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Youth Travel, Revisited

From the Mississippi riverfront in New Orleans to the historic center of Boston, America is full of exciting destinations for youth group trips.

Young people are almost always enthusiastic about travel, and church youth group leaders often use trips to help build camaraderie and opportunities for spiritual growth among their students. Camps and retreat centers have long been destinations of choice for youth trips, but cities around the country have impressive menus of attractions and activities to enrich the student travel experience.

Savvy youth travel leaders can find interesting activities for their travelers in all sorts of places. Whether it’s booking a venue for a band or choir performance, creating educational opportunities or discovering an interactive experience that will capture the attention of young travelers, they can look beyond the generalities of a destination and find the particulars that will make their trips successful.

If you plan travel for youth at your church, here are five interesting cities worth your attention.


New Orleans

With its multinational history, its riverfront location and its famously colorful culture, New Orleans has wide appeal for youth groups.

Maria Manzella, tourism sales manager for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Jackson Square area in the French Quarter is packed with educational opportunities for students.

“The Louisiana State Museum is on Jackson Square right next to St. Louis Cathedral,” she said. “You can spend the whole afternoon there and include a tour of the cathedral. The museum includes an exhibit on Mardi Gras, which is a huge part of our culture.”

Also part of the state museum is the Old U.S. Mint, which has three floors of exhibits that detail the history and operations of the former mint.

Right across the square, the French Market is a traditional marketplace where farmers sell food and produce, and vendors showcase arts and crafts made throughout the area.

To introduce youth to the best side of Mardi Gras, Manzella suggests a trip to Mardi Gras World, a warehouse and workshop where elaborate parade floats are created year-round.

“Mardi Gras is a 200-year-old tradition, and the participation of the locals is what makes it happen every year,” she said. “At Mardi Gras World, you watch a 15-minute video of what Mardi Gras is and how it came about. Then the groups are taken through the warehouse, where they get to watch the artists painting, creating and molding the props. At the end of the warehouse, they see how the project looks when it is finished.”

Riverboat cruises on the Mississippi River, another popular youth experience in the city, can include lunch or dinner and live music. Many student groups also visit the city’s museums, including the National World War II Museum, the Audubon Nature Institute and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Outside the city, groups can tour 13 different historic plantations in the surrounding area. The outlying wetlands are also prime location for swamp tours, which Manzella said are very popular with youth groups.


Louisville, Kentucky

On the south bank of the Ohio River just across from Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, offers a mix of education and fun that is affordable and accessible from many parts of the country.

Saundra Robertson, tourism sales manager at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently reworked her youth travel itinerary to celebrate the reopening of Kentucky Kingdom, a theme park that was popular in the area for years but had recently been closed. Youth itineraries in Louisville include a visit to the park, which has numerous music festivals and performance opportunities, as well as visits to some lesser-known attractions.

“We go to the Louisville Waterworks Museum,” Robertson said. “It’s at the water tower where all of the water for the city of Louisville is pumped. They do hands-on activities with youth and talk about the history of the water tower. They have the old
pump still there, and they show you
some of the new pumps, too.”

The new itinerary also includes a visit to the University of Louisville and a meal at the University Club, a private venue that opens for tour groups. Youth leaders can arrange for some of the school’s student athletes to come and meet their groups for question-and-answer sessions and autograph signings, or they can have music clinics taught by music faculty and students.

Most student groups will spend some time visiting Louisville’s prominent museums, among them the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, the Frasier History Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center. Rounding out the trip is a fun stop at Louisville Mega Caverns, a large cave with underground zip lines and other adventure activities.

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.