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Seeing the sights in the Southeast
By Debra Simon and Brack Johnson
For the perfect summer vacation, nothing beats a little Southern hospitality, especially when it can be found just down the road a piece.
From the bluegrass of Kentucky to the white sand of Florida, from the mighty rivers of West Virginia to the languid bayous of Louisiana, the Southeast has much to offer.
The recent Travel South Showcase in Richmond, Va., sponsored by a marketing umbrella group that represents 12 states, celebrated the hottest spots in our region.
According to state tourism divisions, here are some of the new, must-see attractions in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Click on each state or attraction name for more information.
Hank Williams Trail Alexander City, Birmingham, Georgiana, Montgomery and Tuscumbia
A 24-page guide leads music lovers through four museums and other points of interest in the life and career of this country crooner.
Visitors can see the church where Williams watched his mother play the organ, the house where he grew up, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and more.
Civil Rights Memorial Center and Wall of Tolerance Montgomery
Exhibit space, a theater and a classroom add new dimensions to the 16-year-old memorial.
Its contents honor the achievements of those who lost their lives in the era framed by Brown v. Board of Education and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Rosa Parks Library and Museum Children’s Wing Montgomery
Through a multimedia “time machine” and reenactment experiences, kids can learn about Rosa Parks and other early civil-rights leaders.
The state is touting 2006 as “The Year of Outdoor Alabama.”
Among the promotional efforts are various “Outdoor Alabama” guides, one of which tourism director Lee Sentell jokingly dubbed “100 Outdoor Adventures That Will Probably Kill You.”
Adrenaline junkies can hit trails, climb mountains, explore caves or canoe the rapids.
Four national forests offer more than half a million acres of wilderness open to the public, 22 state parks and 25 lakes larger than 12,000 acres.
There’s also the deepest gorge east of the Rockies — Little River Canyon — and the longest-free-flowing river east of the Mississippi — the Cahaba.
More than 10,000 miles of trails crisscross Alabama, allowing hikers to see everything from the state’s oldest tree to alligators in the marshes. Hearty types can walk the Natchez Trace in the morning and fill their nets full of crabs on the powdery beaches in the evening.
John H. Johnson Learning Center & Museum Arkansas City
The restored childhood home of the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines tells the story of his rise to success at the helm of the country’s largest African-American publishing empire.
Clinton House Museum Fayetteville
The one-bedroom cottage where Bill and Hillary were married contains photographs, displays and memorabilia from the Clintons’ lives.
X-Coaster Hot Springs
What a rush! This $4 million coaster, at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, soars to a 150-foot, upside-down inversion, the highest in the world.
Clinton Presidential Center and Park Little Rock
Anchoring the historic River Market District downtown, the $160 million library and museum features exhibits such as replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room.
EpiSphere Digital Dome Theatre Little Rock
The newest addition to the Arkansas Aerospace Education Center is the first single-projector, full-dome video system in the world. In essence, it paints the entire dome of the planetarium with imagery.
Visitors can study systems within the human body, tour the universe, or whirl into the center of a tornado, all from the comfort of their seats.
The Arkansas Queen Little Rock
One would expect to see Mark Twain on this riverboat cruise that departs the North Shore Maritime Center, located next to the USS Razorback, on the banks of the Arkansas River.
Diamond Discovery Center Murfreesboro
You can strike it rich, or at least very sparkly, at Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only diamond-bearing site in the world that’s open to the public. As recently as March, a visitor found a 4.2-carat beauty. The new center tells everything you ever wanted to know about the gems, and even teaches amateur prospectors how to search for them.
Southern Tenant Farmers Museum Tyronza
During the early 1930s, the building housed the businesses of two of the founders of this national agricultural union.
The organization is regarded as a forerunner of the 1960s civil-rights movement because it included women and blacks in leadership positions.
International Space Station Center Cape Canaveral
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex now offers an up-close look inside the facility where NASA is preparing the components of the space station, the largest, most complex structure ever to be sent into orbit.
Researcher for a Day Program Grassy Key
The Dolphin Research Center has launched this interactive program in which participants get a peek at projects that explore the intelligence of dolphins and sea lions.
“They Dared to Fly” Kissimmee
Fantasy of Flight, an aviation-themed attraction, tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, who fought two wars, one against a military force and the other against racism.
Miami Seaquarium Miami
Refreshed and rejuvenated like a sun worshipper at the end of a week on South Beach, the seaquarium has reopened with a new look and improved shows, which star dolphins, killer whales, sea lions and harbor seals.
Just about all the theme parks have something new to offer.
On an elaborate, three-story set, SeaWorld’s most ambitious show yet matches a killer whale’s graceful movements to an original music score.
Expedition Everest Orlando
The latest adventure at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is this high-speed train ride that combines coaster-like thrills with close encounters of the hairy kind.
Cypress Gardens Adventure Park Winter Haven
The granddaddy of Florida theme parks celebrates its 70th anniversary with a yearlong bash that pays tribute to its rich and storied past.
Among the attractions are the world-famous water-ski pyramid act, more than 2,000 butterflies in the “Wings of Wonder” exhibit and the trips of the refurbished Cypress Belle, an old-fashioned paddle boat.
The Great Florida Birding Trail statewide
This 2,000-mile driving trail passes through 450 sites around the Sunshine State.
Birders can follow the highway signs displaying the swallow-tailed-kite logo to view or learn about the 470 species of Florida’s feathered friends.
“Worth the Drive” statewide
The state has issued a new guide, which encourages tourists to ditch big beaches to explore downtowns, small towns and scenic highways.
Bonsai Garden Asheville
Imagine a whole forest just 2 feet tall. That’s what visitors to the North Carolina Arboretum will see when they visit this collection of bonsai plants — miniaturized specimens created to show the variety of native Appalachian trees.
Pepsi Americas’ Sail 2006 Beaufort/Morehead City
Ahoy! Schooners, barques and barkentines will grace the North Carolina shore June 30-July 5 for a maritime celebration.
The event showcases tall ships from around the world, includes tours of the vessels, and boasts a parade of sail and a 15-mile regatta.
U.S. National Whitewater Center Charlotte
For Olympic athletes or weekend-warriors, this recreation and training center — scheduled to open this summer— promises cool running to anyone who rafts, canoes or kayaks.
Its crown jewel is a multiple-channel artificial river whose rapids can be modified from easy to challenging.
Set among 300 wooded acres on the scenic Catawba River, the complex also includes climbing and ropes courses, mountain-biking, running and hiking trails, a boathouse, a lodge and a conference center.
Nasher Museum of Art Durham
The Louvre. The Met. The MOMA. The Nasher. In October, the former Duke University Museum of Art was transformed into a world-class shrine to fine art, when it moved into a 66,000-square-foot building designed by architect Rafael Vinoly. The $24 million museum, with a fresh focus on contemporary and modern art, offers leading-edge exhibitions, performing-arts events, lectures, films and tony gatherings.
The Museum of the Albemarle Elizabeth City
The museum’s new building along the waterfront is designed to fit right in with traditional coastal structures. Here, visitors can meet Native Americans and learn of the first English settlers in America, explore the colonial period, revisit the wars that have shaped North Carolina, and recognize the industries that have supported its residents.
North Carolina Aquarium Pine Knoll Shores
After a $25 million expansion, the aquarium is set to open May 19 at triple its original size.
The new wave of exhibits includes a 306,000-gallon “Living Shipwreck,” in which tiger sharks, schools of fish and loggerhead turtles swim around a replica of a German U-boat that was sunk off Cape Lookout during World World II.
Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park and Eco Center Scotland Neck
Just about every thing with wings, except perhaps Big Bird, is represented at the premier waterfowl conservation and breeding preserve in North America. An eco-tourism facility for educating the public about wildlife and the environment is scheduled to open in mid-July.
Children’s Museum of Wilmington Wilmington
Kids can board a pirate ship, perform in a circus, work in an international diner, and learn about math, science, health and other cultures — all within a 16,000-square-foot interactive center.
Beaufort Art Association Beaufort
Matching the artistry of what’s displayed inside with the beauty of the building outside, the gallery has moved to the George Parsons Elliott House, a Southern-style mansion built in 1844.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge Charleston
It looks like a gigantic silver sail, but it’s actually the longest single-cable-stayed span in North America, and it connects the downtown Charleston peninsula with the harbor town of Mount Pleasant.
On a clear day, you can see forever…or at least to the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point, the skyscape of Charleston, and many miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.
MagiQuest Myrtle Beach
When the kids tire of miles of miniature golf courses, fudge shops, carnival rides and theme restaurants in this resort town, there are several new attractions, including this live-action adventure in which youngsters can slay dragons at Broadway at the Beach.
Small City Cooking School & Market Port Royal
Set in the town’s 19th-century customs house, this gastonome’s delight offers shopping, nibbling and wine-tasting on the lower level and classes in a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen on the upper.
Great Swamp Sanctuary Walterboro
Covering 800 acres of braided creek and hardwood flats, the sanctuary features an asphalt trail for walking and biking, a looped trail for canoeing and kayaking, and a natural walk that includes part of the old Charleston-to-Savannah wagon and stagecoach road.
South Carolina Artisans Center Walterboro
Appropriately housed in a restored Victorian cottage, the state’s folk art and craft center has doubled its space to display 250 artisans’ work in glass, pottery, jewelry and wood.
Rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley lives on in his mansion, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Plus, two new exhibits in the visitors center, “Elvis ‘56” and “Elvis After Dark,” display everything from the King’s first TV Guide cover to his famous jumpsuits.
“Northwest Passage” Memphis
Polar bears Haley and Payton, as well as black bears, bald eagles, seals and sea lions, find all their creature comforts in this $23 million home at the Memphis Zoo.
The Cotton Museum Memphis
The Memphis Cotton Exchange chronicles the days when cotton was king and explores its continued influence on daily life, arts and economics.
“I Can’t Stop Loving You: Ray Charles and Country Music” Nashville
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum puts the singer’s chart-topping career on center stage, with a focus on his country-music influences and contributions.
“The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt” Nashville
Running June 9 to Oct. 8, this exhibit at the Frist Center for Visual Arts shows off the largest collection of antiquities ever loaned by the Egyptian government for display in North America.
Timber Tower Sevierville
Dollywood’s new thrill ride takes passengers high above Thunderhead Gap and spins them nine times per minute. Then, the tower swings from side to side, allowing the vehicle holding the riders to topple in various directions, appearing to splash them into the water below.
Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center Townsend
Step into this 17,000-square-foot building to experience mountain life from 3000 B.C. to 1930. The building is the centerpiece of a 3-acre site, which includes 10 historic structures that illustrate the Native American and pioneer periods.