimp Cocktail etc) and then there are a variety of food items that are just offered that evening ONLY in all of the 4 restaurants.

It is my understanding when reserving your cruise if you decide on “Select Dining” you can switch among the 4 different main dining rooms.  If you pick “Early or Late Dining” you will be assigned to 1 of these dining rooms for the duration of the cruise. 

There is also a massive, large selection buffet area that features vast views of the ocean, a spa cafe, pastries in the Coffee Bistro and in another corner off the atrium lobby plus a lighter entree salad/sandwich/soup location next to the 3 level Eden Area.  Don’t forget to try out the outdoor Grill for burger/fries.

There are also a number of speciality “for a fee” restaurants that you will not currently find on other Celebrity Ships – including a very glamorous Steak House, French Bistro, Raw Bar, Outdoor Garden Cafe, and the Eden sit down restaurant.  One of these speciality restaurants features an unique “one of a kind” experience.  Your dining room table comes to life as you watch small characters create your meal – I watched patrons constantly clapping for these “make believe” characters.  I can’t wait for the opportunity to try the “Le Petit Chef” experience when I sail on the EDGE next time.  

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Most Edge cruisers will be thrilled with the four “no fee” main dining rooms and won’t find the need to pay for a speciality restaurant because the atmosphere in the main dining rooms is very “speciality dining” like and the menu selections are extensive and very impressive.

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If you have been reading about this cruise ship I’m sure you have heard about its Magic Carpet.  When I first learned about it I wondered if it was just a gimmick but when I experienced it I loved it.  The magic carpet is basically a luxurious moveable  platform deck the size of a tennis court that hangs over the side of the ship with many purposes including a relaxing seating area with commanding views, a lounge, at other times it transforms into a speciality restaurant.  Its main home is on Deck 14.

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The Magic Carpet can magically be lowered to Deck 2 where it becomes a spectacular landing for boarding tenders heading to shore.  This landing makes it ideal especially for those with mobility changes to get between the cruise ship and tenders.  In fact a young lady who is confined to a wheelchair was smiling from ear to ear when she very easily rode her motorized large wheelchair on the tender. 

I had the opportunity to try this “Magic Carpet Tender Landing” and it was just incredible.  I was “actually excited” about boarding a tender boat because of it.  The area that you gather in before getting on the Magic Carpet platform is also very beautiful.  The “Magic Carpet” lounge remained open as we boarded the tenders.  Many passengers were enjoying beverages on this platform before boarding a tender.

Currently there isn’t any other ship that can state their tender service experience comes anywhere close to on the EDGE.  

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Wait until you board the EDGE tender boats.  As the travel writer that was sitting next to me stated, these tender boat seats are nicer than what United Airlines offers in business class.  They are wide and so comfortable.  These tender boats are even air conditioned!  I can’t believe I am calling tender boats “luxurious” but on the EDGE they are!  I hear rumors that these tenders cost over 1.6 Million each!

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The Magic Carpet is one of many unique EDGE venues.  

EDEN is a massive 3 level “dream like/fantasy” area that incorporates 2 restaurants and a massive lounge/sitting area.  It quickly becomes a favourite day and night destination on the EDGE.  Its filled with tropical plants and has a conservatory vibe.

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Another hang out area is the impressive designed outdoor garden which features another restaurant, plenty of outdoor park like seating, a big screen for showing movies and a stage for live music performances.  

291BF161-C403-4890-AA97-BC2A9F8F3696The multi-story main Atrium is the ultimate gathering place for a beverage before heading for dinner.  Its so architecturally stunning, its hard to describe.  Truly another WOW!  The only negative comment I have about it is when this area is at capacity, its loud so if you are going to enjoy a romantic dinner in one of the surrounding speciality restaurants ask for a table away from the noise.  

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The main “partially in the round” theatre is smaller than on most cruise ships so it’s more intimate.  Its audio/visual components are as impressive as the stage show I experienced at a recent “Elton John” concert.

I watched two productions in this space – one show was “pretty far out there” and although it highlighted the theatres impressive technology, I couldn’t figure out what the meaning was of this very futuristic extravaganza.   I forced myself to stay thinking that maybe it might get better but I ended up being one of many that left early.  This is not to say that some people are going to enjoy this “Jewelry Box” Production but it was not my cup of tea…

The other show I saw was so good I came back to watch it again later that evening.  It was basically a high energy live concert event – Marcus Terell, the lead singer was terrific and so was his band and back up singers.  The audio/visual effects were mind blowing.  An exciting atmosphere.

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The EDGE has produced 5 exclusive productions which avoids having to fly in main-stage entertainment.  This is now a trend with most cruise lines.  I’m not a fan of this but its the way the cruise industry is going.

I feel once Celebrity Cruise Lines gets feedback on its current entertainment there will be some changes, in order to cater to ALL age groups.  Currently I believe the entertainment is “somewhat” slanted to a Millennial Crowd.  I was told its basically an older demographic that has been flocking on the maiden cruises so I believe the entertainment needs to be more varied.  Celebrity will see this need and I expect will make the changes.  My fingers are crossed that a piano bar lounge and singer will return.

The extensive gym features Peloton spinning bikes so you can attend a live-streaming class.

Most shops on board are pretty high end – there is even a Tiffany’s and Cartier store.  One renowned parfumerie has given the EDGE an exclusive to carry her brand.   I don’t think you’ll see the $10. morning sales like you often see on many other cruise ships.

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The main outdoor pool is large and very impressive and so is the adults only atrium indoor pool.  There is ample “comfortable” loungers surrounding them and vast views of the ocean.  Don’t be surprised if a staff member brings around a treat for you to enjoy while you are basking in the sun.  Try out the jacuzzis resemble oversized Martini Glasses.

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If you are lucky enough to be staying in a suite you can enjoy a wonderful private outdoor retreat with a smaller pool and hot tub.  

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There are 6 oversize, very beautiful, “for a fee” cabanas on the resort deck but their placement is strange – they do not face the pool and don’t seem to be very private.  

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I don’t think the EDGE caters to a family audience.  There are more suitable ships out there for families.

The Celebrity Edge is the newest cruise ship on the market and you need to put her on your “travel list”.  Sitting on the “Magic Carpet” is a must for all!  Celebrity Ships are designed for comfort.  Grab a free freshly made waffle cone ice cream from Scoops and sit in one of the ships very comfy chairs – they are not hard to find – “private” areas are everywhere.  I have never sat on a Celebrity Cruise chair that isn’t overly comfy.

Cruisers have been waiting many years for the EDGE to arrive.  It delivers more than it promised.  Can you believe, it is possible to open your stateroom door, and dim your interior stateroom lights using your cell phone!

Malala Yousafzai is the 21 year old “godmother” of the Edge.  She is the first Nobel prize recipient to christen a cruise ship.  The Edge features a crew of 30% women.  The EDGE next-in-line Captain is also a woman.

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The ship is a blockbuster. 

Be sure to join me from Feb 15-23, 2020 as we sail the EDGE in the Caribbean.  Space is already limited for this “Travel With Bradley” departure.

The EDGE has defined the NEW future of the cruise in industry.

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I can’t wait to sail on her again!  1641A6A6-C2D1-428C-82CC-2E3CFE342884


Day 4 – Frankenmuth, MI – Homeward Bound

After a hearty Amish style breakfast we departed Shipshewana, IN.

What a beautiful day for traveling – mild temps and sunny, blue skies.

At 11:30am we arrived in the German themed town of, Frankenmuth, MI for our farewell luncheon at Zehnder’s and what a delicious feast it was!

Crossing the border back into Canada was quick so we arrived back in Woodstock, ON, 30 minutes ahead of time – 430pm.

I think my passengers appreciated the opportunity to start their own homeward journey while the sun was still out.

We all enjouyed a wonderful time on this journey that was filled with country, gospel and Christmas music – of course there were also many delicious meals!

The Amish Community of Shipshewana made us feel so welcome.

As usual my passengers were just terrific.  I thank them for traveling with me.  I appreciated the many new passengers that joined us.  Welcome to the family!

Thanks to my Mom for helping me out on this journey.  Thank you to Paul, our professional coach driver.

After that festive getaway we are definitely in the Christmas Spirit!

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Day 3 – “Gatlin and Booth Brothers” Christmas

Enjoyed another terrific day visiting Indiana’s Amish Country.

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This afternoon the cast of “Annie” at Amish Acres Round Barn in Nappanee, Indiana kept us entertained with their very professional production!  The young Annie was a superb actress.  Couldn’t have asked for better seats in the theatre – 1st 3 rows!

We enjoyed Christmas music during dinner performed by a talented pianist.

This evening “The Gatlin Brothers” and “The Booth Brothers” took the stage in Shipshewana, IN – a perfect “Farewell” Christmas Show – amazing harmonies.

Larry Gatlin performed at our Walters Dinner Theatre a couple years ago.  I have been a fan of the Gatlin’s for decades and could easily listen to their sweet music day after day.

Tomorrow we’ll start to head home filled with the Christmas Spirit.  Shipshewana, IN has treated us so well!


Day 2 – Gaither Homecoming – Christmas Edition

It was a foggy start to the morning in Shipshewana, IN.

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Breakfast at our hotel was buffet style.  An busy Amish cook prepares 5 “made to order” omelettes at a time.

Our first stop of the day was at the Jayco House Trailer Manufacturing Plant where 60% of the employees are Amish.  Young Amish can start working here at the age of 16.  It was an amazing experience watching the speed of the workers – with NO exaggeration they “run”!   We toured the 5th wheel trailer plant on the large campus.  Trailers aren’t made until an order is placed and we understand that business is currently booming – there is even high demand for their $700,000 luxury models.  

There is a bit of controversy though.  These very difficult hourly jobs pay well – approx 75 G a year so many Amish make a career here instead of on the farm as land prices are 30 G an acre and its therefore next to impossible to pay off a farm during a lifetime.  When you work for Jayco or other similar firms you can be debt free.  

Employees work for an hourly wage and there is very little absenteeism.  They start early in the morning and finish early in the afternoon so it is possible to still run a secondary business like growing ducks which is a very popular local Amish business.  

Many of my passengers have toured and some worked at Car Manufacturers at home.  They said they could not believe how different the work ethic was here in comparison.  

We were then welcomed into an Amish Home for lunch.  The “Amish haystack” meal was scrumptious.  The Amish often offer “haystack” fundraiser dinners.  We piled 14 ingredients on our plate just like a “haystack”.  Let me see if I can remember most of the ingredients – crushed crackers, then sticky rice, followed by hamburger prepared with taco seasoning, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, peppers, green olives, black olives, pineapple, pumpkin seeds, crunched up nacho chips, shredded cheese and finally a cheddar cheese sauce covers everything.  Its a mighty filling meal.

Our Amish host told me she prepares a “morning breakfast style haystack” – biscuits piled with vegetables and meats, at Christmas for her family.

There was a choice of 2 different homemade pies for dessert – custard or raspberry cream.  I think our many “hot tea” orders took them a little off guard – they are use to serving coffee to fellow Americans and welcome few Canadian guests so were unaware that many of us drink hot tea.

We then travelled through the countryside with a very friendly/knowledgeable Amish man,  We visited many local Amish family businesses including – a basket maker (works of art), cheese manufacturer (many samples, great variety and SO reasonable to purchase), buggy shop (fascinating – just like buying a car with SO many options – saw a completed special order that was ordered for an attraction in New Orleans 85G).  Finally we visited a popcorn shop – everyone received a complimentary bag of popcorn and most of my passengers purchased a supply of kernels to bring home!

There was just enough time to freshen up at our hotel before heading out for dinner.  The restaurant was PACKED with people waiting for tables but of course we had a reserved space for our Family Style Amish Meal – tonight I selected chicken and roast beef as the meat choices for my passengers.  Delicious meal!

It was a very soupy, foggy evening but we only had short distance to travel before we arrived at the event centre for the “Gaither Christmas Homecoming” Concert.  I’ve been following the Gaither’s for years and often fly to Nashville or other American Cities to see their shows.  Their Christmas Concerts are always my favourite.

There were a number of guest entertainers on the program including the Nelon Family.  This is the first time I saw them on stage – Mother/Father/2 daughters – powerhouse performance – amazing harmonies.  The Gaither Vocal Band is who the crowd came to see and they never disappoint.  The show lasted around 3 hours which is so typical for Gaither Homecoming Events.  An absolute spectacular performance.  My passengers were trilled.

I invited everyone to a private “Ice Cream Sundae” social after the show.  I noticed a number of the man enjoyed a 2nd sundae – that ice cream was so good!

The day was a great one!  I have another busy one with some terrific stops planned for tomorrow!


Day 1 – Ronnie Milsap “Legend In My Time”

After enjoying a bountiful breakfast buffet we boarded an Ayr Coach for our journey to Shipshewanna Indiana.  Paul is my driver for this tour.  He was also the driver on my Branson, Memphis and Nashville journey that arrived back in Ontario two days ago.  A handful of the same passengers are on this capacity tour.  

We crossed the border quickly with no issues.  

Break stop was at a popular, Cracker Barrel.  Their staff was happy to see us.

When we arrived in Marshall, MI it was a winter wonderland.  Obviously a nasty snow storm had just fallen because many of the highway signs were covered in the white stuff.  Luckily we missed that precipitation and the main roads were clear.

Our 3 course Welcome Luncheon at Schuler’s of Marshall was excellent as always.  We were impressed with their wine bottle Christmas tree (over 400 of them).

Our first Shipshewanna stop was at Davis Mercantile, a unique shopping complex in the heart of this little Amish town.  Paul and I dropped our passengers luggage at our homey hotel for our 3 night stay.  Every time we stay here a group of Amish ladies look after luggage delivery and they have it down to a science – quick, and always perfect – it takes a woman to get it done right!

Dinner was family style at the Blue Gate.  Tonight’s two meats were fried chicken and meatloaf.  The bowls of food kept coming and the homemade pies provided the perfect ending to a true Amish style feast.  

I recall a few years ago before my family was going to be performing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, I was invited to Music City to go over all the arrangements.  Typically my brother Darren is in charge of this but I steer headed our Ryman performance.  

I was sitting in a beautiful suite at Opryland Hotel during the meeting when it was announced that they had a special guest they wanted me to meet.  In walked “Louise Mandrell”,  of the famous Mandrell Sisters with her little dog wrapped in blankets just like a baby and Louise’s personal assistant.  Louise was dressed glamorous just like she was going on stage.  She sat next to me and even though I had only met her once before for a brief time she spoke like I had known her for years.

She congratulated my family on our upcoming Ryman performance and of course talked about what that performance hall mean’t to her but what I will never forget is when she talked about entertaining.

She said her sister Barbara wanted off the road and retired.  Barbara literally dropped off the face of the earth.  You hardly hear her name anymore but she does get involved with some charity fundraisers in Nashville.  She is content working in her garden and spending time with her family.

Louise told me that her husband was not a well man and she wanted to look after him so she took time off the road to do this but she said entertaining was in her heart and she needed to get back on stage.  She missed the audience interaction and her fans so much.  

A few days ago I was in Branson, MO with my passengers and we watched the Urban Cowboy, Mickey Gilley on stage.  It was a remarkable show.  When Mom and I met Mickey back stage prior to his performance I didn’t get the picture of him that he portrayed on stage.

When he walked on stage he turned into a new man, an Entertainer, something he loves to do just like Louise Mandrell, Ronnie Milsap, The Walters Family….. I’m sure the excitement of being on stage is what Mickey Gilley looks forward to more than anything else.

I’m sure this is the same reason that Ronnie Milsap is still performing today.  At 75 he is much younger than Mickey Gilley but I’m not sure how well he is.  Paul, brought the coach right next to Ronnie’s tour bus.  As my passengers were getting off I noticed that one of Ronnie Milsap’s band members was taking a wheelchair out of the bus bay and he brought it next to the coach door.  It was for Ronnie.

Tonight’s Capacity Crowd for Ronnie Milsap was so enthusiastic.  They cheered as Ronnie sang his hit songs.  His band was just fantastic.  Ronnie certainly is no longer in his prime and was rusty at the beginning of the performance but as his concert went on he continued to improve.  I couldn’t believe some of the high notes he hit.  

I recall when Ronnie announced his farewell tour a number of years ago.  Like many artists they re-appear years later as they miss being on stage so much.  It was an honor seeing Ronnie Milsap

once again.  He is certainly a true legend.  I don’t think he’ll be well enough to continue much longer.  His show was scheduled for 90 minutes without an intermission – it only lasted 70 minutes.  I could tell that some of his fans that travelled from across the USA were disappointed but I think he probably performed to his max.

His performance was a throwback in time, bringing back many memories of his 40 hit songs!


Day 9 and 10 – Nashville, Memphis, Nashville

Day 9 and 10 – Branson, Memphis and Nashville

Yesterday we started our journey North from Nashville.  It was sad to leave Music City – just love that city!

We were treated so well throughout our stay in the South

Lunch was at a really unique destination in the rural countryside, by Louisville.  The scenic drive to get there was stunning – beautiful homes – many with ponds on their large properties, narrow windy roads/

Our destination was a Family Farm where we were served a Country Thanksgiving Feast.  Everything was made from scratch – salads, turkey, ham, fried chicken with all the fixings and a choice of cobblers for dessert.  We ate extremely well during this journey but if I had to pick a favourite meal I think it would have to be this one.  

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Dinner was fantastic too.  We dined at “La Comedia Dinner Theatre”.  I’ve taken groups here for years and I’ve learned how to beat their crowds.  It was a sold out house so we showed up just a couple minutes before they opened the buffet.  We walked in and were taken to our seats – the rest of the house had already been seated.  Perfect.  Below find the recipe for their famous “Sweet Potato Soufflé”.

Last nights production was the broadway show, “White Christmas”.  The cast was top notch.  This was a big production for La Comedia to mount but they did it with flying colors.  Probably the best production I’ve seen there.

Today I was concerned about the weather.  There were snow warnings especially around Detroit (up to 8 inches) but other than the odd snow shower there was no issue and the roads remained bare but wet.

Our farewell luncheon was at a very posh mansion close to Detroit.  It was beautifully decorated for the season.  Couldn’t ask for a nicer location and the 3 course meal they served was good too.

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Clearing customs into Canada was quick.

We arrived back in Woodstock at 545pm.

My passengers have been raving about this journey – we really had a fantastic time – everyone may need a day of rest now that we are home – we kept very busy while we were away but we saw so many wonderful things and everyone appreciated that I threw in MANY extras.

Thanks to all my amazing passengers – one big family!

Seasons Greetings to all!

 


Day 8 – Music City USA – Nashville

It was a beautiful weather day in the Music City.

We enjoyed a bountiful, high quality breakfast buffet at the Opryland Hotel before meeting our excellent “Singing Tour Guides” who Entertained us as we toured around Nashville.  What a unique experience.

Our lunch location was a passenger “Surprise”.  The “General Jackson” Showboat did not disappoint!  Terrific show and yummy meal.

There was a bit of time to tour around the Opryland Hotel before getting dressed up for tonight’s special dinner.

The “Trace Adkins” Christmas Dinner Show was SUPERB! What a Voice!

 


Day 7 – Memphis and Nashville

Enjoyed a 90 minute stop at very busy “Graceland” in Memphis.

In Nashville we experienced the finest Southern Cooking and hospitality at Monells.  I always take a bit of a risk taking my groups to Monell’s as “officially” they don’t take a reservation.  Yesterday, American Thanksgiving this small restaurant’s 4 waiters served 1300 people waits were over 2.5 hrs but the food is worth it.

Last nights Opry performance the Ryman was fantastic – we could have asked for better seats.

When we returned to our fancy hotel, “The Opryland” I took my group on a walking tour so they could get their bearings and then we relaxed on our ornate balconies that overlook the indoor atrium gardens and Christmas lights.

Terrific day!


Day 5 – Little Rock plus an amazing “Surprise” Experience!

Happy American Thanksgiving!  

This morning I could feel excitement in the air, after all its American Thanksgiving and many families had gathered at “Chateau on the Lake” to celebrate the holiday.  Their Thanksgiving brunch which started at 10:30am will attract 1800 people.  

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After an early special buffet breakfast that they arranged especially for us we were on the road to Little Rock, Arkansas.  The scenery was beautiful.  I panicked that I wouldn’t find a break stop location that would be open due to the holiday but surprisingly I had no problems – we were able to fit in 2 break stops!  We even found a Walmart that was open – their many Black Friday specials were covered with clear plastic.  We were told that many would start getting in line at noon and at 6pm they could start buying the Black Friday deals!

Our home for one night is at the Wyndham Riverfront, Little Rock.  This hotel was recently fully renovated and it shows.  Today they welcomed over 600 guests for their Thanksgiving Buffet luncheon.  We took over one of their private banquet rooms and enjoyed that bountiful meal.  

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There was some time to relax before we departed for our Mystery Destination which was a short 20 minute drive from the Wyndham.  We traveled down secondary roads surrounded by cotton and rice fields.

Finally we arrived at a stately Plantation named Marlsgate.  The very hospitable owners welcomed us, served us a refreshing beverage using locally made vodka and then toured us around their beautiful property – 7.5 acres.

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A delicious 3 course dinner was served.  Our surroundings were so elegant.  Many told me this “Surprise Evening” was a dream come true!  


Elegant “Chateau on the Lake” Branson

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Day 5 – Branson. MO Pictures

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Day 5 – Shows and MORE Shows in Branson

It was another beautiful day – Perfecto – temps around 60F – nice and sunny.  The sunrise over the “Chateau of the Lake” hotel was spectacular.

I swap up breakfast entrees for my passengers so we aren’t eating the same thing every day at this beautiful hotel.  There was a breakfast bread pudding and ham off the bone as part of todays private buffet.

Yakov Smirnoff entertained us in his theatre at 10am.  I purchased VIP seating so we were in the 1st three rows.  Yakov is so good to me.  He very seldom will do a private meet and greet as there is a line up of fans waiting for him in the lobby after the show but he made an exception today as he met with my group.  Thanks Yakov.

Yakov still owns his Branson theatre but has not been performing here for a long time.  He lives in California.  Yakov is not only a very funny, clean comedian, he is an acclaimed artist and we admired his paintings that were on display in the lobby.

The first half of the show was very typical Yakov.  The second half offered a very serious Christmas message that brought a tear to everyone’s eye.  The show therefore ended up being an unique one – we all walked away in awe.

Lunch was a very special event at the Keeter Centre.  This state of the art complex is run in conjunction with “College of the Ozarks” where students work hard and leave school debt free.  We were served with by a group of young students who introduced themselves to us before serving us an exceptional 3 course meal.  The banquet room was so beautiful.  I believe I was lucky that they accepted us to dine with them today as tomorrow (American Thanksgiving) they have reservations for 1200!  Most of my passengers bought their house Pear salad dressing to bring home.  I pay a premium to bring my group here but I like to support these students.

The Duttons entertained us during the afternoon.  This Mormon family has been in Branson for over 20 years.  We watched 3 Dutton generations perform on stage.  Their family recipe home made fudge is worth the visit.

Dinner was Italian style.  We could select from a variety of entrees.

I always take my passengers to the “Andy William’s Christmas Spectacular” as our final Branson show.  As always Jimmy Osmond from the Osmond Brothers, The Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show and their many guests impressed us with this big production show that even features ice skating.  Everyone said that show brought back many wonderful memories.

All in all another fabulous day in Branson, MO!

Pictures to follow later today.


Day 4 – Our “FOUR” Show Day in Branson!

We enjoyed breakfast this morning in a private room at “Chateau on the Lake”.  Since we are in the South, biscuits replace toast and grits replace porridge.  The chef put out a nice spread of breakfast items for us to enjoy.  The “Chateau” is known for its excellent cuisine quality.

The sales and management team have so warmly welcomed me and my group here.  At most hotels I get to know a single sales person but here there is a large team of some of the most genuine, very nice staff I have ever met.  Its not an exaggeration that there has been a steady stream of them, that have showed up to meet me during our stay.  This is a mid size luxury hotel with the warm friend attitude of a bed and breakfast.  I applaud them.

It was a short drive to our first show of the day – “Clay Cooper”.  Clay has been in town for a few decades and he knows how to entertain.  His wife is the talented show choreographer and one of the many dancers and singers.  Their 9 year old son is on stage singing and dancing too.  

This is truly a big mega production not to be missed.  Its fast paced so the large cast works extremely hard.  Clay re-worked his show this year so its completely new.  Its not to be missed.

Since I always have so many regulars travelers with me to Branson, I like to switch shows around so my passengers can enjoy a new experience when they come to this music destination but the “Clay Cooper” Show is a MUST when I visit Branson.

I consider Clay and his promoter Pat good friends of mine.  They are very special folks.  Unfortunately once one of my passengers had a medical emergency at their theatre a few years ago.  I wasn’t able to travel in the ambulance so Clay loaded me up in his pick up truck and drove me to the hospital.  He gave me his personal phone number and was “on call” if I needed anything at all.  He spoke so fondly of me during his show today but he is the one that deserves the praise.  Clay has a very large heart and I’m honored to know him.

If you visit Branson be sure to pay the “Clay Cooper” show a visit – you will thank me when you get home – what a fabulous show!

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We enjoyed lunch at Branson Landing – a shopping/attraction destination.  My passengers were able to pick one of 3 delicious entrees.  Most decided on the wood grilled salmon (wonderful) and I heard many great comments about the very moist carrot cake.

Guess who showed up to visit us during lunch? Of course entertainer, Clay Cooper and Pat.  They visited with all my passengers and provided everyone with Clay Cooper Christmas ornaments.  Clay goes out of his way when I come to town and if anxious to provide me with a “Private” Meet n Greet.  It wasn’t possible to do this at his theatre so he joined us at lunch.  Thank you Clay and Pat – we all enjoyed your visit!

Las Vegas, “Legend In Concert” was the matinee performance we attended.  The Dick Clark Theatre is beautiful.  This show is high energy, uses impresses multi-media, the impersonators are the best you will ever see and that on stage band is top notch.  Some of the music impersonators we saw today were – Brooks and Dunn, Elton John, Brooks Brothers, Tina Turner – all fabulous but the ELVIS raised the bar – I thought the real ELVIS was on stage.  The MC/Entertainer/Comedian from Vegas was another true entertainer. Another terrific show.

”Hurts Donuts” is at the Dick Clark Theatre – this is a new USA Franchise that has made the Fortunes USA list.  Some of my passengers enjoyed their creative offerings during the shows intermission.

The “Stampede Dinner Show” complex was right across the road from Dick Clarks and that is a good thing.  As we were taking our seats the show begun.  This auditorium complex holds over 1000 ticket holders and I don’t recall ever attending one of their shows that hasn’t been at capacity.  Why is it always full – unique, entertaining, big cast, great for all ages and their food is delicious.

A couple minutes before the production ended I gathered my passengers so we were the first ones to leave the theatre complex.  Paul beat the parking lot traffic as we had another show to attend.

Yes we attended a whopping 4 shows today!  Many tour companies only include 1 show a day and drop their passengers at shopping venues to fill in time…. not me!  When in Branson why not see as many shows as you can!

“Raiding the Country Vault” is one of the highest rated shows in town.  This is a “Classic” Country Show with a cast of very talented performers and singers with music resumes that would impress anyone.  They have performed with the very best and have written many mega hit songs.  My passengers were singing along with all of the familiar lyrics.  There was no intermission so we were back on the road after 90 minutes.

The door man at the “Chateau on the Lake” warmly welcomed us to this our Ozark home.  We relaxed after a very busy but fabulous day!


Day 3 – We have Arrived – Branson, MO!

What an awesome day!

We departed St. Louis at 8am this morning.

Paul picked a very scenic route so we could avoid the morning rush hour city traffic.

The Cracker Barrel General Store was the perfect place to spend our morning break.

By lunch time we were transiting around Branson to its West side on a beautiful new route surrounded by the Ozark Mountains.  Its unbelievable the amount of money that has been poured into this tourist attraction over the years.

“Chateau on the Lake” also referred to as “The Castle On The Hill” is the only 4 Diamond property in Branson.  Its our home for 3 nights.  We are very fortunate to be staying at such an exceptional hotel.  When we arrived at this luxurious place another Canadian group was “touring” the hotel but we are the only tour company that will be “staying” here during this time period.  The passengers on that other coach could not believe that this is OUR home for 3 nights.   Lucky for us!

We entered a Christmas decorated banquet room where we were served a bountiful 3 course meal.  The soup was so delicious, as was the beef and southern red velvet cake.

There was a little bit of time to grab a few pictures in the Chateau soaring atrium which has been decked to the nines for Christmas before we departed to see our first Branson matinee show.

We were warmly welcomed by a wonderful friend of mine, Cindy who I have known for many years.  As Cindy always reminds me the Branson family considers me to be part of their family.  I’ve brought so many groups here over the years and my family has performed at this music destination many times.  I’m blessed to know so many wonderful entertainers that have made Branson their home.  

We were seated in the VIP section just a couple rows from the stage to see Nathan Carter who flew to Branson from Ireland for a 5 day run.  Nathan typically performs in auditoriums with thousands of fans.  We enjoyed an intimate setting – how lucky for us.  His concert was just amazing – variety of Irish and Country Music with a very talented 6 piece band and special guests, a lovely lady has been a headliner with Celtic Women for many years – Daniel O’Donnells talented and funny accordion player for many years – and from Bancroft Ontario the very talented “Fitzgeralds” (they are hoping to perform at the Walters Theatre – I think that is a given – don’t miss them).

Nathans show was just exceptional.  Earlier this year when I had a group in Ireland we saw Nathans pictures everywhere.  I refer to him as the young version of Daniel O’Donnell.  He is a superstar in Ireland and its well deserved.

I received a call when he was signed to perform in Branson but show times had not been determined.  My incredible friend, Cindy offered to arrange a show time around my schedule so we wouldn’t miss Nathans Show!  Thank you so much Cindy – my group was thrilled.

My passengers also had the privilege of a private meeting with Nathan Carter PLUS all the shows guest artists after the performance.  We were asked to remain in our seats while the rest of the theatre patrons cleared out.  I knew we were going to meet Nathan but didn’t realize everyone else was going to join him too – so lucky!  All of the entertainers posed for a group photo which I purchased for all my passengers as a “Bradleys Surprise”.  It will be a perfect reminder of the amazing performance that we saw.

 

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Next time I visit Branson and a Nathan Carter Concert you want to make sure you are booked on that journey for sure!

We arrived for dinner VERY late due to our lengthy “meet and greet” but the restaurant management went out of their way to give us priority and seated us ahead of another group that arrived on time “ahead of us”.  Their chicken and rib combo was delicious – the ribs meat was so tender it just fell off the bone.

There was a bit of time for some souvenir shopping before attending the evening concert I picked for my passengers – the Urban Cowboy Reunion – Johnny Lee and Mickey Gilley in Concert!

I can tell you my group was blown away with this amazing concert.  My brother Darren has taken this Mickey Gilley on the road across Canada a number of times.  Mickey Gilley’s girlfriend was anxious to meet Mom so she received a text to come back stage during intermission.  They enjoyed a nice visit and Mickey surprisingly sang Happy Birthday for Mom on stage – I’m sure Darren had something to do with that.  Mickey’s sound man was even wearing a “Darren Walters Productions” ball cap!

Johnny Lee is 72 years old – his voice and humor is top notch – what an amazing entertainer.  He reminded of us of how many #1 hits he recorded as he sang them during his hour set.  Sadly he is a battling Parkinson’s Disease but that ailment isn’t slowing him down – what a show!

Mickey Gilley is a true entertainer.  What a legend.  Soon to be 83 he has experienced so many tragedies over the years that its rightly so when he says its amazing that he is still here.  When he steps on stage you can tell that is where he is most comfortable.  He knows how to please a crowd.  His voice is surprisingly as strong as ever but sadly his body is failing him.  His band has been loyal to him for many years – they are truly legends too – all exceptional – I especially am fond of his 2 back up singers.

It was an honor to be in the crowd for this event.  Once again we were seated in the VIP section just a couple rows from the stage.  

Mickey came out at the end of the show for another “private” meet and greet.  He shook hands with my passengers and answered their questions.  

What an amazing day – how can I possibly top this one?!  To be honest I’m not sure I can…..


Day Two – St. Louis, Missouri

Day Two – St. Louis  – Branson, Memphis and Nashville Journey 

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We started the day with a hearty breakfast in Indy before loading the coach.  We were on the road at 8am.

Its a pretty mild day, a little misty with a grey sky – no snow!

Its Moms birthday – I’m so glad she has joined me on this journey.

Its a long haul to Branson, MO.  Most tour companies spend 2 full days on the road before arriving at this musical destination but my passengers much prefer it when I split up the drive, making the journey much more comfortable.  Today instead of traveling all the way to Branson, MO we will travel to St. Louis, MO.

When we crossed into Illinois we gained an hour.

We enjoyed a very special luncheon in St. Louis – 40 stories up in a beautiful landmark restaurant with a stunning view overlooking the famous Gateway Arch.  The restaurant owner graciously opened “just for my group” so we had this wonderful place to ourselves.  Service was exceptional and their professional staff was meticulous dressed – (even a tux).  The cuisine was scrumptious.  Very impressive!

A beautiful Christmas Tree dominated the lobby  so we posed for a group picture before meeting Joe, our local Step-on guide who toured us around St. Louis for 3 hours.  We saw the city’s most impressive sights.  St. Louis surprised us all – what a wonderful city!

We enjoyed an hour of downtime before tonight’s cocktail party.

I provided everyone with money for dinner at the “Cheesecake Factory” which is adjacent to our hotel.  How convenient is that!  Can’t beat the Cheesecake Factory!


Branson, Memphis, Nashville Christmas Journey

Its been a very busy week.  

A couple days ago “The Walters Family” performed our annual Christmas shows in Brantford at the beautiful Sanderson Centre.  This was our 18th year performing our Christmas Shows here!  

The weather that day took us all by surprise.  The last time we had such a major snow storm this early was 26 years ago!  When we left home for the theatre we saw green grass but by the end of the packed matinee performance it was a winter wonderland outside.  We have many devoted fans who had evening tickets and braved miserable driving conditions in order to attend our show.  It was wonderful to see such a huge crowd for that evening show.

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Opening our Christmas show was “Oh What A Night”, excellent entertainers from Las Vegas who have dazzled the crowds at the “Walters Theatre” for many years.  They performed their Christmas Tribute to Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers.

Our dinner theatre caterers Quehl’s, provided us with a Christmas Feast between performances.

Yesterday, my brother Darren headed to Toronto Airport as he has the “Oh What A Night” cast on tour with their Christmas Show from coast to coast in Canada.  

I kept busy preparing for the “Travel With Bradley” Branson, Memphis and Nashville tour.

My passengers all gathered at a hotel in Woodstock, ON for a Welcome Dinner and overnight.

This morning after enjoying a bountiful breakfast buffet we boarded an Ayr Coach and were on our way.  Paul Ariss is once again our very professional driver.  

Road conditions were ideal as we headed to the border.  We cleared the formalities quickly and then we made our first break stop at the Cracker Barrel General Store.  They were happy to see us.  

I passed around yummy pecan cookies to hold us over until we arrived at our luncheon in the quaint community of Marshall, Michigan at Schuler’s restaurant.  

Schuler’s is a local landmark.  I use to dine there with a Great Aunt who lived close by in, Three Rivers MI when I was a young teenager.  I remember their house cheese spread from back then and they still serve it today.   Along with the cheese spread we were served Butternut Squash Soup and breast of Chicken served over mashed potatoes covered with an amazing, unique tasting sauce and fresh mixed vegetables.  Dessert was an ice cream sundae and as another sweet treat I purchased “still warm” cookies for everyone to enjoy as we continued to travel south.  

Here is the recipe for the Cheese Spread – 12 servings

4 oz sharp cheddar cheese

8 oz garbanzo beans

8 oz cream cheese

5 oz sour cream

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 tbsp white vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp paprika

1/2 cup mayo

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 ounce horseradish

1 dash brown ale

In a food processor grind cheese and the garbanzo beans

Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in cream cheese, sour cream, butter and mix til smooth

Then add the rest of ingredients and beat until well whipped and spreadable

Chill til serving

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When we crossed into Indiana we were back into Green Grass territory – no snow here and it was mild enough when we stopped for our afternoon break that most left their jackets on the coach.  

Our very comfortable overnight hotel was in Indy.  We gathered for complimentary cocktails at 530pm and I provided everyone with money to enjoy “Dinner-Off-The-Menu” at the adjacent Firebirds Wood Fired Grill” Restaurant.  I selected the salmon which was just exceptional.

Tomorrow we continue to St. Louis, MO.  We’ll be there in time of a “surprise location” lunch followed by a city tour and overnight.


Day 5 – Glamourous “Meadow Brook Hall“

Yes, its another birthday – the years fly by way too quickly…..

As one of my friends wrote, “I am away traveling once again on my birthday” but this time not for the entire day as this “Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” finishes up early this evening so I’ll once again be back home for a few days.  

We departed the Ft. Wayne hotel at 8am and as soon as we hit the road a passenger called out for me to quickly get to the back of the coach.  When I rushed out of my seat and scattered down the aisle all of my wonderful passengers started singing “Happy Birthday”….. Considering my new age this sudden excitement may have caused a heart attack but I very much appreciated their kind gesture.

Our farewell Luncheon was at a very posh location, “Meadow Brook Hall” in Pontiac, MI.  We couldn’t have wished for a more beautiful place to spend part of our day.   The Sliced Sirloin of Beef with Rosemary Demi-Glacé, Wild Rice and Seasonable Vegetables was well presented and delicious.  The apple pie dessert was a wholesome American selection but didn’t quite match up to my Mom’s.  The setting was perfect – we dined in the massive dining room.  We had this spectacular  mansion to ourselves.  Thanks to my passenger, John for his gracious speech after our meal concluded.

We then toured through the 88,000 foot home.  A National Historic Landmark, Meadow Brook Hall is the former home of one of the automotive aristocracy’s most remarkable women, Matilda Dodge Wilson.  The 110 room mansion is elaborately detailed with carved wood and stone, ornate ceilings, Tiffany stained glass, a pipe organ and custom made hardware.  The house is equipped with every modern amenity that was available in the late 1920’s.  Its fully electric with a central heating system, two elevators, three kitchens and a full-size home theatre.

In 1957, the Wilsons donated their residence, its collections, the estate’s 1500 acres and $2 Million to what would become Oakland University.  Meadow Brook Hall was opened to the public in 1971, four years after Matilda’s passing.

After a quick stop at Duty Free we crossed back into Canada.

Thanks to Paul for his professional coach driving.

A special thank you to my amazing passengers.  Thanks for “Travelling With Bradley”.  Many of them told me, they don’t think it’ll be possible for me to create a better “Yellow Brick Road Mystery Tour” than this one,  so now I am certainly up to the challenge. 


Day 4 – A Shrimp Farm in Indiana?

There was a medical emergency at the West Baden Springs Hotel this morning.  I was very impressed how well the staff handled the situation.  Thankfully it wasn’t one of my passengers.   Since it was our check out day, I was dealing with luggage handlers and front desk staff so I was well aware of their emergency situation and saw them in action.  Luggage handling was delayed because of this emergency but eventually they pulled a number of staff to start collecting our bags.  Our departure only experienced a minimal delay.

I learned another interesting fact – the towns of West Baden and French Lick, IN have a population of around 2000 and the 2 resort hotels employee 1800 people.  The Cook Family who brought these resorts back to life have truly given back to this community and the locals are very appreciative.

Chuckle of the Day – when we attended last nights 60’s Musical Review, Paul and I were seated with a couple from Indiana.  They were very friendly.  He is a school teacher.  During the shows intermission they told me they had been conversing and wondered if “as Canadians, do we listen to the same music that they do in the States……”

Its another beautiful blue sky, no-jacket-needed day.

Todays morning journey took us down a number of very scenic and narrow rural roads.  Eventually we ended up on secondary roads and finally a 4 lane highway.  We travelled on different road types all day.  The favourite being when we drove down those “Country Roads”.

Its a tradition that “Travel With Bradley” Journeys stop at a Walmart as a break stop at least once.  A Walmart jumped out at us at the perfect time.  My passengers appreciate this stop so they could stock up on some items we can’t find at home.  

Christo’s New City Grill located in Lafayette, IN put aside a private room for our luncheon.  My passengers had a choice of soup or salad followed by 5 entree choices and then 7 excellent dessert choices.  Their portions were massive and the fresh rolls came hot out of the oven.  

We toured around the campus of famous Perdue University and saw the historic downtown of Lafayette with a local guide.

Finally we drove to a family-owned “Shrimp” Farm – one of only 3 in the USA.  We learned about the poor conditions that oversea operators raise shrimp.  Only a small percentage of imported shrimp is inspected when it reaches North America.  It takes over 5 months for shrimp to be fully grown at this farm.  When we tasted these US grown shrimp I couldn’t believe how flavourful and sweet they were.  Their shell is paper thin so there was no need to peel it.  No sauce is required to make these shrimp taste good – they stood on their own.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at a retro themed boutique hotel  in Ft. Wayne, IN – our home for one evening.  Dinner was served in one of their Ballrooms.  A salad course was followed by a choice of Cod or Tuscan Chicken and then German Chocolate Cake completed the meal.  Many of their king bedded rooms are themed.  They put me in the Elvis Room!