The closest thing we’re ever going to have to a Willy Wonka experience is visiting Vermont’s premier ice cream experts. While Ben & Jerry’s have graced many cities across the nation with their unique flavors (and even more creative names) in regional shops and grocery stores, only one place offers tours of the creative process.
Located at Waterbury, Vermont, this is where they make their ice cream, as well as dairy-based puns. This factory actually offers two different tours, one going inside the factory and one that tours the surrounding woods behind them. Whether you’re a fan of learning how companies make their products or you’re a pop culture history buff, you’ll find something that everyone can enjoy. Best of all, there will always be free samples of their ice cream!
Convenient Factory Tour Offering
If you’re visiting Vermont, the factory is fairly centrally located, about half an hour east of Burlington at the crossroads of the 89 and VT-100, making it fairly easy to get to from anywhere in the state. The tour is offered every day, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day; Christmas Eve day also has a shorter schedule, so plan accordingly if you’re going to visit during the holiday season. The times in which the tours are offered changes seasonally, but you should have at least seven hours to catch it, with each tour taking about 30 minutes to complete. This is also an inexpensive tour to take, with tickets costing just $4 per adult with discounts available for seniors and children.
The only thing to worry about in terms of actually being able to catch a spot, is each tour has a capacity of 40 guests at a time. Unfortunately, unless you’re planning a large group outing, you can’t reserve spots in advance. Each factory tour is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Also, you may or may not be able to see ice cream made on the spot; while the factory does churn out fresh ice cream regularly, the factory only produces on certain days. Don’t worry; you’ll still get the whole tour experience, and even if they aren’t working that day, you can still catch a tour video which goes through the same information and processes.
Tasty Fun for All Ages
Kids love ice cream as much as adults do, and this is a great day activity for the whole family. Even for younger kids, this should be a great outing. Unlike many tours, strollers are allowed inside; you’ll just need to use the dedicated elevator at certain points of the tour. The shorter tour length should be great for smaller attention spans (and bladders), and the gift shop is full of bright, colorful souvenirs and toys to look at. There is an onsite ice cream shop as well, and if you or your little one are overwhelmed by the selection, simply ask for a taste sample.
There is an outdoors area called the Flavor Graveyard; don’t worry, though. Ben & Jerry’s did not go the creepy route with this display, and like everything else on site, it remains colorful and tongue-in-cheek. The only thing frightening about the Flavor Graveyard is the thought of never getting to try these retired flavors. If it’s warm enough to play outside, there is an onsite playground, which is perfect for keeping younger visitors distracted until it’s time for your tour.
Great Option for a Day Trip
All in all, you could probably spend upwards of a couple of hours at the factory, depending on when your tour is and how long it takes your party to see everything. It will take a little longer if you choose to take the Umiak Snowshoe & Ice Cream Too Tour, it will take longer with this outdoor tour running about 45 minutes. Because the snowshoe tour is run through Umiak Outfitters, this can be reserved in advance. It probably is not one you want to try and take kids on, simply because it’s outside in the Vermont wilderness. And yes, this tour still offers you a delicious sample of Ben & Jerry’s.
Once you’ve finished exploring everything the factory and surrounding area has in store, you could always make your way to the nearby downtown of Waterbury proper, where there are many other great local offerings. Whether you wanted to stop by the factory on your way out of Vermont or decided it’s a great way to kick off your visit of the state, it’s a great addition to any itinerary.
I love taking vacation photos, especially when I go on specialty tours like this. While many companies may discourage pictures and videos, Ben & Jerry’s has always been a fairly open and honest company with their customers. The only area that they do not allow pictures of videos taken is where they produce the ice cream itself. This is to be expected as it’s the only area where they show off their proprietary machinery and techniques. The upside is all the work is performed behind glass, giving you an uninhibited view of the creative process.
Even if you can’t snap a photo of your favorite ice cream flavors being made, there’s plenty of beautiful Vermont scenery to take in. From showing off your scoop on Instagram to finding a new Facebook cover photo of the surrounding hills, snow, and trees, there’s plenty of pictures to take while visiting.
Special Needs Accommodations
The factory has many offerings for any guest, no matter what they need to enjoy the tour. Handicap parking spaces are available, with ADA accessibility. If you didn’t think that you needed to bring your wheelchair with you, but the cold wound up making it more difficult to walk than you thought, they do offer loaner wheelchairs at the front desk. Animals are not permitted on site for food safety reasons, but service animals are allowed. And for guests who need it, scripts of the tour are also offered. The videos played during the tour are closed captioned, and language guides can be obtained.
For a tour that’s fun, delicious, and great for any ages, it doesn’t get much better than America’s favorite ice cream duo. If you’re planning a visit to Vermont, you don’t want to miss a trip to the factory of everyone’s favorite “Cherry Garcia” fans.