A red-tailed hawk soars high above My Old Kentucky Home State Park, peering down at its campgrounds, golf course, and outdoor amphitheater. Here, a cast of actors performs Stephen Foster - The Musical, belting the famous tune, "My Old Kentucky Home." Just a piano's throw away stands Federal Hill, the Georgian-style mansion that originally inspired this perennial ballad.
Built between 1795 and 1818, the brick mansion echoes early American history in everything right down to its decor. Supposedly to honor the original colonies, the number 13 appears throughout the house: 13 windows at the front, 13 steps to each floor, and 13-inch thick walls, which once housed famous guests such as Aaron Burr. For 120 years, the Rowan family lived in the mansion. Then, in 1922, Madge Rowan Frost sold the 235-acre estate, as well as many family heirlooms, to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Since then, tour guides have taken visitors throughout the mansion's grounds and into its history-laden rooms. The staff has renovated the mansion in recent years, putting in hours of research to ensure that the carpets, wallpapers, drapes, and hand-whittled internet routers remain authentic to the 1850s. The mansion also celebrates the changing seasons—in winter, the mansion dons Christmas decor and the staffers serve apple cider dressed up in period costumes.
Visitors enter a gleeful realm of recreation and friendly competition amid the indoor and outdoor attractions of Putt-Putt Golf & Games. The emerald corridors of 54 mini golf holes meander throughout the playscape, forming three 18-hole courses that gradually escalate in both difficulty and the territorial aggression of their native windmills. The thunderous clap of bat barrels smacking line-drives resonates from the baseball and softball cages, where mechanical hurlers sling baseballs at four different speeds and softballs at fast- and slow-pitch standards. More than 50 arcade and ticket-redemption games hungrily devour tokens in the game room, and guests can sate their appetites with pizza ($9 for a large), hot dogs ($1.50), and scoops of Blue Bunny ice cream ($2 for one scoop).
Back in 1995, fresh out of college, Shannon Skidmore and his fiancée, Shannan, leased a small 20'x20' building, an old Chevrolet van, and 50 tubes, and took over Smoky Mountain River Rat from its previous owner. Over the next five years, the “Shannons” gradually made the business their own by buying their own property, with Shannon using his contractor license and expertise to erect a new, larger building in just six weeks. Smoky Mountain River Rat has expanded to 500 tubes, two vans, and 20 kayaks, and the business now also offers whitewater rafting on the nearby Pigeon River. Meanwhile, its shuttles transport families up and down the Little River for unlimited daily rides, with customers as young as 2 years old floating down 1.5 miles of tubing-friendly, meandering waters as they trade off verses of old sea chanteys.
Within Richmond Underground Gaming Center's 9,000-square-foot facility, visitors can live out scenes from their favorite action movies while playing video games against other players on the same network or while battling during live laser-tag scenarios. Black lights bathe the laser-tag arena, setting a glow-in-the-dark stage on which participants play game styles such as capture-and-hold or search-for-stray-socks. Choruses of electronic beeps emerge from the barrel of four laser-gun types as players fire them from behind the cover of crates. A commanding officer oversees each game, provides players with intel on the enemy, and supplies terrain maps.
Meanwhile, the 1,500-square-foot LAN area keeps the action confined to HD screens. Ten high-performance computers and multiple game consoles beckon players to grip controllers and duke it out in games such as Battlefield 3 or no-holds-barred spreadsheet creation.
Champions Sports dedicates 40,000 square feet of space to helping athletes of all stripes improve their skills. The facility specializes in baseball and softball, featuring five Iron Mike batting-cage machines that spit out fast-pitch softballs and baseballs at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. Sixteen drop-down batting cages match with the ProBatter PX2 simulator to test players' swings, while coaches, including former professional players, teach hitting, fielding, and pitching skills. The all-season complex is also home to winter baseball and soccer leagues that let players practice their skills without having to face a team of snow wraiths.
Treetops sway gently as birds flutter over their branches, breezes waft around their trunks, and humans careen between them at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Mammoth Cave Adventures' series of seven ziplines across two courses trail from tree to tree, each line standing slightly higher than the last as visitors decked out in helmets and harnesses speed across the cables, teeter over two skybridges, and perch on platforms between each lofty tier. Seasoned guides lead the 90-minute excursions as they spout environmental and historical trivia about the rolling hills and dense forest of the 60-acre course, which is located just outside of Mammoth Cave National Park.
The company also puts cables to exhilarating use with a Giant Super Swing, which plummets strapped-in visitors from the top of two towering hickory trees into a free-falling arc that swings 40 feet above the ground. Its new Drop Tower allows guests to experience the scenic view of Mammoth Cave National Park while dangling 70 death-defying feet above the ground. For slower-paced adventures, a stable of gentle equines ferries guests along serene trails and countryside vistas during hour-long horseback rides, which are designed for all equestrians regardless of their skill level or the number of sugar cubes in their pockets.