The new Gray Line trolley will offer rides daily starting at 10 a.m. at the Choo Choo approximately every 30-40 minutes until 4 p.m. Cost is $25 adults, one child free with adult; additional children ages 6-11 are $12. Stops are as follows:
1. The historic Chattanooga Choo Choo
2. Warehouse Row
3. Hunter Museum of American Art
4. Bluff View Art District
5. North Shore
6. Tennessee Aquarium
7. Chattanooga Visitors Center on Chestnut Street
8. AT&T Field/Children’s Creative Discovery Museum
9. Moonpie General Store
10. Chattanooga Convention Center
11. International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame
12. Lookout Mountain Incline Railway/St. Elmo Historic District
Gray Line Worldwide bills itself as "the largest provider of sightseeing tours on the planet" and offers tours in more than 700 locations across six continents.
Add Chattanooga to the list.
At a ceremony Friday afternoon in the lobby of the historic Choo Choo Hotel, Nashville-based Gray Line of Tennessee christened a new tour it's launching here: Chattanooga Hop.
Three Gray Line Tennessee buses that resemble San Francisco cable cars will take tourists to 12 stops around downtown, North Chattanooga and St. Elmo.
Trolley riders can hop on and off the trolley buses to visit sites, and the trolley driver will point out sites along the way, based on a script by local historian Keith Wilkinson.
"This shows our growing place in the hospitality world," Mayor Andy Berke said. "Gray Line is in most of the big tourism cities in the world, and now they're in Chattanooga."
Tickets, which are good for two days, cost $25 for adults and $12 for children 6 through 11 years old. The trolleys will run daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours start at the Choo Choo.
While the trolley hop is geared for tourists, the hour-long narrated tour might shed light on Chattanooga's history for locals, too, said Chuck Abbott, president and CEO of Gray Line Tennessee.
That's a pitch the tour company uses in Nashville, where it offers the Music City Hop, an open-air, double-decker bus tour of downtown that includes stops at Ryman Auditorium and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.
"If you haven't been downtown in the last four or five years" Abbott said of the fast-growing city, "you haven't seen Nashville."
Gray Line of Tennessee is hiring drivers with CDL licenses to drive the trolleys here.
"The trick is to find a driver who can also be entertaining," Abbott said.
Drivers will have to learn the tour's history script, he said, but "we encourage them to try to make it their own."
This is Gray Line of Tennessee's first foray outside of Nashville. The company has a 40-year history in Nashville, more than 300 employees, and offers more than tours.
It also has a fleet of 56-seat motor coaches and school buses used by eight new school districts in the Nashville area, and Gray Line provides bus service to universities, including Vanderbilt, Lipscomb and Fisk.
Once Gray Line of Tennessee gets a foothold here with the Chattanooga Hop, it would like to expand, Abbott said, including possibly with trolleys on Lookout Mountain to take tourists around to the different attractions there. The company also may compete to provide bus service elsewhere here, he said, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
One of the company's owners is Mike Shmerling, a fourth-generation Nashville resident, who's an entrepreneur that launched companies including Transcor, which privatized prison transportation, and Corrections Partners Inc., a prison management company. Berke, a former state senator, said he's good friends with Shmerling.
"I often encourage him to invest in Chattanooga," the mayor said.
But that wasn't the deciding factor, Berke said. Chattanooga's economic vibrancy was, he said.
Chattanooga will get trolleys that used to give tours in Nashville, but are no longer needed there, since they've been replaced with new open-air, double-decker buses.