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Let Freedom Ring

Celebrate summer, the season of independence,
with these eight attractions around the U.S.

By Rebecca Matheson

Vacations Magazine: Let Freedom Ring
Michael Blanchard Photography/Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
America, America: It's the land of opportunity and democracy, and one that many of us are proud to call home. This summer, let these awe-inspiring landmarks lure you to explore "from sea to shining sea" on a patriotic escape.

You might stop to thank those who defend the red, white and blue while visiting the Aloha State. In Boston, you can remember revolutionaries who risked all in their quest for freedom. Take a moment for reflection on the National Mall, a Pennsylvania battlefield or a bus that rolled its way into civil rights history.

Or, for a family affair, take along the kids or grandkids for hands-on lessons in U.S. history they won't soon forget. It might include a visit to an East Coast immigration center overlooking Lady Liberty in a search for familiar names.

Explore our eight suggestions that take in these locales, then contact the tour specialists at Vacations To Go, (800) 680-2858, or online for the latest deals and discounts on escorted getaways.

A sanctuary
Plymouth, MA

They fled England in search of religious freedom and endured two months of seasickness aboard the Mayflower before landing in the New World in the winter of 1620. Plymouth Rock has come to symbolize the Pilgrims' arrival in what now is Massachusetts. Each year, nearly 1 million people visit this chunk of American folklore; moved several times and occasionally chiseled by souvenir hunters, it's a battered, but still humbling, sight in Pilgrim Memorial State Park.

The Mayflower II, a replica of the Pilgrims' original ship, recently was restored and reopened for tours nearby, while impressive monuments to the founding families are found along the waterfront.

"Classic New England Fall Foliage" a 10-day tour with Gate 1 Travel, weaves together leaf-peeping excursions and historic East Coast sites like Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Prices start at $1,749 for a handful of September and October departures.

Tea and taxes

The American Colonies' pursuit of sovereignty from England reached a boiling point on Dec. 16, 1773, when angry patriots boarded three merchant vessels and destroyed their tax-heavy wares. The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum offers a thrilling taste of the event that changed a nation's fate, with costumed impersonators and interactive exhibits following the lead-up to the Revolutionary War.

Visitors can join a meeting in support of "no taxation without representation," toss a few replica tea boxes into Boston Harbor and see the Robinson Half Chest, one of only two such artifacts known to have survived that defiant winter's night. Afterward, stop by Abigail's Tea Room for scones, cake and a signature beverage created by a "tea master" to pay homage to 18th-century flavors.

Guests spend ample time in Beantown on Globus' 13-day "Eastern US & Canada Discovery" with prices from $2,931 for departures in August and September. After a guided harbor cruise with views of the Bunker Hill Monument, use the tour's built-in leisure time to drink in the Boston Tea Party museum.

Walking through history

Stretching from the nation's first public park, Boston Common, to our oldest floating warship, the USS Constitution, the Freedom Trail boasts 16 historic sites along its 2.5 miles. Relive Paul Revere's wild ride while visiting his former home, or pause for a moment of silence at the site of the Boston Massacre.

Marvel at Faneuil Hall, host to town meetings and rebellious orators, and lift your spirits at Park Street Church, where "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" was sung for the first time on July 4, 1831. You'll also encounter a host of museums and meet characters dressed in period attire as you step back through time to explore Revolutionary America.

Priced from $2,149 and available through fall 2016, G Adventures' "Tour East Coast USA" is a nine-day, round-trip jaunt from New York offering historic walking tours in both Boston and Philadelphia. Additional stops include Niagara Falls, Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Washington, DC.

An important address
Gettysburg, PA

On Nov. 19, 1863, just four months after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln returned to what now is known as Gettysburg National Military Park to dedicate a cemetery to fallen soldiers. He claimed "the world will little note" the speech he would give that day, but the memory of both the Gettysburg Address and the Union Army victory that inspired it -- one that modern historians consider the turning point in the war -- live on.

Take a trip to south-central Pennsylvania to experience the solemnity of the battlefield and commemorate its quest for a brighter future, in which we remember that "all men are created equal."

Amtrak Vacations' weeklong "Philadelphia and Gettysburg Family Adventure" is an immersive experience for history buffs that includes more than a day of tours around Pennsylvania's storied battlefield. This trip is priced from $969 and offers departures through March 2016.

A fresh start
Ellis Island, New York and New Jersey

More than 12 million people from all over the world passed through Ellis Island, an immigration station shadowed by the Statue of Liberty, between 1892 and 1954. This spot is known as the Island of Hope, among other nicknames, and served as a symbol of freedom and a gateway to new opportunities.

The recently renamed Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration presents guests with the chance to look up their ancestors and explore the newly opened Peopling of America Center to learn about the nation's growth as far back as the first indigenous groups. An audio tour available in nine languages walks visitors through the "new arrival" experience encountered by optimistic immigrants to the U.S.

On "Cities of the East Coast Gold" eight days with Insight Vacations, guests can turn an afternoon of leisure time in New York into a ferry ride to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The tour also visits Newport, RI; Washington, DC; and historic haunts in Philadelphia and Boston, with prices from $2,925 for departures this summer and fall.

Freedom's price

Among the symbols of liberty across the country are monuments to the men and women who have bravely dedicated or even given their lives in the course of military service. Two awe-inspiring tributes exist on the Hawaiian island of Oahu: the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, tucked inside Punchbowl Crater, and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which features the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The location of the former also is known as Puowaina, a Hawaiian name meaning "hill of sacrifice," and more than 53,000 soldiers and sailors have been laid to rest atop this volcanic formation. The latter invites visitors to board a shuttle boat operated by the U.S. Navy to pay their respects over the sunken battleship.

Perillo Tours' "Two Islander" with departures through December priced from $2,490, spends a week split between Oahu and its quieter sister isle, Maui. Honolulu-area attractions on the itinerary include Pearl Harbor, the Punchbowl Crater memorial and the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Taking a stand -- with a seat
Dearborn, MI

A monument to the civil rights movement is fully restored and looking like new at the Henry Ford Museum, an exhibit hall dedicated to its namesake as well as other historic innovators. The Montgomery, AL, bus that played host to Rosa Parks' 1955 defiance of racial segregation had been left to rust in a field for more than 30 years before it was bought at auction and returned to its green-and-gold glory.

Museum visitors can take Parks' hard-fought seat and reflect on the firestorm she ignited: the Montgomery bus boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1956 U.S. Supreme Court case that found the city's transportation divide to be unconstitutional.

Signature experiences on "Michigan's Lakes & Mackinac Island" eight days with tour provider Tauck, include a sailing of Saginaw Bay aboard a traditional masted ship and, during a visit to the Henry Ford Museum, a spin in an authentic Model T. Summer and fall departures start at $2,990.

America's front yard
Washington, DC

For the ultimate in patriotic escapes, look no further than the nation's capital. The National Mall and Memorial Parks, a nearly 150-acre public space, contains some of America's most prized monuments, from the Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln memorials to tributes to veterans of the Civil, Korean and Vietnam wars, among other fierce conflicts. Each marker represents a different piece of the country's storied past, including honors for the Founding Fathers.

Though a handful of excursions venture to attractions outside of the city center, including George Washington's family home of Mount Vernon, VA, and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, the weeklong "Spotlight on Washington, DC" focuses on the capital's icons. This tour heads to the Mall for in-depth explorations of historic markers as well as Smithsonian institutions like the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.

Escorted vacation company Collette offers two fall and two spring 2016 departures priced from $1,749.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in July/August 2015. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.

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