So often tourists say "been there done that". Have you really? Okay, you have been to a touristy area by bus done a whirlwind tour seeing sights that just give you a taste of the area. Maybe that's your sole interest. My husband and I visit Lancaster County, Pennsylvania almost every summer. It's one of our favorite places. Throughout the years, we thought we should have seen all that was there, however we keep learning new places to fully immerse ourselves in the true Amish and "English"experience of eastern Pennsylvania. This review is the first of a upcoming series of locations around Pennsylvania. Fortunately, we haven't been to too many places that we wouldn't return to and have over the years.
If this will be your first adventure to Lancaster County, the Amish Experience is recommended as your first stop. There is something for everyone to enjoy while learning about the people of the area. The Amish Experience is located off of Route 30 between the towns Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. If you have very little knowledge of our Amish friends, this location has a movie at the F/X theater on site to become familiar with basic background, visit a typical house and school room, bus tours of the countryside with very knowledgable and native tour guides of which we have had all, and two specialty tours which really provide you with an in person visit with Amish families at their homes. Buggy rides and a petting zoo of basic farm animals lend to the experience.
The Amish Country Farmland tours last approximately an hour and a half on shuttle buses driving through the beautiful country sides of fields of corn, brooks and creeks for the farm animals to drink and cool in, and miles of land dotted with the many livelihoods of cottage businesses, roadside produce and crafts, and homes of the Amish and English. Please note, there are no such things as Amish villages. They live among us, Englishers, as they call us. Usually, the only way to tell the houses apart is whether electricity goes to the house. Sometimes, even then you can't tell is they are Mennonite or just a previous house that was English at one time and no longer. Look for the green shades and windows open in the hot summers. A buggy will be an obvious clue. The bus will stop at scheduled cottages for your shopping experiences of well made furniture, home goods, and freshly made goodies. Our favorites are The-Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop, Riehl's Quilts, and The Countryside Road Stand. The best soft pretzels and homemade root beer can be found at the The Countryside Road Stand.
Now, if you want more concentrated time in smaller groups of tourists with the Amish and your tour guide, the VIP tour is for you. It's a rare opportunity to meet with Amish families who are willing to share conversation and friendship with you as you would visit with your own neighbors. My husband and I were visiting on its maiden year for the VIP tours. The only difference between then and present tours, while visiting with the last family, we shared dessert. As usual, some tourist spoils others fun and for health purposes it was discontinued from what we have heard. However dessert or no dessert, this tour is very worth the price. It's a true experience you will not forget. This tour is approximately 2 1/2 hours with stopping first at a dairy farm during milking time. Visitors will meet the family doing the daily chore of milking the cows with compressed air milking devices. It's fun to see that each cow has a name and the cows know where to their stand to await relief. If your a cat lover, you might just see a barn cat or two waiting for their bowl of very fresh milk. Your next stop will be a cottage shop, anything from weavers, buggy makers, quilters to broom makers, herbal shops and furniture makers. We once went to a gourd farm called Smuckers Gourds. I ordered over 75 dried gourds to be shipped back to Illinois for my art classes. Since then, they are into some other business now. However that was a treat for my students and a nice order for the Smuckers. Finally, your visit with a family in their home. You are welcome to ask questions as they will ask you about your life. Always remember your manners while visiting. How you act is a reflection of yourself and the impression you make can help or harm future tours.
Have you seen the movie Witness? Harrison Ford played a character on the run as he tried to blend in as an Amish-man to hide. The Witness tour allows visitors to travel through movie sites where various known parts of the movie were shot as well as visit the farm that was the main location for most of the movie. If your haven't seen the movie, it would make more sense to rent if before if not after it to make the connections.
The Amish Mafia tour was discontinued because of the Discovery Channel not wanting to cooperate with Amish Experience. Common sense should remind you-what real mafias and gangs allow the public go on jobs with them, identify themselves and reveal their locations. If you are riding around the local resort where it's filmed you might catch the actors, filming their scenes. A false look at the Amish in my opinion.
After all this touring and shopping, enjoy dinner at Plain and Fancy on location. There is also a motel and gift shop on the premises. Sit down to a meal from which you will not leave hungry then rock awhile under the trees reflecting of your day in the country.