Sometimes, the basics are fine, especially if it’s a first-time visit or you don’t have a particularly deep interest in a destination or attraction.
Sometimes, though, you want to know a lot more than the broad-brush overview from walking around reading placards, and for that there are behind the scenes tours.
You might be surprised by how many places do offer their guests a peek behind the curtain.
For example, how about the wide variety of special tours offered at Walt Disney World in Orlando, including a three-hour look at the park’s steam trains?
My own most recent in-depth tour was aboard the historic battleship USS Texas, launched in 1912 and a participant in both World Wars.
Turned out in historically-accurate Measure 21 blue camouflage paint, she is permanently berthed in the Houston Ship Channel across from the San Jacinto monument.
I visited the ship to gather material for a story in Texas Highways magazine, and to participate in their volunteer-led Hard Hat Tour. It is only offered during the cooler months between October and May, because much of the tour is below decks in spaces that have not yet been fully restored and are not air-conditioned (thereby making them quite the hot, humid metal ovens during a Texas summer.)
Now, you really have to be a mariner, a history nut or a Navy enthusiast to fully appreciate and enjoy the tons of information pouring out of knowledgeable tourguides as you clamber up and down ladders (ship-speak for “stairs”) and in and out of rusty compartments that are still being fixed up.
As a Navy veteran myself, I loved seeing the old steam boilers and turbines in the engineering spaces, poking around inside gun turrets and hearing about 1940s-era fire control solutions – getting guns to hit what they’re aiming for – but that may be more “insider” information than you need.
Still, even when my own attention wandered, the chance to see areas that are normally closed to the public and still have that smudgy, “please make me shipshape again” look was irresistible.
Take the time to ask about special tours when you plan your travels; the cost may be quite reasonable and the immersion experience is priceless.