Herb Reisenfeld - checking inn

During my many years in travel, I have had the good fortune to plan and conduct trips with well-known celebrities who have been special guests. There have been thrilling adventures, laughable experiences and touching moments; but, one of these trips in particular stands out as a “trip of a lifetime.” 

It was a tour to England with Nick and Nina Clooney, and Rosemary Clooney Dante DiPaolo. This journey not only included sailing on the Queen Elizabeth II on a five-day voyage to London; staying at the exquisite London Ritz Carlton Hotel; a day trip on the Orient Express train with high tea; and, a show at the London Palladium; but also a return flight back to New York on the Concorde. All this, with a group of 46.

Nick and Nina Clooney have not only been dear friends but very popular hosts on many of my trips to Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and Europe. 

Upon my request, Nick asked his sister Rosemary if she would be interested in joining us on this trip. Much to our delight, she accepted. So, in 1989, we embarked on an amazing journey to England: Nick and Nina, along with Rosemary and her future husband Dante, a well-known dancer/actor with film credits from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” to “Sweet Charity.”

Our group left Cincinnati for New York City and began our journey with lunch at the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant. We then transferred to the Hudson River pier to board the elegant QE II, the then flagship of the Cunard passenger line, for a five-day transatlantic cruise to Southampton, England. To the delight of all the ship’s passengers during the ocean crossing, Rosemary Clooney put on two fabulous performances accompanied by the ship’s orchestra. At each of the performances, she revealed that she was with a group from Cincinnati. She went on to mention that I had not only arranged this trip for our group, but that I was the son-in-law of Barney Rapp, the band leader and agent that started both Rosemary and her sister Betty on their professional singing careers, as well as Doris Day.

It was beyond thrilling to sit at dinner each evening with Nick, Nina, Rosemary and Dante and listen to the many stories they recounted.

Rosemary recollected her purchase of George Gershwin’s home in Beverly Hills. One day, George’s brother, Ira, who happened to live next door, stopped over to visit Rosemary and noticed that her piano was located in the same spot where his brother George would compose on his piano. Ira told her that at one instance he came into the house to find George composing a song about a dreary day in London. He was struggling to come up with a title. Sitting together at the piano, the brother duo finally came up with one – “A Foggy Day in London Town.”

Rosemary also told us of the wonderful Christmas parties she hosted at her home. Her dear friend, Bing Crosby, would sit facing the fireplace, pipe in his mouth. Inevitably, he would be asked to sing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” and without taking his pipe out of his mouth, he would break into his famous rendition of the Irving Berlin’s seasonal anthem.

On our arrival in London we checked into the luxurious Ritz Carlton for several nights, did the usual touring, saw a production of “Singing in the Rain,” at the London Palladium, journeyed by motor coach to Folkston and then took the Orient Express train back to Victoria Station, enjoying high tea with scones and clotted cream and jam on the way back.

The cherry on top of the trip was our flight home. Our group flew back to New York on the Concorde in about three hours. First we were treated to a sumptuous buffet with an open bar in the lounge at Heathrow Airport. Upon entering the plane, it was surprising to realize just how small the cabin was, as the plane only held 100 passengers. After taking off and finally flying over the ocean, the pilot turned on the after burners and the aircraft reached its maximum speed, pulsing us back in our seats. Looking out the window at 60,000 feet, we could actually see the curvature of the earth. And amazingly, three hours later we landed in New York!

What an unforgettable trip and all the Clooney’s were delightful hosts. We later did another trip with all four of them on the Mississippi Queen, sailing from New Orleans. Rosemary once again performed for the passengers in the show lounge and everyone enjoyed being with these down-home Kentucky folks. That trip along the Mississippi River was just as wonderful; but, it is hard to top the amazing convergence of exciting transportation and unforgettable entertainment on the England trip. I often get asked about some of my most memorable journeys and without a doubt, this one certainly falls near the top of the list.

If you have any travel questions for Herb Reisenfeld, The American Israelite’s travel columnist, please send them to travel@americanisraelite.com

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