Courtesy Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network
A taste of tradition
Food is also a big part of the attraction in Geauga County. This area in the northeast part of the state is home to the world’s fourth-largest Amish population, which produces a number of tasty products using traditional methods.
“A lot of people say that they bring an empty cooler when they come here because they want to bring home the Amish baked goods and homemade pies,” said Lynda Nemeth, director of the Geauga County Tourism Council.
Ridgeview Country Tours, a local receptive operator, takes groups on tours to see a number of Amish sites throughout the area and can arrange for groups to have meals in Amish family homes.
Two cheese factories in the area create traditional cheeses. At Middlefield Cheese Factory, groups can get a sample of the different products and visit a small museum at the site. Another factory, the Middlefield Cheese Co-Op, uses raw milk and historic methods to make cheese in small batches. When groups visit, they can look through showroom windows to see production taking place on the factory floor.
Throughout the summer and fall, Geauga County’s farm markets make great stops for culinary-minded groups. Visitors will find fresh produce, fresh meats, local wines and pickles.
March also brings a special culinary interest.
“Our big harvest is maple, and March is the best month for that, when the trees start to release the sap,” Nemeth said. “We have pancake breakfasts just about everywhere and a lot of great events and tapping ceremonies.”
In recent years, Columbus has made strides in creating unique hands-on experiences for tour groups. The program has expanded to include several dozen activities, each of which highlights one of the area’s attractions.
Among the newest experiential offerings is Artist for a Day.
“Groups go to the Columbus Museum of Art, and they’re met by someone in character portraying a relative of one of the artists from Columbus,” said Brian Cheek, tourism sales manager for Experience Columbus. “They explain about the artist’s history and then take the folks downstairs to the archive. You can handle some of the art and artifacts that aren’t on display. It gives your group an exclusive look at something.”
The program at the art museum can also include a drawing and sketching workshop, where instructors help visitors create their own works of art.
A similar program takes place at the Columbus Zoo. Groups can have breakfast or lunch in a private area; the program features appearances by some of the zoo’s animals. Animal handlers introduce their creatures to the groups, allowing guests to interact with the animals and ask questions about them.
A number of the group tour experiences in Columbus highlight food. Franklin Park Conservatory has found a way to combine a food experience with botany.
“You can do group cooking classes at the conservatory and botanical gardens,” Cheek said. “You pick fresh herbs and vegetables in the community gardens out there and use them to make your own wood-fired pizzas in the pizza ovens they have there.”
The Lake Erie islands off Ohio’s central coast have long been attractive to visitors, who come to enjoy relaxed island life and the beauty of the Great Lake. For this year and next year, special events add a new dimension to the visitor experience.
“Put-in-Bay and the whole area are gearing up for a huge celebration in 2013, the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812,” said Jill Bauer, public relations coordinator for the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’re having a huge re-enactment on Labor Day weekend, and lots of other events are planned around that. There will be tall ships, and national acts doing some entertainment.”
No matter when they come, groups can visit Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a towering monument built to commemorate the lasting peace established between the United States and Canada after the war. At the top of the monument, an observation deck affords views of Lake Erie and the islands from 300 feet above the water.
In addition to checking out some of the historic sites, many groups that visit the Lake Erie coast enjoy taking cruise tours that show off the area’s natural beauty.
“There’s a cruise boat, the Good Time, that visits Put-in-Bay and Kelly’s Island,” Bauer said. “You spend a couple of hours on each island and can take train tours on each one. And you have a meal on the boat while you sail from one island to the other.”
At the southern tip of Ohio on the banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati has a thriving downtown and a number of marquee museums. The city is also enjoying some major exhibits and events this year.
One of the most anticipated exhibits is “A Day in Pompeii,” which will present artifacts from the ancient Roman city that was destroyed by volcanic eruption. The exhibition begins in March at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.
“That’s a very special legacy venue for us,” said Linda Antus, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network. “It’s a beautiful Art Deco building that housed the main transportation lines during the Industrial Revolution. For over 10 years, it’s been a wonderful venue with three different museums and an Imax theater.”
Another special event begins this spring at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Called Zoo Babies, the event celebrates the zoo’s robust breeding program by allowing guests to see up close some of the baby animals born at the site over the past year.