Whether you roadschool or not, field trips are a no-contest top venue for learning. Being on-site and watching a product being produced has a much greater educational value than just reading about the same process. Factory tours are a great way to support a community, understand what goes into the items that we purchase, and also help us understand what our purchasing dollars support. Here are our favorite Top 10 field trips / factory tours east of the Mississippi (in no particular order):
Steinway in Long Island City, N.Y.
Everyone has heard of Steinway Pianos, and if you are serious about music, this three-hour, top-rated, intensive tour is for you. Learn what goes into building the elite Steinway, from wood selection and conditioning, to assembling of the piano, to the final sound adjustment after the piano is completed. Photos are not allowed, and you must call to reserve your spot as only a limited number of these unique Steinway Piano tours are offered. Because of the intensity of this tour, it is not recommended for young children. http://www.steinwaypianos.com/instruments/steinway/factory
Sugarbush Cheese & Maple Farm in Woodstock, Vt.
Sugarbush Farm is a genuine working farm/ranch set in the stunning hills of Vermont. During their free, self-guided tour, you can view a short film that explains the process of maple syrup making, from tapping the trees to bottling. You can walk the nature trail to see the maple trees that are tapped during late winter, then visit the syrup house to see how the sap is boiled down to syrup.
If you visit during the week, and before 3 p.m., you are likely to catch staff waxing cheese. The farm offers samples of both their cheeses and syrups, is a beautiful location for scenic pictures, and has big rig parking. However, please note that vehicles over 10 feet tall do need to take an alternative route to the farm. In that case, please call for directions. www.sugarbushfarm.com/visit-the-farm
Infinity Science Center — A NASA Space Center in Pearlington, Miss.
The Infinity Science Center is part space-focused science museum, and part field trip. This state-of-the-art-center is just 3 years old, and includes educational exhibits, an immersion theater, and a cafeteria, which serves southern fried catfish and shrimp. Yum! Included in your Infinity admission, is a 30-minute bus tour into the nearby visitor-restricted Stennis Space Center.
Bus tours leave on the hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and you must be signed up at least 30 minutes in advance of departure. The Infinity Space Center has abundant big rig parking, and is located right next to the Mississippi I-10 Visitor’s Center. www.visitinfinity.com
Space buffs should also check out the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla. Tickets are much more expensive than Infinity, but if you are spending the winter in Florida, check out their annual membership that costs less than a two-day visit. www.kennedyspacecenter.com/the-experience.aspx
Charleston Tea Plantation in Charleston, S.C.
With several different tours available, this is the place to learn everything you ever wanted to know about growing, harvesting, and processing tea leaves. The free self-guided tour that takes off right out of the gift shop lasts approximately 15 minutes. During this tour, you can self pace while you watch the Bigelow family via flat screen TVs, as well as check out the actual tea making process through windows that look down on the factory below.
Weekday tours are the best choice because the factory is in production, but you can still do the tours during the weekend without watching employees working the machinery. There is also a trolley tour that costs between $5 and $10 for a 45-minute guided tour through the plantation.
While at the Charleston Tea Factory, you are invited to try as many different kinds of tea as you desire, and to enjoy a relaxing time sipping them on their covered porch in the best southern plantation style. This factory tour has big rig friendly parking. www.charlestonteaplantation.com/tours/factory-tours.aspx
Louisville Slugger Company in Louisville, Ky.
If you have any baseball fans in your house, then this one-of-a-kind 30-minute tour is sure to be a home run! This wildly popular tour takes you through the production floor at the Louisville Slugger Company, where you will see how baseball bats were made in the past, and how they are made today. During your tour, bats will be made all around you, and your tour guide will instruct you on the processes used.
Tours typically run a minimum of 25 people, and max out at 45. There is a fee for the tour, but with your admission, you will receive a Louisville souvenir mini bat! Fabulously fun RV-sized memorabilia!
The Louisville Slugger Co. does not have any private parking, so it is recommended that you bring your toad or tow vehicle to the factory. You can bring your RV, but parking is per space in the flat lots behind the factory, and charge is $6 for every site you use. http://sluggermuseum.com/planyourvisit
Cedar Grove Cheese Factory in Plain, Wis.
Cedar Grove is a small-scale production utilizes only locally-sourced milk for its traditional-processed cheese making. Specializing in organic cheeses, during this field trip you will learn the history of cheese making, as well the daily processes gone through for Cedar Grove to collect and then turn 30,000 pounds of raw milk into 3,000 pounds of cheese.
The Cedar Grove Cheese Factory offers visitors tours of their production floor, talks about the economics of small-scale cheese making, and also offers a tour of their Living Waters reclamation process which returns the waste water, left after making cheese, back into the watershed cleaner that the water found there. It is open seven days a week, except for January through March when they are closed on Sundays. http://cedargrovecheese.com/ComeVisit.html
Herr’s Chip Factory in Nottingham, Pa.
There are few food brands known better in New England than Herr’s. Famous for their snack foods, Herr’s tour will cover the history of Herr’s, the chip making processes, samples, and a stop by the souvenir and gift shop.
Herr’s Chip Factory offers guided tours Monday through Friday. To ensure that you are able to view the actual process on the production floor instead of via screens, plan your tour Monday through Wednesday. Tours last an hour, and route through three different buildings, so go prepared to walk and be between buildings and consider if you will need a jacket or umbrella. www.herrs.com/SnackFactoryTours.html
Bristol Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.
Who knew that speedway tours could be considered field trips? While this is not a factory tour, this experience is one of the top requested field trips in our RV. Guests learn about both drag racing and lap racing, and will tour the track, pit row, and even up in the fan boxes. Tours begin at the Speedway Gift Shop and are conducted seven days a week, with reduced tours on Sunday. http://www.bristolmotorspeedway.com/fans/speedway_tours
Martin Guitar in Nazareth, Penn.
Another intriguing tour for musicians is the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pa. This field trip delves into the history of guitar making, from old-world tools and methods to modern day processes. You can also enjoy the free Martin Museum self-guided tour, and visit the 1833 Shop to pick up souvenirs or a new guitar. Guests will love the Pickin’ Parlor and the Play Me Wall, where guests are encouraged to try out different Martin guitars.
Tours of the Martin Guitar Factory are conducted Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a maximum of 15 guests per tour. Tours last approximately one hour, and unlike many other factory tours, still photographs are allowed (no flash). http://www.martinguitar.com/about-martin/visit-us/guided-factory-tour.html
Airstream Factory in Jackson Center, Ohio
Ever wonder what makes those Airstream trailers so unique and coveted? Now you can discover just how that icon is made, from shiny shell and exclusive furnishings, right down to every last hand-installed rivet! Tours are offered Monday through Friday at 2 p.m., and last 45 minutes. They are conducted after the production for the day is wrapped up, so you won’t see the staff in action, but you will get to view the process.
Tours include a 2/3 mile walk, and require ear and eye protection, which is provided. http://www.airstream.com/company/tours
Hershey Factory in Hershey, Pa.
Here’s a bonus factory tour! As you drive through and walk around Hershey, Pa., you know instantly that you’re in the Sweetest Place on Earth. It’s the home to the legendary Hershey candy company and the vats of chocolate and pumping out thousands of candy bars every day — and you can smell it from miles away. This free 30-minute, wheelchair accessible tour shows how cocoa beans become the staple ingredient of s’mores. Best of all, when the tour is complete, you can sample your favorite Hershey snack and buy more in the gift shop.
If you love field trips, and are heading west, you can find our top choices for western field trips by clicking here.