Editor's note: Today begins a new column about activities and events offered through the Traverse City Senior Center.
Imagine unfolding scenes of castles, kingdoms and cathedrals as you travel down the Rhine and Mosel rivers from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Imagine retracing the routes of history, as you pass by quaint villages and sloping vineyards in elegant river cruising in the heart of Europe.
Or, in the 2010 list just released by the Travel Alliance, imagine taking in breathtaking Alaska by cruising the Inside Passage on a trip that begins in Fairbanks and is highlighted by the stern-wheeler Discovery and a journey to Denali National Park.
The Travel Alliance was initiated in 2001 between the Traverse City Senior Center and the Leelanau County Commission on Aging. Antrim County was added in 2009.
For many years, trips were offered to seniors within each organization, sometimes creating overlap. By combining their efforts, they can provide more diverse travel programs and lessen cancellations due to too few reservations.
The new tours for the 2010 travel year feature destinations including Branson, Mo., by train from Grand Rapids; a bus tour of the heart of Texas; a patriotic guided tour of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore; the glitz and glitter of New York City; a late summer tour to coastal Massachusetts and Boston; autumn in the U.P.; and a look at the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch culture in Lancaster County with a stop in Hershey, Pa., to sample the chocolate.
Also on the list are mini-trips in our own region, trips to see the Detroit Tigers, Pistons and the Red Wings and interesting day trips.
"I had heard that Pat Thompson ran a very good tour and was well prepared," said Sheri Varner, a recent traveler on the New York tour. "It was my first trip with Travel Alliance. The people on the trip were local and I felt comfortable going as a single person."
With a commitment to giving their travelers an exceptional experience, the 20 members on the Travel Alliance committee -- which includes Pat Thompson (Grand Traverse County representative and tour coodinator), Nancy Begman (Leelanau) and Phylis Starkey (Antrim) -- select the itinerary for each year's trip offerings.
Six tour companies were interviewed for the upcoming year and five were selected on the basis of the best values for offered tours and the quality of the tour company. This year, they are using American and Hartzler Tours, Passageway of Alpena, plus Mayflower and Collette Vacations.
Itinerary booklets are put together for every trip by the committee and each committee member has a different job to ensure the travelers are informed as well as comfortable. For instance, one writes about the history of the trip area, one puts together packages, one bakes cookies, etc.
With approximately 1,200 people traveling with the senior program from Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Antrim counties, the committee keeps busy.
"I started with Travel Alliance by taking the day trips," said Jean Mensing. "When the New York trip came along, I called my cousin and said, 'Let's go.'"
The cost of the tours range from inexpensive local trips to more expensive extended tours throughout the United States and abroad. The advantage to taking a tour is that the cost is spread out over the entire group; there are savings an independent traveler can't compete with.
"Our husbands didn't need to worry about driving or parking in New York," Mensing said. "For anyone to drive in New York, they have to be insane. There was no hassle getting to the planned attractions or buying tickets ... not only that, I wouldn't have known where to go."
For a copy of the 2010 travel brochure or more information on the Travel Alliance, contact the TC Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail email@example.com.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest grew up in the Traverse City area, where her great-grandparents had settled in 1864. She attended Michigan State University and graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in journalism. She is a freelance writer who has been published in several local publications. For more information on the senior center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.