News About Universal STARS Program From American Tours & Travel

The Universal STARS Program has undergone some important changes!

A Brand New Changing Facility

The facility, which is maintained and used only by the STARS Performance Program, was completed at the end of 2011 and we couldn’t be more excited. The facility is air-conditioned, has separate male and female changing areas with bathrooms and water fountains, and will afford students the ability to change in and out of uniforms and costumes before and after performances.

Digital Photo of Your Performance

At no additional cost, each STARS Performance group will now receive a digital photo of their performance with the STARS logo on it. It is just STARS’ way of saying “Thank You” for participating in Universal Orlando’s STARS Performance Program.

 More Attention, and Ultimately, Larger Audiences

The STARS Program and its associated Performances will now be advertised through the park using digital board technology. Participating marching bands will be highlighted on the boards, letting park-goers know when and where to catch the next STARS performance.

Click here to learn more about participating in the Universal STARS program!

Happy Holidays From American Tours & Travel!

Happy Holidays to you and yours! 

Hoping you are surrounded by love and warmth this holiday season and find a little time to relax and reflect with family, friends and loved ones!

Wishing you health and happiness in 2012–

American Tours & Travel

All American Music Festival

Welcome Yokohama Soei Junior Senior High from Tokyo!

We are excited to welcome a group of students from Yokohama Soei Junior Senior High School, located in Tokyo, Japan!

 The students are coming to Orlando to visit Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, where they will participate in marching and wind instrument performances at the parks.

Click on the video to see the group in action!

The students, along with their Marching Band Director, Fiji Shigaki, will arrive in Orlando on December 23rd and will be in town for the holidays. We look forward to showing them all that Orlando has to offer, from attractions and restaurants to theme parks and entertainment! It will be a wonderful time and we will have photos to share soon.

Image via.

Seasons Greetings!

Although the weather in Florida is still balmy and warm, it’s never too early to begin thinking about student holiday travel. There are dozens of exciting holiday-themed events and attractions around the country that are perfect for your student band, choir, church, or youth group, but we wanted to share a few of the best with you:

Seeing Snow in Florida

In the town of Celebration, enjoy the nightly “snow” flurries starting at 6pm while sipping hot chocolate, listening to Christmas carols and hitting the ice skating rink for a little friendly competition! A truly magical way to get into the holiday spirit!

A Disney Christmas

Walt Disney World in Orlando is known for its incredible holiday events during the months of November and December. The top events include Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom as well as numerous nights of entertainment at Downtown Disney.

Other off-site events include Fort Wilderness Sleigh Rides, Religious Services, a New Year’s Eve spectacular, ICE! at Gaylord Palms and SNOW! at Gaylord Palms, where students can experience the beauty of hand-carved ice sculptures in sub-zero temperatures. Each of these Orlando-based student holiday events is truly unforgettable.

Universal Studios “Grinchmas”

Stop by Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida to see Seuss Landing completely bedecked in snow and sparkle. Enjoy all your favorite Universal attractions amidst a wintry wonderland.

Macy’s Holiday Parade

For the entire of month of December, the Macy’s Holiday Parade will meander through the streets of Universal Studios. Students can enjoy shopping in the Holiday village, dining, live music and holiday entertainment.

A Southern Holiday

Spend your holiday soaking in the festivities throughout Louisville, Pigeon Forge, and Nashville! Santa, a gingerbread village, mesmerizing light shows, and the Radio City Rockettes all make appearances on this incredible getaway.

New Years Eve: The West Coast Way

Ring in the new year at the Rose Parade! Take in the sights and sounds of floral floats and musical marching bands, while also making time to visit Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and other attractions.

Christmas in Branson

The city of Branson becomes a magical fantasyland during the holiday season, and is the perfect place to become immersed in joy and the holiday spirit. Enjoy performances by the Irish Tenors, other musicians, and a Christmas play.

A Hollywood Holiday

Travel through Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco and along the California coast on this incredible, first-class trip! The trip is not complete until you board a vintage rail car and take in the California sights by train. A truly amazing opportunity!

Canadian Celebration

Spend the New Year in British Columbia, enjoying tours of Parliament, gardens, museums and castles. This trip truly captures the elegance and grandeur of New Years Eve!

New Years in Tucson

There is no better way to celebrate a new year than in the presence of 5 magical mountain ranges. For those who don’t appreciate the cold weather, escape to the Southwest and bask in the Arizona sun at the height of Winter. You’ll enjoy the Wild West like the cowboys do with a horseback riding adventure as well as tours of churches and museums.

To request additional information on any of these holiday trips, click here.

Don’t wait! Book early!

Get Ready For The 2012 All American Music Festival

Polish your woodwinds and shine your brass for Orlando’s oldest and most prestigious music festival and competition–the 2012 All-American Music Festival.

The festival will take center stage in the kingdom of fun and entertainment — Orlando, Florida—so participants can enjoy everything that the city has to offer while in town. We advise all competitors to spend a few days in the Sunshine State, enjoying the Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Resort, SeaWorld, Wet N Wild, Aquatica, The Fun Spot, Downtown Disney, Universal CityWalk and many other attractions.

This exciting musical competition is the pinnacle performance for any high school or middle school musical group. Every performance is professionally judged and prizes are awarded in multiple categories. An awards ceremony is held the evening of the competition and trophies and plaques are awarded to the students and directors for their participation.

The All-American Music Festival welcomes all musical groups, including bands, dance groups, choirs, orchestras, drill and auxiliary teams, and color guard. The festival takes place every Saturday from March 10th to June 2nd, 2012.

2012 Festival Dates:

March 10, 17, 24 & 31

April 7, 14, 21 & 28

May 5, 12,19 & 26

June 2

Travel With The Pros

By Larry Liner

I had to chuckle over the disastrous travel experiences David Hanson related in the January issue of The Instrumentalist, and I am glad he can chuckle about these mishaps. Any performance or competition is stressful for directors, even without the complexities of transporting hordes of students and equipment to another city. The night before departing on such an enterprise, most directors have flashes of doubt and probably wonder how they got into this.

In 37 years of organizing group trips I have seen or heard just about every sort of snafu there is, from sick students and unexpected expenses to stolen deposit money. I’ve known directors to show up at Walt Disney World to buy tickets for 200 expectant students only to discover that the park wouldn’t take their check. One director thought he got a great deal on a trip because he was able to cut out bus transfers from the hotel to the theme park by using the hotel’s free shuttle. On arriving there the director wished he had spent the extra two dollars when it turned out that the hotel had only two shuttle vans that ran every 30 minutes and carried only eight passengers. His band ran a little late for their performance that day.

Although school buses are not the most reliable way to travel, sometimes a group can’t afford another choice for a trip. However, I have heard stories about travel disasters that were easily avoidable regardless of the budget.

Just as a student can learn to play the piano without a teacher, the reality is that he will probably learn more with guidance from an experienced professional. The same is true with travel. The time spent competing and traveling will be more rewarding with expert help.

Before planning a trip, think through each aspect. It is difficult for a director to be a travel planner as well as an educator, mentor, coach, and cheerleader. Few directors would attempt to perform brain surgery on themselves, but many of them feel an inner sense of confidence at the prospect of planning a trip for 70 active students.

If this is the year for a band or orchestra to travel and students want to participate in Disney Magic Music Days, it may seem that fundraising is the only big hurdle. A director might conclude that planning a trip to Orlando can’t be that hard because he has been to Orlando before. Reserve the buses, buy all the tickets for the attractions, and lead the students to victory in the competition. If these thoughts cross your mind my advice is take a deep breath, smack yourself across the face, and try to snap out of it. It is possible for a director to travel with a group of students without a hitch and emerge victorious at a competition, but the odds are against it.

My advice is to contact several travel companies that are experienced in moving groups of student musicians. These companies have the best transportation value and know what hidden charges might pop up. Some bands have been denied air transportation at the last minute because they could not pay unexpected fuel surcharges or transport bulky instruments.

I believe directors should pick only licensed, bonded, and insured companies to contract for transportation and hotel rooms. This also reduces a director’s liability if something goes wrong. Find out how much insurance a company carries before making a commitment, but understand that insurance will not cover the risk of a travel company going out of business before the trip takes place. I suggest reducing this risk by dealing only with companies certified by the American Society of Travel Agents or the National Tour Association, which insure travel deposits up to $100,000 at no extra charge.

It is a fact of life that accidents happen, students get sick, and luggage gets lost. Such unplanned occurrences are less likely if an experienced travel company arranges the trip. These companies have been through the same problems many times and have learned how best to avoid or solve them. Take a little of the pressure off yourself and go with a pro.

Larry Liner is the owner of American Tours & Travel, Inc. and has been in the group travel business for over 40 years. He started the All American Music Festival for student musicians in 1985 and hosts thousands of students in Orlando each year. Liner is a strong supporter of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and has donated thousands of dollars to the cause.