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Lesson Learned: Student Travel Attractions

There are a handful of destinations around the country — Orlando, Florida; New York; Washington, D.C.; and the like — that are perennial blockbusters for student groups, attracting tens of thousands of young travelers on school trips every year. But student travel planners don’t have to limit themselves to traveling to the same old places.

In cities large and small throughout the United States, museums and other attractions offer students first-rate programming that delivers a powerful combination of fun and education. If you have grown weary of fighting the crowds in the major student destinations or if your travelers are looking for a more affordable trip to a closer-to-home destination, consider building your next student outing around one of these great attraction experiences.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Huntsville, Alabama

Spending a week at Space Camp is the dream of many young science enthusiasts, but it is also an expensive endeavor. Fortunately, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which hosts Space Camp, has created a number of shorter alternatives that give student groups a taste of the larger immersive program.

“We have the Surveyor program, which is a one-night stay at our property,” said Pat Ammons, director of communications for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. “You get to do things like the multiaxis trainer and the Five Degrees of Freedom. There are other simulated astronaut trainers. Students get to make and launch rockets and do science presentations. They see a movie, and all of their meals are included.”

A similar program, called Pathfinder, is a three-day, two-night experience. In addition to the activities included in the Surveyor program, Pathfinder also features a jet fighter simulation program, survival training and other education.

Groups that have only a day to spend at the center can participate in the Ultimate Field Trip program. Participants get to try the SpaceShot, which simulates the sensation of a rocket launch, and check out one-of-a-kind space artifacts. Highlights are the world’s only full shuttle stack with an orbiter, a fuel tank and rocket boosters; a Saturn V rocket; and the Apollo 16 moon capsule.

“It’s a very structured day,” Ammons said. “You get to go through the exhibits and do some of the simulators. But you also have a science lab incorporated into your program, and you have a guide for the day. Many of our docents are retired NASA or space industry workers. They share their knowledge, their stories, their history and their passion for the program.”

Arizona Science Center


Designed for visitors of all ages, the Arizona Science Center has more than 300 hands-on exhibits on four levels that are designed to inspire, educate and engage curious minds through science. Young guests can learn about the biology of brain function in the Wonder Center or lie on a bed of nails in the Get Charged Up gallery, which deals with the application of physics in the real world.

Student groups can also choose from a number of interactive programs that raise the bar for educational experiences.

“We have several different programs available to teens throughout different months,” said Michele Meyer, the museum’s marketing manager. “One is called Teen Science Center. Teens 13 to 17 get actual lab experience with one of our scientists. Classes range from dissecting sharks to nanoscience. They’ve actually built droids and used that type of technology.”

Another option is to take a workshop in the new space called Create, a 6,200-square-foot workshop where students can use high-tech equipment to bring their own ideas to life.

“It’s a tinkering workshop where they can do things like 3-D printing and laser cutting,” Meyer said. “There are different workshops that our team can put together for groups that might focus on using different technologies in everyday life. It helps teens learn how to problem solve, collaborate with each other and be creative and innovative.”

In addition to this regular programming, the museum also offers specialized workshops that revolve around the themes of traveling exhibits. The education staff can also create experiences based on educational films shown in the museum’s five-story Imax theater.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.