Dessert-Factory Vacations for the Whole Family
August 2, 2012 | Permalink
Most kids who see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory want to be Charlie. He got to see where his heart’s desire comes from and was invited to be a part of it. Our yearning to get behind the curtain doesn’t go away as we get older. Whether we have childlike imaginations like Roald Dahl, author of the book that the film Willie Wonka is based on, or not, that spark is still inside of us. Dahl’s story is, of course, based upon an actual practice, the candy factory tour—a wonderful tradition still practiced by a number of US factories. Touring a candy or dessert factory with your family is a fantastic way to let kids be kids and for you to reconnect with your inner child.
Northern Vermont, where the Ben and Jerry’s flagship factory is located, is so breathtakingly beautiful that you’ll think you’ve entered The Sound of Music. It is a bucolic wonderland that just might set you off singing Julie Andrews-style. In the winter it’s a skiing mecca, and in the summer, it’s a day-hiker’s dream.
If you fly up from New York City, it is a joy to see the tightly-packed houses of the New York suburbs morph as you fly north into tightly-packed trees. But the area is not pure country. Burlington, just a short drive from Waterbury, is loaded with nightlife. This outpost of Epicureanism and liberal politics is loaded with coffee shops and bars presenting a variety of great music.
Two guys who helped make Burlington a foodie/lefty town of distinction are Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield—popularly known sans surnames. These unlikely businessmen set up an operation in Burlington in the late 70s that was (and is) just as concerned with social justice as it is with quality ingredients and the bottom line—a stance articulated in the company’s mission statement.
At the beginning of the half-hour tour of Ben & Jerry’s factory, you will be shown a film about how two scruffy hippies (one of whom cannot taste the ice cream but judges it based on its texture) started one of the biggest ice-cream empires in the world. Then you will be taken to a glass-faced observation deck to observe the ice cream being made. Try to restrain yourself from banging on the glass Benjamin Braddock-style. Everybody there is going to have the same craving. You’ll be in the Flavoroom eating that day’s special flavor soon enough.
A more Willy Wonka-esque experience is the Jelly Belly tour in Fairfield, California. Jelly Belly is known for its weird flavors—like buttered popcorn, black pepper and grass. The company offers a combo box called BeanBoozled in which good-tasting jelly beans, like peach and coconut, are paired with nearly identical-looking jelly beans that taste awful, like baby wipes and barf. That is just the sort of slightly cruel but ultimately playful thing that a real-life Willy Wonka would do, and it is just the thing that little kids (especially boys) enjoy. On this tour, you will get to see just how all the wild jelly beans and the more normal jelly beans (they make those, too) are made, and you will get plenty of free samples. They probably won’t try to give your kid the factory, but, hey, you never know.
After a day of exercising your sweet tooth and letting your inner child out, you’ll probably be just as tuckered out as your kids. You’ll want to go to a hotel where you can relax—one with all of the amenities of home but none of the hassles.
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