Group travel today is much more than just sitting on a motorcoach. Today’s more active group travelers demand more chances to learn about and experience the destinations they are visiting. Over the past decade, many destinations and attractions have seen the value of providing such opportunities.
On two recent trips, I got to immerse myself in hands-on experiences in Columbus, Ohio, and Hershey, Pa. From petting a cheetah at the Columbus Zoo and printing a greeting card on a 19th-century hand-cranked press in Worthington, Ohio, to creating my own candy bar at Chocolate World in Hershey — complete with my photo on the wrapper — I had a blast.
It’s an axiom that people learn by doing, and it’s easy to see why such experiences provide greater understanding. And they are a lot of fun.
One particularly delicious experience was at the Chocolate Lab at the Hershey Story, the Hershey company’s museum located on, you guessed it, Chocolate Avenue.
“You are enrolled in a class where you will make a chocolate bowl. It is totally edible,” Denise, our instructor, informed me. I had just settled in at a stainless-steel workstation after thoroughly washing my hands and donning a plastic apron, latex gloves, a hairnet and, to top off the look, a beard net.
The six stations can hold a total of 35 people for a class.
The class was informative and fun. In between leading us through the steps for making a bowl out of chocolate, Denise gave us a history of chocolate and an overview of chocolate production, from beans to bunnies (chocolate, of course).
She told us that the cacao bean, from which chocolate is produced, needs lots of water and heat; thus, it grows only in the rain forest of a tropical band between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator, with 70 percent now grown in Africa.
After harvest, the beans go through several processes before becoming chocolate: fermenting for up to a week; drying; and roasting, which breaks them into small pieces called nibs, which we sampled.
“The process hasn’t changed in decades,” said Denise.
If you want to sooth your conscience when you overindulge, Denise informed us that chocolate is considered a health food because it is an antioxidant and is considered a fruit. “It is very close to the strawberry,” she said.
But, back to the bowl. The secret was a small balloon. We dipped the balloon in a bowl of melted chocolate twice, careful not to let it drip after the first time, then placed the chocolate-coated balloon on a paper plate and put it into a refrigerator to set. When the chocolate was firm enough, we popped the balloon with a pushpin, and we had a bowl, which we decorated with swirls of liquid frosting from a squeeze bottle.
And, yes, it was edible.