This article was originally published on December 7, 2010
Lots of laughs are always on the itinerary for Grand Circle’s own “Ya Ya” sisterhood
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to share a Grand Circle river ship with these lovely ladies, chances are you remember them well. They call themselves the “Ya Yas”—and longtime friends Marilyn Hardwick—a 6-time traveler from Medford Lakes, New Jersey; Sharon Nuss—a 4-time traveler from Midlothian, Virginia; and Joan McDonough—a 5-time traveler from Camarillo, California, know a thing or two about having a good time. Together, they’ve referred 13 new travelers to Grand Circle, and gathered a group to join them on their Cruising Burgundy & Provence to the Cote d’Azur River CruiseTour in November of 2009. After speaking with the Ya Yas, we have some friendly advice: If these women ever ask you to travel with them, do it without hesitation. You’ll have the time of your life.
Joan McDonough on the Ya Yas’ first Holiday River Cruise along the Danube.
Lest you assume (as we did) that the Ya Yas got their name from Rebecca Wells’ best-selling novel, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the ladies are quick to set the record straight. The name, appropriately enough, came about during their travels. “Eight years ago, we went with another travel company to Greece,” says Marilyn. “In Greek, ‘ya ya’ is a greeting.” In addition to giving their group a catchy moniker, that vacation was significant for another reason: “We loved Greece, but we were so unhappy with the trip,” says Sharon. “We couldn’t understand the guides, we couldn’t get into ports, and when we did, it was dark and everything was closed. While we were on the ship complaining with the other passengers, everyone said, ‘go with Grand Circle.’ We haven’t traveled with anyone else since.”
Their first Grand Circle River Cruise was Christmas Markets along the Danube. “My friends had taken it and they raved about it,” says Marilyn. Since then, the three have traveled together on Old World Prague & the Blue Danube, in addition to separate trips with other friends and family members. Marilyn even brought her husband, Richard, along on Christmas Markets along the Rhine—a rare treat for him, because the Ya Yas are a girls’ club. “We don’t need men to carry our suitcases because you guys do such a great job,” Marilyn jokes. “And if you don’t bring your husband along, you can take twice as many trips,” Sharon chimes in.
Marilyn (on left) and Joan enjoy shopping on their Christmas Markets along the Danube River Cruise.
In seriousness, though, the Ya Yas believe there’s something special about traveling with women. “There’s a real sisterhood there,” says Joan. “Many of us are moms, we’ve been moms, and now we’re taking care of ourselves. We work hard and we deserve to treat ourselves well.” Sharon agrees. “You go on the trip with a different mindset; it’s a different experience,” she says. “You don’t have to be joined at the hip. If you want to stay on the ship and read or nap, you can do that.”
Not that the Ya Yas spend too much time reading or napping—and it’s the ease of exploration that keeps them coming back to Grand Circle. “We love being on the riverfront,” says Joan. “Every major town is right on the river.” This makes it easy for the Ya Yas to exercise their formidable shopping skills. “We shop till we drop,” says Sharon, “either independently or as a group.” And, most importantly, they feel safe while they’re doing so. “We feel very secure with Grand Circle,” says Joan. “Even when we’re walking around different places at night, we run into the crew, the Program Directors, and people we know everywhere. You start to become a family.”
From left: Marilyn, Joan, Jeanie, Vicki, and Sharon in Vienna during their Old World Prague & the Blue Danube River Cruise.
As with most happy families, mealtimes equal quality time for the Ya Yas. “Having the dining room to look forward to—a place to discuss your day—is so pleasant,” says Sharon. “Not everyone does the same thing each day, or has the same experience.” Joan agrees, and adds that, “the entire staff is just a joy, and we get to meet the other guests.” When it comes to breaking the ice, they have a secret weapon: “Laughter,” says Marilyn. “We start laughing and then people are fighting for seats at our table. We attract other people who have a great sense of humor.”
The Ya Yas are equally popular in the shipboard lounge, where they often hold impromptu “shopping reviews” with other women. “People lay in wait to see what we bought,” says Marilyn. And if someone covets a certain purchase? “We say, ‘Come on! We’re going down the street and we’ll find it.’ And we do!”
The Ya Yas cite this family atmosphere as being particularly appealing to women—especially those traveling alone. “It’s very comforting,” says Sharon. “I also like the fact that I don’t come home feeling like I’ve just run a marathon. I come home feeling relaxed.” When we ask them if they have any advice for women who might be considering traveling solo, their response is enthusiastic: “Just do it. And do it with Grand Circle.”
Of course, if the Ya Yas had their way, they’d take every woman traveler under their wings. “You really want to know us,” says Joan. “Know us, and you’ll know the world—because we’re out there, and we’ll take you with us.”
We’re seriously considering taking her up on that.
Do you travel with your girlfriends? Tell me about your favorite experiences with them by emailing me at email@example.com.
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