Good Life

Whether by land or sea, travel options abound

Participants ride a pontoon boat on Black Moshannon Lake in a session by park ranger Michelle McCloskey for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State.
Participants ride a pontoon boat on Black Moshannon Lake in a session by park ranger Michelle McCloskey for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State. Photo provided by Penn State OLLI

Whether they dream of island hopping in the Caribbean or taking in fall foliage in New England — and whether they seek adventure or friendship — area seniors have plenty of options for travel, local trip organizers say.

“They build relationships on these (bus) tours,” said Lory Fullington of Fullington Auto Bus Co. in State College. “On our reunion tours, they’ve made friends who come back every year.

“They talk about what’s coming up and want to go together.”

Bus officials launched annual “reunion” bus tours in 2008 with a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and this year are planning a six-day trip in September to national parks in New England. The itinerary includes stops at historic sites, shopping and plenty of meals.

“The majority of our trips are geared toward senior citizens,” she said. “We have a variety, because we have seniors who like different types of things. They might like Broadway shows, and we have others who like to learn about history.”

The company’s annual bus tour offers vacation packages — as close as Sight & Sound Theatre in Lancaster County and as far as France. Trips to events, such as the Festival of Lights in Canada’s Niagara Falls or the Rochester Lilac Festival in New York, are usually a hit among seniors, Fullington said.

Church groups, senior clubs or even individuals can plan trips to any destination they can drum up enough interest to visit, she adds. The more travelers a leader can find, the lower the cost per person. A motor coach can transport up to 55 people.

“They could go wherever they want,” she said. “Or, they can get ideas out of our tour book. We can do the whole package.”

She said trip shoppers need to be careful of details when they are looking for vacation packages — and sometimes bringing a friend is more cost-effective.

“Make sure you compare apples to apples to what you’re getting,” Fullington said. “You might see something that’s cheaper, but you might not be getting as much. When you book as a single person, for example, it’s usually more expensive (because hotel suites are often booked for double occupancy). That’s important to be aware of.”

Members of the 55+ers at Grace Lutheran Church in State College plan day trips to attractions around the state. Upcoming destinations include Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum and museums in Columbia, said George Weigand, the group’s steering committee chairman.

“We try to mix it up,” he said. “We’ve gone to places like the Flight 93 (National) Memorial and (the Quecreek Mine Rescue Site).

“That was a daylong trip as well. We make an attempt to get as many places in as we can.”

Travelers don’t need to be church members to participate, and club organizers send out a mass mailing about upcoming trips when information is available.

Members of the Primetimers group at State College Alliance Church also take advantage of bus tours to visit popular destinations and make memories, said committee member Dick Straw.

Seniors do not need to be part of the church to attend.

“It’s a great way to meet new friends,” he said, adding that members keep cost in mind when they plan.

“We try to pick a place that will suit everybody and not be too expensive,” Straw said. “We do trips during the week because, on weekends, they charge more for tickets. We try to keep the prices as low as we can.”

Recent Primetimers stops included Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County, the Gateway Clipper in Pittsburgh and a fall foliage ride to Cumberland, Md., with a train ride over the mountains and dinner at the top.

Though excitement is part of the lure of travel, trip planners at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Penn State try to build trips around educational experiences, said Sarah Benton, executive director.

Some destinations, such as a recent trek to Penns Valley, go hand-in-hand with organization classes. OLLI markets to seniors, but anyone older than 18 can take part, and potential travelers do not have to be members — though members receive preference over nonmembers when trips are full.

“Most people who are members of the organization love to learn,” Benton said. “Most of the sites happen to be learning experiences, but we always mix fun in. We find a good place to eat. Sometimes there are wine tastings.”

Upcoming destinations include Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater in June.

Though the organization offers a mix of day trips, it also plans international adventures. A river cruise in France is set for May but already full, and organizers are working on an itinerary for an Ireland trip in August, which happens to be when Penn State will face Central Florida in Dublin.

“What makes these trips really popular and fun is that the coordinators are bulk purchasing and negotiating,” Benton said.

“The price point can’t be beat. Everything is laid out and planned.

“Their job is just to go out and get on the bus.”

For those who would prefer to travel by sea, cruises are another way to enjoy worry-free travel, said travel agent Sonia McCamley at Expedia Cruise Ship Centers.

“It’s becoming popular (for seniors),” she said.

“Everything is done for them. They can see three or four islands (if they choose a Caribbean tour) and not have to pack and unpack. Meals are included.”

Many opt to visit Europe by cruise ship, too, she said.

“They can fly into Rome and do a seven- to 10-night cruise around the Mediterranean,” she said. “They can see Italy, Croatia, Greece, sometimes Spain.

“It’s a good option for seniors. They can see four or five countries in a 10-day span without being in and out of hotels or taking a train to get to the next country. It’s very convenient.”