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Aaron Orkisz, Director of Bands and Choir at Goodrich High School in Goodrich, Michigan, is a strong supporter of student travel, especially with performing ensembles. Over the last nearly 20 years, Orkisz’s groups have traveled using ETI, with trips including everything from annual trip performances at Walt Disney World Resort and at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to a biannual “Up North” performance trip to Traverse City and Mackinac Island, Michigan.
In addition, the performing arts department at Orkisz’s school has done three career tech and education trips to New York City to give their students a front row seat to the top performing artists in the country.
“Every four years, I take my band and choir students to perform at Walt Disney World,” said Orkisz, who organized this trip for the first time 18 years ago. “For our first trip, we did not use any travel company. I had some over-ambitious music boosters that were excited for the challenge to organize and run the trip. As a first time Disney Trip Director, I was not aware of all the work that would be going into this trip.”
The logistics, Orkisz recalled, were mind boggling.
“I remember many meetings with our core parent group and many phone calls with Disney World to learn how everything worked. I was very appreciative of the patience Disney showed us over the course of our trip planning,” Orkisz said. “The students and families had a fun and educational trip to Disney but by the end of the trip, I was not willing to go through the same process again. Performance trips are busy enough when just focusing on the performance. Adding the additional logistics of the trip to my responsibilities took a lot away from the time I was able to enjoy and share with my students.”
From their next trip on, Orkisz has worked with ETI and no longer feels stressed out or worried about the trip’s itinerary.
“I know that everything planned has been organized and guaranteed by ETI,” Orkisz said. “The trip runs itself and with the trip Tour Director (supplied by ETI), I only have to worry about my ensemble's performance. Any issues that come up, our onsite tour director is there to take care of it. From the ETI representative that meets your group, to the local Tour Director that makes sure your trip runs smoothly, ETI covers all the bases for me and my group.”
Orkisz has learned over the years that posing trip idea questions to ETI’s travel consultants leads to some great trip performances/experiences for his group.
“A trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been a great day trip for the students in our middle school band program,” said Orkisz, noting the trip started as a great idea from an ETI travel consultant. “It’s amazing the amount of trip information and ideas ETI has for your group. I knew the Rock Hall was in Cleveland, but I was not aware that groups could perform there.”
Orkisz’s travel consultant also suggested a clinic at one of the Universities around Cleveland, making the trip one Orkisz considers a great introduction for his middle school students to get used to group travel and performances.
“We arrive in Cleveland for a morning clinic with the director of bands from either Baldwin Wallace or Case Western Reserve,” Orkisz explained. “After, we head to a group lunch and then travel to the Hall of Fame. This is a great venue, and the students enjoy walking through all of the exhibits after we are done. The afternoon finishes with dinner at Dave and Busters and the students have a great meal and plenty of time to play in the video arcade.”
Orkisz’s most popular trip is his biannual “Up North” performance trip to Traverse City, Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, Michigan. Here, his students enjoy a stay at Great Wolf Lodge, watching a sunset at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook, two performances in Mackinaw City and a full day on Mackinac Island.
“I’m always surprised by the number of my students that have not had the opportunity to enjoy the northern part of our beautiful home state,” Orkisz said. “This trip has become an introduction to the many awesome experiences we have available as Michiganders. As a Michigan-based travel company, ETI understands this and always makes great suggestions for updating and improving this trip for us.
“A couple of years ago, we added the experience of zip lining for the students. Had it not been for ETI, I would have never known of that option being available for our group. They are constantly updating me with new group travel ideas and working to improve the quality of my next group trip.”
After all these years traveling with students, Orkisz has learned a number of lessons:
“Fly to Disney World! I have bussed and flown to Disney World from Michigan. If you take a bus to Disney World, you lose two days of your trip on a bus,” Orkisz said. “Also, it takes at least a day to get back to 100% from sitting on a bus for the trip. The extra cost you spend on flights is well worth it!”
He also suggests joining another school or group for your next trip.
“This can be tricky if your school board does not like the idea, but it can save a lot of money for the trip participants,” Orkisz said, noting that many smaller programs are limited with their travel options due to numbers. “By joining with another group, booking and transportation costs could be substantially lower. Also, speaking from experience, ETI can separate the groups so that each group has their own busses and blocks of rooms for the entire trip.”
He also suggests encouraging students to be intentional with their packing to minimize the amount of luggage brought on the trip, in addition to digitizing everything before your trip. This includes health and parent contact forms; performance music; important event documents; copies of passports (if applicable); and more.
Lastly, Orkisz reminds educators to have fun but to remember that they’re working.
“As the director or teacher in charge, your students’ parents are putting their faith in you to keep their kids safe and to be there to help their kid in a time of need,” he said. “Always expect to be pulled away from the line of that ride you’ve always wanted to go on or attending that Broadway show you’ve always wanted to see because one of your students is sick. As teachers on trips, we are there to make sure all of the trip participants have a great time!”
Ultimately, Orkisz knows his students will receive the best when traveling with ETI.
“ETI has been consistently excellent for the past 18 years and I have only become more impressed by their customer service and dedication to my group's travels,” he said. “I encourage all groups to reach out to ETI and create the same amazing experiences for your students!
Courtesy of ETI.
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Orkisz.