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Spec-TAP-ular Arkansas

Every tour is a special event for the passengers involved, who have dedicated significant amounts of time and money to participating. But some trips are so entertaining, innovative and one-of-a-kind that they’re not just special — they’re SpecTAPular.

Since 2012, Travel Alliances Partners (TAP) has collaborated with destinations around the country to produce annual tour events that combine the best elements of travel, entertainment and hospitality. Known as SpecTAPular, these events attract dozens of groups and hundreds of travelers from around the country, and have been widely recognized through the tourism industry for their innovation.

The organization’s most recent SpecTAPular took place on Mackinac Island, Michigan, in September and brought more than 200 travelers to the luxurious Grand Hotel for three days of relaxation and “Great Gatsby”-themed revelry.

“It was a really great, fun event that everyone enjoyed,” said Nick Calderazzo, president of the TAP partner Twin Travel Concepts and chair of the group’s SpecTAPular committee. “The hotel’s service was amazing. Each of these SpecTAPular events is different. This was an expensive one because it was so upscale.”

TAP executive director Stefanie Gorder was impressed at the sense of unity among the groups that traveled from all across the country to participate in the event.

“It was the first time in 31 years that I’ve watched multiple groups blend as one,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. This SpecTAPular had a different feeling. It was a small group captivated by Mackinac Island, and it was first class. I would say that 80 percent of our participants were in costumes each night.”

Next Up: Arkansas

In 2016, the series will continue with A SpecTAPular Time in Arkansas, which will take place September 23-26 in Little Rock and Hot Springs. Calderazzo is partnering with David Burns, managing director of TAP partner All American Tours, to put together an event that will showcase the unique histories and elegance of these Arkansas cities.

“We looked at Arkansas because it’s something different that people may not know much about,” Burns said. “I went down there a few years ago on a site inspection tour and was really blown away.”

The festivities will kick off with a gala dinner at Marlsgate Plantation, an antebellum mansion just outside Little Rock. It will feature fine food and a signature cocktail concocted by Jefferson Davis, and guests will be greeted by a local who grew up in the mansion.

The next day, groups will visit Hot Springs, a nearby city known for its historic bathhouses, urban national park and history as a vacation destination for notorious gangsters.

“Everyone will have a little bingo card, and they can go to the different attractions around town and get them checked off,” Burns said. “You can go visit the Gangster Museum of America or have massages or baths at one of the many bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.

“That evening will be presented at the historic Arlington Hotel, where we’ll have a 1920s speakeasy. There will be dinner, gaming tables, cancan dancers and a magician, as well as a band for dancing.”

Hop on Little Rock

The following day, participants will return to Little Rock, where organizers have arranged for an innovative system of hop-on/hop-off trolleys that will shuttle guests between area hotels and attractions. Travelers can visit sites such as the Clinton Presidential Library, the Heifer International headquarters, the River Market District and the national historic site at Central High School, all at their own leisure, with transportation and attraction admissions prepaid.

That evening the program concludes with a glitzy Southern barbecue at a privately owned Little Rock castle.

“We’ve rented it for the night, and we’ll have two giant tents in the courtyard with a dance floor and stage between the two,” Burns said. “We have a band called the Groan Ups that plays music from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. We’ll also have C.J. Newsom, the star of the ‘Patsy Cline Remembered’ show in Branson.”

Though the official SpecTAPular program ends that night, pretour and post-tour extensions are available to take groups to Fort Smith, Bentonville and Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas or to spend two days in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We’re getting the most amazing help in Arkansas,” Calderazzo said. “The tourism industry there has worked alongside us to help us create and promote this. They’re fantastic, and I don’t think we could have done this without their help.”

Though it’s too early to say for sure what’s on tap for 2017, Calderazzo said that the SpecTAPular committee is actively evaluating new event possibilities for coming years and that they “have a lot of good ideas in the works.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.