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How long should we stay?

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Salt Lake City
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How long should we stay?

My husband and I and two older teenage sons will be visiting Gettysburg on our way from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. Washington D.C. is the ultimate goal and where we will spend the longest time. But my husband is a serious amateur Civil War historian - his interest and knowledge are far deeper than casual. He has not been to Gettysburg for years and my sons and I have never been. Both sons have interest in history and so do I. My husband and I could be happy for days in a good museum, our sons' interest wanes faster.

My husband would have no tolerance for a packaged tourist tour, particularly not with stereotypical tourists in Bermuda shorts and business socks. He'd probably be inclined to go it alone, but I am interested in at least knowing why a licensed guide has been recommended on this forum many times.

We will have rented a car in Philadelphia to be returned in Washington D.C. We are flexible with the length of vacation, so could spend anywhere between one and three days in Gettsyburg. I'd like recommendations about an itinerary, including hotels and dining. We are not particular fans of B & Bs when traveling with kids, and have no interest in "haunted" sites. Suggestions for places to stop between Philadelphia and Gettysburg and between Gettysburg and Washington would be welcomed. The more opportunity for immersion in the history of the area, the better. Thanks for any suggestions!

gettysburg, pa
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for Gettysburg
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1. Re: How long should we stay?

Hello! I think you'll find a visit to Gettysburg to be very enjoyable. Some answers to your questions:

Licensed Guides

It sounds strange, doesn't it? To hire someone to come and drive your car? But I assure you that it really is the best way to learn about the battlefield. People picture one "battlefield" at Gettysburg...but really, the battlefield encircles the town. A guide can get you from one place to another in the best ways, and tell you everything you want to know. The guides that I have met are all interesting people with great stories to tell--real historians who aren't just regurgitating facts, but talking with you based on their own research.

Length of stay

If you're really interested in the history, two to three days would be good. I happen to like the location of the Quality Inn at Lee's Headquarters, over on the west side of town. (I've never stayed there, though). It's near the Seminary and has a lovely view to the west. There are other hotels on the south side of town, on Steinwehr Ave. The two highest rated hotels on the TA rankings are both located on the east side of town, in the newly developed Gateway complex. Really, it depends on what you are looking for, and there are several threads further back in the forums discussing the relative merits of the different hotels.

Dining

Quality in area restaurants varies by season. We like the Appalachian Brewing Company, but it can be slow. We also enjoy the Blue Parrot and Montezuma's. If you're going to be here in August or September, try a 10-minute drive north to apple country...our peaches are already ripening, and apples are on their way!

Other places

I think your family might really enjoy Harpers Ferry, which is a quick side trip on the way to DC. (If you're going in the summer, your sons might enjoy one of the tubing trips along the Shenandoah.) You could spend a day exploring the visitor's center and the town.

Another neat stop is the Monocacy Battlefield, located in Frederick MD. I never knew the importance of this little battle until I visited...the Visitors Center is small, but new and nicely done. You could do this in 2-3 hours. (Lots of great lunch choices in downtown Frederick, too!)

You are in striking distance of the Antietam Battlefield as well, but it's a slightly longer trip. Given your interest in history, it might be worth the stop.

To the east of Gettysburg, toward Philadelphia, you'll pass through the farm country of York and Lancaster counties. (Pay attention as you cross the Susquehanna--search "Columbia-Wrightsville bridge burning for info on this spot's role in the Battle of Gettysburg) Lancaster, of course, is known as being Pennsylvania Dutch country, if you're interested in the Amish. Lots of advice on the Lancaster forum for things to do! Also, the folks on the Philadelphia forum are amazing about answering whatever questions you might have about that area.

Good luck with your planning!

PA
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for Hershey, Harrisburg
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2. Re: How long should we stay?

Another possible stop between Phildalephia and Gettysburg would be the Harrisburg/Hershey area.

The Harrisburg-Hershey area has a lot to offer, it depends on your interests.

1. There is the Whitaker Center, which has the Harsco Science Center (many hands-on exhibits) and an IMAX Theater (Harrisburg). (www.whitakercenter.org/science/index.asp).

2. Also in Harrisburg, you can ride the “Pride of the Susquehanna” riverboat on City Island, play Water Golf, take a horse drawn carriage ride, or catch a Harrisburg Senators minor league baseball game during the summer (www.harrisburgpa.gov/parksRec/cityIsland/).

3. The PA State Capitol has tours and there is the PA Museum with a variety of displays, both are in Harrisburg. (http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/toursWelcome.cfm and http://www.statemuseumpa.org/).

4. There is also a Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. (http://www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org/).

5. Fort Hunter Park in Harrisburg has a Victorian-era mansion, restored barn, church, stable, and tavern house that illustrate life in the 1800s (http://www.forthunter.org/).

6. Harrisburg’s Wildwood Lake Sanctuary is a scenic wetland home to rare birds, delicate flowers, amphibians, and animals; the Olwine Nature Center has exhibits (http://www.wildwoodlake.org/).

7. The Middletown &-Hummelstown Railroad (http://www.mhrailroad.com/) is a nice relaxing old-fashioned railroad trip. You can combine it with a visit to Indian Echo Caverns (http://www.indianechocaverns.com/).

8. Hershey attractions (http://www.hersheypa.com/) which include:

a. Hershey Park (http://www.hersheypark.com/index.php

b. Hershey Gardens (http://www.hersheygardens.org/)

c. The Hershey Story (http://www.hersheystory.org/)

d. Hershey Trolley Works (http://hersheytrolleyworks.com/)

e. Chocolate World (http://www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld/)

f. Milton Hershey School Founder’s Hall (mhs-pa.org/about/…)

g. Hershey Theatre (http://www.hersheytheatre.com/)

9. The Antique Auto Museum near Hershey Park( http://www.aacamuseum.org/)

usa
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642 posts
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3. Re: How long should we stay?

At the risk of repeating Aster143's posting, what is said there is excellent advice.

Regarding your question about battlefield guides: I suspect a lot of people who visit Gettysburg think they know the place and the story. Most really don't, and have a lot of misconceptions about what happened and the importance of this location over that one, etc. What a battlefield guide gives you is the REAL story, these are expert, professional guides who chose their job not for the paycheck but because they love to study and discuss the battle. Frankly unless your spouse is the sort to be threatened by this, he'll probably have a great time getting to run thoughts by a pro, bouncing ideas around and gaining some additional insight. The guide will know the complex story and be able to tell it in an understandable manner. I know several of these folks, have taken tours with more than a few over the years, and they do not disappoint. While the 'standard' tour is 2 hours, it sounds to me like you should book a slightly longer tour (3 hours?) to accommodate your husband's interest.

I agree that if your family really wants to experience Gettysburg and has a lot of interest in history, 3 days would be a good length. At least 2 minimum, but 3 would be better. You might take a look, in the upper right of this web page, at my posting under 'things to do', 'best way to see the battlefield'. While just my opinion, it might interest you. Some places I recommend seeing include the National Park Visitor Center - an excellent and large museum that could take you 3 hours alone; a visit to the National Cemetery (see if you can tag along on one of the free Ranger walks through the cemetery); the Schriver House, where they do a good tour focusing on Gettysburg's civilians. These activities would encompass a full day. Allow another day for your tour and then, after, go back over the park grounds and explore on your own.

As Aster143 states, there are numerous other sites in the area for the Civil War enthusiast, with Monocacy being really easy as it is on your way to/from Gettysburg-DC. If you have the time, Antietam is just outstanding, a wonderfully-preserved battlefield, and Harpers Ferry is quite nearby. And of course Manassas, a 1/2 hour outside Washington.

Have fun.

Salt Lake City
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4. Re: How long should we stay?

WOW! Thanks for the in-depth ideas. You all have given us some great ideas! I'm thinking Hershey might end up on the trip - one son is an absolute Chocoholic so even though the rest of us aren't, it seems like it would be cruel and unusual punishment to drive past Chocolate Nirvana without stopping for him to visit. I am very interested in the ideas about the other historical sites and natural history sites. I will likely be posting more questions about some of those after I have time to do a little research. I also appreciate the lodging ideas and the restaurant suggestions. I know my husband would enjoy the conversation with a knowledgeable guide - and it's good to know that the guides are not just reeling off a monologue. I wonder if maybe we might leave the sons on their own for a couple of hours so that hubby and I could enjoy a lengthier tour... I'll look into that possibility.

It seems likely that we'll arrive in Gettysburg mid-afternoon (check in time). Can we make arrangements then for a tour the next day, or should we reserve further in advance?

usa
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5. Re: How long should we stay?

Not knowing exactly when you're going to Gettysburg - and therefore how busy that day might be - I think you'd be well advised to reserve a guide in advance and not take your chances that one might be available. I could suggest a few names if you wish, guides I have tours with. But most guides are excellent anyway.

Salt Lake City
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6. Re: How long should we stay?

I think we'll be there in the early part of the second week in August. I would love it if you would list some guides you are familiar with. Also, if you can tell me where to look online to make reservations, it would be helpful.

Gettysburg...
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7. Re: How long should we stay?

The Battlefield Guides are a great way to see the field. It is a private tour where you can ask as many questions as you want & get out at a couple of places to get a better feel for things. You might want to book them a day in advance as it can be hard to get one sometimes in the afternoon.

The Visitor Center Museum/Cyclorama/film are good for history enthusiasts.

Other cool history oriented stuff is the Battlefield Diorama which gives a bird's eye view of the field. American Stories tours does a great tour of the civilians during the battle. They give the tour in Civil War type clothes which we thought added a lot to it. We also like the gift shop at the Civil War Museum on Steinwehr Ave.

You can easily spend 2 -3 days in Gettsburg without getting bored!

usa
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8. Re: How long should we stay?

UtahRoots: I sent you a message through Trip Advisor's mail with a few names of guides I have direct experience with, as well as the contact info for the reservations. There are lots of other good guides also, of course.

Salt Lake City
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9. Re: How long should we stay?

xxrrttyy - Thanks! I got your message. I've talked it over with my husband and he thinks the private guide is a great idea. I will print out your email and take it with us or perhaps even call one of the guides sooner so that we can be sure to have the arrangements in place. I appreciate your suggestions very much, as well as your consideration for the guide's privacy.

usa
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10. Re: How long should we stay?

No problem, hope you enjoy yourself.

I would give serious consideration to making arrangements before you visit - maybe even a few weeks before you visit - if you want to be sure to find a guide available.

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