Exploritas 12311

This is my first trip with this company. Originally, and for many years, called Elderhostel, they changed the name to Exploritas, but that was challenged by some small tour group, so they changed again to the weird name "Road Scholar." I originally planned to drive to/from Boston, but 4000+ miles of driving, having done the drive 2 years ago, made me change my mind. I used Frequent Complainer miles instead. One big improvement - after the breakfasts hassles on the Cosmos trip to Canada, it will be good to have meals included.

Day 1, Sunday, October 17 Arrive Boston (Brookline)
With a 6AM flight, I have to get up at 2AM after only 1 hour of sleep in order to use the StuporShuttle service with a pickup at 3:20 AM. I have to go through Newark on the way north in order to get the cheapest (miles) fare. The return flight is direct but with a late arrival in Houston. The layover in Newark is a reasonable length, just unfortunate that I had to do it. The timing is right for me to get McBarf Burger lunch before the second flight.

Continental CO 89Houston - Newark6:05 A - 10:30 P3:253:15
Continental CO 1128Newark - Boston1:45 P - 2:45 P1:007:40

The change to an almost-downtown-Boston hotel is another reason for flying. The originally booked hotel closed so Exploritas had to make a "last minute" change. Since I don't know Boston, trying to drive to/from this hotel would be a real hassle. I made nice quick, easy connections once in Boston. The taxi to the hotel is $38 but that's not too much more than the shuttle cost ($28 each way) in Houston and Exploritas drops us at the airport on return, so there's no additional cost there.

Arrive at the hotel in about 4PM and meet one of the tour leaders. I also make arrangements to meet with Russ Kempton for lunch tomorrow. With a 3PM arrival at the airport, I easily get to the hotel in time for the "Welcome Deception" (deceptive welcome???? - just a social drinking session) at 5:30 followed by a buffet dinner (6:15) at the hotel where we spend our first two evenings. This evening, if I can stay awake, we have a "course orientation" with our leader and historian, James Dassatti. Our tour coordinator is Kim Moriarity (no relation to the Moriarity's Restaurants later in the tour); counting me, 27 very elderly participants. Our driver is Steve Ross (very nice and a great driver). Hotel: Holiday Inn Brookline, 2 nights. (D).

Day 2, Monday, October 18 Boston Area
We have a nice breakfast (buffet today at least) is at the hotel (same arrangement each morning). This morning's lecture (8:30) will discuss the events and personalities leading up to the Battles of Lexington & Concord. We also visit other historic sites along the Boston Freedom Trail including the Old North Church but they are quick "shotgun" short, rushed visits. The only place we go in is the Old North Church, and that is a short visit. Lunch is served at the 99 Restaurant in Waltham (but I have lunch there with Russ). In the afternoon we visit Lexington & Concord where the "shot heard round the world" rang out. Dinner (nice) is at Joe Tecce's Restaurant. There is an evening lecture at the hotel. (BLD included each day) Lunch/dinner routine: each day we sign up in advance for what we want for the next day(s) - usually a choice of 2 entrees.

Day 3, Tuesday, October 19 Boston - Bunker Hill - New England - Brandon
The day starts with a visit to Bunker Hill before continuing to New Hampshire. Lots of nice colors at first then less as we get further north. Lunch at Rumunto's Brick Oven Pizza in Claremont is included. This afternoon we visit have a 'drive-by shooting' at Old Fort #4 (its been closed for two years for financial problems) where we learn the history of these small Forts throughout the Northeast. After the visit to the fort, we take a Lake Champlain 90-minute cruise (great commentary but not much to see) on the M/V Carillon where we learn the history of Fort Ticonderoga and its capture by Ethan Allen & Benedict Arnold. We arrive in the late afternoon at the Brandon Inn, VT. Dinner (nice) is served at the inn. The Inn was started back in 1787; rebuilt in 1890. The elevator is from 1901. It's a really neat, interesting place - definitely my favorite for the trip. We have an after-dinner lecture. Hotel: Brandon Inn. (2 nights)

Day 4, Wednesday, October 20 Lake Champlain
Today we travel to Mount Independence then drive around Lake Champlain. After a hard climb (bus) up Mt Defiance to see the view, we have lunch at Fort Ticonderoga. In the afternoon we tour the fort. Then we have a very quick drive through Crown Point and use the little ferry to cross Lake Champlain back into Vermont. Dinner is at the inn. Evening gives us more light entertainment.

Day 5, Thursday, October 21 Brandon - Saratoga - Albany
After a late but again very nice breakfast (7:30) and a brief intro lecture, we start with a guided exploration of the Hubbardton Battlefield in Castleton, Vermont - in the rain. Hubbardton was the only battle fought on Vermont soil. We have an on-the-bus sack lunch provided by the Brandon Inn. After lunch we see a movie then tour the Battlefield which was the first major defeat of the British with the surrender of General Burgoyne and the northern British Army. We spend the night in Albany. Dinner (buffet) is included at the motel restaurant (not the scheduled Cracker Barrel), then relax and prepare for more traveling. One nice thing about the travel - we don't use the Interstate or major highways unless necessary; we travel almost exclusively by local or secondary roads. That way we get to see much more of the countryside and many of the small towns with their interesting house architecture. It's also getting much warmer and more humidity. Hotel: Comfort Inn & Suites.

Day 6, Friday, October 22 Albany - West Point - Philadelphia
After a passable "continental" breakfast travel to West Point for a guided visit and history of the area. We pick up our sack lunch (a nice one this time) at the Highland Falls Market near West Point and eat it on the bus (again). There is a brief afternoon stop at Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, NJ. It's cut short since we are already running late. Continue (with a couple of wrong turns) to Philadelphia, arriving over an hour behind schedule, where we spend the next three evenings. We walk over to dinner (fair) is at the Italian Bistro on Broad Street with no time - due to running so late and the therefore fouled up timing for the restaurant - to relax this evening. After dinner, it's just go back to the hotel and crash. As expected, no internet access. Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Midtown. (3 nights)

Day 7, Saturday, October 23 Philadelphia, Valley Forge
There is an extremely limited, very poor breakfast this morning, definitely NOT the "deluxe" one promised in the propaganda and even worse than the typical Holiday Inn Express. Maybe this is a HorribleDay Express. After some nice breakfasts, even the limited one yesterday at the Comfort Inn, this is ridiculous. If it's the same tomorrow, I'll have to go across the street to IHOP to get anything to eat. And we're stuck here for three days! Horrors! At least the room is nice and that's more important than the morning junk.

Our driver, Steve, has to take a taxi go get back to where he had to park the bus late last night. He had to take a taxi then and almost didn't get back in time for the dinner. But he does get back with the bus this morning, so we pick up our very excellent local guide (Jim has to play third fiddle) and travel to Valley Forge for a guided exploration and discussion of the "Winter of 1777." A picnic lunch (another of those sack lunches but nice) is provided at Valley Forge. In the afternoon we do a bit more of Valley Forge, then visit the Brandywine Battlefield for another presentation. Dinner is at Moriarty's restaurant (aka "Kim's Kitchen" since her last name is Moriarty) which is only a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Day 8, Sunday, October 24 Philadelphia Tour
After another poor breakfast, today we spend the morning in Philadelphia. We visit the Independence National Historic Park (we need official identification documents such as passports) in downtown Philadelphia. The local Park Ranger who is our guide/lecturer is great. The tour is from 9 - 9:45. We are unfortunate in that there is renovation/repairs being done to Independence Hall and it's covered in scaffolding. They even build a crate-like structure around the statue of G Washington in front of the building. After the short tour, we're on our own for the rest of the day.

So far I'm having very little luck in finding and getting decent photos - probably the least of any trip I've taken. We have a $10 Lunch Voucher for the Bourse Mall. After lunch we have more time to explore this part of Philadelphia on our own - which also means getting back (walking) to the hotel on our own, but its not far. Dinner is again at "Kim's Kitchen." It is better there tonight. Last night there were three tour groups in, plus a crowd which was there for dinner before a show next door. The place was truly "jammed." Tonight we have a really excellent Prime Rib dinner - the best dinner of the trip, at least so far. This afternoon or evening we can relax and reorganize our suitcases before lots more travel - after we get new room key cards. Our "old" ones don't work - apparently someone just coded them for two nights rather than three nights.

Day 9, Monday, October 25 Philadelphia - Mount Vernon - Williamsburg
For the third day in a row, Steve has to take a taxi across town to where they make him park the bus each night. At least the hotel reimburses him for the taxi and parking fees.

Then after the best of three miserable breakfasts, we start the day with a drive to Mount Vernon. Lunch is via another voucher at the food court at Mount Vernon then we (don't) have a guided tour. Instead, we're just own our own until mid-afternoon. It's getting to be quite warm weather, in some cases setting record highs. Supposedly they will have a cold front coming through in a week or so, but now it's Indian Summer. Later we continue to Williamsburg. After arriving about 1.5 hours late - quite later than scheduled - we have dinner (buffet) at the Golden Corral. This evening relax and (don't) enjoy Williamsburg since it's already after 9 and raining, plus Colonial Williamsburg is 1.4 miles away - a long walk in the rain. The hotel room is quite nice, but it looks like we'll have the usual Holiday Inn breakfast tomorrow morning. Hotel: Holiday Inn Express. (2 nights)

Day 10, Tuesday, October 26 Williamsburg, Yorktown
There was quite a bit of rain overnight and it's a wet day. Today's schedule is rearranged: we first visit the Yorktown Victory Center for a program on Revolutionary Virginia. While we are doing that, Steve and Kim have to go all the way to Jamestown to get our boxed picnic lunch from the Jamestown Café - which we have to eat on the bus since it's raining. Seemingly they are the only business in the area that will supply picnic / boxed / on-the-bus lunches; it also takes much longer than planned so lunch is very late.

After that, the afternoon program visit is at Yorktown National Battlefield. The tour organizers (not Exploritas) didn't recognize that the two Yorktown sites were run by different organizations: Victory Center is state; Battlefield is National. Thus they didn't supply Kim with a check to pay our admission to the Battlefield. Fortunately many of us had the National Parks Senior Passes (which also allow one guest) so we managed to get everyone in with having to pay our own way. The stop is pretty much a wasted time.

We then drive to Colonial Williamsburg and waste 40 minutes at the Visitor Center accomplishing nothing. By the time we get to CW itself, everything is already closed so it's a TOTAL LOSS and EXTREMELY disappointing. Dinner is at Whaling Restaurant. This evening we DON'T have light entertainment in Williamsburg so why did they even mention Colonial Williamsburg in the misleading propaganda!

Day 11, Wednesday, October 27 Annapolis
We start off earlier than originally scheduled for a drive to Annapolis, MD, where lunch is served at the Galway Bay Restaurant/Pub (great Shepherd's Pie). We then take a walk in the rain for a guided tour of Annapolis and the State House (where we again need those official documents) where George Washington resigned his command, but not to other historic sites due to often very heavy rain. After, continue north to our overnight in northern Maryland.

Dinner problems - Jim tells us that our dinner is to be in the building 20' just across the parking lot, but there they have never heard of us and there's no reservation. Then fortunately, Steve sees a building across the street and almost half a mile away - which turns out to be where we are scheduled to eat. Saved, sorta. A definitely not-so-"delicious farewell dinner" (2-selection buffet) is served at the Richlin Ballroom, after which we (don't) have some more entertainment." Hotel: Best Western Edgewood.

Day 12, Thursday, October 28 Back to Boston area for departure
After breakfast we pick up our box lunches supplied by the Richlin and depart for Brookline. . They are for us to eat en route to Boston. Travel to the hotel in Brookline for independent departures We were scheduled to arrive in the early afternoon but Steve takes us through New York City rather than staying west and crossing the Tappan Zee bridge. But … there is some major wreck on the George Washington Bridge and we are tied up in traffic for about 1 ˝ hours. The tour bus drops us off at the airport - no taxi needed. I chose a late flight - which is fortunate since we had that long delay getting here from Edgewood. Note: despite having been in all 50 states, and 78 different countries, this is my first time to go through New York City. When driving, I've always stayed west and north of the city. (BL)

Continental CO 183Boston - Houston6:30 P - 10:05 P4:35-

It's a late arrival but hopefully I'll get home before midnight - but that didn't work out either - I didn't get home until about 12:10 AM Friday.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

COMMENTS: I chose this tour to be the one to go with for three specific reasons, but it didn't work out as I had hoped.

1) Boston Freedom Trail - the ElderHostel online description seemed to indicate that we would have multiple stops along the Trail, but most turned out to be "drive-by-shootings" which was somewhat disappointing.

2) Locations and scenery in Vermont, New Hampshire and eastern New York - excellent; lots of good scenery and we took mostly back roads so saw lots of the small towns, etc.

3) Colonial Williamsburg - the ElderHostel propaganda online listed three visits to CW, but instead we got less than an hour and only after things were closed. VERY BAD.

Other than that, it was a very good trip with a great staff and lots of good information. I'll definitely be taking more ElderHostel trips. (BTW - the staff still calls it ElderHostel.)

MEALS: All meals included - nice variety offered. Lunch is usually a sandwich, chips, cookie, and something to drink - water or soda. There are several changes from the original list of eateries - due to them hiking the prices way too much so Exploritas did some changes. For dinners we usually have a choice of 2 (mostly) or 3 entrees. Generally: Breakfasts - mini-continental, very limited; lunches - sandwiches and/or box lunches, generally good; dinners - best meal of the day but usually very slow service.

Holiday Inn Brookline 1200 Beacon Street, Brookline MA 02446. Wireless Data Connection which is too weak to be used, even on the second floor

Brandon Inn. Route 7, Brandon, VT 05345. Old style furnishings except for the bed mattress, and a newly redone bathroom. VERY nice. My favorite of the trip.

Albany: Comfort Inn & Suites. 99 Miller Road, Castleton, NY 12033. Free poor Continental Breakfast.

Philadelphia: Holiday Inn Express Midtown 1305 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107. Located in Center City, Philadelphia. The hotel is in walking distance of Philadelphia's historic, shopping, theatre, business, and government districts. No internet access despite their claims. Lousy breakfasts - if you can even call it breakfast. Definitely NOT the "deluxe" as in the propaganda.

Holiday Inn Express Williamsburg. 1452 Richmond Rd. Williamsburg, VA 23185. In Room Broadband Internet Access - oops, no, but we do have wireless internet. 1.4 miles to Colonial Williamsburg. More mini-breakfasts.

Best Western Edgewood. 1709 Edgewood Road, Edgewood, MD 21040. Nice motel but still another of the mini-continental breakfasts.

Continental CO 89Houston - Newark6:05 A - 10:30 P3:253:15
Continental CO 1128Newark - Boston1:45 P - 2:45 P1:007:40
Continental CO 183Boston - Houston6:30 P - 12:05 P4:35-