Sue Shapland was nominated for Group Travel Organiser of the Year at the Group Leisure Awards 2014, recognised for her outstanding achievements with Exmoor Extrovert, which she started in 1999. They now arrange about 50 day trips and 20 holidays each year. Sue Shapland is also a member of the GTOA Meridian Branch.
Our visit to Alaska in June 2013 when 28 of us flew to Fairbanks for the start of our adventure – a trip on the paddle steamer and visit to Athabascan Village, a seaplane taking off followed by salmon-bake and theatre visit. We endured an early start for a safari, deep into Denali National Park, where we were fortunate to see the ‘Big Five’ – caribou, moose, grizzly bears, wolves and dall sheep.
We even watched a wolf hunt, three wolves chasing two moose, who took refuge in water – something our ranger hadn’t witnessed in 25 years. Then to Anchorage and a dramatic drive to Whittier, where we embarked on the 22 Glacier Cruise. 36 hours aboard the Alaska Ferry took us to the capital Juneau for helicopter flights over the glaciers. Another ferry to the old gold-mining town of Skagway for an evening of old time gambling and then we enjoyed the incredible Ukon & Whitehorse Pass Railway, which climbs 3,000ft in 20miles.
DESCRIBE THE WORST GROUP TRIP YOU’VE BEEN ON AND WHY?
When I was invited as a guest to Bristol Glass & Enchanted Evening at Westonbirt. Our coach arrived late and took ages doing way-out pick ups. We had to waste time in Bristol, when we eventually got to Westonbirt the driver only gave us an hour to explore. My host crashed her mobility scooter, broke her shoulder badly and I ended up with her at our local hospital waiting nearly four hours to see a doctor.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE UK DESTINATION FOR A GROUP DAY OUT?
Exmouth for a river cruise, where we saw lots of wildlife in the estuary. We had some free time to explore this delightful town, the weather was sunny and there was even a band to entertain us in the park. We had a private visit on the Seaton Trams and those who wanted were allowed to drive the trams. It was a really lovely day out.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD GROUP EXPERIENCE?
Planning is the most important thing. I always check with the coach driver how long they want to get to a destination and make sure the route is suitable. It is important to make everybody feel welcome and to check that people travelling for the first time have all the information they need. Before every outing, we phone everybody to confirm their pick-up time and place.
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS PACK?
I always carry my mobile (fully charged) and a small first-aid kit. If I’m going abroad I take myiPadandacopyofmy passport. For all overnight stays we carry the details of what medication everybody is taking, as it is helpful to be able to give the information to an ambulance/doctor in an emergency. I have invested in some good, lightweight travel clothing, cargo trousers and a waterproof jacket. Deep pockets are very useful to store various bits and bobs on an aircraft.
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS LEAVE OUT?
Comfort is top of my agenda for travelling, with one pair of shoes for the evening and perhaps a pair of walking sandals in warmer weather. I pack evening clothes to match, a selection of tops with some black trousers will provide different outfits.
WHAT WERE YOUR MOST RECENT GROUP TRIPS?
In September, I took 42 National Trust Members to the Alsace for a week to visit the European Parliament and some of the delightful towns and villages on the Wine Trail. We also spent two nights in London, where we went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, were wowed by The View From The Shard, visited Buckingham Palace and enjoyed a magnificent Beethoven Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. In October, a group of 45 enjoyed five nights at the lovely Sefton Hotel in the Isle of Man – travelling on the many vintage railways on the island and exploring several interesting heritage sites.