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Selected departures March to November 2017
An amazing tour exploring the unique culture, history and music of America’s Deep South, the home of blues, jazz and country music, combined with the charms and the classic images of the ‘Lone Star State’, Texas
Take one of America’s classic ‘road trips’ exploring the Deep South, renowned for its gracious hospitality, its charming southern drawl, its unique Creole and Cajun cuisine and, of course, the most popular music genres of the 20th century – jazz, rock n’ roll, the blues and country.
Flying into Atlanta, Georgia, site of the 1996 Olympic Games, which really put the city on the map. Home to CNN, one of the US’s most iconic ‘institutions’ and the Center for Civil and Human rights, a new museum dedicated to the history of the civil rights movement. Atlanta has a lovely laid-back southern charm and is the perfect start to a fascinating tour. We then travel through the rolling rich farmland of Tennessee, past the cotton fields of Mississippi to Louisiana’s moss covered bayous and the vast South Texas plains. You’ll stay in some of America’s most fascinating cities: Chattanooga, Nashville, Memphis, the amazing New Orleans, as well as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.
We stay two nights in Nashville, known as Music City USA, the centre of the huge country music industry - where aspiring artists come to start their careers, songwriters try out their new songs and where anyone can walk into one of the myriad of live music venues and hear some of the best music-making in North America.
Not too far down the road lies another of America’s great musical cities - Memphis. Home of the remarkable Sun Studios that launched Elvis’ stratospheric rise to fame and the site of his sprawling home, Graceland; Memphis also played a pivotal and tragic role in the civil rights movement as the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated.
We stay three nights in New Orleans, ‘The Big Easy’ with its motto ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’ – let the good times roll, depicts exactly what makes this city such a rewarding place to visit. Its famously progressive spirit and liberal attitudes date back to its French roots, when convicts were freed on condition that they settled there. Then it became an unruly smuggling enclave ensuring its rebellious streak continued to thrive. Always pushing the boundaries, it was inevitable the exceptional French, Spanish, American and African cultures fused so harmoniously producing a unique city which has given birth to jazz and its most famous son, the remarkable Louis Armstrong. It was also home to some of the greats of American literature such as Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, who famously said that ‘America only has three cities, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. All the rest are Cleveland!’
Our extension into the ‘Lone Star State’ of Texas includes a visit to the very soul of Texas – the Alamo, where in 1836 an estimated 183 men were killed by Mexican troops trying to prevent Texas from gaining its independence. As the second largest US state, Texas is unbelievably almost three times the size of the UK, and has a proud cowboy tradition dating from the 19th century. We discover this almost legendary western heritage during our visit to a working cattle ranch learning how the life and back-breaking work of cowboys evolved into the sport of rodeo, next we see the Fort Worth stockyards, in their heyday the world’s largest.
Who can ever forget the excitement, hope and sheer exhilaration the US gave the world during the 1960s and ‘70s at the height of its space program, the moonshots and those immortal phrases ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ and of course probably the world’s most famous understatement, ‘Houston, we have a problem!’ We’ll tour the Johnson Space Centre and NASA’s ‘Mission Control’ from where the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew was saved from almost certain disaster by the innovative thinking of some of the best scientists and engineers in the world. It does not seem so long ago, but would you believe the return trajectory through the earth’s atmosphere was calculated using a ‘slide rule’ – how the world has changed! The space centre is still used today to train astronauts and develop the new technologies for future manned missions to Mars.
Finally it’s Dallas, which during the 1980s was the setting of the world’s most watched TV programme! However probably more famously, in 1963 the ’Big D’ was propelled to world attention when (allegedly!), Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy, for whatever reason we shall ultimately never know and after which it seemed the entire planet went into mourning - especially so when his son poignantly saluted his father’s coffin. We see the ‘grassy knoll’ and learn all about the events of that famous day.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room and includes: scheduled return flights to Atlanta; all transfers and journey on Amtrak ‘City of New Orleans’ rail service from Memphis to New Orleans; domestic flight from Dallas/Ft.Worth to Atlanta; twelve nights accommodation, on roo only basis in three-star superior or four-star hotels; four continental breakfasts; all tours as mentioned including Chattanooga incline railway, tour of Jack Daniels distillery, entrance to Country Music Hall of Fame, Studio B tour, Sun Studio tour, ‘Platinum’ tour of Graceland, New Orleans walking tour with local guide, NASA Johnson Space Centre, entrance to the Alamo, 6th Floor museum in Dallas, tour of and entrance to Atlanta Civil Rights Museum; hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person; the services of a Riviera tour manager.
British passport holders do not require a visa under the USA Visa Waiver Programme (The VWP allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days). British passport holders qualifying for the Visa Waiver programme must apply online for authorisation to enter the USA, for which there is an administration fee of $14 per person. This may only be submitted online by visiting the official website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov and registering at least 72 hours prior to travel. Without authorisation prior to travel, admission may be denied at a US port of entry. Holders of non-British passports will need to contact the American Embassy in London for details at least three months prior to departure. Details can be found on: https://uk.usembassy.gov/visas/tourism-visitor/how-to-apply/
As of 01 April 2016, all travellers wishing to enter the US under the VWP now need to hold a passport with an integrated chip (an ePassport). Your passport is an ePassport if it carries the internationally recognised symbol on the front cover. If you do not have an e-passport then you have two options. Either apply for a new passport which contains the embedded electronic chip or obtain a US Tourism & Visitor visa via the following link: https://uk.usembassy.gov/visas/tourism-visitor/how-to-apply/
From 21 January 2016 most people who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria since March 2011, or are dual nationals of these countries, will no longer qualify for entry under the Visa Waiver Programme and existing ESTAs could be revoked. You will instead need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
If you are in any doubt about whether you qualify for the VWP, or if you’re concerned that an existing ESTA may have been cancelled, you should contact the US Embassy or Consulate.
There are no current health requirements for the USA. However, whilst the travelling schedule shall pose no problems for people of any age in normal physical health, we would point out that we often enjoy walking tours (sometimes over unmade paths) of the various places of interest. This tour also reaches an altitude of 8,000ft and temperature variations can be unpredictable, especially during winter, spring and autumn. For these reasons this holiday may not be suitable for clients of greatly impaired mobility. Please bear this in mind when considering this holiday.
You should arrive at the airport for your flight to Atlanta and on arrival we transfer to the Holiday Inn Express Downtown for one night.
Atlanta is the base of one of America’s best known companies, CNN and home to the Center for Civil and Human rights. We enjoy a tour of the Center for Civil and Human rights. This afternoon we transfer to the charming small town of Chattanooga for one night stay at the three-star superior Choo Choo Hotel, aptly converted from the original railway station.
This morning enjoy a ride on the ‘world’s steepest passenger railway’ to the top of Lookout Mountain just outside town experiencing tremendous views, on a clear day across a staggering seven states! Driving deeper into Tennessee to Lynchburg, this quintessential little town is a true slice of unspoilt ‘50s America, with its red-brick courthouse, general store and one traffic light! It’s a great place to just browse the shops and get a bite to eat before we visit Lynchburg’s claim to fame: the Jack Daniel Distillery. Obviously it’s where Jack Daniel’s whisky is made, since 1884 and a tour (and tasting!) is a great experience. Interestingly, the county is ‘dry’ and locals are not allowed to consume the product they are most famous for! Continuing across Tennessee’s rolling green hills we soon arrive at ‘Music City USA’, Nashville, staying two nights at the three-star superior Hyatt Place Opryland, with complimentary continental breakfast. Tonight you have the opportunity to attend a country music concert at the Grand Ole Opry. (For overnight stays on Fri/Sat only).
In downtown Nashville we visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. A huge museum of all things ‘Country & Western’, it has floors of fascinating exhibits from the earliest days of country music to the megastars of today. There are films and videos of music’s greatest, with their life-stories and costumes. The famed Music Row is close by, lined with studios and record company offices, where we visit the legendary RCA Studio B, where Elvis recorded many of his greatest hits, followed by a ‘who’s who’ of recording superstars such as Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Lower Broadway is Nashville’s nightlife centre, with stupendous live music in famous honky-tonk bars like Robert’s Western World and The Stage on Broadway and many more. There’s a fantastic atmosphere along the entire street and an evening here is a real ‘must’!
Today we say goodbye to Nashville and head to the far west of Tennessee and the city of Memphis and America’s artery, the Mississippi. From its earliest beginnings as a small French garrison, Memphis grew into a magnet for freed slaves after the Civil War and as a cotton trading centre. More infamously, in 1968 Martin Luther King visited to help in a sanitation workers strike and was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now converted into the Civil Rights Museum.
This afternoon we have a guided tour around the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll – the legendary Sun Studio, where Elvis recorded his first hit. This insignificant, yet iconic 1950s building, was the starting point for Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison amongst others and is a designated National Historic Landmark. You can still see Jerry Lee’s piano and Elvis’ microphone!
We stay in Memphis for two nights at the three-star superior DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown, just a couple of blocks from the lively blues bars and restaurants of Beale Street.
This morning we visit one of America’s biggest tourist attractions, Elvis’ Graceland. The ‘King’ bought the Graceland mansion for $100,000 in 1957 when he was just 22 and it was his main home until his death. From the time it opened to the public in 1982, Graceland has expanded to include Elvis’ private airplanes and his extensive car collection. One of the most iconic houses in America, Graceland’s Meditation Garden is also Elvis’ final resting place. This evening is at leisure to sample the music scene at Memphis’ famous Beale Street.
An early departure this morning as we catch the renowned ‘City of New Orleans’ Amtrak train service to New Orleans, a real little piece of America. The double-decker, classic silver coloured train carriages, so typical of the US, feature comfortable reclining armchairs with plenty of legroom, as well as a panoramic glass observation deck and dining car.
Our journey takes us through vast forests, farms and the small ‘southern’ towns lining the eastern bank of the Mississippi like pearls on a necklace. Nearing New Orleans, excitement mounts and we cross Lake Pontchartrain, bizarrely it appears like the train is actually travelling over the water itself. We stay three nights at the four-star Courtyard by Marriott Downtown, perfectly located in the very heart of the French Quarter.
This morning we have a walking tour of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter with an expert local guide. We see the charming art galleries and antique shops along Royal Street, the white stucco St Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, full of artists, musicians and fortune tellers, and walk up the iconic Bourbon Street, centre of the city’s nightlife. Following the walking tour, you have a free afternoon. In the evening why not step out and try New Orleans’ famed Cajun cuisine – there’s loads of fantastic restaurants.
A free day to relax in the ‘Big Easy’ and explore further afield. Alternatively, you may choose to visit some of the most fascinating Antebellum Plantations outside New Orleans. Oak Alley Plantation is a National Historic Landmark and is considered to be the Deep South’s most spectacular mansion. Dating from 1839 with two rows of mighty oaks leading down towards the Mississippi River, the house has been fully restored to its magnificent 19th century opulence and grandeur. Following this, a fascinating boat tour of the nearby Louisiana swamps, known for their alligators, snapping turtles and moss-draped cypresses in the bayous.
We leave New Orleans this morning heading ever westwards along Louisiana’s Cajun country towards Texas. As we enter the outskirts of Houston, our first stop is at the world-famous NASA Johnson Space Centre, still a working NASA base from where the international space station is controlled. We visit ‘Mission Control’, now restored to its 1965 look with all the original equipment and furniture – a unique experience.
We also see a full-size Saturn V rocket which famously has no on-board computer, they were just too big at the time, plus the huge indoor training facility for the astronauts of the International Space Station. Tonight we stay at the nearby three-star superior Hilton NASA Clear Lake.
We continue further into the south Texas plains arriving in San Antonio this afternoon. Originally settled by the Spanish who built a mission station here, the Alamo, whose name was destined to be one of the most evocative words in American history. It was here in 1836 that a seriously outnumbered group of settlers, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were besieged by the Mexican army for nearly two weeks before they were overrun. Tonight we stay at the three-star superior Menger Hotel, including complimentary breakfast, just round the corner from the Alamo and within easy walking distance to the charming Riverwalk area with its many bars and restaurants, ideal for trying out the region’s famed Tex-Mex cuisine.
We say goodbye to friendly San Antonio and travel north to Dallas. In Dallas we visit the infamous Dealey Plaza where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The floor in the Texas Book Depository from where the fatal shots were fired has been converted into the excellent 6th Floor Museum dedicated to explaining the background and the events of that fateful day on the 22nd November in 1963. We stay overnight in the four-star Courtyard by Marriott Downtown in Fort Worth, including complimentary continental breakfast, with all the attractions of the Stockyards historic district.
A free morning in Fort Worth where we explore the historical Stockyard District with its daily cattle drive along the main street before our afternoon flight back to the UK, changing in Atlanta
You arrive home this morning after a really memorable tour.
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