“Wow! That Looks Cool!”

    8 Great Tours for Families

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    You say you’re not a beach family? Factory tours of American products and brands are a natural fit for families who want to have a more active sight-seeing experience, or families who might prefer a city vacation. Along the way, kids are learning and having fun, and who knows? Maybe someone in your family will be inspired to start a business or become the next great American maker.

    My husband, two children, ages eleven and nine, and I took in a few factory tours this year, and our trips were educational as well as enjoyable. Nearly every state offers factory tours, farm tours, and family-friendly tours of all kinds of businesses. Want to know where some of the stuff in your home comes from, or how many potatoes it takes to fill a bag with potato chips? Consider taking your family on one of these tours. You’ll get an inside look at the origin story behind some products and services, receive free samples (if you’re lucky!), and have fun along the way as you watch it all unfold.

    1608_Factories_1Crayola Experience

    Ever since their tiny hands first squished around in finger paint, my children have been obsessed with art, and the Crayola Experience in Easton, Pennsylvania, has since become one of their favorite places to visit.

    We try to go at least once a year whenever we are up to see the grandparents, who I’m fortunate to say, live nearby. The factory has four levels of fun. You can start your tour with a theatre show, where a resident crayonologist walks you through the process of how the famous Crayola crayons are made. From there, plan to spend hours with your children as they go from station to station coloring, painting, drawing, molding, and creating. Among the highlights at the Crayola Experience: melting and molding your own crayon; painting with a melted crayon; doodling in the dark; bringing your digital drawings to the big screen; designing and wrapping your own crayon label; and painting in the art studio.

    There are free samples of crayons, markers, and the like along the way. You’ll also learn about the history of Crayola, see which colors have since retired, and gape in awe at the world’s largest crayon, a blue one weighing in at 1,500 pounds. The Crayola Factory also has a gift store and café. My whole family leaves this place so inspired, we often set up our own Crayola factory at home on rainy days, replete with various art stations and activities.
    crayolaexperience.com

    Crayola Experience
    30 Centre Square
    Easton, Pennsylvania
    Admission: $16.99
    Hours vary depending on the time of year.
    For more information, call 610-515-8000.

    1608_Factories_2Community Idea Stations

    Anyone who listens to 88.9 WCVE or NPR on the radio, or has little ones who enjoy the fabulous programming on PBS, will be thrilled to know they can go behind the scenes at the Community Idea Stations on Sesame Street right here in Richmond. On the tour, you will get an inside view of the digital operations center, where computers stream programming to seven television stations and two television studios where local original programming is recorded (including Flying Squirrels Insider, Virginia Home Grown, and Virginia Currents).

    Depending on the day you visit, children can entertain themselves in front of the green screen and get a kick out of seeing themselves on camera. Since Studio A is one of the largest studios on the East Coast, local and national commercials have been filmed here, and actor Rob Lowe also filmed a movie trailer in this studio. We weren’t lucky enough to meet anyone famous on the day of our tour, though, darn. There are also three radio studios, and, if schedules permit, local radio personalities will allow children in the studio for a chat and a recording. There are two tours available: one for younger children from ages six to twelve; and an adult tour for those twelve and older. ideastations.org

    Community Idea Stations
    23 Sesame Street
    Richmond, Virginia
    Admission: Free
    To schedule a tour, call 800-476-2357.

    1608_Factories_3Pez Visitor Center

    Like lots of kids, my children have quite the collection of Pez Candy dispensers, featuring some from my husband’s childhood. The Stars Wars dispensers are their favorites, of course.

    I wasn’t aware of this factory until a few years ago when we passed it on our drive along Interstate 95 up to Cape Cod. Not surprisingly, the Pez factory is home to the largest collection of Pez memorabilia from around the world. On the self-guided tour, there is a viewing area, where you can watch workers produce the candies for the dispensers, and view a video of the process for making the candy as well as the colorful and creative dispensers. You will also behold the world’s largest Pez dispenser, learn about the history of the company (which dates
    all the way back to 1927), and receive a
    $2 credit with your paid admission to the factory gift store. pez.com

    Pez Visitor Center
    35 Prindle Hill Rd
    Orange, Connecticut
    Admission: $5 for adults; $4 for children
    To schedule a tour, call 203-298-0201

    1608_Factories_4Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

    Sports and history lovers, and baseball enthusiasts especially, will appreciate this factory tour, where visitors get a look at the creation of baseball bats intended not only for Little League players, but also Major Leaguers. Personalized bats are crafted here, too. Walk through the process of how a baseball bat is manufactured, which these days is 95 percent by machine in a mere forty seconds.

    You’ll see The Big Bat, the world’s largest, which weighs 68,000 pounds, stands 120 feet tall, and is a replica of Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger. The kids will also enjoy a climbable baseball glove sculpture and a batting cage. Older children and parents will want to spend time in galleries with baseball memorabilia, including baseball bats used by the country’s most famous players, and a signature wall featuring the John Hancocks of several MLB players and other historical baseball big shots. sluggermuseum.com

    Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
    800 West Main Street
    Louisville, KY 40202
    Admission: $14 for adults;
    $8 for ages 6 to 12; free for 6 and younger.
    Hours and admission can vary depending
    on the time of year. Walk-ins welcome.

    1608_Factories_5Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory

    Ice cream lovers of all ages will surely enjoy a stop at the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, also in New England. The half-hour  guided tour offers guests a chance to learn about the ice cream manufacturing process as well as the business. You are able to see employees creating the sweet treat from a glassed-in mezzanine. The tour includes a free sample (yum!), and there is also a scoop shop on-site with specialty flavors as well as traditional favorites, including waffle cones and hot fudge sundaes.

    The Ben & Jerry’s team is as accommodating as possible to those with food allergies, so be sure to let them know of any sensitivities. Frozen yogurt and sorbet are also available. After you stock up at the gift shop, take a walk behind the plant to the Flavor Graveyard, where retired flavors are memorialized. Tour sign-ups are first come, first served, and fill up quickly. benjerry.com

    Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory Tour
    1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road
    Waterbury, Vermont
    Admission: $3 for adults;
    kids under twelve, free
    For tour information, call 866-258-6877.

    1608_Factories_6Route 11 Potato Chip Factory

    Potato chips are one of my guilty pleasures, so I’m game for a stroll through a potato chip factory anytime. It’s been said that Virginia has it all – mountains, beaches, history, the arts, and, yes, the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory in Mount Jackson.

    On the afternoon we visited, the four of us were enthralled watching the workers as they fried the potatoes, weeded out any bad chips (odd-shaped, broken, or burned), seasoned them, and packaged them. That day, they made the company’s popular dill-flavored chip as well as the salt and vinegar variety. On what is very much a self-guided tour, you can observe the process through windows on two levels. This factory uses about 14,000 pounds of potatoes to make 3,000 pounds of chips, which are sold nationwide and in Japan. We sampled a few after the tour. There is also a little gift shop. Visitors are welcome to walk through the facility Monday through Saturday from nine to five, but call ahead for optimal fry-viewing times.
    www.rt11.com

    Route 11 Potato Chips
    11 Edwards Way
    Mount Jackson, Virginia
    Admission: Free
    Tours are self-guided.
    For more information, call 540-477-9664.

    1608_Factories_7Hershey’s Chocolate World

    During this tour in Hershey, Pennsylvania, you are taken on a musical history of how the famous chocolate is made, from sorting and roasting the cocoa beans to the addition of milk and sugar to packaging and shipping. The company produces 60 million Hershey’s Kisses a day. My children enjoyed the conveyor belt car ride, the singing cows, and, of course, the free Kit Kat candy sample at the end of the tour.

    Beyond the free tour, Hershey’s Chocolate World has an enormous gift shop with specialty candies and chocolates, other merchandise, and interactive programs. You can customize your own candy bar from a selection of fifteen different candies, or create your own sweet treat in Hershey’s Dessert Creation Studio. There is also a 4D Chocolate Mystery show, a bakery, an ice cream and milkshake shop, and a food court. You and your family can also hop on the trolley and take a ride through this town built on chocolate. While we were in town, we visited Hershey Park for a day of food, fun, games, and rides.
    hersheyschocolateworld.com

    Hershey’s Chocolate World
    251 Park Boulevard
    Hershey, Pennsylvania
    Admission: Free
    Tours are free and first-come, first-served.

    1608_Factories_8United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing

    We all have a fascination with money, but do you know what it takes to make a dollar bill? The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has two locations, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other not that far from Richmond in the heart of Washington, DC. My family and I took a guided tour at the DC location.

    The tour begins with a short video of the history of the U.S. Treasury Department as well as the Bureau. The Bureau produces 38 million notes each day (totaling a half billion dollars!). The tour guide walked us through the phases of money making, which include pressing of the sheets (12,000 sheets per hour), examining for defects, engraving, printing, stacking, cutting, and adding serial numbers and seals. On the day we went, they were churning out five dollar bills, but, much to my children’s playful dismay, they did not hand out any free samples. Instead, they dropped us off at the gift shop at the end of the tour, where we ended up spending money
    on souvenirs. Clever.

    You can request tickets for the tour through your U.S. representative in Congress, or you can wait in line for tickets, but you’ll need to get there early, as tickets for this tour go fast. moneyfactory.gov

    Department of the Treasury
    Bureau of Engraving and Printing
    14th and C Streets, SW
    Washington, DC
    Admission: Free
    Schedule a tour through your Congressional representative.

    There’s plenty more beyond what’s listed here. World of Coca-Cola factory in Georgia and the Jelly Belly candy factory tour in California are two popular choices for families. And guess what? For a casual factory tour any day of the week, you can always take your crew to Duck Donuts or Krispy Kreme here in Richmond to watch workers make donuts and roll them out on the assembly line.

    For a complete list of tours in the United States, visit factorytoursusa.com, and have a blast with your kids learning about how things are made.

    Photos: John Sterling Ruth, Crayola; James Moses, Louisville Slugger