Lancaster County, Pennsylvania through its Planning Commission, administers a nationally acclaimed heritage program, which designates sites and even artisans as being authentic representations of aspects of local culture. Designation is through a rigorous process that includes interpretive and authenticity requirements, as well as being “visitor ready” for visitors who want to meet real Amish family.
Meet Real Amish Family V.I.P. Tour
The first and, so far, the only regularly scheduled tour to have received this prestigious designation is the Amish Visit-In-Person Tour, offered by the Amish Experience at Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand.
The “Amish V.I.P. Tour” provides an intimate and interactive experience directly with the Amish. Introduced experimentally in 2008, and greeted enthusiastically by everyone, the new tour has grown in demand and popularity ever since, with some visitors taking it multiple times so they can meet the different Amish who might be included on any given tour night.
Limited to 14 people to assure a personal experience, the tour highlights three aspects of Amish life — on the farm, at work, and at home — all within the span of three hours.
“Over the past winter, one of our guides spent several weeks traveling the backroads in search of new stops because of the added tour dates. There is a huge investment in time and resources to find Amish willing to receive visitors, and for us to meet personally with each family,” says Brad Igou, president of the Amish Experience. “I don’t think most people realize how much work is involved in planning and executing the tour with all the various routes and stops. I think that’s why we are the only company to offer this unique experience.”
Unlike the daily Amish Farmlands Tours where stops are made at Amish shops for the purpose of buying crafts or baked goods, the VIP is really designed to provide close personal interaction with the Amish. Igou says, “The result is that the Amish are seen as real people, dispelling many of the misconceptions and myths so many of us have of them, made all the more important now that so-called reality TV shows about the Amish have become popular.”
The first stop is at an Amish farm at milking time, where an Amish dairyman explains how the milking and chilling of the milk in the bulk tank are achieved, all without electricity. He also shares with many, for whom this is their first experience on an Amish farm, other details of the daily chores involved with farming Amish-style.
The second stop highlights an Amish “cottage industry.” The Amish Experience guide explains that fewer than half of the Amish in Lancaster County are farmers and most Amish earn a living other than on the farm. A different “industry” is featured each evening. Stops have included a furniture maker, canning kitchen, toy maker, quilter, soap maker, or carriage builder. In most cases, there are demonstrations of the particular craft as the shops are visited after hours and guests can go “behind the scenes.”
The third VIP stop is the simplest, and often the most meaningful. For the Amish, to “visit” is simply to sit and chat for a while in someone’s home, and that’s exactly what happens when the group pulls up the lane to an Amish homestead. Guests enter somewhat reluctantly and, while conversation with strangers may be hesitant at first, by the end of the evening it is often difficult to pull guests and hosts away from each other. Some visitors have even become friends with their Amish hosts, exchanging Christmas cards and letters.
Igou summed up the experience. “We are honored to receive the Heritage Tour designation, which recognizes what visitors on this tour have discovered. We are also the recipient of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, where the reviews on this tour speak for themselves. This is not about re-creating another culture, visiting a replica Amish farm, or having people dress up and impersonate characters. This is meeting real people, one-on-one, where they live and work. For the Amish, simplicity is often the key. And this tour is simply about people getting to know each other. The stunning and spectacular scenery we see along the way is just icing on the cake.”
Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Amish Experience Theater, by phone (717) 768-8400, ext. 210, or online at Amish Experience.