History often gets chalked up as dusty and dull: antiques behind velvet ropes and artifacts in glass cases. But historic tours give visitors the chance to stand in the very spot where the course of the country shifted or the fate of the world’s future was decided.
Visit a step pyramid in Egypt, the oldest construction of stone in the world. Stand on the beaches of Normandy where Allied troops stormed the shores on D-Day. Drink a beer in the same tavern George Washington frequently visited. Take in views of Lake Huron while rocking on the front porch of one of America’s great railway hotels. Along with providing an authentic glimpse into history, these historic sites also deliver thrilling experiences.
World War II Memorial Tour
Every day, memories of World War II disappear to history: its sites and scenes, its terrors and triumphs, its heroes and heroines. But it’s not the people who fought in Europe during World War II that sign up for Image Tours’ World War II Memorial Tour. They don’t want to return to the beaches of Normandy or the camps in Germany. They already lived it. Many want to forget it.
It’s the younger generations that wants to know what their parents or grandparents saw “because they didn’t talk about much of that — and there’s a reason they didn’t talk about it,” said Justin Osbon, sales director for Image Tours. “They [younger people] want to see it with their own eyes to get an idea of what they [older people] experienced.”
Image Tours leads groups through World War II history in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium and Holland, while also ensuring that travelers see iconic European landmarks and enjoy quintessential European experiences.
In Nuremberg, Germany, the group explores the Nazi party rally grounds where Hitler staged his propaganda rallies and the Palace of Justice, where the War Trials were held.
A deeply sobering visit to Dachau Concentration Camp begins at the entrance, where the guide translates the German phrase over the iron gate: “Work Sets You Free.”
In Austria, travelers can take an optional excursion to the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s hideaway perched high atop a mountain peak.
The group will explore the Belgian Ardennes Region where soldiers fought in the infamous “Battle of the Bulge” and can even see the foxholes used by Easy Company.
Image Tours spends an entire day exploring the Normandy landing beaches, which “everyone wants to do; that’s something that’s very high on the list,” Osbon said.
The itinerary also includes visits to the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint-Avold, France, and the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial — all meticulously maintained in honor of “our boys and what they did during World War II.”
Highlights of Egypt
Egypt attracts travelers who want adventure, who value history and who seek to understand some of civilization’s oldest roots. Ed-Ventures’ Highlights of Egypt itinerary goes beyond the pyramids to immerse travelers in a world that is both modern and ancient, steeped in centuries of culture and millennia of recorded history.
“It has that majestic feel; it’s an exotic destination; and people gravitate toward that,” said Shannon Larsen, co-owner of Ed-Ventures.
People are always blown away by the size and precision of the pyramids of Giza; and with the iconic Sphinx in front of them, “they get that double whammy,” Larsen said, not to mention taking a camel ride to get different panoramas or enjoying views from the new visitors center.
At the necropolis of Saqqara, the group will see the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the oldest construction of stone in the world. The group visits the Valley of the Kings, where they’ll enter burial chambers of kings and pharaohs and see nearly perfect hieroglyphics in Luxor temples. At the Temple of Hatshepsut, travelers learn about Egypt’s first female ruler.
But the trip is not all ancient ruins. The monumental Grand Egyptian Museum will be completed this year and is scheduled to open in 2021, offering access to 100,000 artifacts, including thousands of items from the tomb of Tutankhamun. An enormous statue of Ramses the Great towers in the atrium, and 87 statues of pharaohs and Egyptian gods line the grand staircase.
Travelers can also barter in the markets, explore a Nubian cultural village and visit Old Cairo’s ancient church crypts where the Holy Family stayed during their exile.
The itinerary includes three nights aboard a Nile River cruise, and guests can swim, snorkel or dive in the Red Sea, “one of the best places in the world to scuba dive,” Larsen said.
Homes of the Presidents
Mid Atlantic Receptive Services (MARS)
Mid Atlantic Receptive Services’ Homes of the Presidents itinerary “can be very rich because there’s so much content in the area,” said Kate Scopetti, MARS president. In addition to Washington, D.C., memorials and monuments, the itinerary features the homes of six presidents, and MARS can add additional programming like Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home or Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s villa retreat.
The program begins at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. During a guided tour, groups will see the bedroom where Washington died in 1799 and the key to the Bastille that hangs in the hallway. Travelers explore Virginia’s Old Town Alexandria, where they tour Christ Church and can have a beer at Gadsby’s Tavern, just like Washington used to.
Groups may tour the White House, though that can be canceled at a moment’s notice; but a trip to the White House Visitor Center “is the next best thing,” Scopetti said. Visitors can watch a film, explore exhibits and interact with a touch-screen table that lets them virtually explore any room in the White House.
The group will go inside the President Woodrow Wilson House and visit the National Portrait Gallery, which houses U.S. presidents’ official portraits.
During a tour of President Abraham Lincoln’s cottage, visitors learn that he spent sumers there during his presidency. During the Civil War, Lincoln observed an active battle and he was shot once through his top hat.
James Madison and his wife, Dolley, lived at Montpelier in Virginia. Groups take a docent-led tour of the home, but the site has also updated its programming to represent generations of enslaved people who lived on the estate.
At Monticello, Jefferson’s home and mountaintop estate, the visitors center features a museum and film that acclimates guests to Jefferson’s world. Shuttles then take the group to the house, which is riddled with Jefferson’s inventions that are still in use. Guests will see the slave quarters and farmland and stop at the 1784 Michie Tavern for a tour and “the best fried chicken in the world.”
Mackinac Island, Michigan
It’s not difficult to feel like you’ve traveled back in time on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. No automobiles are allowed on the island, so there’s no traffic or congestion. People get around on foot, on bicycles and on horseback. Groups can arrange horse-drawn carriage rides to explore the island’s coastlines or bike into town to get some of Mackinac’s famous fudge.
Most of Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is a state park, but the 3.8-square-mile island is also home to the Grand Hotel, which has been welcoming guests for 133 years. Railroad and steamship companies opened the hotel in 1887 as a resort destination, and the tradition is alive and well today.
Shenandoah Tours’ Mackinac Island itinerary takes groups on a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island, past preserved Victorian houses perched high atop the bluffs to the Grand Hotel. The hotel’s tradition of luxury and leisure is alive and well thanks in large part to being owned by the same family since 1933.
After having lunch at the hotel, travelers can shop along the town’s quaint Main Street or visit Fort Mackinac, an 18th-century French, and later British, fort and trading post overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. There, visitors learn about soldiers’ daily lives during the era as costumed re-enactors march, shoot rifles and fire the cannon.
When the group ferries back to the mainland, they’ll travel south to Frankenmuth, a German village known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, which boasts Bavarian-style architecture and Bavarian-style shops lining the streets. Travelers can stroll over Holz-Brucke, a 239-foot-long replica of a 19th-century covered bridge, and visit Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store.
In Dearborn, the group will learn more about the history of the American automobile. A behind-the-scenes tour of the Ford Rouge Plant delves into American car manufacturing, and the Henry Ford Museum houses historically significant vehicles and artifacts, like the limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was shot and the chair in which Lincoln was assassinated.