Though they were a bit before my time, I respect what the Beatles brought to the music arena and have always enjoyed their music to some extent but knew very little about their road to success. I well remember when John Lennon was killed, less than a week after my 16th birthday, but never considered myself to be a huge Beatles fan. When a friend asked me to accompany her on a Beatles Tour to England, I figured, “Why not? I’ll see a bit of England and it’ll probably be cool.” The tour itself had good reviews, so that counted for something in my book. A travel-savvy friend tried to talk me out of spending the money on the tour, telling me we could probably find these places on our own. I was inclined to agree, but friend #1 was more comfortable with the safety and ease of a tour, so we booked.
[It is important to note that I had no desire to make friends on this tour. These were people we would tolerate for eight days and never see again. My friend neither agreed nor disagreed. This should have been my first clue about the cliques that happen within Beatles fans.]
When we arrived at the Liverpool Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel, I immediately got in the Beatles spirit. It’s hard not to, with wide circular staircases tastefully lined with oversized Beatles photography, Beatles music playing subtly in the public areas, and interesting Beatles tidbits framed around the hotel. It is a lovely 4-star boutique hotel (included in tour package) located near “Liverpool One Shopping Centre” which, even for this non-shopper, is not to be missed. The dining room where we enjoyed a full British breakfast has a full wall of photographs of people from the Sgt. Pepper album cover. We chose to fly in a day early since the flight from the west coast takes all day just to get to the east coast. This extra day gave us time to explore before meeting the group, and begin adjusting to the 8-hour time difference from the West Coast. We visited the Walker Art Gallery, ate fish & chips, and pinched each other to make sure the trip was really finally happening!
The next afternoon we met up with the group. The same group I was not going to be friends with. At dinner, everybody slowly began to unwind and we saw glimpses of who made up our group: R&C #1 were celebrating their 30th anniversary with this long-awaited dream trip and ended the trip with time in Paris; R&C #2 were making R’s Beatles dreams come true in this pilgrimage tour; F&B, both avid Beatles fans, extended their time to include Amsterdam and Paris; B was a retired single woman and a long-time Beatles fan; P was the youngest in the core group and perhaps one of the most knowledgeable about Beatles trivia, as well as a guy with a terrific sense of humor; my friend, M, who was the only one to have seen the Beatles live in concert; and me…the lady along for the ride. 🙂 The next day our group grew by two, M&J, a mother and her teenage daughter. Our American Beatletour.com guide, Tony, was with us every step of the way, holding our hands and walking us through each day of the tour with clear instructions and explanations. We had been emailing Tony for months and he had patiently (bless him!) and promptly answered our countless questions, as he knows the areas well, having arranged this tour for 20 years. Tony made every effort to ensure that each participant’s time was special, having a keen sense for what each person was looking for on the trip. The attention given to detail allowed the rest of us to simply sit back and enjoy the experience. You are taken care of from the moment you arrive at your Liverpool hotel, and the tour even arranged and paid for private car service to the London airport for departure flights. When planning and logistics are handled by someone else, I learned that a vacation turns into a lot more fun!
Tour highlights included: the Cavern Club, Casbah Coffee Club, inside tours of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes (seriously – I PLAYED THE PIANO inside Paul McCartney’s living room!!!), Albert Dock, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, St. Peter’s Church (ON John Lennon’s birthday, while we had tea and birthday cake with original members of The Quarrymen!!!), The Beatle Experience, an ale trail of the Beatles’ old pubs, and meals at local pubs. [Here’s the catch: several of the meals were included in the tour price! Now that was a pleasant surprise!] On our last night in Liverpool, the show “Let it Be” was in town. It was a wonderful show and about half the group lingered in the hotel bar enjoying hot tea after the show.
I was still not going to be friends with these people, but I’ll stay out late with them, talking and drinking tea.
After three and a half tour days in Liverpool, we rode the high speed train to London (included in tour) and enjoyed comfortable coach tours to Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, Chiswick Gardens, an afternoon trip to Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market, visited notorious Beatles sites and recreated the Hard Day’s Night music video, and, of course, crossed Abbey Road as many times as it took to get that perfect photo. We rode the tube in London, saw Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, shopping trip at Harrod’s, saw the Magna Carta and other historic documents at the British Library, and had Tony Bramwell join us for several days to tell stories about his time as a manager and friend of the Beatles. His memory is remarkable and his stories will not be forgotten. He is gracious and patient with the questions that he must get over and over (and over). He also has some serious autograph skills.
The England-based guides (Jackie Spencer, among others) are locals who know their cities and their Beatles information, as well as information about other British influences. It is apparent that everyone working on these tours is there because they are passionate about what they do. The tour itself was remarkable. It was designed so that groups are small and intimate. We got to know each other and that was half the fun.
I know, I know. I was not going to become friends with “these people” but most of us went on to become social media friends, sharing photos, laughs, and memories of our time together in England. I will not forget this trip, or my new friends.
If you are interested in taking a Beatles Pilgrimage Tour, please contact me for more information or download the brochure. I cannot recommend it enough and would love to put you in touch with the right people. It was probably one of the most fun trips I have ever taken and I am already anxious to go back!