Summer escape is right at hand

Carey Jonas (left), president of Local Escapes, operations manager Camille Simonen and CEO John Eisenhauer aboard the motor yacht the “Tres Jolie.”  - Julie Busch photo
Carey Jonas (left), president of Local Escapes, operations manager Camille Simonen and CEO John Eisenhauer aboard the motor yacht the “Tres Jolie.”
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

A new Bainbridge business offers tours custom-tailored for island visitors.

Several years ago, in a small restaurant in Naples, Italy, Carey Jonas attached fond memories to bread sticks.

Dining with friends and unable to speak Italian, the group cumbersomely ordered what they thought was cheese bread.

“The waiter misunderstood us,” Jonas said. “First they brought out piles of cheese on a plate. Then they brought ketchup because we were American. Everyone in the place was laughing about it – I think the restaurant staff had as much fun with it as we did.”

For Jonas, experiencing authentic local culture made the moment memorable. As president of Local Escapes, a new island travel company, he hopes to share something of the Bainbridge experience with his guests.

Located on Ericksen Avenue, the company opens this week and offers both pre-packaged and customized outings that highlight different aspects of local culture.

The tours will be small and personalized and feature activities that range from the leisurely, like walking tours and shopping, to the more adventurous, like kayaking and biking.

Local Escapes offers half-day, full-day and multi-day packages starting at $115.

Jonas, Camille Simonen and Becky Endzell say they want to get people out of the confines of a tour bus in favor of the beaches, trails, museums and restaurants that give the area its flavor.

“We want to provide people an alternative to the traditional, guided tour,” Jonas said. “There’s a lot of history, culture and natural beauty here that we want to show our guests.”

Jonas said the company is looking for guides who are passionate about the area and its history and can convey that to island visitors.

The idea for Local Escapes first arose at a party last summer when local businessman John Eisenhauer told Endzell, a 25-year veteran of the travel industry, about a small, family-run sailing tour he’d enjoyed in New Zealand.

Realizing a similar tour company could be successful on Bainbridge Island, they began to research the idea.

Eisenhauer – who founded the Bainbridge-based Mercury Online Solutions digital signage company, which he sold to giant 3M Corporation last year – serves as owner and CEO of Local Escapes, and will captain the company yacht.

He and Endzell brought in island-native Jonas last November to handle the business and marketing, with Simonen joining as operations manager in March.

For Simonen, Local Escapes is an opportunity to mesh her passion for travel with her knowledge of the area, cultivated over the past 15 years as a Kitsap County resident.

Like Jonas, she has experienced culture abroad. Prior to Local Escapes she worked for Bainbridge travel company Earthbound Expeditions in a role that allowed her to travel through Europe, Mexico and Hawaii.

“When I was a teenager I used to pretend I’d won the lottery,” she said. “Then I would research and plan the trips I wanted to go on.”

Fortunately, she said, getting into the travel industry was more realistic means to globetrotting than a Powerball ticket. While she’s grateful for her travel experiences, she welcomed the opportunity to stay home and help other travelers get the most out of their time on Bainbridge Island.

“I love meeting new people and experiencing the diversity and beauty that the world has to offer,” she said.

The company’s signature package will be the “Northwest Escape,” which includes a cruise aboard a private yacht and a kayak trip to Blakely Rocks for lunch, followed by an afternoon of bicycle riding and a trip to the historical museum.

The company provides all the needed equipment. A full-day package costs $265 per person and guests have the option of adding additional activities if they’re interested.

For those who would rather design their own excursion, Jonas said Local Escapes is happy to oblige.

The company has partnered with non-profit IslandWood for its “Eco Escapes” packages, which allow guests to explore the area’s natural ecology.

In exchange for using IslandWood experts as a resource, Local Escapes donates money to the center’s Overnight School Program.

As for expectations, the brass at Local Escapes is optimistic.

“These trips will appeal to both locals and visitors,” Endzell said. “I know in the past I’ve had out of town guests and wondered what to do with them. Local Escapes is a good option for that.”

Added Jonas: “Eight hundred thousand visitors come through Seattle each year. If we can attract even 1 percent of them to our tours, we’ll be doing pretty well.”

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