The interactive exhibits and programs compiled by the Pink Palace Family of Museums reinforce a mission that has stayed constant for 80 years: to "inspire people to learn how history, science, technology, and nature shape the Mid-South." Attached to Clarence Saunders' mansion built in the 1920s, the museum's permanent exhibits take an eclectic approach to chronicling the past, revealing everything from ancient fossils to contemporary southern history. Inside, visitors can chart the history of Memphis from the early Spanish explorers through the Civil War or walk through a replica of Saunders' original Piggly Wiggly—the country’s first self-service grocery store, and even see a shrunken head. Global adventures are chronicled on a four-story screen at the CTI-IMAX theater, and the Sharpe Planetarium explores the cosmos from the comfort of a 130-seat theater.
Traveling to east Memphis, one can discern the natural side of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Lichterman Nature Center encompasses 65 acres of lush gardens filled with native wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. The center combines self-guided nature walks with plant sales and educational activities to expose visitors to the natural world.
A captain licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, Jim Steele’s more than 25 years of boating⎯including time spent at the helm of Opryland’s water taxis⎯comes in handy as he coaxes The Blue Heron, a specially built 40-foot pontoon, about the Cheatham Wildlife Management Area on daily tours. Out on the water amid soothing birdsongs and the burbles of river critters, Captain Jim can be found behind the wheel of the craft, exercising his chops as an entertainer as he regales his passengers with chuckle-inducing anecdotes and factoids about local flora and fauna. With the comfort and safety of his guests always in mind, Captain Jim equipped the Heron with a restroom and keeps the vessel stocked with a comprehensive library of life jackets to fit adults, children, and pet iguanas of all ages and sizes. Hitting an average cruising speed of 5 to 10 miles per hour, the Heron affords its passengers leisurely looks at area wildlife as it embarks upon all manner of tours, from gold-tinged sunset cruises to kids' adventures punctuated by the gleeful laughter of curious youngsters.
Knoxville Food Tours' squadron of knowledgeable guides pilots pedestrians through downtown Knoxville's eclectic cache of local eateries, introducing locals and visitors alike to a smattering of tasty cuisine during tours that have garnered press from outlets such as the Knoxville News Sentinel. Each walking tour leads participants to a rotating lineup of local haunts, where they'll enjoy drinks and sample local fare such as pastries, pizza, sushi, vegetarian cuisine, and produce from nearby farmers. At each stop on the excursion, chefs and restaurateurs proffer friendly, insightful culinary conversation to bolster the enlightening nuggets of historical information dispensed by the well-informed guides or their sentient atlases.
Chattanooga resident Rufus Marye?s enthusiasm for his city is palpable. Fueled by a desire to transmit his immense love for the history and natural beauty of his hometown to others, he came up with the idea for a double-decker tour. Even as he was deployed to Iraq, he continued to forge his plan to create a fun and historically accurate tour. He began implementing his dream when he returned in 2010, eventually finding the vintage double-decker bus he dubbed ?Eleanor,? a 1960s British vehicle whose horn honks with a Cockney accent. Determined to show tour-goers as much of the southern burg as possible, Marye mapped out a route that would whisk them over all three of the city?s bridges, through famous sites such as The Chattanooga Choo Choo and Underground Chattanooga, and along the south and north banks of the Tennessee River.
But Rufus didn't stop there. With Eleanor, he offered a family-friendly vessel on which passengers sit back and explore the city's scenic and historic sites. To create a more cost-effective, adult-oriented spin on the same theme of city exploration, he turned to the novel trend of the pedal pub. Named the Chattanooga Bew Choo, the vessel draws its power from pedaling passengers who, in turn, derive energy from the draft beers they can enjoy along the way.
In the gulches of an abandoned phosphate mine, a labyrinthine path echoes with the roar of unseen chainsaws and the rustles of hidden ghouls. Monsters and zombies lurk in the darkness at Millers Thrillers Zombie Paintball Hayride and Haunted Woods, but it isn't mere craving for blood or brains that makes them so eager to terrify––the scary staff members actually receive a bonus for making visitors wet themselves. Really. “I did always like Halloween," says founder and owner David Miller.
Miller wasn’t always in the pants-wetting business, but you might say the business of Halloween in his blood. He grew up growing and selling pumpkins with his grandfather and––though he admits he was too scared to try them as a kid––his interest in haunted houses led him to intense study in the art of scaring, including seminars and conventions. His interest in creating eerie worlds inspired him to begin his walk through haunted woods and zombie-paintball hayride––during which visitors wield mounted paintball guns to fire upon advancing zombies and blank canvases hurled by poltergeists. But landing a few paintball hits won't be enough to ease the natural terror of the haunt's surroundings. “There’s a lot of spooky stuff around all this country farmland… with no streetlights in sight,” Miller says. “We…play on the fact that people are going to feel like they’re lost in the middle of nowhere.”
Despite the fright fest’s scariness, Miller’s real aim is to give visitors a good time. Staff members go easy on little kids and the elderly, and at the end of the walk, customers can calm chattering teeth around a fire pit and rejoin the world of the living by gathering around the concession stand or a stage that hosts a nightly illusionist and zombie drum line.
The Discovery is an apt name for the Cumberland River Cruises pontoon boat, which explores the winding waters of Old Hickory Lake and the Cumberland River. Though available as a venue for on-water private parties and other events, the vessel's chief purpose is to provide scenic public tours. Every Thursday through Sunday, an experienced guide leads groups of 6 or more people on tours such as the nature tour, which showcases lakeside vistas of cliffs and creeks. Another variation on a basic trip includes the sunset tour, which passes a local cave just as the resident gray bats depart for their nighttime hunt.