Make seafood your itinerary theme for tours

When you think of the clam bake, the lobster boil or a crab feast on a scenic ocean coastline, the common image—as much as the fresh-caught seafood slathered in butter—is likely to be the people with whom you shared the fun. Though it’s tough to beat the food, much of the fun is the communal gathering around the fire and preparation show, making seafood feasts the perfect group travel event.

The Maryland Motorcoach Association and New England Bus Association both have this figured out.  Maryland plans its annual meeting around a Crab Feast pretty well guaranteed to sell out. New England’s feast focuses on lobster, and some members fly in for that dinner alone, says Mary Presley, meeting manager for one group, executive administrator for the other.

Take a page from this popular playbook and use seafood as a meeting draw—or tour theme. But remember this, Presley advises: Once the crabs start cracking, your business is done because guests will be diving in.

The Virginia Oyster Trail

You’ve likely heard the term terroir, perhaps referring to the way wine tends to reflect the characteristics of the soil. The Virginia oyster trail promotes the ‘mer’roir—the way the sea, depending on spot, imparts a particular flavor in seafood. A tour on this trail can take guests on a flavor journey through eight distinct regions.

See if the seafood connoisseurs in the group can distinguish the specific flavors of spots like Region 9’s Middle Chesapeake Bay’s oysters said to be well balanced between salty and sweet with a savory butter and cream finished versus the Region 5’s oysters that, while creamy, reflect a bit more minerality. Or opt for comparative tasting at an oyster festival. October’s Chincoteague Oyster Festival features small town charms as well as oyster and other seafood, but November’s Urbanna Oyster Fest draws spectators from around the world who come to watch champs shuck. Bonus: The trail maps out events and other stops from wine and brew pairing dinners to aquaculture sites.

Lobster around every bend

Scenery is your dual theme when you meander up the Maine coast on U.S. 1, but focus too on lobster shacks and shoreline lobster boils, and your bus will fill quickly. Add in a stop at Nunan’s Lobster Hut  for its lobster and blueberry pie both and story of the way today’s owner spends the day both catching and cooking, just like their grandfather did. Book a land and sea adventure with time on the Schooner Heritage with Doug and Linda Lee, maritime experts and personable hosts, and pass seals sunning on rocks, forested islands, lighthouses and lobster traps that’ll get you in the mood for the on-shore, all-you-can-eat lobster bake. Or sail from Kennebunkport on the Rugosa, a combo working and tour boat, and help lobster fishermen haul in their catch.

Make shrimp the theme on the Cajun coast

The Cajun flair of New Orleans has spread a bit east to Gulf Shores, Alabama, notable for its famed sugar sand beaches—and royal reds. The massive flavorful shrimp resembles the lobster, and you can order it with cajun spice (and a side of beignets) or fried, grilled or broiled with a side of butter. All things shrimp are on tap Oct. 11-14 at the free National Shrimp Festival, a 47th annual weekend of races, sand sculpture contests, live music, art fairs and more.  But make your way west to the Louisiana Gulf Coast to check out some culinary variety. Plus, no one throws a party like the Cajuns—and day. But there’s value in planning around the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff on Oct. 13; 100 teams battle for the best roux to the backdrop of live Creole Zydeco music.

—Kim Schneider

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