When Lois Isaacson was a Girl Scout in the 1950s, her troop raised enough money selling fresh eggs to fund an eight-week trip to Europe. “It was a pivotal moment in her development,” says her daughter, Amy Isaacson Schoen. The girls in the troop developed an understanding of other cultures and became lifelong friends.
In 1977, Lois recalled that childhood experience when she married her love for travel and the memory of the lasting friendships she made in Europe to found Friendship Tours & The Ship Shop. Her clients affectionately dubbed her “Hi-Lo” – short for “Hi, Lois!” Over the years, Friendship Tours grew to specialize in day and overnight trips by motorcoach, cruises, Broadway-bound excursions, and fly tours to Europe and national parks in the United States.
Fast forward to 2017, and the Bloomfield-based travel company is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Amy and her twin brother, Brett Isaacson, now co-owners of the business since Lois passed away in 2014, are carrying on their mother’s legacy. “Our concept of group travel is that travel is something you do with others,” Amy says. “It’s meant to be a shared experience.”
Whether the destination is a city in the United States or abroad, travel can help to promote understanding, they say. “We believe that if you travel and see the world, you develop a world view,” Amy says. “Travel helps us to understand other cultures.” Brett describes a recent Holland tour that offered a chance to meet Dutch residents. “There were 25 of us on a walking tour, and groups of eight went into homes and had tea,” he says. “It was a one-on-one opportunity to meet the people.”
In running the business, the brother-and-sister team complements each other's strengths. As a leader, Brett looks at the “big picture” to develop ideas to expand the company and offer more services to clients. Amy, who revels in managing details, finds the best ways to implement her brother’s ideas.
That attention to detail extends to the kinds of trips and amenities that are Friendship Tours’ specialty. A tour operator rather than a travel agency, the experienced staff at Friendship Tours can take care of every aspect of a trip. “We package travel so that you’re getting a start-to-finish itinerary,” Amy says. A getaway package covers transportation, hotels, and admission to landmarks, for example, while a cruise might include transportation to the point of departure. “We do special cocktail parties for The Ship Shop group and arrange for extra activities on-board ship,” Brett says.
A tour manager escorts many of the company’s tours. This travel leader guides a group through the airport, supervises the itinerary or trouble-shoots any problems that might arise. In addition to a bank of tour managers, the Friendship Tours office has a full-time staff that can book trips, research itineraries or custom-tailor a trip for a group such as a family reunion or convention gathering. “We have an amazing staff of 12 persons, including some people who have been with us for 30 years,” Amy says. “We like to say that we have 180 years of travel-planning experience.”
Although the Internet offers the opportunity for a traveler to book his or her own trip, Brett and Amy find that clients are returning to travel experts for advice because there is too much information online. “We pride ourselves on having the expertise and relationships with vendors to be able to parse through what’s available and find [the trip] that is right for them,” Amy says. Her brother adds, “From the time of booking to their return, we’re here to help [clients] get that extra little bit of service.”
Friendship Tours offers a wide variety of day and extended trips and tours. Some are exclusive to the company such as the “lunch and a show” events at the Aqua Turf in Southington. Singer Bobby Rydell will perform at the Aqua Turf in August, 2018. “These are high-end musical productions plus a really nice lunch,” he says.
The popular motorcoach day and overnight trips have traditionally departed from locations in West Hartford and Manchester, but Friendship Tours continues to add departure points. There are trips leaving from convenient locations in Waterbury and Danbury, and Hadley and West Springfield, Mass. The ever-popular show bus to Broadway lets someone else do the driving to the Big Apple. The show bus originates in Springfield and travels I-91 to pick-up spots in Windsor, Cromwell, and Milford.
For more information about tours and services offered by Friendship Tours, visit www.friendshiptours.net where you can register on the home page to receive updates by email. Additional information is available on Facebook. To request a catalog or more information, call the office at 800-243-1630 or email email@example.com.
Ship Shop Escorted Cruises:
- March 17-28, 2018, Holland America Koningsdam; 11 nights, Southern Caribbean with Fort Lauderdale stay
- April 28-May 10, 2018, Celebrity Eclipse; 11 nights, Ireland, Iceland and Scotland with Dublin stay
- May 6-19, 2018, Celebrity Silhouette; 12 nights, Scandinavia and Russia
- June 8-20, 2018, Coral Princess; 12 nights, Alaska land and cruise
- July 6-14, 2018, Holland America Maasdam; eight nights, Canada, New England with Montreal
Motorcoach Day Trips departing from West Hartford and Manchester:
- 22, FDR Home and Library and Sunday Brunch, Hyde Park, NY. Cost: $94
- 25, “Haunted” Historic Mansion Tour, Clermont, NY. Cost: $98
- 11, Holiday Outlet Shopping, Kittery, Maine. Cost: $65
- Radio City Christmas Spectacular, NYC. Nov. 12, Nov. 17, Nov. 18, Nov. 19, Dec. 3, Dec. 4, Dec. 5, Dec. 11, Dec. 15. Cost: from $120
Motorcoach overnight tours departing from West Hartford and Manchester:
- Feb 2-5, 2018, Quebec Winter Carnival, Quebec, Canada. Cost: $769 pp double
- March 23-26, Washington, D.C. Cost: $645 pp double
- May 4-6, Pennsylvania Dutch, Jesus at Sight and Sound Theater, Lancaster, PA. Cost: $499 pp double
Motorcoach overnight tours departing from Waterbury and Danbury:
- 7-8, Terra Cotta Warriors, Philadelphia, PA. Cost: $327 pp double
- May 8-10, 2018, Magnificent Homes of the DuPont Family, West Chester, PA. Cost: $511 pp double
- June 11-13, Penn Dutch - Jesus at Sight & Sound Theater, Lancaster, PA. Cost: $451 pp double