Dennis Kerr, Band Director/Audio Video Director, Instrumental Music 5-12, at Conway Springs School District in Conway Springs, Kansas, recently traveled to Orlando with the Conway Springs High School Band & Choir. While it was Kerr’s sixth time visiting the destination, it was his fifth time working with ETI to bring his student group tour together.
“On this trip, we spent six days in the Universal Orlando resorts, staying at the Dockside Inn and using Universal Orlando transportation and our park passes to experience Volcano Bay, Islands of Adventure and of course Universal Studios,” said Kerr, who traveled with 40 students ages 14 to 18 and nine adult sponsors.
The student group also spent time at Sea World, with an evening dinner and show at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament and Melbourne Beach. They also had a few hours to experience Disney Springs Shopping & Dining district.
“All of this was preceded by our first day concerts on the Center Stage of City Walk at Universal Orlando,” Kerr explained, noting that a trip highlight was his students’ first live performance since the pandemic began. “Our trip was originally scheduled for the spring of 2020 but was postponed due to the shutdown of most everything in March of that year. We kept rescheduling and pushing the travel date forward as changes were made and restrictions changed. Entering into 2021, we decided to press forward with our travel plans and were able to take a safe trip with no issues by following all recommendations by ETI, and the parks and vendors that we were using.”
By the time Kerr’s students played on the stage at Universal Studios City Walk, it had been over a year since they had performed for a large public audience.
“It was very emotional,” said Kerr, who has been teaching Music Education for 40 years and believes student travel offers different lessons for everyone involved. “Some come away learning that travel is a lot of fun. Others might simply have learned that sunscreen is a must in Florida (even though they were warned, they had to learn for themselves.) I think the one thing that we all took away from this trip was that music is universal and that everyone else had missed watching live performances as much as we had missed performing.”
Kerr is passionate about student travel and believes it’s essential to bring students to experience sights in person they may have only seen on TV or online.
“I have taken students to New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Kansas City, Orlando, Dallas and Europe. Each time, it’s such an amazing, eye-opening experience for the kids, and for me as well,” Kerr said. “When you see a student experience flying on an airplane for the first time, viewing the crown jewels in London, visiting Graceland & Beale Street, riding the newest and greatest most technically advanced roller coaster, or just meeting Mickey Mouse, your heart grows for the experience that student has just received.”
Kerr explained that ETI is like family to himself and his wife, and recalled a time in 2004 when his family lost everything due to a devastating tornado.
“ETI came together and gave us a donation to help us get back on our feet,” Kerr said. “They didn’t have to do that. They did it out of the kindness of their hearts. At that time, I had only traveled with them once. I knew then that ETI would be the only travel company I would use until I retired from teaching. Since that time, my wife and I have gotten to know the owner and employees of ETI and enjoy the opportunity to visit with them as friends outside of the business.”
When COVID-19 struck, Kerr was confident in the insight ETI provided him, knowing that if it wasn’t safe to travel, ETI wouldn’t have advised he and his students to do so. Eventually, when the time was right, they were back on track.
“We were excited to be the first group to start traveling with ETI after the shutdown and through wonderful research and planning, they put together a fabulous trip for the students of Conway Springs,” he said. “I felt included in every step in the planning and execution of trip through the help of their wonderful staff.”
Kerr, a self-professed control freak when it comes to planning, emphasized how easy ETI makes it to plan a trip.
“When I first started working with ETI, I had a certain list of things that I wanted to do,” he said. “I learned quickly that all I needed to do was give them my list and they would go to work on it. Each time they sent me an itinerary to go over, I would call with questions and it would all be fixed or adjusted. That was the first great hurdle for me and I was satisfied that they had as much concern for the students’ trip as I did.”
Kerr’s next concern was related to financials, something he says ETI made a breeze.
“We were able to customize our trip to fit our budget and when it came time for payments to be due, ETI worked with us. Sometimes our fundraisers didn’t line up with the due dates and they would allow me to adjust due dates for payments as we got money deposited.”
ETI also took the time to schedule a familiarization trip for Kerr to visit so he could see the hotels, performance sights and experience the Disney and Universal atmosphere like the students would—an extra step that made Kerr feel even more comfortable about his trip.
“Every trip has a host that is assigned to your school for the entire stay,” he explained. “They will meet you at the airport, arrange for the buses to pick you up at the correct times, take care of double-checking reservation times, have all tickets for parks, meals etc. taken care of, and talk with your sponsors to help organize every detail with you. They even make sure that the night time security staff assigned to your group is in the right place and meets with you before the kids are even in their rooms. This night time security is worth it! I have a great sleepwalking student story thanks to them!”
“I’ve traveled with several other companies over the years and with all honesty I can say that the last 20 years, traveling with ETI allowed me and my students to have the total package to experience the trip, in the manner we chose, and helped us to make sure that our experience is the best possible,” Kerr said. “They want you to have the trip of a lifetime and won’t promise anything that they can’t deliver.”
For Kerr, it’s the little things about student travel that make it worth it.
“The performance is important, but the lifelong experiences mean even more.”
Courtesy of ETI.