by Gene Marrano
Sure, Ernie Dale can take you to Hawaii and the Caribbean with a packaged tour – but he can also transport folks to Hillbilly Hideaway, an Elvis Presley tribute show and a baseball game in Baltimore. A full time employee for the Veteran’s Administration and a part time event staffer at the Roanoke Civic Center, Dale also operates his own business, Roanoke Tours Inc., putting together a wide array of tour packages, mostly on weekends.
Dale’s trips are hosted online and offered by Botetourt County Parks and Recreation, which also takes the registrations for each trip. He organized his first one about 16 years ago for a local radio station; “That’s how it started out,” he said. Now Dale sends an e-mail blast to people on his extensive mailing list, advertising trips mostly along the east coast, from New York to Georgia.
Dale goes on all the trips, which have included jaunts to Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, St. John’s in the Caribbean and Hawaii. Locally Dale offers fall train trips to check out the foliage (including the James River Rambler, a three hour-plus train ride) and dinner theater excursions to Wytheville’s Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre and the Barter Theatre in Abingdon—to see Elvis impersonators.
Train trips originate from Clifton Forge and Lynchburg after a bus ride from Roanoke. One trip to Bristol Motor Speedway offers a guided bus trip around the banked oval half-mile track. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville and the National Apple Festival in Hershey, PA are among the upcoming adventures offered.
“Finding different places [that are] enlightening to people,” is part of Dale’s motivation. There are even “mystery trips,” where those who sign up have no idea where they are headed for the weekend; instead they rely on his good judgment and track record. “It’s a lot of work,” admits Dale, who organizes all aspects of each trip, including transportation, lodging and the attractions offered. Most of Dale’s trips have been done before, “but once in a while we’ll throw in a new one.”
The first time people visit Manhattan is always a thrill, with Chinatown, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty usually on the schedule. He arranges five trips a year to New York, priced at $389 per person. Many of those who take his trips are retirees but Dale said he has people from all different age groups, including those with children in tow.
The range of trips offered by Dale is so varied it is almost hard to comprehend, from evangelist Joel Osteen in Raleigh to dinner theater in Ferrum, from Paula Dean’s restaurant in Savannah to a Christmas with Elvis in Burlington, North Carolina. Elvis trips seem to be a staple and are apparently popular with his weekend warriors. “I like to try and find new places,” said Dale as to why he does it, “[and] most of the people are nice.”
For more information contact Ernie Dale, Roanoke Tours, Inc., 3531 Peters Creek Road, # 507, Roanoke; call 366-2888 or email [email protected]