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Cajuns, Creoles and Good Times on the Bayou Tour

Before visitors hear their first note of New Orleans jazz or taste their first bite of crawfish, the first thing they notice about Louisiana is “how friendly the people are,” said Rick Pharr, owner of CTN Travels.

“People say hello and greet you and talk to you like you’ve been family friends for two generations,” he said.

Visitors’ favorite part of CTN Travels’ tour Cajuns, Creoles and Good Times on the Bayou is a toss-up between the food, the music and the people.

The foot-stomping music of New Orleans often has the distinctive sound of an accordion, which is likely a Martin. Melodeons, or diatonic button accordions, have buttons rather than keys like those on a piano, and Clarence “Junior” Martin has been making them for more than 30 years.

Martin Accordions is a family-run business that’s housed in a large warehouse in Scott, Louisiana, just outside Lafayette. When groups visit, Junior; his daughter, Pennye Huval; and his grandson, Joel Martin, give a one-and-a-half-hour presentation that includes playing several types of music.

“You can’t get ’em out of Martins; they would stay there forever if they could,” Pharr said of his groups.

Guests also tour Oak Alley Plantation, which is like most English plantations in terms of scope; that’s countered by the colorful Laura Plantation, one of the few remaining Creole plantations.

The trip includes visits to Louisiana’s Old State Capitol and the Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge, as well as a bayou swamp tour at McGee’s Landing, before hitting New Orleans.

Branson, Bentonville and Beyond

In Branson, Missouri, travelers are inundated with toe-tapping, hand-clapping music. Then, in Bentonville, Arkansas, they are inspired by breathtaking works of art.

Between the two destinations, “not only are they getting the entertainment and the art, but they’re getting the scenery,” said Kim Vance, owner of AdVance Tour and Travel.

Though subject to change, the current lineup in Branson includes Doug Gabriel, “The Dutton Family Show,” “No. 1 Hits of the ’60s (and ’50s Too!)” and Classic Country’s “Patsy Cline and Friends” show. The “Six” show features six brothers singing a cappella, and Doug Gabriel’s show, which “just blew me away,” Vance said.

With upbeat tunes and lots of costume changes during  “No. 1 Hits of the ’60s (and ’50s Too!),” “people come out dancing, and a lot of them say it’s their favorite,” Vance said.

A new experience Vance offers that has been a huge success is Wine, Dine and Yacht With the Stars on the Landing Princess yacht. Entertainers from the itinerary come out for an hourlong wine reception aboard the cruise and mingle with the group.

“Usually, we get a pretty good turnout — sometimes we get as many entertainers as group members,” she said.

The group visits the modern white-and-glass Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, nestled on 120 acres of Ozark forest on the edge of downtown Bentonville. The museum displays as many as 500 of its several-thousand-pieces collection at any time, including two iconic portraits of George Washington.

At the George Dombek Studio and Gallery in Goshen, Arkansas, the artist will greet guests during a reception and do signings, an exclusive experience for the group, Vance said. Visitors may be able to take a hands-on glass class or watch a demonstration at Terra Studios, famous for its “Bluebird of Happiness.”

Opry to Opry

Say “opry,” and everyone immediately thinks of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. But there’s another opry in Oklahoma City: the Centennial Rodeo Opry in Stockyards City.

During the Let’s Go Travelin’ itinerary Opry to Opry, people may focus on the Tennessee side of things — the Opry, Graceland, Historic RCA Studio B, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; but overlooking Oklahoma’s music contributions would be a mistake.

The Centennial Rodeo Opry got its start as a backyard gathering of family and friends who loved to play and sing country music before becoming the Oklahoma Opry in 1977. The show moved into the historic Rodeo Theater in Stockyard City in 2002. Weekly Saturday-night shows introduce new performers and bring back Oklahoma City favorites in a live music show that’s appropriate for all ages.

The American Banjo Museum in the city’s Bricktown features more than 400 instruments and explores the history of the banjo, from primitive banjos built by African slaves to minstrel-age instruments from the mid-19th century to classical-era instruments dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, and continuing with the bluegrass, folk and jazz genres. Groups can take a self-guided tour followed by a banjo recital or a sing-along performance in Your Father’s Mustache’s event room, which is modeled after a popular banjo nightclub of the 1960s.

The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame is housed in the Frisco Depot in Muskogee. Every year since its founding in 1997, the Hall of Fame inducts new musicians and has now inducted over 100 artists. The historic freight depot serves as a concert venue and often hosts performances, including a September show by Milton Patton, the country singer from Season 8 of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”