Canadian agents blaze trails on Brand USA MegaFam

Canadian travel advisors on a Brand USA MegaFam trip through the states of Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky have been getting their tourism kicks on Route 66 this week, reports Travel Press Today’s western editor, Ted Davis, who joined the group on the trip.

In some cases, they have been doing so from an elevated perspective. Chicago IL is one of the best places on earth to gain a lot of architectural altitude, and it is also Mile 0 for Route 66 — the so-called Mother Road.

That was also the starting point for the Brand USA MegaFam dubbed “Route 66 Landmarks and Bourbon.” It is one of six trips that has sent a total of about 60 Canadian travel agents through the USA on different itineraries.

This marks the first time that Brand USA has organized and sponsored such an extensive fam program for the Canadian travel trade. It has been done in cooperation with Air Canada and United Airlines.

On this particular fam journey, seven advisors landed in Chicago from Toronto onboard an Air Canada flight in the morning and immediately started their explorations of the Windy City. They did so on a tour of the Chicago River, which bisects the city’s striking skyline, onboard an architecture river tour by the Shoreline Sightseeing Company. With informed commentary as they proceeded, the history of Chicago’s impressive skyline was revealed from a waterline perspective.


The opposite point of view was provided by a rapid rise to the 360 Chicago Observation Deck at the top of the John Hancock Center. The spectacular 360-degree views of the Chicago cityscape were enhanced by the option to get  up-close with a set of windows on side of the building that tilt forward for a view of the streets some 304 metres below. The TILT experience is not for the faint of heart but worth the thrill according to advisors on the trip.

The same kind of assessment was relevant to a virtual flying adventure called FlyOver Chicago. This brand-new attraction, located near the shores of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier, offers a virtual airborne tour of the city that delivers steep dives followed by swooping recoveries. Highly recommended for thrill seekers who also want to see the city from a perspective unlike any other.

In between these adventures, the advisors were sustained by the discovery of some of Chicago’s signature dishes, on the Iconic Foods Tour by Chicago Food Tours. They first chomped on the Chicago-invented deep dish pizza, followed by Italian beef sandwiches, then Chicago’s own unique hot dogs — all at different well-known eateries.  Deserts of a specialty popcorn and original-recipe brownies followed. Yum!

Another literal high point of this Brand USA journey was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a famous symbol of the city that positions St. Louis at the “gateway to the West.” The elegant, stainless steel arch gleams silver in the sun, standing nearly 200 metres in height. It is regarded as the tallest arch on the planet.

And it was designed with an internal transportation system that lifts visitors to the top of the arch, within the structure, using small capsules. Each capsule holds five people in close proximity and is hauled to the top of the arch by a chain drive. Originally conceived and constructed in the mid-1960s, the Gateway Arch has been named a US National Monument and also houses a much newer museum on its ground floor that describes the history of St. Louis.


In between these cloud scrapping highlights in Chicago and St. Louis were some Route 66 landmarks in small cities such as Joliet and Pontiac. For example, Joliet is home to the Joliet Area Historical Museum, which chronicles the first 100 miles (160 km.) of the Mother Road running south from the Windy City.

Its main gallery showcases a recreation of the building of the I&M Canal, a one-time vital artery of commerce for the region, plus other historical scenes and exhibits that are more relevant to Route 66. There is even a tribute to the Blues Brothers movie, which had shooting locations in the area.

Meanwhile, the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac features thousands of artifacts and memorabilia, including the converted school bus used by Route 66 artist and icon Bob Waldmire.

But a trip further back in history awaited in Springfield, IL, which is the location of the excellent Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. It has a comprehensive series of galleries and artifact exhibits that set the stage for describing the life of this Civil War-era president. But the museum is much more than a collection of memorabilia.

It sets out to describe Lincoln as a visionary who fought through adversity to achieve his goal of binding the nation as the United States, even as powerful forces were trying to split the nation into north and south entities. These descriptions are particularly effective in the two theatres, where sophisticated illusion technology is used to dramatic effect.

Travel advisors on the trip agreed that a visit to the Lincoln museum was a valuable use of their time as they continued east away from Route 66, and toward their next stop in Louisville, Kentucky, where encounters with horse racing, baseball and bourbon awaited.