Kentucky's close neighbors—Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio—offer up some new attractions for the entire family
Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains
Mountain peaks veiled by mist, acres of forests and pristine landscapes, history that reaches back two centuries, more wildlife than you can point a camera at, and in the midst of the splendor sits the town Mother Nature has smiled upon: Gatlinburg. With its Smoky Mountain setting, outdoor recreation, and in-town fun, no wonder this small-town charmer is a favorite for Kentuckians. And it just keeps getting better with new places to explore.
Crawl through clear underwater tunnels and into the new $5 million indoor/outdoor interactive Penguin Playhouse at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. You'll get nose-to-beak views of these African penguins that are currently on the list of "vulnerable" animals facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
No need to run from the revenuers—moonshine's now available legally in Tennessee. Ole Smoky Distillery gives visitors a moonshine experience with free distillery tours for a look at authentic working moonshine stills, and to see, smell, and hear about the process from beginning to end, including learning about the lore (and lure) of bootlegging in east Tennessee. Sample (and buy) Ole Smoky's Original Unaged Corn Whiskey, White Lightnin', and Moonshine Cherries, as well as the just-released Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine.
Adding food 'tude to Gatlinburg's dining landscape are these new restaurants: Dick's Last Resort, known for saucy barbecue served with sass; that grooviest of pizza places, Mellow Mushroom; and The Melting Pot, where you get to dip your choice of edibles into melted cheese and chocolate. Need we say more?
In neighboring Pigeon Forge, the Titanic—in full ship shape and measuring half the size of the original Unsinkable—displays carefully chosen 400-plus artifacts from its more than 1,800-piece permanent collection, including what is believed to be the largest collection of Titanic photographs in existence and the lone life jacket whose wearer's identity is known. Touch an iceberg. Slip into a seat in a lifeboat and dip your fingers into frigid 28-degree water. Experience a you-are-there moment at the gated and locked third-class compartment whose occupants would have seen the stairway fill with rushing water.
Two of Kentucky's most notorious families have taken their feud south: The Hatfield & McCoy Dinner: Feudin', Feastin', and Family Fun plays in the Hatfield & McCoy Theater, where a homeplace-in-the-mountains set, replete with moonshine still and barnyard animals, comes to life with singers, dancers, actors, musicians, and specially trained stunt people.
Must-see Chattanooga attractions are part of The Chattanoogan Hotel's "Discover the Fun" family- (and wallet-) friendly summer package: Tennessee Aquarium with its new Ranger Rick-themed, hands-on area that includes animal encounters; the IMAX Theater with new 3D movies The Ultimate Wave Tahiti and Born to Be Wild, and new Flex ticketing so visitors can choose their show time; and Creative Discovery Museum with its riverboat, playhouse, and Rooftop Fun Gallery, among other interactive areas.
Overnight accommodations at the luxe resort are included—a place kids will appreciate for its elbow room and cushy beds, and Mom and Dad will love for its soothing earthy color palette and rooms made for sleep-in mornings, some of which usher in a view of Lookout Mountain by daylight.
Also included: breakfast in the very comfy Broad Street Grille; onsite health club privileges; tips are covered; and a free electric shuttle to whisk you to downtown attractions. Package price starts at $299 for two adults and two children (one night, plus all attractions).
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children's museum in the world, will host National Geographic Treasures of the Earth, an exhibit that runs all day from June 1 through September 16, 2011.
You'll see extraordinary artifacts and displays featuring the fascinating world of treasures discovered from the earth. The exhibit will transport children and families to world-renowned archaeological sites for hands-on adventures. Explore the past by immersing yourself in re-creations of the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Seti I, the burial site of China's Terra Cotta Warriors, and the Caribbean shipwreck of the Cara Merchant, commandeered by famous seafarer and convicted pirate Captain Kidd.
"In the museum's new Archaeology Lab, you will observe and experience the current science that is being explored at the sites, from examining a CT scan of Seti's mummy, to virtually repainting China's Terra Cotta Warriors, to talking to one of our on-site archaeology experts," says Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. "Perhaps most fascinating of all, see the only cannon recovered from the wreck of the Cara Merchant as it undergoes electrolytic conservation at the museum's new wet lab."
Within shouting distance of Louisville, Jeffersonville—"Jeff" to the locals—has all the earmarks of an "indulge me" getaway. A peaceful, away-from-it-all atmosphere at the Market Street Inn, a bed and breakfast with a decadent breakfast accompanied by classical music, gorgeous rooms, third floor decksitting in Jeff's historic downtown, less than two blocks from restaurants, shops, and views of the Ohio River.
There's a charmer of a lunch spot at Adrienne & Co. Bakery and Café with mix-match seating and a luscious dessert case heaped with pastries and cupcakes.
At Schimpff's Confectionery and museum, owners Jill and Warren Schimpff give one of the most entertaining tours you'll ever take (Jill), and demo the candy-making process (Warren) for a visit that is unforgettable—much like the just-right spiciness of the red hot candies they pass out still warm from the oven and the rich, velvety smoothness of the turtle-shaped chocolate, caramel, and pecan confections they're known for.
An award-winning theater, Derby Dinner Playhouse, is in next-door-neighbor Clarksville, whose summer season includes The Sound of Music and Church Basement Ladies.
Known for its National Road history, rare arched architecture, mummies, and antiques, Richmond is about to gain fame with chocoholics. The yummy Richmond/Wayne County Chocolate Trail, which debuted last year, is a self-guided journey to bliss—candy shops and factories, bistros, spas, a winery, historic homes, and charming gift shops, each with a chocolate pedigree. Stops include Ghyslain Chocolatier & Bistro, Picasso in a pastry case with hand-painted chocolates, delicately sculptured desserts, and authentic gelato; Olympian Candies, with its secret-recipe toffee and Dittles (pecans, caramel, and milk or dark chocolate confections); and Pour House Antiques & Sweets, where 80 pounds of fudge—amaretto chocolate, mint chocolate swirl, English toffee, and more—are whipped up weekly.
Each stop features a complimentary chocolate sample: candy, candles, wine, desserts, fudge, ice cream, and more. Free Chocolate Trail Passports and Chocolate Trail Bucks can be picked up at the Old National Road Welcome Center.
Got a craving for eye candy? Richmond also recently created the self-guided Tiffany Window Trail, owing to its magnificent collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows. Four sites within a five-block area offer a glimpse of this national art treasure. The highlight of the trail: Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, whose 62 windows were created by the decorative arts master—a claim only a handful of churches can make. The windows cost between $2,000 and $4,000 each at the time of their 1906 installation and include a scene looking out from the tomb on resurrection morning—the only known work of art that uses this perspective.
It only makes sense that Cleopatra would come to the Queen City. Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) is hosting Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt through September 5—one of only five museums in the country to have the exhibition. Statuary, jewelry, coins, and religious tokens—lost to the sea and sand for nearly 2,000 years—are part of a sumptuous cache uncovered by archaeologists. Included in the exhibit is a replica of an original papyrus document, found in an earlier expedition, that contains an inscription scientists believe was written by Cleopatra.
For an arts and culture getaway, Cincinnati is a true gem. Besides the CMC—which also houses history, children's, and natural history and science museums, plus Omnimax Theater in the grand, domed National Historic Landmark Union Terminal—Cincinnati is home to the National Historic Landmark, Showboat Majestic, a riverboat theater staging God's Favorite, 42nd Street, and the brilliant Art of Murder this summer; and the world-famous Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, whose horticultural landscape includes tropical rainforests, an African savanna, Florida swamps, and the Arctic tundra, among others.
Visit Cleveland even in the summer and you'll find that moment "around which the entire kid year revolved," to borrow from Jean Shepherd, who penned the novel and script for the 1983 holiday classic, A Christmas Story. Christmas! Unleash your inner 9-year-old with a visit to a handful of holiday attractions, including the Queen Mother of yuletide fun: A Christmas Story House and Museum. And this summer, "Randy" is coming home: actor Ian Petrella will be at the house from June through August 31.
Meet Randy, then let the kids hide under the kitchen sink or gather 'round the radio waiting to hear Little Orphan Annie's top-secret message. Directly across the street is the museum and its stockpile of original props, costumes, and memorabilia: Randy's snowsuit and zeppelin, the chalkboard from Miss Shields' classroom, the toys from the Higbee's window, and the family car. (If you visit in November or December, the Renaissance Hotel has a special package that includes tickets to A Christmas Story House, in-room viewing of the movie, and roundtrip transportation to the museum.)
What is Christmas without candy? Enter the b.a. Sweetie Candy Company, a world that truly is pure imagination. Think Willy Wonka's candy factory on steroids: edible bugs, wax lips, PEZ dispensers, gourmet jellybeans, licorice, jaw breakers, and more. On any given day, there are about 300,000 pounds of candy stacked floor to ceiling.
Big Fun Toy Store is the same concept—you don't just feel like a kid in a candy store, you are that kid—with toys in a wonderland of new and vintage toys, stuffies, action figures, Barbie dolls, T-shirts, collectibles, and kitsch in colorful come-hither heaps pressing toward the rafters.
REGIONAL RIDE THRILLS
Get ready to bite your knuckles: surrounding state amusement parks are pulling out the stops on rides that thrill, terrify, and defy the laws of gravity.
Last year, Dollywood, www.dollywood.com, opened Adventure Mountain outdoor terrain, America's largest challenge course. This year, the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, park debuts Barnstormer, a $5.5 million family thrill ride that replicates the derring-do of 1920s-era stunt pilots as they zoomed sky high above field and farm. This aerial sensation features two pendulum arms and back-to-back seating, taking riders progressively higher on each swing, reaching a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour and 230 degrees of rotation. At its peak, Barnstormer reaches a staggering 81 feet in the air.
The 23-story-tall SkyScreamer has been unleashed at Six Flags St. Louis, Missouri, www.sixflags.com/stlouis, to become the tallest ride in the park. Grab your companion's hand as these open-air swings climb to the top of the SkyScreamer tower while spinning round and round. At full swing, guests will soar in a 98-foot circle at speeds more than 43 miles per hour. By day, guests will have a bird's-eye view for miles away; by night, SkyScreamer's lighted arms will whirl high above the park.
The new WindSeeker at Cincinnati, Ohio's Kings Island, www.visitkingsisland.com, is a 301-foot-tall tower that will spin riders 30 stories above the park, gaining momentum as the swing ascends the tower to reach speeds up to 30 mph and flaring out 45 degrees from the tower.
In Santa Claus, Indiana, the park known for family-friendly amenities—including free parking, soft drinks, sunscreen, inner tubes, and Wi-Fi hot spots—Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, www.holidayworld.com, has upped its appeal for kids and their parents: the custom-designed Rudolph's Round-Up is a family Christmas ride featuring individual "sleighs" so smaller children can ride with older siblings or adults. Safari Sam's SplashLand in Splashin' Safari has eight body slides for smaller children, plus dozens of water-play elements in a shallow pool. Mom and Dad will love the addition of air-conditioned dining at Plymouth Rock Café, more shade and seating in Splashin' Safari, and more restrooms, changing rooms, and family restrooms in both parks.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE BORDER FUN
Cross the border into Missouri to see a new Civil War museum, or head into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a resort that is sure to keep the entire family entertained, by reading More border fun.