Visiting Boston

An Interview with GBCVB

Stacy Shreffler
Fanueil Hall 1) What makes the Boston area so attractive for student groups? There are so many American firsts here in Boston. In terms of the American history the students are learning in school, so much of it begins here. The region is also home to more colleges per square mile than just about any other place in the world. Boston has been nicknamed the Athens of America for being a center of learning. Beyond that, there are really fun things to do and great student attractions like the Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United State Senate, which takes a very fresh interactive approach to learning.

2) Is there a variety of hotels that student groups can choose from? Yes, there are hotels in the city, on the outskirts, the suburbs and beyond that cater to the student market. Cambridge is also a great option as it’s only a bridge away from Boston and has many popular student attractions of its own from campus tours of Harvard and MIT and to unique museums such as the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Museum of Natural History and the MIT Museum. We have a great variety of quality hotels in our region. It all depends on what the group’s budget is and what amenities they’re looking for. Keep in mind that Boston serves as a major international business and convention market, so it is very important when planning your trip to reach out to a tour operator like Colpitts or the Convention & Visitors Bureau, to avoid any convention dates or major events that will limit hotel availability and drive prices up.

3) Does the GBCVB work with travel companies to produce interesting student travel itineraries? We are destination specialists and we’re always here to help. Not everyone takes advantage of our complimentary services. Probably because they don’t know about them! Our office is in the city and we are in the thick of things. Groups should consider staying an extra night or two, especially if they wish to combine Boston and Cambridge with Salem, Plymouth, Lexington and Concord or all of the above. Don’t try to cram too much in one day. Leave time to explore one of the city’s great neighborhoods on foot.

4) What is the most popular Boston attraction for student groups? We are lucky to have many. The Freedom Trail, Black Heritage Trail, Fenway Park, Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, and Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. The Skywalk Observatory located on the 50th floor of the Prudential Center is popular for its panoramic 360-degree views of Boston, the harbor, and the surrounding communities – on a clear day visibility extends more than 80 miles – but I’d like to point out that there’s also an amazing multimedia exhibit there called “Dreams of Freedom: Boston’s Immigrant Experience” that has just been revamped. Dreams of Freedom provides a fascinating look at the immigrant experience in America, getting here, the challenges faced and overcome, as well as the people that have shaped Boston and our country’s history and given it much of its character.

It is said that one of every five Americans has an ancestor who arrived in America via Boston. As much as “Dreams of Freedom” is Boston’s story, it’s every American’s story as well. The revitalized exhibits are Smithsonian quality. Leave some extra time to sit in the Skywalk Theatre for the Dreams of Freedom: The Boston Story film. It’s a powerful feature. There’s also “This Is Boston,” a stunning time lapse look at Boston’s famous landmarks and unique beauty. The Skywalk Observatory and “Dreams of Freedom” are perfect orientation activities to plan at the start of the visit.

5) What is the most unusual student travel attraction that you would suggest schools include in their itineraries? We have a beautiful urban park called the Rose Kennedy Greenway. It did not exist prior to 2008. The creation of this park changed Boston dramatically. The space was created when an elevated portion of I-93 came down and was replaced by a system of underground tunnels: the notorious Big Dig project. The Big Dig was one of the most storied and expensive highway engineering projects in American history. During the peak of construction (1999 through 2002), about $3 million of work was completed each day.

The elevated highway that severed Boston’s downtown from its historic waterfront in the latter half of the 20th century was torn down and an 8-lane tunnel was built to serve the automobile traffic. The newly created space was converted into the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a 15-acre public park that is 1.5 miles long and extends from Boston’s North End down to Chinatown. The resulting Rose Kennedy Greenway is Boston’s rooftop garden that took nearly 200,000 cars off the road and moved them underground. This is a city park unlike any other and a dynamic and highly trafficked area. There are fountains, gourmet food trucks, art installation and special activities all along the Greenway. Project summary and brief history: http://www.rosekennedygreenway.org/visit/greenway-info/history/

Student groups often ask us where they can volunteer or do something unique in Boston. The Greenway is maintained organically and the Greenway’s very knowledgeable staff lead educational and horticultural tours of the parks. If groups want to get their hands dirty, the horticulture team can arrange a gardening session so they can dig in.

6) What time period is the best value for student groups to come to the Boston area. Year round, though most of our out-of-state student groups travel January through June unless it’s a group visiting from overseas. We’re seeing more student groups from China. The UK has long been a strong market for us. There are always things to do in Boston. The Freedom Trail Foundation, Fenway Park, and some of our cruise companies offer tours year round. The Charles Playhouse, home to Blue Man Group and Shear Madness, never goes dark. Whale Watch season runs from about April to October. May, September and October are our busiest months. January, February and March offer great value as do November and December. That’s when our music and performing arts season is in full swing. Boston looks amazing in December dressed up for the holidays.

7) What is your favorite Boston area attraction? The city itself. I encourage students and their teachers to take advantage of Boston’s compact, walkable neighborhoods. You can’t beat getting off the bus and following one of our famous walking trails, like the Boston Harborwalk or the Black Heritage trail, or being in one of our beautiful parks. My favorite walk is along Commonwealth Avenue Mall in the Back Bay. The Mall separates the group from traffic and it’s easier to keep everyone together off the sidewalks. It’s modeled after a grand Parisian boulevard and is one of the most beautiful city streets in America. Along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall you’ll see public art and some of Boston’s grandest residences. It’s really beautiful in all seasons.