The family vacation, the ones you don’t just remember, but replay over and over again. When your heart skipped a beat and eyes opened wide to the wonders of the world. It’s a connection, a reunion and it’s made in Tennessee.
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood in Pigeon Forge is Tennessee’s No. 1 attraction. The world-class theme park’s $37 million expansion includes Wildwood Grove, set to open in 2019. The expansion includes 11 guest experiences, including a suspended family roller coaster called the Dragonflier – the 55 ft. tall Wildwood Tree, live entertainment, indoor and outdoor play areas and a new restaurant. Inspiring theatrical shows, concerts, and Dollywood’s Splash Country, the waterpark that houses the more than 20 water slides and splash pads. Book a stay at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa for family-inspired rooms, spa services, a pool, live music and storytelling at night and much more. Reach new heights at Gatlinburg’s newest attraction, Anakeesta where a tree canopy walk, gem mining for the little ones, barbecue, shopping and dual-ziplining wait to fill a fun day for the family. Visit Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, the largest and deepest waterfall open to the public in the U.S., for its beautiful cave formations and impressive waterfall. Ruby Falls unveiled a $20 million expansion with upgrades like an outdoor observation area, improved ticketing experience, expanded retail, LED lights and additional parking. Enjoy the ZIPstream Aerial Adventure Course, adjacent to Ruby Falls, for an adventure above the trees in the suspending obstacle courses. Explore the Secret City, Oak Ridge, the site of the Manhattan Project that is told through interactive exhibits and well-preserved artifacts at the American Museum of Science and Energy. Discover America’s largest underground lake, The Lost Sea in Sweetwater where guests take a voyage across the lake in a glass-bottom boat. Families visiting Nashville can soak in the fun at SoundWaves, a new luxury indoor/outdoor water park at Gaylord Opryland Resort. Kids can ride the slide tower, rapid and lazy river or rock climb in the activity pool. In Hendersonville, just 30 minutes from Nashville, Mary’s Magical Place is an all-inclusive playground designed and created for children, ranging from able-bodied to those in wheelchairs, can come and play together.
Take in some of the best bluegrass music at Bluegrass Underground in The Caverns in Pelham. Learn the deep-rooted music history in Nashville with interactive exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum and go behind-the-scenes in some of the nation’s iconic music sites like Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, all in Nashville. Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills is an opportunity to peer into the famous musician’s home along with the newly added Loretta’s Frontier Homestead that has original log cabins and 400 artifacts.
Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum tells the story of the famous engineer who saved his passengers by sacrificing his life. Enjoy the Old Country Store which has a southern-style buffet, ice cream served in an 1800s replica ice cream parlor, fudge and gifts. Explore Cherry Mansion in Savannah to take a peek at the historic Antebellum home that was General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters during the Civil War Battle of Shiloh. The Tennessee River Museum in Savannah highlights archaeology, Trail of Tears, the Civil War battles over the Tennessee River and more than 200 fossils in the paleontology exhibit. In Memphis, bring the family to the National Civil Rights Museum, commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the story of Civil Rights in America.; Dixon Gallery and Gardens – a collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art and a botanical park; Shelby Farms where kids and adults can fish, boat, hike, bike, horseback ride and visit bison on its 4,500 acres.
Memories can be made in the Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Kids and adults find the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings are told. The museum explores the way sound technology shaped their successes and how they were the foundation for the rich musical heritage that can be traced in today’s music. Interactive displays, exhibits, images and artifacts help bring the historic event to life. Hands-on learning is fun at the Hands On! Regional Museum in Gray. Here, kids can learn in a brand new all-ages science center through fun, interactive programs and exhibits, including a musical Tesla coil, giant building blocks and a maker studio where guests can engineer a rocket, create a masterpiece and uncover something new. In Pigeon Forge, experience attractions like the Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge that tells the story of the crew and passengers aboard the Titanic, WonderWorks where exhibits on science are featured in an interactive and fun way. Gatlinburg has the newly-opened Guinness World Records Adventure that highlights some of the famous world records in 20 interactive exhibits, games and challenges.
In Nashville, explore space, nature and the human body at Adventure Science Center. Kids can explore, play and discover Tennessee’s history and culture in a hands-on way at the Tennessee State Museum. Browse world-class paintings, sculptures and tapestries at Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Cannonsburgh Village, a reconstructed pioneer village from 1830s to the 1930s, can be found in Murfreesboro. Kids can learn about the Civil War through a comprehensive collection of Union and Confederate artifacts at the Lairdland Farm House and Civil War Museum.
Discover the rich natural and musical history of Brownsville at the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and the Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School which honors the Queen of Rock n’ Roll in the one-room schoolhouse she attended. Enjoy seeing more than 25 iconic cars made famous in movies and TV shows at Rusty’s TV & Movie Car Museum in Jackson. And with tickets only $5, it’s an affordable way to entertain the whole family. Discovery Park of America in Union City offers entertainment in an educational setting with 50 acres and 70,000 square feet of exhibits ranging from nature to technology to science, a Human Slide, Earthquake Simulator, The Observation Tower and more. The Pink Palace Museum in Memphis is one of the largest of its kind in the Southeast and has a replica of the first self-service grocery store, cultural and natural history exhibits, dioramas and audio-visual displays for a well-rounded, fun and educational experience.
Talk to the Animals
The Tennessee Aquarium is the No. 1 attraction in Chattanooga and in the Top 5 for aquariums worldwide with 10,000 animals in two buildings: River Journey that showcases fish and plants in local and regional rivers and Ocean Journey where exotic plants and animals from the Earth’s regions are highlighted. Ripley’s Aquarium in the Smokies in Gatlinburg is one of the most popular attractions in the Smoky Mountain region and celebrated among the top aquariums in the country.
More than 4,500 animals call Memphis Zoo home, including the newest Zambezi River Camp featuring hippos, Nile crocodiles, flamingos, okapi, fish, African birds and more. The Nashville Zoo is in a multi-year expansion plan which includes a new Entry Village that opened in 2016, the spider monkey and white rhinoceros exhibits that opened in 2017. Exhibits to be open include a Peruvian-style lodge which will house Peruvian creatures including pudus, viscachas, marmoset, Andean bears and sloths, a Sumatran tiger exhibition, and the new animal health center to enhance the Zoo’s veterinary capabilities. Zoo Knoxville is where more red pandas have been born than any other zoo in the world. It’s also the first zoo to see critically-endangered Northern spider tortoises hatch. Recently, Zoo Knoxville has opened Tiger Forest, a new habitat for critically-endangered Malayan tigers and white-naped cranes. Guests become fully immersed in the exotic Orient thanks to authentic structures and decor. Chattanooga is home to Chattanooga Zoo that underwent a South American Expansion including multiple indoor and outdoor exhibits of monkeys and tamarins, South American birds, and a space of interactive elements for education, keeper chats and more. The zoo’s African Expansion includes multiple exhibits of giraffes and lions, multiple view opportunities, animal feeding stations and encounters with guests, a special event plaza and more. At Brights Zoo near Jonesborough, you can be a Keeper for a Day and hand out food to giraffes, bongos and zebras. Bring your camera to capture birds, reptiles, mammals and bugs at Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo in Sevierville.
Pet and feed more than 80 species of animals at Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo. The drive-through zoo located on a century farm is known for its friendly, exotic animals, including giraffes, zebras, bison, primates and tapirs. Life is never boring at Lucky Ladd Farms in Eagleville, home to the largest petting zoo attraction in Tennessee with more than 100 friendly farm animals. Watch goats scale the Goat-A-Coaster. Brush, pet and feed the animals in the barnyard. Take in the beauty of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains on horseback at the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm Exotic Petting Zoo in Sevierville. The farm’s riding stables offer pony rides for children and horseback riding for all ages. Hand-feed the animals and interact with kangaroos, camels, emu and pot-bellied pigs.
For a sample of Tennessee family-friendly stops, visit https://tennesseetourism.tandemvault.com/lightboxes/uqA4HzSBl.