Meet Our Team
Claire Nolan is a marine biologist who lives in a cabin on the edge of Puget Sound. She grew up in Seattle and was always drawn to the water and travel. Being raised in an Irish family, story-telling was a regular part of the day. Her grandfather traveled the seven seas before travel was trendy. His love of the outdoors was infectious and he spent his life inspiring her to learn about nature- with his pet alligators, tarantulas, falcons, horses, tropical fish, dogs, flying squirrels and Homing pigeons. After graduating from College, Claire worked as a scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency. This was a far cry from her vision of swimming with the dolphins and working with Jacques Cousteau. After leaving the EPA, her dreams came true as a Naturalist/Cruise Director on Cruise Ships. She worked in Tahiti, Panama, the Caribbean and Alaska until she moved back to the land and started Directing Tours in North America, South America and Europe. After traveling the world, she decided to start Great Train Escapes. 25 years later, Great Train Escapes has first class trips to all seven continents. Along the way, Claire was asked if she wanted to charter Amtrak trains for trips to Leavenworth, Washington. The train trips were so popular that it inspired her to start a second company, Great Train Escapes. Great Train Escapes resurrected high-end daylight rail travel to several destinations in North America including New England- where several of the rail lines had not had passenger rail traffic for over 35 years. She now hosts a weekly travel show, Great Train Escapes Travel Talk on AM880 KIXI Radio and has 22,000 listeners that tune in to hear fascinating interviews about destinations world-wide. Both companies have been inundated with Awards, as has she for being one of the most "Influential women in travel". Her personal life is as mysterious as her travels. She claims to live with Don Juan and her bad little dog Chewbaka. She ferociously defends her status as "Favorite Aunt" with her 6 nieces and nephews.
Doug Prior is a seasoned hospitality executive with broad experience in the hotel, leisure and cruise business. Doug's adventurous spirit has taken him around the world by sea - those adventures include working as a chef on cruise ships in Alaska, Panama, the Caribbean and South Pacific. He managed a staff of 100 at Glacier Bay Lodge and after left the cold of Alaska and worked dodging icebergs on a National Geographic cruise in Antarctica. During breaks from fishing and climbing mountains around the world, Doug retained a business degree from Washington State University. Since then, he has taken on the role of Chief Financial Officer of Great Train Escapes Tours. He has traveled to over 70 countries world-wide and counting. Doug firmly believes that to see and experience nature is a necessity of a well-lived life. He resides in a secret locale in Seattle with his life long love.
Lauren Turpen began working in the travel industry 30 years ago, first at AAA travel. In 1991 when Claire started Great Train Escapes, she joined her. In the early years Lauren was involved in just about every aspect of the company from reservations to operations to bill paying to the hiring of Tour Managers in destinations world-wide. For the past several years, though, she has focused on the management of the company and the many projects in which the company is involved. Finally after working with hoteliers and guides around the world, she has decided to shift her focus to guiding trips so she can meet all of her colleagues. Since then, she has traveled to five continents. She resides in Seattle Washington with her husband, and family consisting of 3 boys and 7 grandchildren.
Jayme Miller has worked in the travel industry for over a decade, but immediately knew she found a home when she started working for Great Train Escapes. At Great Train Escapes, she started as a Cruises Specialist, working in numerous regions around the world. As her responsibilities grew, Jayme now leads the department responsible for scheduling and managing all of our guides, Historians and Step-on-guides in cities world-wide. She is a sports fanatic and could never leave the Seattle area because of her dedication to the Seahawks. She lives in Seattle with her husband and the love of her life - her son, Brenden.
Tyson loves to tell jokes, and his lively sense of humor allows him to present his knowledge of the world in an entertaining manner. After graduating from Purdue University, Tyson worked as Program Director for the YMCA. The screaming kids drove him to the far north in Alaska where he worked as Assistant Manager of Glacier Bay Lodge and then Managed St. Mary's Lodge in Montana. His travels then brought him to the city of Haines, Alaska where he was asked to serve as the Director of Tourism for the city. Since there were so few women living in Haines, he decided to head south again and found Great Train Escapes. For over a decade, Tyson has led the Great Train Escapes. From orchestrating first class tours world-wide to working with foreign embassies- Tyson has done it all. He has traveled to over 90 countries, speaks fluent Thai and is fascinated with history, politics and architecture. Tyson believes in "living life on the edge" because "if you aren't you're taking up too much room". He resides in Seattle with his lovely wife.
Count Kody Tuwaletstiwa started tour directing with Great Train Escapes Tours in 1999 on the Leavenworth Snow Train. Since that time he has been all over the world with the company. He enjoys all aspects of the travel industry but is particularly fond of the long lasting relationships he has built with clients over the years. Many of his travel fans have nicknamed him- KODY with a "K". Some of his favorite tours are those that include Sea Cruises. Kody always says while at sea, he is as comfortable in his tuxedo as his favorite jeans. When not on tour, Count Kody, works as an Event, Party and Wedding Planner. Some of his most notable clients include Siegfried & Roy, Bob Mackie, Nobles and Royals. To, Kody, it doesn't matter if he is hosting Great Train Escapes or planning an elegant Event it is all about providing gracious personal service and he loves his job!
Louis was immersed in world travel from an early age. Growing up as the son of missionaries, he lived in remote locales all over the world. Shortly after graduation, Louis worked as a Tour Manager for Princess Cruise Lines honing his skills as wildlife expert, geologist and historian. He then came to Great Train Escapes and managed tours to over 40 countries. Growing up in India, and Korea, his background is so diverse he feels at home all over the world. He resides now in Panama with his gorgeous wife.
Diana Phelps has worked at Great Train Escapes Tours for over 8 years as our Reservations Specialist for tours, cruises and rail trips around the world. As the youngest member of our office, we like to say that she was born and raised at Great Train Escapes Tours. She is always searching for new challenges so she decided to take on 'motherhood'. Baby Dylan, is so charming and smart that we feel certain that one day he will be an Great Train Escapes Manager. Diana's life is so full of excitement that she lives by this African Proverb... Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
46 years old - Born in Heredia Costa Rica - 4 more brothers and 1 sister father and mother - My first 12 years of education in the public school system - Degree in Tourism Business Adminstration in UNCA San Jose - Graduate I Biology at UNCA San Jose - Nature lover - Volunteer activities Leader - 22 year guiding experience
Lights, Camera, Susan....Susan has such a breadth of knowledge of the Travel, Entertainment and Event industry it's hard to know where to begin. After graduating with a Business/Marketing degree from Central Washington University, Susan lit up the air stream as a popular LA Disc Jockey. She decided she needed to "rest her voice" and move back to Seattle and work in Advertising for Elgin Sieferd. From there, she Managed the Cruise Staff and Naturalists at Cruise West and most recently toured the world as the Travel Manager for the show "Saltimbanco" by Cirque Du Soliel. In her spare time, Susan is a Tour Manager for Great Train Escapes to exotic destinations around the world. Susan's interest in wine, cuisine, politics, history and culture combine to make her one of Great Train Escapes most legendary guides. A trip with Susan is sure to be fun!
Geoff was born and raised in New York City. His undergraduate degree is from Cornell University and his Masters is in teaching from the University of Washington. Geoff's love of teaching has been a life-long endeavor. He taught for 30 years in the Seattle School District. He has resided abroad for long periods of time in Scotland, Australia, Thailand, Kenya and France. He loves experiencing the world. He and his wife spend long periods of time volunteering at a school in Kenya. His travel preferences are adventure travel and the great outdoors. He started working for Great Train Escapes in 2001. His passions include Ski Instructing, hiking, diving, sailing, wine tasting and international cuisine. He resides in Seattle with his lovely wife.
Susan Griffiths is a movie star. During her career she acted as the Lead roll in Marilyn and Me, also featured in Pulp Fiction, Quantum Leap, Time Cop, Dark Skies, Cybill, Growing Pains, Thirty-Something, On Stage America and The Strip, just to name a few. She is the star guide on all of Great Train Escape trips through Hollywood. As a "Marilyn Impersonator", you will be sure to have great photo opportunities as well as see the city through "rose-colored" lenses.
Bill has written about Congress and the White House for more than 20 years. He has been a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, a columnist for Roll Call and The Hill newspapers and an editor in Washington for the London-based Economist Group. Since 2003, Bill has been a travel writer for The Washington Post Magazine. His articles have also appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic and many other publications. Recent reporting assignments have taken him to Russia, South Africa, Iran and Egypt. But it's his hometown, the Nation's Capital, Bill knows best. "Washington tells the story of the United States compressed into the history of a single city," he says. "For me, it's a privilege to experience with visitors of every age the places where that history happened - and continues to happen." Bill is the author of several books, including two about Washington: Club Fed: Power, Money, Sex and Violence on Capitol Hill (Scribners), praised by The Washington Post as "timely ...entertaining ... required reading"; and Capital Confidential (Pocket Books), which helped to inspire the Off-Broadway musical The Prez. He's been interviewed by dozens of news networks, among them CNN, PBS, Fox News, and C-SPAN. and has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and Entertainment Tonight.
Brian fancies himself the consummate champagne aficionado. He prides himself on pouring hundreds of glasses of Champagne at the same time, never spilling a drop. Charming, debonair and a fabulous dancer, cruising with Brian is always a dream. As a manager at Princess Cruise Lines, Brian has spent years sailing the seven seas. You would think after all of the endless cruise ship buffets, he would have to spend the rest of his time at Weight Watchers. That's not necessary since his hobbies include running marathons, hiking, fishing and chasing "hard-to-get women" :)
Lisa Valdez Bonnie (pictured on right)
Native New Mexican traces her ancestry to the mid-1700s. Her great great grandfather was killed in 1844 by the Piute upon his return from California on the Spanish Trail. For over a decade, Lisa has been a professional guide and lecturer for Historic Walks of Santa Fe focusing on the history, cultures, language and religion (early 16th century) of New Mexico and is chosen by Historic Walks to conduct special presentations for corporate & private groups. Lisa is a museum docent for the Palace of Governors and Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts. Fluent in Spanish (her first language), she leads tours for Spanish-speaking groups and is a member of the Old Spanish Trail Association.
As a National Guide of China for more than 20 years, Eric has seen a great deal of change in his country. As an excellent student from a rural and agricultural area of China, Eric was sponsored by the PRC to study Tourism at University. Eric's gentle manner and depth of knowledge of Chinese history and culture, make him the perfect guide for Great Train Escapes.
Sheri began tour directing with Great Train Escapes in 2007. Her experience includes extensive travel in all 50 United States including tour directing several summers in the interior of Alaska. She has traveled throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and Great Britain as well as Canada, Costa Rica and the Marshall Islands. When not traveling, she enjoys doing local tours of the Seattle area for Convention visitors. Whether it's a one day tour or 9 days in Costa Rica, she especially enjoys helping Great Train Escapes guests make the most of each tour experience.
A true native Galapagos Naturalist, guide Bolivar Sanchez is an expert in Earth science. He developed a strong interest in wildlife and the outdoors as a small boy, and has been learning as much as possible ever since. For the past 18 years he has worked as a certified naturalist and Galapagos travel guide in Galapagos National Park, sharing his knowledge of the flora and fauna with guests of his beautiful homeland. His great personality and wonderful sense of humor make him a joy to travel with. Boli's other interests include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking.
Masaai Warrior, guide in Kenya and Tanzania. I am very proud of my culture and my community. My dream is to share my love of Africa with you. After a tour with me, you will know about the wildlife, geology and customs of my country. Africa is alive with beauty and I can't wait to share all of it with my friends.
Nigel has spent the past 19 years exploring the wilds of Kenya and Tanzania, and he has lived and worked in both countries. Before he started guiding safaris in 1997, Nigel was a full time international school teacher who has taught in Africa, Britain and Asia.
He brings with him a contagious passion for Africa's wildlife, history and culture and the ability for those who wish it, a very active safari. Nigel lives in Nairobi with his wife Ruth and his daughters.
Ted provides our expert commentary on our train trips through New England. Ted is a veteran naturalist and award-winning writer, whose essays have appeared in Audubon, where he's a frequent contributor, Sports Illustrated, National Wildlife, Sierra, National Geographic Traveler, Yankee, OnEarth, Boston Globe Magazine, Newsday, Chicago Sun Times ,The Guardian, Nature Conservancy, Attache, and numerous other print publications. Mr. Levin's writing has been included in numerous anthologies including Harcourt Brace's the Best American Sports Writing 2003 and The Curious Naturalist, National Geographic Books. He is the author of three critically acclaimed books -- Backtracking: The Way of Naturalist, Blood Brook: A Naturalist's Home Ground, and Liquid Land: A Journey Through the Florida Everglades, for which he was awarded the coveted 2004 Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing.
Cheryl McDonald Boston Tour Guide
Being a tour director is a second career for me as it is for most of us. I grew up in Boston with a Mom that told us that this was where we were born and where we stay. So even though I always had wanderlust I did as I was told. I became an Insurance Executive, a soccer mom and a Cub Scout Leader. And it was all good. Then one day........I turned 50 and had my midlife crises. I decided that I wanted to do something more fun with my life. So I left insurance, cut my income substantially, convinced my family that I was insane and I have never been happier!! This is the advice I give to my student tours: Find something that you love to do, Learn to do it very well, Get someone to pay you to do it, And you will never work!
Cindy Lou - Memphis
I want to change the whole nature of sightseeing tours," says Patton. "My goal has always been to give visitors and locals alike not simply a traditional tour with stories, dates, and a lot of talk, but a unique and special interactive experience they'll never forget, something that truly brings Memphis to life." Memphis has a compelling local history which has influenced and shaped popular culture to a degree far beyond other cities of comparable size. I believe that the best way to show that is through music, story, and fun. And that's it. Thank you. Thank you very much
Alejandro Infante and Frank
Alejandro Infante and Frank are just two examples of Great Train Escapes outstanding guides in Havana. Both have a great sense of humor and deep knowledge of this once forbidden land. Journey to Cuba with Great Train Escapes and travel with Frank, Ale, Laura and/or Grency and experience the music, history, culture and people of Cuba!
There are Tour guides and then there are experts. Meir elia is an expert. He guides with a love and passion for his country that is tangible. A trip to the Holy land is always an experience. It is the land where history follows you wherever you go. As a native Israeli he walks this country's trails as did his ancestors, teaching you about people's dreams and hopes. He brings the "flavors" of the land, interweaving heritage with Israel's modern existence, culture and people. Meir will take you through his country and show you the wonders of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Galilee and Tel Aviv. His formal education includes, history, religion, geography, geology and anthropology. His trip will give you everything that you ever wanted to know about Israel and more.
What can we say about Miguel...First thing that comes to mind is he is half- Bolivian but looks like a red-headed "Sunny Jim"- the Bolivian coloring lost out to the Pearson side of the family. He was raised in the US and Boliva, which makes him at home with the language and cultures of all Latin- flavored countries. After punctuating his name with degrees in math and finance, he took his talents around the world with tech companies enjoying the dot com era with the likes of Paul Allen and Bill Gates. One day, he searched the web for his dream job. He input, "I like Pina Coladas, getting lost in the rain, I am not into yoga but I am into Champagne...I like showing people the world with the dunes and landscapes- this is the job that I am looking for- let's plan our escape. With the click of a finger, Great Train Escapes popped up as his perfect match. He is now a Tour Manager roaming the world and "living his dream".
Martin Klimenta hails from the beautiful city of Prague. Martin is one of those rare, talented guides who can go anywhere and somehow (even in the most remote corners of the planet) pull off the perfect tour. His travels frequently take him to China, Mongolia, Russia, the Balkans, Uzbekistan and Georgia. When not guiding expeditions, Martin lives in Prague with his wife and two kids.
Effie Perperi holds a degree from the National School of Guides & Tourism in Athens, Greece. In her 11-year career as a licensed guide she has led numerous groups through every part of Greece and its islands. She guides and lectures for a Effievariety of organizations with varying cultural and religious interests, sharing her extensive knowledge of Greek history, architecture and mythology with lots of smiles and a great sense of humor.
Minor Alfaro (far left) was born and raised in Grecia, Costa Rica, where he became a local celebrity at a young age, singing with "mariachis" and guitar trios around the country and on T.V. After participating in a four month exchange program in Canada, he decided that he wanted to study tourism. He graduated from the Castro Carazo College and has been guiding tours throughout Costa Rica for 12 years, a career that provides him with the perfect opportunity to merge his gift for entertaining with his love for his country. His enthusiasm is truly contagious, and he says the best part of his job is the people he meets and the friendships that emerge on his journeys throughout Costa Rica. Minor still lives in Grecia and enjoys a quiet life (when he's home!) with his wife, Amy, and their two children, Christopher and Jessica.
Michael was born and raised in Ireland and has been traveling from an early age. He has a far-flung family who give him plenty of excuses to travel and see the world. He has lived in Ireland, France, Mexico and the US and loves to experience new cultures. His wanderlust has taken him on many adventures, across the United States by bicycle, skiing in the French Alps, sailing in the Sea of Cortez, exploring Denali National Park and the Copper River valley in Alaska and he's only getting started. Being Irish, Michael has never met a "stranger'. He embraces locals as friends and not only has the "gift for gab" but can sing a song or two in Gaelic which always warms a crowd. He's got a heart of gold, an unquenchable thirst for history, culture and Guinness. When touring with Michael you'll have so much fun you'll want to toss your itinerary in the wind and stay a little longer. There's nothing that makes him happier than watching the transformation that occurs when connecting his people to new adventures. When not traveling, he stays busy exploring the Pacific Northwest and sailing on Puget Sound.
Born and raised in Buffalo , NY, Liz's passion for travel started at a young age. When she was 8 years old, her parents pinned a flight itinerary to her shirt, and sent her across the country to visit her sister in Omaha, Nebraska. The Flight Attendants were kind enough to make sure she made her connection in Chicago and she arrived knowing travel was exciting.
She had a career as a litigation paralegal after finishing with a pre-law degree, but soon her feet needed to be moving again. She left the legal field, walked into the office of a day boat tour company here in Seattle and was hired on the spot as a narrator / crew member. From there, she joined Princess Cruises, and went on to lead tours of the Canadian Rockies, Eastern Canada, Eastern United States and Alaska.
Bicycle touring has been a passion of Liz's since living in Hawaii back in 1998. From there, she sought out more islands! She bicycled around Ireland from Dublin around the coast to Galway. Then, the next year she set out for New Zealand, this time on her own, and bicycled 2,000 miles in 3 months. She slowed down enough to marry an Irish lad who's favorite past time is sailing.... the seven seas of course. If there were eight seas they would sail those too. Her laugh and smile brighten up the corners of every room, bus, plane, bike, boat and will light up your heart as well. You just can't help but to be inspired.
Mica Britt Schmelzer
Like a lucky penny, we found the latest addition to the Great Train Escapes team. Born in Cougar Washington and named after a rock, Mica morphed into a glistening gem. Her light shines with her passion for the mountains, outdoors and all creatures great and small. She is truer than true, comfortable in her own skin and is the voice on the phone making you laugh with her "back woods" speak. She has a huge work ethic and tremendous desire to "do right" by our clients. If you happen into the office, she is the tiny one that looks like little Cindy Lou from Hooville. If we could bottle her energy and sunny disposition- Great Train Escapes would be Publicly Traded. Mica lives by the adage, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go." Today was happy, today was fun, tomorrow is another one.
Beautiful, dramatic landscapes might be in Ragga's blood - she grew up in Reykjavik Iceland, surrounded by stunning Mountains, Glaciers, Sulpher Hot Springs and Northern Lights. These days she is our favorite Iceland Tour Guide. As a student of Iceland she has done it all. From horseback riding to whale watching- her life has been a grand adventure. As a culinary expert, she prides herself in her ability to cook eggs any style in geysers. Be sure to try her hard boiled eggs while you are there!
Luis Chaves Bonilla
Luis is the "man about town" in Costa Rica. You can tell by the way he holds his phone. He is all business...until it comes to a good joke. Born, raised and educated in Costa Rica, his passion for teaching people about his country is contagious. He will make you tap into your senses. Especially your sense of wonder. He will show you active volcanoes, cloud forests, rain forests and the ocean. With two thirds of the country designated National Park- there is alot to talk about. And he knows it all. From hummingbirds to scarlet macaws to monkeys, sloths and sea turtles....there isn't a subject he doesn't know. We love him and you will too.
This dashingly handsome man is our guide Huber. 64 years young, this Dutch man has been in tourism in Europe for 40 years. Huber is an expert on all things Europe. A history buff, lover of architecture, foodie and beer aficionado- there isn't a whole lot that stumps him. He has Cruise Directed on all of Europe's Rivers and knows every bend. After travelling with Huber you will know a few things...he loves people and is passionate about showing you hidden secrets of Europe. You will love his stories and groan at his jokes and cry when you say goodbye to this lovely man.
Eric Johnson is the Star for Public Television's award-winning show Gardensmart. He will be hosting Alki Tours river cruise to see the Gardens of Holland and Belgium May 6-16, 2018. His knowledge of all growing things is as evident as his sunny disposition and passion for plants. Whether he's talking about the very latest flower fashion, an old time vegetable garden or succulent desert, he wows his audience. A graduate of University of Georgia- he was awarded the prestigious Dirr Scholarship. He became the director of propagation for several Horticultural firms culminating with being named Director of Horticulture for the oldest and most repected seead and plant companies in the U.S.
Rajendra is our favorite guide in all of the Himalayas and that is a TALL complement. Nepal has so much to offer. It has the world's highest mountain- Mt. Everest; vibrant and excting cities and was the birth place of Lord Buddha. If your passion is majestic mountains, warm and welcoming people, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, culture and history or birding and photography- look no further. Rajendra is your man. He's a professional government English speaking licensed guide and has lead University Professors and professionals from the states to every region in Nepal for the past two decades. WE LOVE THIS MAN.
Rabindra was born in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. He has acquired a vast knowledge within the Everest region as well as many other trekking regions of Nepal. Rabindra's resume also includes climbs of many trekking peaks in Nepal such as Island Peak, Mera Peak and Lobuche as well as Mount Everest Base Camp. Rabindra has worked with United States for the past decade and has a genuine understanding of western culture. His warm smile, sense of humor and confidence have made him valuable member of the the Alki Tours and Great Train Escapes community and allows our trekkers to relax and love the experience.
Hilary St. Clair
Hilary St. Clair grew up in the Northwest and from the mountains to the sea...she has always loved the West Coast. She has spent years living all over the United States but the Northwest and of course the Seahawks keep calling her back! Her passion for adventure stemmed from a young age were her summers were spent camping, hiking and taking family road trips - "My dad would spend his yearly vacation with all of us (4 kids, wife and a dog) piled in the car. He was dedicated to covering as much distance and seeing as much as much as possible in a 10 days." After graduating from the University of Washington with degrees in Art History and Communications, Hilary was eager to explore; she spent 5 summers as a Tour Manager guiding groups through the interior of Alaska and the Yukon Territory. She loved Alaska summers so much that she thought she would give the winters a shot as well. After a winter in Dutch Harbor and another in Homer, she set her sights on destinations that were a little warmer. She has backpacked through Central America, cruised the Caribbean and and trekked through South East Asia. She absolutely loves experiencing the local history, culture and cuisine and is always enthusiastic when it comes to guiding and sharing her knowledge. She puts the "L" in you will love this girl.
For a wide variety of other tours, please visit our sister site Alki Tours.