People often think that because I'm cheap, I don't really enjoy life. In fact, it's just the opposite. Because I don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy life, I don't need to spend a lot of time getting a lot of money. But, you do need to know how to get the most enjoyment with the fewest bucks, and that's what this section is about.

Fun Factories - Free Tours for the Whole Family

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When I was growing up in the Midwest, our family vacations and weekend outings invariably included show and tell stops at factories that manufactured everything from cookies and candy to light bulbs and model rockets. In retrospect I realize that my parents undoubtedly loved the price tag of admission - almost always free - and the fact that we usually walked away with free samples to further augment our limited family budget. That we were also getting a painless (if sometimes rather superfluous) educational experience was icing on the cakes coming off the conveyor belt.

As kids all we knew was that these tours were the best part of almost any trip. Still to this day at family gatherings we fondly recall our tour guide "Three Fingers Fred" at the meat packing plant we toured in Chicago, and we laugh at the dog-eared snapshot taken of our family at a pickle factory in Indiana, with each of us proudly sporting the pickle shaped paper hats like those worn by the plant's workers. We never got to a single Disney park when I was growing up, but when it comes to good times with family, I'll take our dream factories over the Magic Kingdom any day.

Unfortunately, fewer factories today open their doors to visitors. I suspect that's because of increased liability concerns, and, sadder still, the growing belief among Americans that if something doesn't cost a lot of money, it can't be fun or worthwhile. Nonetheless, many factories still do offer tours, and most of them are still free.

For only the cost of a smile, you can see dolls being made at the Turner Doll factory in Heltonville, Indiana, sample other-worldly teas at the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, Colorado, and see Harley-Davidson Motorcycles roar off the assembly line at the factory in York, Pennsylvania. The tour of Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vermont is a hit with more than a quarter of a million visitors each year, particularly the sampling stop in the FlavoRoom (adults $3 / kids under 12 are free). You can even take a virtual tour of the Spam Factory at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

Check out www.factorytoursusa.com for a comprehensive list of tours by state, and see www.bygpub.com for tours that specifically appeal to kids. And, my upbringing on factory tours has carried over to adulthood. Here's where to look for info on brewery and winery tours: www.ratebeer.com, www.allamericanwineries.com, and www.wineamerica.org (become a WineAmerica Trailblazer for $25 a year and get access to special VIP tours and tastings).

posted by Jeff Yeager at 11:07 AM

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