"I have made two trips to Cuba. The most recent visit with Brian DeToy and Essential History Expeditions was far and away the better of the two. Brian has extensive experience in Cuba and his encyclopedic knowledge of the military, social, and political history of the island contributed to a fuller understanding of the nation and its people. His ability to successfully team with Cuban guides enabled the group to see things not on most itineraries. I was impressed with his flexibility to meet the special interests of a group of fortification and coast artillery enthusiasts. Brian's extensive academic training, experience as an instructor at the college level, insight gained as a career Army Infantry officer, and field experience on the ground makes him an interesting, enjoyable, and personable companion and guide."
"I just completed a tour of the Battle of the Bulge, with an add on segment in Prague. Brian and Sheryl run a terrific tour with everything smoothly taken care of. The restaurants were always great, the information from each of them about the history of our locations were superb, and the overall enjoyment level was outstanding. I had previously done a Gettysburg tour which was great, but the European trip surpassed it. Highly recommended."
"Essential History Expeditions is the real deal if you care about history. With Brian DeToy and Sheryl Shafer, you get it all: a guide who is a superb teacher - Brian makes it all vitally interesting and relevant - and a tour manager in Sheryl who is quietly and graciously capable of handling any problem or concern. You will have no worries with them. All you'll be required to do is to love every minute of your tour. We just completed the Normandy and Battle of the Bulge tours, and the moments of true inspiration and emotion were too many to count. Though it is a guided tour, and you will be in a van or bus, you always feel you are sharing important and memorable experiences with a group of friends. And we had the most fantastic food and wine, in beautiful settings!
GO!! You will love it."
"My husband and I just returned from a trip to Prague with EHE. The experience was excellent in every way -- educational, enlightening and fun! Sheryl and Brian are the quintessential tour guides: Brian's encyclopedic knowledge of historical events is beyond impressive, but it's the stories that he weaves into his "lessons" that make the history come alive, ensuring a rich educational and cultural experience for all. Sheryl's attention to detail and quality with all the logistics make it easy to relax and enjoy the full experience. The hospitality and camaraderie they facilitated with the group made it even more fun. As the five-star rating suggests, EHE is as good as it gets for historical tours!"
"My wife and I recently took two trips with Essential History Expeditions -- back-to-back tours of Normandy (D-Day sites) and Belgium and Luxembourg (Battle of the Bulge sites). Both trips were excellent. We learned much about the historic campaigns from a first-rate teacher who loves history, and loves to share his knowledge with others. The tours did not just focus on the opposing armies, but the human stories and faces of battle. The trips were meticulously planned and executed, and when we were not touring, we enjoyed wonderful food in beautiful settings, and the company of friendly travel partners who shared a common purpose of understanding these important moments in history."
"Many thanks for a WONDERFUL trip. We know you've done it several times now, but it is still hard to believe how you put together such a great team and a comprehensive tour. Brian, we have decided that you are the first true Renaissance man we have met. Sheryl, we are in awe over your ability to make things come together so smoothly and never let anything rattle you."
"Just returned from a fantastic and life changing trip to Cuba made possible by Sheryl and Brian and their fabulous supporting cast in country. We had an exceptional exposure to and balance of culture, history and leisure and while we saw 12/15 Cuban provinces, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed. Every member of the EHE team complimented one another and every aspect of the trip was well planned and thought through. Exceptional in every way. What stood out to me was this; many firms can plan a perfect trip. This was Cuba, things change and we were asked to be flexible. Sheryl and Brian seamlessly worked through many changes, altered schedules and never, ever detracted from the experience. I have already referred many friends and plan on more adventures with Sheryl and Brian."
"Brian -- (World's Best Tour Leader!) --
Thanks for a great trip! The other members of the tour felt just like I did -- your knowledge and enthusiasm for what we were seeing made for a great and unique experience. Feel free to give my contact info out to any potential future travelers who might request a reference from a past customer. And thank you for your service in the military, too. Hope to travel with you again soon!"
"Sadly YELP only goes to 5 stars, because this company really deserves ten stars. Over the years I've been on many tours with all the major companies, have done some tour leading myself, and worked in the tourism industry for two of the biggest companies in the US, but I've never had a better experience than my first trip with Essential History Expeditions and their Cuba military history tour last month. Brian and Sheryl have put together a great company that insures the near-perfect travel experience. Our tour leader Brian's connections in Cuba got us very nice hotels and a comfortable travel bus, and an excellent driver and local guide. And Brian knows every inch of the country, so we saw things the other tour companies don't stop at. Plus, he found us some excellent local places to eat some of our group meals, which really made the trip feel like you were getting to know the local people and country close-up. And thank you for the bottles of water on our bus each day! If you want to go to Cuba (or anywhere else), don't go with any other company. I'll definitely be taking some of Brian and Sheryl's other tours in the near future."
"I just completed an Essential History Expedition trip to Cuba led by its Co-owner and guide, Brian DeToy. All I can say is: Wow!This was my 5th trip to Cuba and my first with Brian. By far this was the best. Brian is a caring and knowledgeable guide who has a great sense of humor and is very flexible in meeting requests of tour participants. We followed Cuban military history from Havana to Santiago; covering significant events and places from the early Spanish conquest to the Bay of Pigs and the 1962 Missile Crisis.
But Brian made sure we had a chance to experience all aspects of Cuban culture and history from food and architecture to Ernest Hemingway and Classic Cars. You don't have to be a military history buff to enjoy this trip. The hotel accommodations were always very comfortable, had great amenities and were always centrally located. The restaurants for dinner, which were both state owned and private(paladars) were always first rate. I highly recommend Brian and Essential History Expeditions for your Cuban travel. I look forward to more trip offerings and future travel with this great company."
"Words cannot express how great of a job Brian did in making the tour of the Battle of Little Bighorn come alive for me and my colleagues! He is an incredible historian who's ability to recall all kinds of details and information is unparalleled. I highly recommend his services!"
BYU ROTC, Professor of Military Science
"My wife and I just returned from an amazing ten days in Cuba with Brian and Sheryl. It was truly a life-altering experience. One of the things that had attracted me to EHE initially was the promise of visits to the major Spanish American War sites in Cuba with a retired West Point instructor. Little did I suspect that Brian is in fact something of a Renaissance Man who was just as comfortable taking a group of us through the Museum of Fine Art in Havana as he was conducting our tours of Siboney, Las Guasimas, El Caney, and Kettle and San Juan Hills. Meanwhile, Sheryl handled the logistics of the trip with the dexterity of someone who has been traveling to Cuba for decades.
EHE asked us in advance of the trip to be flexible given the nature of travel in Cuba, but there was really little patience required of me that was not the fault of an airline or airport security, and Brian and Sheryl were always able to help work out the minor issues that did arise. The restaurants and hotels they chose for our group were all top notch; the Iberostar Grand Trinidad hotel was memorable beyond expectations, and the farm to table restaurant we visited in Pinar del Rio was out of this world.
I would be remiss in not mentioning our outstanding Cuban guides, Hiroshi and Eliar, who did a terrific job of familiarizing us with life in Cuba, and our masterful bus drivers, Nestor and Lester, who amazed us with their skill at maneuvering a bus through both difficult terrain and city streets. I am missing Cuba already, and would be ready to return next year - with Brian and Sheryl, of course! Que Pais!"
"I took the military history version of Brian's Cuba tour in March 2017. I was very impressed with Brian's knowledge and skill in explaining this history. We studied the Spanish American War, the first and second Wars for Cuban Independence (from Spain), the British siege of Havana (1762), and the Cuban Revolution (including the Bay of Pigs counter-revolutionary efforts). I have been looking for this type of Cuban tour for a long time and was delighted with the results."
"Want to give a long overdue shout out to Essential History Expeditions. Brian DeToy and Sheryl Rankin Shafer led us on a fabulous historical adventure through Cuba last March. If you are looking to up your game on travel and vacationing so as to return home feeling enriched and thankful, I highly recommend their historical journeys. Brian's infectious passion and amazing knowledge and talent for weaving the tales of time are priceless whether you are a history buff or not. We are thinking to do Vietnam with them in April. Would love to have some friends join us?!"
Small Business Owner
"My October Cuba trip with Essential History Expeditions was by far one of
the best, well-organized, educational as well as enjoyable that I have
participated in. Brian was an exceptional host with deep knowledge and
Retired Business Executive, Brookline, MA
"I have traveled many parts of the world and done several group tours. Traveling to Cuba with Brian and Sheryl was one of my best travel experiences ever! Their passion toward history and dedication to sharing culture was unmatched in any tour I've ever done. Everything was well planned, perfectly executed and most importantly, lots of fun! I look forward to my next trip with them.
Middle School Social Studies Teacher, McFarland, WI
"You've created one of the best historical tour companies in the country. Your trips are filled with rich information and fun. I look forward to taking a third trip with you and Brian. You have a wonderful Magical History Tour.
Vice President, Wells Fargo Advisors
"I recently took Essential History Expeditiion's tour of the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields. I have visited both battlefields before, but I wanted to take a more in-depth tour than those offered at the sites. I chose this tour after seeing Sheryl and Brian's presentation at a local travel store. The tour was phenomenal, even better than I expected. Brian's knowledge of the events at both sites is amazing and he presents the events of the battle in a such a way that the battles almost come to life. For example, as we walked the route of Pickett's Charge, learned how topography played an important role in the battle. The tour also includes three nights at a lovely Bed and Breakfast and dinners at some of the best restaurants in the area. I highly recommend this tour. I hope to take another tour with Brian very soon. Cuba and Normandy are at the top of my list!
"Brian brings you into history, like putting you in a time machine and transporting you back in time to that historic moment. You get to relive history through role-play and hands-on demonstrations, and Brian provides the backdrop and history behind each event to highlight the significance of the decisions that were made. Brian makes history alive and relevant.
"My family and friends recently toured Normandy with Brian DeToy. We initially planned four days but could have spent many more days. The tour was a spectacular adventure and a lifetime memory for all of us! It was a shared experience that no matter the age (the ages in our group were 21-81) the experience was emotionally charged, incredibly educational and greatly social. The experience bolted to the top of all my vacations, tours and trips around the world. Brian possesses an encyclopedic knowledge, not only of the Normandy battlefield, military tactics and leaders, but also of the common men and women whose lives were greatly impacted by the D-Day invasion. In addition, his extensive interests and experience took us far beyond WWII, as we explored French culture and history of over a thousand years. A trip with Brian and Essential History Expeditions is an immersive experience that none in our group will ever forget!
President, 1-800-Flowers, Harry & David
"My wife and I, along with our adult son, enjoyed an Essential History Expedition to Cuba this past October. We are all well-traveled in Latin America, and my son and I are both fluent in Spanish, so the lure to see Cuba before there's a Starbucks on every corner was irresistible. Brian and Sheryl's travel package hit a delicate balance between understanding the historical perspective, and embracing the existing culture. Furthermore, the small group of ten intrepid voyagers included delightful, funny, knowledgeable, and flexible co-travelers.
We started with a dinner for most, but not all, of the group at the hotel in Miami, where we began to get to know each other, and traded stories on the paths that landed us in the care of Brian and Sheryl. The next morning, we were ready, willing and waiting at Miami International Airport, where we continued to wait for a flight that was six hours delayed. We knew we had a good group when that news was met with a shrug of acceptance. Traveling in Latin America often requires a certain sense of existentialism, where anything can change at any time for no apparent reason, and our people seemed to roll with it, which was an excellent sign.
First stop was Santiago de Cuba, and the fun began. The ubiquitous colonial architecture is reminiscent of Cartagena or Cuenca, but the late 1950s American automobiles and the 1960s-80s Russian automobiles are unique to Cuba. While Sheryl deftly handled the logistics, Brian waxed eloquent on the colonial history up to the seeds of the Revolution, and Santiago's role in both. Throughout the rest of the trip, including Havana, the Bay of Pigs, and Cienfuegos, as well as side trips, Brian enlightened, but never overwhelmed, and casually displayed his encyclopedic professorial education on a broad array of topics.
One delightful aspect of the trip was that Brian had offered the opportunity for each traveler to choose a character from Cuban history, and to play the role of that character at pertinent times during the trip. My wife chose a revolutionary figure, I chose Ernest Hemingway, and we assigned our son Emilio Bacardi which, given our consumption of Mojitos and Daiquiris, seemed appropriate. For our small and friendly group, that mechanism served us all very well.
The food was always ample, always healthy, and occasionally very good, even the crocodile. Private sector services are only just emerging in the Cuban economy, and the private restaurants were easily distinguishable from their government-run counterparts. There was often a protracted negotiation about whether the price of the meal did or did not include a cocktail of some variety, which Sheryl handled with a relaxed aplomb.
The hotels we stayed in tended to be quite modern, although Brian and Sheryl indicated they had planned on some older properties, only to have arrangements changed at the last moment. They were very well appointed, although again, a lack of infrastructure led to logistical challenges from time to time, but nothing major.
Music played a wonderful role on our travels. Brian and Sheryl arranged a private concert and dance lesson outside Santiago and a very splashy and professional floorshow at the famed Tropicana Club in Havana, but Cuba spontaneously offered live music and dancing along every block, and occasionally right out in the middle of the road.
I cannot recommend this experience enough. It won't be a five-star tour through a first-world country, but it will be an immersive Cuban experience before Cuba is changed irreparably.
Senior Category Director, Plantronics
"After presenting the Battle of Gettysburg to high school students for over thirty years and reading numerous books on the topic, I was shocked at the new insight Brian provided. We were not surprised when he knew every detail of this military engagement, but his focus on the human element made the battle come alive. His stories and personal commentary brought to life the drama and the tragedy that our forefathers faced in July 1863 in Pennsylvania.
Retired History Teacher
"Having taken multiple tours in Normandy and Gettysburg, I can say with confidence that Essential History Expeditions is a premiere experience. What makes it such a rich experience is Brian DeToy. Unlike other historians, Brian brings a unique perspective that creates a surreal experience. Taking a tour with Brian is like riding across a battlefield with Napoleon, Nathanael Greene, or George S. Greene. Brian can bring out the decision-making cycles of these leaders because he has lived that life himself. His knowledge of history-- combined with three decades of mentoring young officers, teaching West Point cadets, and commanding Infantrymen-- enables Brian the ability to capture the nuanced details other historians overlook. Perhaps most important is Brian’s passion for sharing history. He believes in what he is doing and that makes the entire experience a true delight!
Francisco J. Leija
White House Fellow
"I’ve been to Normandy several times, but the trip that shaped my in-depth understanding of the events leading to its liberation was this one! Brian’s expertise as a teacher and as a soldier brought those days surrounding D-Day to life. He is the consummate historian/story teller! In addition, the trip was very well organized with no weak links. I am looking forward to more trips with Essential History Expeditions!
"My experience with Brian’s teaching events has been nothing short of phenomenal. His ability to analyze complex problems, provide historical context, and portray the human dimension of leadership is unparalleled. Brian’s scenarios are consistently challenging, stimulating, and informative. In 28 years of active military service, I count Brian’s events as the best leadership development I received.
Col. Jeffrey Stewart
Deputy Chief of Staff, Canadian Joint Operations Command
"Lt. Col. DeToy was brilliant, engaging and essentially an encyclopedia of information on the battle and the events of the era. I have been to the battlefield nearly 10 times and read countless books and articles on the battle, but nothing compares to spending two days under the leadership of Lt. Col. DeToy.
Douglas A. Cifu
President and COO of VirtuFinancial
"Brian was, in a word, spectacular.
Gen. (Ret) James Hill
Former Commander, US Southern Command
"I loved the entire simulation experience of the battles at Antietam and Gettysburg. I loved the depth of knowledge I received from Brian. I loved the simulations from using people to represent the various military units, to the marching, to the rush up the rocky hill before Little Round Top. Brian’s words and the personal experiences he shared at the cemetery were moving. The opportunity to be reflective about how I feel regarding the sacrifices so many living and dead have made on behalf of my freedoms was overwhelming. The time spent in gratitude was precious to me. What means even more, though, was that my daughters had that experience. With so much that is jaded, cynical, and denigrated it was invaluable for them to have the opportunity feel the purity of that sacrifice, the goodness of it. I am so grateful.
Mary Catherine York
"Brian exquisitely illuminated the most profound lessons of history to his audience. As a sage and passionate historian, Brian fomented heartfelt and deeply intellectual appreciation for the hallowed grounds we walked. His historical battlefield mentorship routinely built stronger teams among students, faculty and military units by inspiring the young, old, civilian and military alike to grow in their own individual capacity for leadership and citizenry. Simply put, a staff ride or battlefield tour with Brian is a brilliant experience.
Maj. John C. Stroh
US Army Officer and Infantryman
"Going on a three-day staff ride to Gettysburg under the leadership of Brian DeToy was the single best educational experience of my life…. As a history professor at both the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy, I have spent the last twelve years trying to create an atmosphere as conducive to learning as that which Brian established during those three days at Gettysburg.
Associate Professor, US Air Force Academy
"Brian spoke first-hand as though he was reincarnated from 1799."
Anonymous Survey Feedback
"By completely immersing ourselves into the event, Brian taught me ways to engage and challenge others by using historical vignettes, anecdotes, and military tactics. Brian DeToy is a masterful teacher and presenter. He has an uncanny knack for leadership, and he can command any group’s attention.
Maj. Jamie Uptgraft
US Army Officer and Infantryman
"At Gettysburg, we benefited from Brian’s deep historical expertise, his knowledge of the terrain, and his insights into many personalities that shaped this incredible battle—a battle that, indeed, shaped our country. Brian provides deep and fascinating insights at all levels: leadership, decision-making, strategic, operational, and tactical.
President, Tychon Life Sciences Recruiting
"Brian stopped our group in the middle of Antietam Creek, adjacent to Burnsides’ Bridge, and recounted the decision-making process, leadership challenges and motivation for the forces arrayed on both sides of the span. He possesses a unique blend of insight and passion to make his lessons resonate for years. Brian DeToy captivates his participants, getting them involved in their learning in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
PhD, Department of History, University of Dayton
"I've often wished I could once again listen to memorable lectures and banter with a special professor. I would think "If I had that opportunity again, I would get so much more out of it now; I would know to truly appreciate it." With EHE and Brian DeToy you get that chance, with a wonderful vacation thrown in. Brian is more than a poised, confident and enthusiastic guide; he is an educator. He is careful to tailor his presentations so that all members of the audience, whatever their age or background, will come away with a memorable experience. If you prefer to sit back and listen or jump up and reenact a historical figure, there is something for everyone here. Brian is seemingly indefatigable as well; he can lead a recreated patrol through the hedgerows of Normandy then hold court into the evening hours displaying a masterly command of a wide range of topics. Regarding the vacation aspect of the trip, EHE is a bargain considering the quality and depth of the experience. The scouting trips Brian and his wife Sheryl take before result in wonderful local food and accommodations for their clients' trips. Sheryl competently manages all aspects of the day-to-day experience so that Brian can concentrate on sharing his knowledge and passion of the area and its history. My wife and I have taken two trips with them so far with our Cuba adventure coming up this October. EHE trips will continue to be one of the experiences we very much look forward to in the coming years. Regarding Essential History Expeditions, I would simply tell anyone that we plan on using them for the rest of our lives. While we consider ourselves blessed to be friends with the owners, anyone signing up for one of your tours will be friends at the end.
"We ended our Civil War tour at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. This is where it all came together for me. We had walked the battlefields, had seen where brother had fought brother, had heard Brian tell us their stories, yet I still couldn't wrap my head around the justification for so much bloodshed. Here at the cemetery, Brian shared his love for his cadets who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. And I finally understood the heart of a soldier. I am so grateful for their dedication and courage and I hope that we can continue "to take increased devotion to that cause which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion". We each had chosen a stone from somewhere on the battlefields and at the cemetery we placed that stone on the grave of a fallen soldier and spent some quiet, sacred time honoring and thanking him for his sacrifice. Lauren carefully weaved a wreath of fallen leaves around the headstone of her unknown soldier. It was very moving to see that all the youth on the trip had taken Brian's lessons to heart.