In these days of rising prices and shrinking budgets, factory tours are still are a great travel value. Besides being easy on the wallet, they're also very educational. As an added bonus, you can even sample the finished products on some factory tours. Granted, many factories contain substantial access obstacles; however some companies have gone out of their way to make their factory tours wheelchair-accessible. With that in mind, here are three fun factory tours which everyone -- including wheelchair-users and slow walkers -- can enjoy.
At the top of the accessible factory tour list is the Harley-Davidson Factory (tel. 877/746-7937; www.harley-davidson.com) in York, Pennsylvania. This fascinating tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the Harley touring bikes are made. The custom vehicle division is also located at this facility; and even though it's not on the tour, you can still catch a glimpse of the custom bikes as they are brought over to the main building for testing.
Access is good throughout the plant with lots of accessible parking, level access to the Visitors Center and barrier-free access along the tour route. A loaner wheelchair is also available.
The tour begins with a short video. Then it's over to the plant for a look at the parts production area, followed by a walk along the production line and ending with a stop at the testing chamber. The production line is indeed the highlight of the tour, so make sure it's open to tours before you make your plans. During the summer, the whole production line is closed to visitors for a few weeks before the new models are released.
Tours are conducted from 9AM to 2PM on weekdays, and free tickets are distributed on a first-come basis. A word of warning -- the summer months are extremely busy, so arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Ben & Jerry's
For a change of pace, check out the Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour (tel. 866/258-6877; www.benjerry.com) tour in rural Waterbury, Vermont. This fun tour costs $4, and it chronicles the story of how childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the business by taking a correspondence course on ice cream making.
Accessible parking is available near the information booth (just follow the signs), but if you can't do distances, there is a drop-off point in front of the main building. There is level access to the lobby, and a wheelchair is available for loan at the tour desk.
The entire tour is wheelchair-accessible, with level access to all areas. Although you don't go directly in the factory, you can see how the ice cream is made from overhead viewing stations. There are free samples at the end of the tour, but if you'd like more than a sample, there's a scoop shop outside.
For a look at how Sonatas and Elantras are made, make sure to take the Hyundai Factory Tour (tel. 334/387-8019; www.hmmausa.com) in Montgomery, Alabama. There's plenty of accessible parking in the visitors lot, with level access to the visitors center building.
After a short orientation session, visitors are taken by a wheelchair-accessible tram through the stamping shop, welding shop, general assembly shop, engine shop and out to the test track. It's a very interesting tour, and although it's free, advance reservations are required. The tours are offered during the day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as Thursday evenings. Truly the only bad thing about this tour is that they don't give out free samples.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 22 Accessible Road Trips; Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.