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Busy Parks

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Arches National Park, Utah. Credit: NPS/Veronica Verdin

Groups thinking about putting a national park on their itinerary will want to be aware of timed reservations that several of the parks are reintroducing this year. 

Arches National Park, located in east-central Utah and which had a pilot vehicle registration system last year, will again initiate the program on April 1.

“We received many positive comments from people who enjoyed the guaranteed arrival time and reduced congestion they experienced during the 2023 vehicle reservation pilot,” says Arches National Park Acting Superintendent Brendan Bray. “A repeat pilot program in 2024 will help us learn more about how such systems can provide visitors with the opportunity for enjoyable experiences while protecting the extraordinary landscapes they come to see.”

Program parameters will be the same as the 2023 pilot, according to information from the park. Visitors can book reservations on a first-come, first-served basis through recreation.gov. Reservations will be released three months in advance in monthly blocks. As an example, reservations that opened in January are for the month of April. On Feb. 1, reservations will open for the month of May, and unreserved times in April will remain open. Additional months will continue the same pattern.

According to the National Park Service, the other national parks that will have timed reservations include: 

  • Glacier National Park, beginning May 24 for the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road and North Fork, and on July 1 for Many Glacier. 
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, beginning May 24. 
  • Yosemite National Park will have a “Peak Hours Plus” vehicle reservation pilot system for park entry on the following dates: On weekends from April 13 to June 30; every day from July 1 to Aug. 16; and on weekends from Aug. 17 to Oct. 27. 
  • Zion National Park will require reservations to visit and hike the popular Angels Landing.

The aim of the timed entries is to help overcrowding at the parks. As an example, Arches National Park saw a 73% visitation growth rate—or an additional 2 million people annually—between 2011-2021, according to the NPS.

“This increase was concentrated during certain hours, causing congestion at key park destinations, reduced visitor enjoyment, and increased resource damage,” according to the agency. “During times of peak congestion prior to implementing the vehicle reservation pilots, the park had to temporarily close its gates until crowding lessened, resulting in many visitors being unable to enter the park at their preferred time or at all.”

It says the vehicle reservation pilots the previous two years “were successful in reducing congestion, improving visitor experiences, providing reliable access, and distributing visitation throughout the day.”

Main Image: Arches National Park, Utah, Credit: NPS/Veronica Verdin

Groups Find Riverside Recreation in Winona, Minnesota

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Scenic and historic Winona, Minnesota, is a great destination for group tours. Brimming with history, music, art, and outdoor recreation, this charming city has a wide array of activities to ensure an exciting travel experience for all visitors. Contact Visit Winona to start planning your tour today. 

History

Not sure where to start on your Winona travel experience? The Winona County Historical Society and Visit Winona can coordinate step-on guides for bus tours to get an overview of the city. Based on your group’s interests, you can see Winona’s top attractions, view the river valley from atop the bluffs, tour museums, and more. 

Groups can also explore Winona’s Windom Park Historic District with the help of local guides. This architecture and history tour sheds light on Winona in the late 1800’s, when the city allegedly had the most millionaires per capita in the United States. Tour highlights include a stop by the statue of the legendary figure We-no-nah, the namesake of the city. 

Boats and Bluegrass Festival
Boats and Bluegrass Festival
Credit: Visit Winona

Arts

Winona is an artistic city with plenty of creative activities and events. In addition to its own plentiful art galleries and local performance venues, Winona plays host to popular live music events, including Minnesota Beethoven Festival, the Boats and Bluegrass Festival, the Mid West Music Festival. 

From June through the end of July, groups can take in performances at The Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF). Each year, the talented company performs multiple works by the Bard, in what Talkin’ Broadway calls “an essential part of summer in Minnesota.” In addition to attending the play, the audience can participate in behind-the-scenes tours, workshops, and panel discussions with the cast and crew. 

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum’s (MMAM) education programs and art exhibitions explore mankind’s relationship with water. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the museum’s six galleries contain contemporary exhibitions and historic artworks. Schedule a guided tour focused on three specific galleries, then wander the MMAM’s 3.5 acres of gardens with over 60,000 native plants. 

Outdoors

Winona is in the gorgeous bluff region, a unique geographic area that offers myriad hiking and biking trails. Sugar Loaf Bluff might be Winona’s most famous landmark, offering excellent views of the surrounding area. The hike up to this nearly 85-foot bluff is only 20 minutes long, making it easy to incorporate into a busy day of exploring. 

The National Eagle Center has two floors of exhibits on regional history of the Dakota peoples and other residents, the environment of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, and the history of eagles in the U.S. Book a tour with a live eagle ambassador and follow local experts to observe nest sites, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, and other wildlife. Group discounts are available.


Get out on the water with the Winona Tour Boat. This narrated boat tour covers the history of Winona and its relationship to the mighty Mississippi River as it floats by the commercial port, barge systems, and famous boat house community. Not only will your group get a unique perspective on the city’s history, but it’s a great opportunity to spot eagles, turtles, deer, and more of Winona’s native wildlife.

Lead Image:
Winona’s river valley from atop the bluffs
Credit: Visit Winona

Let the Olympics Ignite Your Parisian Itinerary

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Among the nicknames Paris enjoys, “the City of Lights” is one that stands out for those whose own sparkle shimmers on the banks of the Seine. This week, the spotlight of the world focuses on Paris as the French capital hosts the Olympic Games for the third time, endeavoring to repeat some of the spectacle of the 1924 Olympics with the panache for which Paris is celebrated the world over. 

Rather than building new facilities outside of the city, this summer, a collection of historic venues in the heart of Paris will serve as the backdrop to athletic contests. While travelers may reminisce about past journeys, still others may be inspired to develop their own French-focused itinerary.

Credit: Paris 2024
Map of Olympic event sites;
Credit: Paris 2024

Weaving through Paris, the River Seine will take center stage on Friday, July 26, at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Flotillas of athletic delegations are set to sail past iconic sites like the Cathedral of Notre Dame, set to reopen this December, and the famed artistic treasure-trove of the Louvre.

Taking in Paris from the water offers groups the opportunity to celebrate the rich heritage of the capital. Narrated river cruises under the bridges that span the banks of the Siena offer a refreshing alternative and majestic perspective. A dinner cruise complete with wine provides a unique dining experience, especially when timed with the dynamic illuminations on the Eiffel Tower. 

Eiffel Tower

Since its debut at the 1889 World Fair, the Eiffel Tower has been an image synonymous with Paris and, indeed, all of France. This summer, the site will host the fan-favorite beach volleyball contests. After the games, groups can certainly book a visit up to the summit to take in the panoramic views; however, that vantage point excludes the Eiffel Tower from all the site lines. Instead, consider a group outing and meal at the Trocadero across the river and enjoy a meal with the most iconic of all of France’s sites in full view.

Invalides

The site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb and of the military hospital he created for his famed Grand Army, the golden dome of the Invalides and its breathtaking grounds reminds visitors of France’s military traditions.

Esplanade des Invalides, archery venue, Paris, France; Credit: Paris 2024
Rendering of Esplanade des Invalides, archery venue, Paris, France;
Credit: Paris 2024

This summer, the sweeping vistas will host archery and shooting, a nod to the area’s military heritage. Groups will find the area teeming with history about Napoleon and can take in the grandeur of the burial vault Napoleon designed as the enduring memorial to his military achievements for France.

Place de la Concorde

Taking center-stage during the height of the French Revolution, the Place de la Concorde is an important stop for groups exploring the French Revolution. Paired with the Concierge, the palace-turned-prison where Marie Antoinette spent her final days before being carted to the guillotine, the Place de la Concorde relates the bloodiest days of the Revolution.

La Concorde urban-sports venue, Paris, France; Credit Paris 2024
Rendering of La Concorde urban sports venue, Paris, France;
Credit: Paris 2024

A guided visit zeroing in on the story of how the Revolution dispatched with its opponents—both real and imagined—and then consumed itself will provide groups with an informative look at this vital component of French History. Situated in the heart of the city, this summer, the Place de la Concorde will serve as the backdrop to urbanized sports, namely three-on-three basketball and breakdancing.

Palace of Versailles

The pleasure palace of the “Sun King” Louis XIV, the Palace of Versailles replaced Paris as the heart of the French Court for more than a century. The Palace and its grand apartments, most notably the Hall of Mirrors, and its sweeping gardens with cascading fountains, shaded groves and canopies, and three more stunning palaces offers plenty of amusements for groups. Indeed, groups should allocate a full day at Versailles. 

Equestrian venue in Versailles, Paris, France; Credit: Paris 2024
Rendering of Versailles equestrian Olympic venue, Paris, France;
Credit: Paris 2024

A guided visit of the State Rooms can be followed by independent time in the sweeping estate with opportunities for cycling, rowing, or a shuttle to other sites within the grounds. Groups traveling from Paris by train are cautioned to secure the correct tickets to avoid a hefty penalty from French authorities. This summer, the grounds of Versailles will return to their days of royal splendor in hosting many of the equestrian events with the Palace as the dramatic backdrop to the competitions.

With a public transportation network to ferry groups to all the sites, an incredible cuisine scene, and plentiful cultural delights to fascinate the art-lover, history buff, fashionista, and shopper extraordinaire, Paris is positioned to ascend the top of the podium as groups are inspired by the international world of sport to strike out and experience the world.

For more information, visit france.fr.


By Michael C. McLaughlin

Main Image: Rendering of Eiffel Tower stadium, Paris, France; Credit: Paris 2024

Out of the Ordinary

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Explore distinctive museums in the Northeast for a one-of-a-kind group experience. Whether the interest lies in the historical, supernatural, peculiar, or uncanny, there are numerous venues in this region for your group to explore.

Groups can get up close and personal with their favorite celebrity at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York City. Take your group on an immersive red carpet experience and view wax figures of celebrities from Hollywood, music, sports, politics, and more. Venture on self-guided tours through the museum that encourage hands-on, interactive experiences with figures endorsed by the celebrities they represent. “It’s not just a museum—it’s an A-list experience, showcasing lifelike wax figures of your favorite celebrities and cultural icons,” says Brittany Williams, the museum’s public relations manager. “Walk among the stars, strike a pose, and immerse yourself in the dazzling allure of Madame Tussauds’ world-famous red carpet attraction.”

In Maryland, your group can learn the “often-neglected facts” of African American history at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. The museum displays contributions of prominent African Americans, from Civil War soldiers and Freemasons to pioneers in the Western frontier, polar exploration, and the Space Race. Through self-guided and guided tours, your group will explore a 5,000-year historical journey from Ancient Africa to modern times and view over 200 life-size wax figures.

Your group can experience year-round thrills at the Salem Wax Museum and Salem Witch Village in Salem, Massachusetts. The museum, located near historic sites such as the Tricentennial Witch Trials Memorial, includes 50 London-made wax figures depicting scenes from the town’s notorious history. In the lower dungeon of the museum is the lair of Dr. Frankenstein, where your group can be spooked by live actors and animatronics. During Salem’s annual October celebration, “Haunted Happenings,” the Salem Witch Village is converted into the “Haunted Neighborhood,” including haunted houses and walking tours with themes ranging from witches and seafarers to ghosts and spellcasting.

Groups looking for an experience outside of the norm should visit the Paranormal Museum in Asbury Park, New Jersey, which has a reputation for being haunted. This small, yet unique museum has more than 200 artifacts on display, each with an eerie story. Founded by Kathy Kelly, a true enthusiast of the paranormal, the museum also houses a bookstore called Paranormal Book & Curiosities and a rooftop garden for events. “You’re not only going to get the stories, but it’s entirely possible that you’ll have an experience as well,” Kelly says. “It’s not unusual for people to hear things or be touched or see things move.” But the museum is not just about the scares, she says. It is a blend of history, mystery, and a touch of the supernatural.

Take your group into the world of unknown animals at the International Cryptozoology Museum in Bangor and Portland, Maine. At the museum, your tour group can see a diverse range of exhibitions—from rare scientific specimens to cultural homages. Plan a guided tour to provide your group with insights into cryptids like Bigfoot, Yetis, and living fossils. Visitors will have the chance to view rare evidence for these creatures, such as hair samples and foot casts.


By Clarissa Casper

Main Image: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, New York City, New York; Credit: Madame Tussauds New York

Itinerary: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

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EAT

There’s much to experience in scenic Sioux Falls. Groups will enjoy Looks Marketplace, which has been a Sioux Falls staple since 1883, has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and is described as having a “legendary deli counter.” The establishment offers dine-in options and includes burgers, sandwiches, and pizza, among other comfort foods. Dine with a pleasant view of the waterfalls at Falls Overlook Cafe or try the traditional food fare of southern South Dakota at Urban Chislic.


EXPLORE

Take your group to the SculptureWalk, a 65-piece exhibit displayed year-round from Washington Pavilion to Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls. The exhibits, owned by the artists themselves, change every year. They are loaned to the city and remain in place throughout the year until a new lineup replaces them. Visitors can vote on their favorites from May through September, and the winning art is purchased by the city and added to its permanent collection. Groups also will enjoy being outdoors at Falls Park, which covers 123 acres, and where roughly 7,400 gallons of water flow over the course of the falls every second.


LEARN

The USS South Dakota was the most decorated battleship of World War II, having fought in every major battle in the Pacific from 1942-45. The Battleship South Dakota Memorial, far from any ocean, pays tribute to the legendary ship and is open to visitors from May through September. Step back further in time at Buffalo Ridge, dubbed “1880 Cowboy Town,” where more than 50 animated exhibits of the American West and region are on display. The 1800s are brought to life by animated mannequins that reenact history along Main Street, where there also is an antique museum. Don’t forget to try a buffalo burger.


LEARN MORE

Travel South Dakota

travelsouthdakota.com


Main Image: Falls Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Credit: Travel South Dakota

Many Reasons to Visit

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Arkansas might not be what a person considers when thinking of the Old West, but this southern state has a Western flair that might surprise visitors, especially in places such as Fort Smith—once considered the westernmost frontier and where a judge who measured out cowboy justice once presided in his no-holds bar courtroom.

Besides the history lessons, there is culture and charm associated with The Natural State, no less its natural beauty. Arkansas is home to 52 state parks, more than 2,300 lakes and reservoirs, and a landscape of rolling hills that are blanketed by green all spring and summer and become bespeckled as the year deepens into autumn.

No matter the time of year, tour groups will enjoy visiting this state for many reasons, and a good place to begin the journey is in Little Rock. The city has it all—from a presidential center and thriving art scene to notable eateries and outdoor venues.

Here, in the capital city, is where Bill Clinton resided and served as governor before ascending to the office of president in the early 1990s. As such, it is fitting this is where his presidential library—the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum—would be located. Visitors can broaden their perspective about the life and work of “Number 42” and enjoy an array of experiences at the center that encompass both indoor and outdoor attractions. The center provides year-round cultural and educational opportunities for all ages, and houses one of the largest archival collections in American presidential history. Visitors can even experience what it might have been like to sit in a presidential suite—the White House Cabinet Room and Oval Office—during Clinton’s time at the nation’s capital. Interactive replicas of these stately rooms give visitors the chance to imagine they are part of a cabinet meeting or waiting for a one-on-one with the president. Step outside to the center’s 30-acre Clinton Presidential Park to reflect at the Anne Frank Tree or walk through the Bill Clark Wetlands.

Visit the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, which offers many educational, performing, and visual arts. About 20,000 square feet is devoted to the center’s permanent art collections and temporary exhibits; 11 acres are decorated with sculptures and walking paths; and a state-of-the-art theater hosts live performances, concerts, and films.

Continue your Ozark explorations in Bentonville, home of the Walmart Museum Heritage Lab, which gives visitors a glimpse into the future of the new and improved Walmart Museum (still under renovation) and is used for testing new exhibits and technologies. Another site to consider is the Museum of Native American History that houses more than 10,000 Native American artifacts and features founder David Bogle’s private collection and several others, both donated and on loan.

Walmart Museum Heritage Lab, Bentonville, Arkansas;
Credit: Tourism Arkansas

The Peel Museum and Botanical Gardens, also in Bentonville, features the Italianate style that was popular in Arkansas from the 1840s-1890s. Likewise, the Compton Gardens & Arboretum serves as an oasis in the heart of downtown Bentonville with its impressive array of native plants, trees, and other greenery. This sanctuary of more than 6 acres celebrates the history of Ozark horticulture, but visitors will also find pieces of art interspersed among the foliage.

Another place to put on the itinerary is Fort Smith, located in the western part of the state, where its innovative spirit is still alive and perhaps best showcased in its approach to history and the arts. Among the places tour groups will enjoy here are the Belle Grove Historic District and Fort Smith National Historic Site, the latter where visitors can view the courtroom of early judge Isaac Parker, infamously called “The Hanging Judge” for his harshness measuring out justice to anyone who encroached the law.

Depending on the crime—and perhaps his mood that day—walking into Judge Parker’s courtroom was like treading one’s last mile. It is said that during Parker’s two-decade tenure on the bench of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas, he sent more than 160 individuals to their deaths by sentencing them to hanging. Quite literally, receiving a sentence from the judge was the end of the matter, because for a number of those years the soon-to-be-hanged had no right of appeal. A bit somber, but a visit to the courthouse is also educational.


By Andrew Weeks

Main Image: Fort Smith National Historic Site, Fort Smith, Arkansas; Credit: Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau

Itinerary: Claremore, Oklahoma

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LEARN

Did you know Claremore has more museums per capita than any other city in the world? No matter your group’s historical interests, they’ll be sure to find an engaging learning experience here.

At the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum, see the world’s largest privately owned gun collection, with more than 12,000 firearms and thousands of other related Wild West artifacts. Or, head over to the campus of Rogers State University to tour the Oklahoma Military Museum. This intriguing museum tells the story of the more than 10,000 cadets who attended the military academy from 1919-71 through exhibits, artifacts, and re-created rooms—giving groups an inside’ look at the training needed to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Other Claremore museums include the Claremore Museum of History, D.W. Correll Museum, and Belvidere Mansion.


PLAY

Enjoy entertainment, nightlife, delicious dining, and plenty of games at the Cherokee Casino & Hotel. Groups can engage in the fast-paced suspense of horse racing at Will Rogers Downs, and in the evenings, relax as they enjoy live music performances.


VISIT

Will Rogers, aka “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” was a world-famous cowboy and vaudeville performer who grew up in Claremore. Today, the Will Rogers Memorial Museum—built by his widow, Betty Rogers, in the late 1930s—honors his career and legacy. Groups can attend a brief orientation and film viewing before exploring exhibits on Rogers’ memorabilia and writings, plus see many beautiful artworks and sculptures. Groups can also pay their respects to Will and Betty, who are entombed on the property.


LEARN MORE

Visit Claremore

visitclaremore.com


Main Image: Will Rogers Memorial Museum; Credit: Adobe/Nicki

Itinerary: Ocean City, Maryland

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DINE

OC Foodie Tours show groups how the locals eat in Ocean City, the home of stunning seafood, quaint wineries, and the Orange Crush, the city’s unofficial cocktail. The food tour company also offers self-guided tours with curated itineraries, an audio guide, and interviews with chefs.


STAY

Groups are well accommodated at the large Carousel Resort Hotel & Condominiums, located just a five-minute drive from the city’s famous 3-mile boardwalk. With special amenities such as an indoor ice rink (the only rink in the city), movie nights, an indoor pool, and game rooms, this stay offers groups many activities during down times.


WANDER

For groups looking for a more unusual tour, experience one of the 11 ghost walks offered by Chesapeake Ocean City Ghost Walks. Take a nighttime walk into the Pocomoke Forest, billed as the most haunted forest in Maryland, or stroll through a haunted graveyard to hear the spirits of the city’s former residents. But don’t worry, groups can choose tours with different fright levels. During the colder months, tours are conducted by bus, but participants still leave chilled to the bone.


MARVEL

Ocean City’s proximity to the spectacular Assateague Island is another selling point. The island is filled with charm, complete with rolling sand dunes, buzzing marshes, and, best of all, wild horses. In the winter, groups will have to bundle up to see the animals in their natural habitat, but those willing to brave the cold are rewarded: Visitors get to see the horses in their cute, fuzzy winter coats.


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Ocean City, MD

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Main Image: Ocean City, Maryland; Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

Locked in Time

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Surrounded by turquoise waters atop a small, rocky island in San Francisco Bay sits one of the nation’s most notorious prisons. Almost picturesque from afar, looks can be deceiving as visitors to the penitentiary- turned-national park get a glimpse into the darker shades of the American criminal justice system. On the opposite side of the country, in the heart of Philadelphia, another infamous penitentiary offers groups an experience that is both haunting (literally) and enlightening. Although separated by thousands of miles, both sites tell a story of justice, injustice, and life behind bars.

For as long as the United States has been a country, prisons have been interwoven into the very fabric that forms society. Prisons themselves are believed to have been in existence as far back as the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian empires. For better or worse, these intuitions are an unfortunate inevitability of humanity.

But they serve an important purpose beyond the retention and punishment of the incarcerated. From criminal justice reform and racial discrimination to offender rehabilitation and the humane treatment of inmates, these historic prisons and reformatories offer groups a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of an imperfect system.

Landmark Lockups

With a history that spans 142 years, perhaps no prison is more influential to today’s criminal justice system than Eastern State Penitentiary, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Officially opened in 1829, Eastern State was the world’s first penitentiary. It employed a first-of-its-kind radial plan, pioneered the large-scale use of solitary confinement, and housed about 85,000 people over the course of its operation.

“The penitentiary understandably appeals to history lovers, architecture buffs, and criminal justice scholars,” says Francine Schiffman, senior manager for group sales and events at the penitentiary. “But Eastern State truly offers something for everyone. As soon as groups arrive at Eastern State, the tone is set for a unique experience. Its imposing, castle-like walls are 30 feet high and encircle an entire city block. Once groups step inside, they are met with church-like vaulted ceilings as massive skylights illuminate the eerily beautiful cellblocks.”

Eastern State offers both in-person and virtual group tours year-round. The penitentiary can accommodate groups of up to 150 people per time slot as they wander the building’s rusted cellblocks and hallways adorned in paint peeling with age. Many groups, Schiffman explains, opt to partake in the self-guided “The Voices of Eastern State Audio Tour,” narrated by actor Steve Buscemi and featuring firsthand accounts from people who worked or were incarcerated at Eastern State when it was active.

Guided tours are led by engaging educators who tailor their tours to each group’s needs and interests, including the penitentiary’s history, architecture, and topics pertaining to criminal justice reform today. And for those looking to explore Eastern State’s spookier side, the allegedly haunted locale offers paranormal walkthroughs in the fall.

The penitentiary provides discounts for groups of 15 or more, with daytime tour groups receiving one complimentary admission per 15 paying visitors. Accommodations including mobility aids and American Sign Language interpretation can be made upon request. Can’t make it to Philadelphia? Groups can also participate in Eastern State’s tour program virtually through a live, interactive, discussion-based experience with an Eastern State staff educator.

Al Capone’s Cell at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Credit: Eastern State Penitentiary

“Fans of art will appreciate Eastern State’s collection of 16 thought-provoking, site-specific artist installations,” Schiffman says. “People interested in learning about religion in prisons should be sure to stop by the historic synagogue. Visitors of all ages will enjoy hearing more about Eastern State’s most well-known prisoners like ‘Scarface’ Al Capone, ‘Slick Willie’ Sutton (and his ultimately failed 1945 tunnel escape), as well as what life was like for the average person incarcerated at Eastern State.”

In Boise, the Old Idaho Penitentiary stands as one of only four prestatehood prisons open to the public today as museums. Established as the territory’s first prison in 1872, the fortress-like penitentiary now offers self-guided and guided tours facilitated by staff well-versed in the site’s history. Guided tours are limited to 25 attendees and are often centered on themes such as discrimination, hard crimes, and capital punishment. A discount of $1 off regular admission per attendee for groups of 10 or more is available.

“The Old Idaho Penitentiary, or Idaho State Penitentiary, is one of Idaho’s most visited and top-rated tourist destinations and historic sites,” says Jacey Brain, visitor services coordinator for the penitentiary. “Visitors are able to see changes in prison conditions over time [1872-1973], in addition to discovering the stories of those who were incarcerated there—men and women, ranging in age from a 10-year-old boy to at least two men in their 80s.”

Brain says visitors to the prison walk away with a broader understanding of often-difficult topics that are now “becoming more prominent in our daily lives.”

Setting the Scene

Whether due to its isolated location or harrowing conditions, Alcatraz Island, once home to a federal penitentiary in San Francisco Bay, California, has continuously captured the imagination and curiosity of people around the world. It’s a place most Americans have heard of, although fewer know the history of the iconic location—now a national park—that has been featured in film and television countless times.

Originally functioning as a military reservation, Alcatraz became a penitentiary in 1934. More than 1,500 “difficult to incarcerate” people were held there over the course of the prison’s 29 years in operation. While incarcerated at Alcatraz, prisoners were subjected to harsh conditions, maintaining only four inherent rights during their time there: medical attention, food, shelter, and clothing. Access to recreational activities or family visits had to be earned. This experiment in inmate isolation came to an end in 1963 due to a lack of funding.

Today, Alcatraz City Cruises is the official concessioner to the park, offering day, night, and behind-the-scenes tours amongst the penitentiary’s eerily silent hallways. The maximum group size allowed is 30. Groups can choose to partake in a guided tour or the self-guided “Alcatraz Cellhouse Audio Tour.”

Guided or not, tourgoers should be sure to keep an eye out for cell 14D, allegedly home to one of Alcatraz’s most infamous ghosts, a man believed to have been especially violent during his time in the prison. Other notable spirits said to haunt the island include the Lady in Green, the wife of a former prison warden, and Robert Stroud—the “Birdman of Alcatraz”—who spent 17 years in solitary confinement.

The Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio;
Credit: Adobe/Aceshot

Looking to the Midwest, not everyone has heard of The Ohio State Reformatory, but odds are, you’ve seen it. This former reformatory in Mansfield famously served as the set for “The Shawshank Redemption,” frequently listed as IMDB’s No. 1 movie of all time. The location has additionally been featured in several other movies, music videos, and TV shows over the years.

Ohio State initially opened its doors as a reformatory in 1896. “It was intended to bring in young, male, first-time (typically nonviolent) offenders who the state believed could be fully rehabilitated and sent back into the public as upstanding citizens,” explains Ashleigh Ramey, program director for the reformatory. Inmates were offered education, job skills, religion, and socialization. “The reform program worked really well, with an unheard-of 15% recidivism rate.”

By the 1960s, the once-successful reformatory experienced overcrowding and a lack of funding. It was forced to convert to a maximum-security prison, which closed its doors in 1990. Today, the Gothic- and Romanesque-style reformatory offers self-guided group rate tours, private guided tours that can be tailored to a group’s interests, and private Shawshank Bus Tours.

Self-guided tours have no group size limit, but private guided tours max out at 40 and the bus tour can accommodate 24. Self-guided groups of more than 20 receive a $5 per person discount.

“We offer a little something for everyone, and the building will appeal to anyone interested in architecture, the reform system in the United States, history in general, historic restoration, ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ and abandoned buildings,” Ramey says. “We are having a massive celebration Aug. 9-11, 2024, for ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ 30th anniversary. We are going to have celebrities joining us,”—Ramey was not at liberty to say who—“Q&A sessions, viewings of the movie at the Renaissance Theatre where it first premiered, and other fun activities.”


By Madeline Fuerstenberg

Main Image: Alcatraz, San Francisco, California; Credit: Adobe/F11Photo

Experience the Emerald Isle

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Groups traveling along North Carolina’s breathtaking Crystal Coast will delight in the sun, sand, and unforgettable experiences to be found at Emerald Isle. This coastal playground offers plenty of scenic splendor by day and a vibrant night scene to extend the fun when the sun goes down.

Natural Beauty

“Emerald Isle is a picturesque family beach,” says Matt Zapp, town manager. “The amenities will be sure to spoil any beachgoer. The town’s motto is ‘Nice Matters!’ So, bring your loved ones and find out what it truly means to feel welcomed.”

The star of the show is Emerald Isle’s spectacular coastline. The sandy beaches offer a full selection of outdoor activities for your group. Fishing enthusiasts might cast a line from Bogue Inlet Pier or hire a local fishing charter. The peaceful Bogue Sound is a scenic spot to rent a kayak or paddleboard to row away the day with your group.

Adventurous visitors can take advantage of the region’s natural landscape, hiking and biking on well-marked trails. Emerald Isle Woods is a maritime forest where trails wind beneath the lush canopy. McLean Spell Park beckons groups to enjoy picnic lunches on the shores of tranquil ponds and meandering pathways.

No visit would be complete without visiting The Point. The walk to this isolated beach is well worth the unrivaled views of stunning sunsets in which the sky radiates a spectrum of dazzling colors.

Bogue Inlet Pier, Emerald Isle, North Carolina;
Credit: Crystal Coast Tourism Authority
Dining Destination

Emerald Isle eateries offer a dash of local flavor your group won’t soon forget. Begin at Shepard Barbecue, where mouthwatering barbecue and Southern hospitality converge to create a sublime dining experience. Indulge in tender smoked meats and savory sides, all served up with a helping of genuine North Carolina charm.

For a taste of coastal cuisine with a gourmet twist, head to Gaffers Restaurant, where fresh seafood takes center stage in creative dishes that will tantalize the taste buds.

Caribsea, a culinary oasis where Caribbean flavors meet Southern flair, is a place where guests can savor bold and vibrant dishes crafted from the freshest ingredients, all while enjoying panoramic views of the rolling Atlantic Ocean.

Festivals, Fun & Friendly Folks

Emerald Isle offers groups the opportunity to join locals in a full calendar of can’t-miss events. In celebration of the community’s Irish heritage, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival is characterized by exciting live performances and entertainment paired with delicious food and beverages.

“Beyond the Emerald Isle’s remarkable dining and breathtaking views, the true essence that sets it apart is its community,” remarks Kyle Lagos, owner of Spinnaker’s Reach Realty. “Uniquely down-to-earth, unbuttoned, relaxed, and approachable, the locals epitomize the authentic charm of the Crystal Coast—all while embracing the laidback comfort of flip-flops.”

Farther Afield

Emerald Isle is situated on the Crystal Coast, which, at 85 miles long, has plenty to offer groups. From browsing art galleries and boutique beachfront shops to hitting the links at award-winning golf courses, there is something for everyone.

Consider sending your group to Beaufort, the third-oldest town in North Carolina. The historic district offers beautiful examples of Bahamian architecture—including Hammock House, known as the home of notorious pirate Blackbeard. His ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, is in 20 feet of water just off Fort Macon Park.


By Michael McLaughlin

Main Image: A Crystal Coach Beach, North Carolina; Credit: Crystal Coast Tourism Authority

Itinerary: Bayfield, Wisconsin

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EXPLORE

Via kayak or cruise, motorboat or sailboat, experience the expansive, breathtaking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the gateway to the Apostle Islands—all 22 of them—and the National Lakeshore that includes 12 miles of mainland wilderness. The Apostle Islands offer a combination of some of the country’s best recreational boating and kayaking, with endless potential for discovery among the sea caves, trails, sandstone cliffs, and miles of beaches. In addition to the natural beauty, it is home to the nation’s largest and most complete collection of historic lighthouses.


PARTY

Groups can enjoy live entertainment at Big Top Chautauqua, whether it’s with an international headliner or experiencing regional talent. Throughout the summer, “Concerts by the Lake” are held two days a week. Immerse your group in a relaxing tour of the Bayfield Maritime Museum, the Madeline Island Museum, or the Bayfield Heritage Center.


INDULGE

With something for all tastes, have your group visit the microbrewery Adventure Club Brewing or enjoy artisanal beverages at Copper Crow Distillery. For viewing and eating pleasure, visit the Fruit Loop for orchards and berry farms in what has been called the “Berry Capital of Wisconsin.” Take a stroll through the beautiful farms or pick your own fresh delicacies.


RIDE

During the summer months, group members who like to be on two wheels can experience Lake Superior from a bicycle, riding through Big Bay State Park and Big Bay Town Park, or catch a lift on the Madeline Island Ferry Line. From December to March, glide about 25 miles of groomed Nordic trails, Alpine runs, fat biking trails, snowshoeing, and hiking paths.


LEARN MORE

Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau

bayfield.org


Main Image: Bayfield Harbor, Bayfield, Wisconsin; Credit: Bayfield Chamber & Visitor Bureau

Travel South Dakota Wins Numerous Awards

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Travel South Dakota was the most awarded organization at the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Adrian Awards on Feb. 13 in New York City.

In addition to taking home five 2023 Adrian Awards as part of its prestigious international marketing competition, including two Platinum awards and the coveted Best of Show, Travel South Dakota’s Katlyn Svendsen, global public relations and content services senior director, was recognized within the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds for her accomplishments within the industry.

“To have Travel South Dakota’s work honored at the international level alongside our agency partners is quite an honor,” Svendsen tells Group Tour. “Personally, to be nominated and considered as one of HSMAI’s Top 25 Extraordinary Minds is an honor. Without doubt, I am reminded that my successes are because of the people I work beside. … Travel South Dakota has put into my hands the opportunity to share South Dakota’s story with millions of people across the globe, and every day I look forward to finding new ways to share some of South Dakota’s great people and places.”

Travel South Dakota’s efforts were selected from more than 800 global entries submitted last year. The Adrian Awards recognize travel marketing organizations for innovative sales and marketing efforts in advertising, public relations, and digital marketing.


Main Image: Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Adrian Awards; Credit: Travel South Dakota

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