SUMMER DESTINATIONS: Driving-distance destinations that will thrill your entire family
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO. -- Summer travel doesn't have to mean a cross-country trip. Your family can find the perfect destination -- from sight-seeing to adventure in the outdoors to shopping, from amusement parks to entertainment and much more -- within easy driving distance of Southeast Missouri. Here are three of the top picks from Elite Travel Inc. & Cruise owner Carolyn Kempf, who regularly helps clients plan successful close-to-home vacations.
This destination in the Great Smoky Mountains is a 7.5-hour drive from Cape Girardeau, and features everything from an aquarium with the largest underwater tunnel and a ski resort with year-round ice skating to fascinating museums, go-cart racing and miniature golf. And, of course: The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. "It's really a great family friendly destination," says Kempf. "We also book a lot of weddings in Gatlinburg. It's a beautiful place."
-- Be sure to stop by: Ripley's, which includes an aquarium, mini golf, haunted adventures, mirror maze, a moving theater, a fun zone and, of course, the famous Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum.
-- Upcoming events: Downtown Gatlinburg hosts an annual Independence Day celebration. This year, the event will feature the 36th annual July 4 Midnight Parade.
FRENCH LICK, IN
This scenic Southern Indiana town is about a 4-hour drive from Cape Girardeau. From resort to lake lodging, from waterparks to wineries to a scenic railway, French Lick, IN is a wonderful family or couple getaway. "We have a lot of clients who visit French Lick," says Kempf. "Because of its close location, and the great variety of things to do and see. It's really perfect for all ages, from young families to retirees."
-- Be sure to stop by: Patoka Lake, which offers fishing, tubing, skiing and plenty of native wildlife.
-- Upcoming events: Annual Street Fest, June 17-18, featuring vendor booths, food, music and games for the entire family.
Known as the "Live Music Show Capital of the World," Branson offers more than 50 live performance theaters, three pristine lakes, 12 championship golf courses, an international award-winning theme park, dozens of attractions and museums, an Historic Downtown district, shopping and a full range of dining and lodging options. "Branson is about a 5-hour drive from Cape Girardeau, and is truly a something-for-everyone destination," says Kempf. "Whether you've been before, or you're a first-timer, you'll be impressed with what Branson offers. There is always something new to do."
-- Be sure to stop by: Silver Dollar City's new Half Dollar Holler, a super-sized play area for little explorers, with treetop fun houses and climbing nets, box crawls and slides, mini-wave swings and truckloads of sand for hands-on play.
-- Upcoming events: Honor America Celebration, held on June 26, is an old-fashioned patriotic event, complete with live music, children's activities, patriotic concert, and fireworks. The event is free to the public; attendees may purchase barbecue items.
"The best thing about these destinations is that they offer a great value for families, and a great convenience, because of their close proximity to home," says Kempf. "And at Elite, there is no cost to clients to book most trips, including local destinations like these. No matter what your age, interest or budget, there are great vacation options within easy driving distance, and summer is the perfect time to take advantage of them. Elite can help you find the best deals, and make planning your trip more convenient, and a bigger success, for your entire family."