What an exciting trip I just finished escorting right in my own backyard! As is often the case, when you live somewhere that has a lot of “touristy” things going on, you tend to take them for granted. This past week I had the luxury of sharing my hometown with a group of middle school band students from VA. Philadelphia is a great place to come to soak in American History, but it also offers a lot of fun and exciting culture and entertainment! I met this student group at the Bourse, to start with what most teenagers will tell you is extremely important - lunch! It’s always fun to see the questioning looks on their faces as we stand across from Independence Hall outside this beautiful building and I assure them they are about to enter a food court where they can find anything they want for lunch. An hour later, they come out happy, full and ready to explore!
We spent some time with our guide visiting Independence Hall, Christ Church, the Betsy Ross house, Elfreth’s Alley, Carpenter’s Hall and ending up looking at the most famous broken bell in the US - the Liberty Bell. We had a beautiful afternoon to be walking around the historical area of the city and these kids had lots of questions for our guide. They had clearly been well prepared and had just finished studying this period of American History. Having heads full of knowledge, cameras full of photos it was now time for some food and fun. We headed down to the waterfront to Dave and Busters. The kids had a great meal and then took their game cards and spread out to play for a couple of hours. It was a riot to see the competitions they set up between teachers and students! Some of these kids really racked up the tickets from the games of chance, and had a great time choosing prizes. We jumped on the bus and headed to the hotel to check in and get settled.
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny which was perfect for our morning spent at the New Jersey Aquarium. Many of these kids have been to the National Aquarium close to their homes, but they felt this one was even better! From there we headed to their Music Festival competition, which went off just beautifully. Their directors were terrific and the kids were so focused, everyone knew what they were expected to do and with no confusion they were off the bus and into the warm-up room. They played very, very well and the adjudicator worked really well with this group. Again, because they were so well prepared they were able to get so much out of the experience. As soon as we were packed up it was off to the amusement park for the rest of the afternoon until it closed at 10! The kids got back on the bus full of energy that the adults could only envy - but everyone had the same smile on their face from a day full of super experiences!
The next morning we went to one of my favorite places in the area for students - Valley Forge National Historical Park. They do such a great job there of bringing history to life, between their visitors center and the fabulous guides. We spent over two hours touring the battle fields and seeing the monuments. From there we headed to the Philadelphia zoo, where the kids had lunch and checked out the animals. After a quick stop at the hotel to change, we headed to center city for dinner and a concert at the Kimmel Center. The Philadephia Orchestra was outstanding, as usual, and the kids really enjoyed the experience. As we got back on the bus, the kids all agreed that they had had an awesome time on their band trip, and were looking forward to telling their friends at school about a lot of the things they had done. Another successful trip in the books for me, and another group of tourists who agree that Philadelphia has a lot to offer!
There’s a reason Gettysburg, Pa, is among the top student travel destinations in America. With 15,000 motorcoaches a year, this small town not only shares its rich Civil War history well, it’s got group travel down to a science.
We embarked on a two-night trip there this fall and were surprised about how many places there were to visit. Most obvious – and popular – were the Gettysburg National Military Park (the battlefield), and the newly opened Visitor Center, but spread throughout town are museums on every corner – all open for group business.
We started our visit at the Visitor Center, where tickets include admission into the incredible museum, the famous Cyclorama Painting and a film that helps visitors understand how Gettysburg fit into the Civil War and what led up to the battle in Pennsylvania. In all, the experience took more than two hours. The Visitor Center has a great book store and restaurant on-site.
Like most groups that visit Gettysburg, we hired a Licensed Battlefield Guide, some of the best tour guides in the country. Our guide boarded our bus at the Visitor Center and we embarked on a two-hour tour through all three days of the battlefield. The guide answered questions and did an amazing job of explaining the complicated battle to our group.
We also visited a few other museums – like the David Wills House and the Shriver House – and had allotted some time for the group to visit shops in Downtown Gettysburg. The group enjoyed the time on their own and found a lot of interesting shops and art galleries – even some neat Civil War stores.
Our group stayed in a hotel east of Gettysburg along U.S. Route 30 among a cluster of hotels and restaurants, but there is lodging scattered across the region, including downtown and on Steinwehr Avenue, a tourist hub that includes museums, gift shops and restaurants.
Steinwehr Avenue features an array of restaurants perfect for group trips, including the Dobbin House Tavern and . Restaurants are located throughout the town, some more suitable for smaller groups.
While Gettysburg slows down in the evening, many visitors – especially students – love to take candlelit ghost tours, one of the more popular attractions in Gettysburg. The prices aren’t bad and the students really enjoy the tours. They weave the history of the Civil War in with the stories that haunt people today. Tickets are less than $10, and we tipped our guide for a great tour.
Before we left Gettysburg, we made one last stop at Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It was a solemn, but beautiful place. Lincoln’s speech is marked with a modest monument in the cemetery, but it was the unmarked gravestones that impressed the group so much. More than 3,500 Union soldiers are buried there, many of them unidentified.
We were pleasantly surprised with how much our group seemed to enjoy the history, even after two days. We didn’t get everywhere – there are many more museums and tours to take. A lot to do for an educational tour, but a perfect location for a class trip.