Cheryl Willis can help local seniors form a family of friends in just a few trips, whether near or far.
Willis, coordinator of Whatcom Senior Trips for people 50 and older, loves seeing new friendships bloom in dozens of different locales.
“It’s mind-expanding and social,” says Willis, who has led the program for the past decade. “For a lot of people, they have formed their ‘travel family’ and like to go on our trips together. And there’s safety in numbers.”
Whatcom Senior Tours is one of the programs under the umbrella organization Whatcom Council on Aging, guided by executive directory Mary Carlson.
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“I think our (trip) offerings are as good as they come in our state,” Carlson says. “And you don’t have to be a member of the Senior Activity Center (also for people 50 and older) to go on a trip.”
The trips range from overseas ventures to day trips in Whatcom County and are all pre-planned.
“We handle special dietary needs of our travelers,” says Willis, which shows how much effort goes into planning each trip.
Travelers must cooperate, of course, to let Willis and the volunteer crew know about all their special health needs.
“It’s such a big ‘perk’ because Cheryl does all the planning and figures out the logistics,” Bellingham Senior Center director Molly Simon says. “Seniors can just go and enjoy the trip.”
One of the highlights of the year will be a tour Nov. 11-18 of three Southern cities – New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville – that boast much of the nation’s richest musical histories along with some of country’s richest food.
This trip will feature the French Quarter jazz district in New Orleans and a tour of the School of Creole Cooking; Elvis Presley’s Graceland home and Beale Street blues and wine tasting in Memphis; and the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, along with whiskey making history.
Lodging includes the Sheraton New Orleans, Graceland Guest House and Opryland Resort.
The Bellingham Senior Activity Center’s monthly newsletter includes a complete rundown on many of the most attractive trips, including costs, itineraries, and deadlines.
Another in-country highlight trip this autumn will be an exploration Oct. 7-12 of historic Philadelphia, the fabulous colors of the Pocono Mountains and the special attractions of Amish Country.
“We’re always keeping an eye out for new places to go and for unique new attractions,” Willis says. “Last year, we did 40-something trips.”
For example, after former President Barack Obama opened up Cuba, Willis explored the possibility of a visit. Last year, a lot of local people who never dreamed of visiting the once-forbidden island nation had a chance to explore it.
And when an exhibit of the ancient Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors archeological discoveries arrived at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, the trip program last summer provided local folks an opportunity to see part of that history.
“Our tourists were amazed,” Carlson says. “The pieces were so well preserved. That was a very popular trip. We had two full buses with more than 80 people.”
There have been hundreds of trips over the years, including ocean cruises and journeys to many points all over the world. The day trips to northern Western Washington and southern British Columbia usually do not take much more than 12 hours, such as multiple Seattle Mariners baseball outings each season.
All the trips start with bus transportation from the large parking lot of St. John’s Lutheran Church between Dean Street and Cornwall Avenue.
More information can be found at wccoa.org.