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Check Out Ohio’s Big Three

Ohio appeals to people with passions.

Music fans revel in rock memorabilia at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Wildlife fans admire extraordinary animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Baseball fans can cheer at a Reds game in Cincinnati. Beyond that, the state offers art collections, military museums, architectural wonders, and the list goes on and on.

Many of Ohio’s world-class attraction are in the state’s three major cities: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Stretched across the state from north to south, each city offers groups plenty of tour angles, from history to nightlife fun.

Groups can take advantage of Ohio’s diverse and quality attractions in these culturally vibrant cities.

Cleveland

Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t just rehash the history of past musicians; it nurtures future talent. Its new “Garage” exhibit allows groups to imagine themselves rock stars by playing instruments and recording their own song.

One of Cleveland’s signature attractions, the Hall of Fame is continuously reinventing itself with new exhibits. Coming in 2020 is “Play It Loud,” which will illustrate the important role of instruments in music. Instruments played by Lady Gaga, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones will highlight the exhibit.

No matter when groups visit, the museum offers seven floors of exhibits about musical styles, famous musicians and the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony event.

“At the ‘Power of Rock Experience,’ you go into a theater and watch different induction ceremonies,” said Kristen Jantonio, communications specialist for Destination Cleveland. “You feel like you are on the front row at the ceremony. You can also vote on who you think should be inducted in the future.”

There are more cultural institutions at Cleveland’s University Circle, which also offers a botanical garden, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“When groups come to Cleveland, they are able to experience a variety of arts, culture, and rock and roll attractions,” said Jantonio. “We have the most concentrated square mile of arts and culture institutions in the country. There is a great variety for groups to pick from.”

The Cleveland Museum of Art attracts many groups for its free admission and impressive permanent collection of 61,000 works of art from around the world.

Groups can view art ranging from medieval to modern. It is internationally known for its substantial holdings of Asian and European art. An estimated 770,000 annual attendees make it one of the most visited art museums in the world.

The museum’s docents can reveal interesting details about the wide variety of works on display. The ArtLens Gallery provides a touch-screen interactive area where you can feel as though you are picking up and examining the art.

West Side Market is another favorite group attraction. It was one of the first public markets in the country. Some of the vendors inside can trace their roots to when the market first opened. Groups can wander through, shop and grab a bite to eat.

“West Side Market is definitely an iconic place in Cleveland,” said Jantonio. “You can see different ethnicities represented for a wide range of food options. It’s fun to talk with the vendors while you’re there.”

The market has appeared on the Food Network and other television features for its tasty food options and stunning architecture.

For a night out, groups can book a performance at one of the theaters on Playhouse Square. One of the largest performing arts districts outside of New York, the district offers Broadway, regional theater, the Great Lakes Theater Company and others shows. Groups can opt for a backstage tour to learn the intricacies involved in producing a Broadway series show.

“What’s great about the Broadway series is that they can learn a little bit about the show at Broadway Buzz, a preshow discussion,” said Jantonio. “Then on the backstage tour, groups stand on the stage and see how it all works. It is a cool experience from start to finish.”

thisiscleveland.com

Columbus

Groups can add some beauty to the world with the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Release Program. The Columbus experience allows participants to release a newly emerged butterfly into the gardens. The colorful experience is only one of many interactive group-friendly activities possible in Columbus.

“We have been doing hands-on and experiential tours for over 10 years,” said Roger Dudley, director of tourism sales for Experience Columbus. “We keep our older ones fresh and add new ones all the time. A group can always come back and experience something different.”

The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers other hands-on activities, including a few culinary programs where participants locate ingredients for pizza toppings or pasta sauce from a community garden. The experience allows groups to interact, eat and learn, all while inside a stunning setting.

The gardens sit on 40 acres on the eastern side of Franklin Park. The conservatory owns the largest collection of glass artwork by Dale Chihuly in a botanical garden. It also houses works from light artist James Turell, whose installment illuminates the 1895 John F. Palm House every evening from dusk until dawn.

For a peek into Columbus’ past, groups can explore the German Village. The neighborhood offers German-themed dining options and attractions.

“German Village is a wonderful neighborhood,” said Dudley. “The entire 233 acres of the village is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a working neighborhood of Columbus with some great dining options inside. We plan guided group experiences there. Or if a group has a couple of hours of downtime, I suggest they drop them off at German Village.”

Tours venture into historic private homes and churches. The area also works well for group free time to wander in local shops and restaurants. Many groups plan meals at Schmidt’s Restaurant and Banquet Haus. The fifth-generation-owned establishment started as a meat packaging company. Groups can enjoy a delicious buffet with the restaurant’s popular cream puffs for dessert.

In 2018, Columbus welcomed a major new attraction: the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. One of the only museums that honors veterans of all military branches, the attraction is filled with stories from servicemen and servicewomen. Tours help guests understand and appreciate the experiences of service members and their families; the tours conclude at a memorial grove outside with trees, benches and a reflecting pool.

Jack Hanna’s old stomping grounds, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, also attracts a plethora of groups. Hanna, a television personality and wildlife conservationist, helped turn the zoo into a nationally known attraction for its diverse sampling of worldwide wildlife. Groups can go beyond the usual tour with a Wasafiri Adventure. The experience begins with a catered breakfast before a VIP giraffe-feeding and private animal encounter.

In 2020, the zoo plans to open Adventure Cove, its largest aquatic habitat. The 375,000-gallon water exhibit will hold sea lions and seals. Guests will be able to walk through a 60-foot-long tunnel to watch the animals swimming beside and above them. The presentation pool area will offer grandstand seating for up to 250 people for animal encounter presentations.

For a Columbus hidden gem, groups can experience the Kelton House. The home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and first-person interpreters explain how the wealthy family lived as secret abolitionists, helping hundreds of slaves to freedom through Columbus.

experiencecolumbus.com

Cincinnati

On the banks of the Ohio River, groups can watch a classic American sport at the Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds. The ballpark offers groups affordable premium seating, stadium tours and the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Reds play from April through September. In 2019, the ballpark began offering 50-minute game-day tours for groups to explore the stadium’s murals, dugouts and other behind-the-scenes areas before cheering on the Reds at a game.

At the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, groups can learn about the historic team. The new exhibit, “Home of the Reds,” features rare artifacts from the ballpark, including a replica of the  beloved 1902 stadium’s facade.

For panoramic Cincinnati views, groups can go offshore aboard the BB Riverboat Cruises. Both the Belle of Cincinnati and the River Queen depart daily during the spring and summer months. Climate-controlled areas and open-air upper decks ensure a positive experience no matter the weather. The captain points out landmarks and shares the history of the Queen City during the cruise. Brunch, lunch or dinner cruises are also available.

A 1933 railroad station holds more of Ohio’s history at the Union Terminal. Now known as the Cincinnati Museum Center, the building recently underwent a $228 million renovation to update the Art Deco structure and the center’s museums. The former station now holds the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax theater. Groups can pick their preferred topics for interactive exhibits and private tour options.

One new feature in the Museum of Natural History and Science is the Science Interactives Gallery. The hands-on STEM exhibit allows guests to maneuver pulley systems, watch clouds form and knock down targets with blasts of air. The newly reopened “Cave” exhibit allows student groups to explore a replica limestone cavern play area.

A new tenant is scheduled to open in the terminal this year: The Holocaust and Humanity Center will preserve and share stories of Holocaust survivors.

Whether groups prefer heavenly music from classic composers or familiar themes from movies, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Cincinnati Pops offer a range of summer park concerts and indoor performances. The company’s 1878 Music Hall underwent a restoration effort in 2017.

A tour of the hall can be added to a performance so that groups can learn about famous past performers, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Yo-Yo Ma. Tours also give anecdotes on the structure’s history, architecture, design and the people that helped build it.

The Music Hall sits in the vibrant Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which offers restaurants, bars, breweries and art galleries that groups can add to a concert experience.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in 2004 to pay tribute to all efforts to abolish human enslavement. It recognizes the significant role of Cincinnati in the history of the Underground Railroad, since thousands of slaves escaped to freedom crossing the Ohio River from Southern slave states.

One of the main artifacts is a 21-by-30-foot log slave pen built in 1830. Visitors can walk into the pen and touch its walls for a visceral reminder of the horrors of slavery.

cincinnatiusa.com

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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