Trafalgar tour delves into Southern culture

By David Cogswell

NEW YORK -- For travelers who prefer the support and price advantages of an escorted group tour, Trafalgar Tours' Southern Belle motorcoach itinerary is a good way to experience the Gulf Coast region of southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Viewing the area with a professional guide brings out aspects of the region that would be lost to a person traveling independently, according to Thomas See, vice president of marketing for Trafalgar Tours.

"As you go to the different places, your tour director hands the tour over to the local experts," he said. "You want to be with cultural experts, just like in Europe, because there is so much culture in the South. And the swamplands is not an area you are going to go to on your own."

The culture of the swamplands is something most people don't appreciate until they have experienced it, according to Liz Cosenza, vice president of operations for Destination America, the ground operator for Trafalgar's U.S. and Canada programs.

"What we love about the swamp tour is the boat captain," Cosenza said. "He's 100% Cajun. He grew up in the swamp, and he's never been out of it. He's such a personality, so entertaining.

"The people who live in the swamp are delightful," she added. "It's fascinating the way they live off the land -- and they are very good cooks.

"You can't get a bad meal anywhere in Louisiana; it's not possible."

The Southern Belle tour is popular with overseas visitors, according to See, and an extra layer of cultural experience is provided by the presence on the tour of customers from other English-speaking markets, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The nine-night itinerary begins and ends in New Orleans, where the base hotel is the Marriott, located just outside the French Quarter.

"It's close enough to walk right into the quarter, but it's not in the middle of it, so you still can get a decent night's sleep," said Cosenza.

Guests spend a total of three nights in New Orleans; two nights each in Biloxi, Miss., and Lafayette, La.; and one night each in Jackson and Natchez, Miss.

The program also makes stops in Vicksburg, Miss.; Mobile and Bellingrath Gardens, Ala, and Baton Rouge, La.

A sightseeing tour of New Orleans includes the city's above-ground tombs. A sightseeing tour of New Orleans features the French Quarter, the Garden District, Lake Pontchartrain, the Louisiana Superdome and one of the "Cities of the Dead," the above-ground tombs in the cemeteries of New Orleans.

In addition, guests have a night and a day in New Orleans to spend at their leisure.

Other highlights of the motorcoach itinerary include the pine forests of Mississippi; the Old State Capitol and Governor's Mansion in Jackson; a tour of an antebellum home in Natchez; a stop in Biloxi for a visit to Beauvoir, the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, where the grounds also contain a Confederate museum and cemetery; the battleship Alabama at Mobile, Ala.; a shrimp boat tour; the Nottoway Plantation on the Mississippi River in Whitecastle, La.; Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi, and Vermilionville, an Acadian village in Lafayette, La.

"People don't realize how much history and culture there is in the South," said Cosenza. "They come away from the tour with this wonderful experience of having seen so much culture in their own country."

Land-only rates for the Southern Belle program start from $1,260 per person, double.

For more information, visit www.trafalgartours.com. For reservations, call (800) 854-0103.

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