July 2018 – The Dutch, the Amish, and a Hershey bar
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area boasts a number of unique museums with something for everyone in the family – Bible History Exhibits, Hands-on-House Children’s Museum, the National Toy Train Museum, the interactive Science Factory, and a lot more history-related ones. Just east of the city is Dutch Wonderland, a family theme park with more than 35 rides, attractions, and shows for all ages – everything from a merry-go-round to Merlin’s Mayhem.
Driving through the nearby countryside, rural highways wind through a wealth of family attractions in and nearby the city that Forbes has named “One of the 10 coolest U.S. cities to visit in 2018.” The region is known for Amish settlements, as well as Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. Amish Farm and House and The Amish Village both have guided tours describing the Amish lifestyle as well as the general history of the area.
Kitchen Kettle Village, Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market, and Lancaster Central Market – the country’s oldest farmer’s market – and others offer a wide variety of foods and handcrafted gifts representative of the region.
Guests can board an authentic Victorian-era locomotive at Strasburg Rail Road, steam around the area, and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the mechanic shop where the trains are built and restored.
At the Christian-owned Shady Maple Smorgasbord and Gift Shop, guests help themselves to a 200-foot buffet. Then many take in one of the biblically based productions at Sight and Sound Theatre. This year, the company’s drama is titled simply Jesus, a stage dramatization of His life.
Hershey’s Chocolate World is less than an hour’s drive from Lancaster and offers a factory tour, dining options, and of course, unlimited chocolate. Whether the family has one day or a week, the area offers plenty of fun and adventure.
Stacy Singh, Randall Murphree
The mountains, the arts, and a dulcimer
People flock to Mountain View, Arkansas, for the Ozark Folk Center State Park, where families hike, ride zip-lines, tour workshops of artisans in the craft village, shop for pioneer goods, and eat country cooking at the Skillet Restaurant.
Music is another major part of the local scene. Evening concerts feature up-and-coming bluegrass and folk music artists, and free daytime mini-concerts spread music throughout the village. A stop by the Dulcimer Shoppe is a step back in history as visitors watch while shopkeepers handcraft and demonstrate the distinctive music of the time-honored instruments. Guests may even get a quick lesson or two. Mountain View Music Store covers the full range of musical needs and offers lessons. Local musicians may even be found picking on the front porch.
Other activities – especially outdoors – are nearby. Blanchard Springs Caverns offer an intriguing look at living and growing formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The nearby White River and Buffalo River provide rafting, canoeing, fishing, and swimming.
For the serious shopper, Mountain View is a shopping haven. Local shops retain an old-time feel, and their products boast the old-time beauty and quality of both unique and ordinary household items. Mellon’s Country Store is a traditional general store with handmade items, boiled peanuts, and old-fashioned candy, ice cream, and sodas.
The Arkansas Craft Gallery displays and markets the creations of Arkansas Craft Guild members. The guild holds three craft shows each year with area craftsmen bringing their extraordinary individual products – pottery, knives, woodcrafts, paper and cards, jellies, quilts, paintings, and all sorts of handicrafts as they promote and preserve the Ozark mountain heritage. It’s a pleasant and leisurely getaway without the stress and frantic schedules that too often fill family outings.
Mild to wild – family fun in Valdosta, Georgia
Georgia is known as the peach state. But drive down its southern roads, and you’ll think it should be called the pecan state.
After an unusually difficult winter, new pecan sprouts reach for their first summer sun, next to old trees that may live for hundreds of years. Perfect rows line both sides of winding country roads. The proliferation of pecan trees in southern Georgia is not the only secret gem of the area.
“Wild Adventures is one of the best-kept secrets of southern Georgia,” Patrick Pearson, director of marketing for Wild Adventures told AFA Journal.
In the world of amusement parks, Wild Adventures is a relative newcomer. It doesn’t have the age of colossal parks in nearby Orlando, Florida, but it rivals them in rides and story.
The adventure begins
Kent Buescher, a pecan farmer in Valdosta, Georgia, built a petting zoo on his farm in 1996. The newly established Liberty Farms was successful and, as the park made money, Buescher bought new attractions and rides. Eventually, Buescher became successful enough to purchase another amusement park in Florida. Unfortunately, three hurricanes ravaged his new park, and his parks never recovered.
Herschend Family Entertainment, parent company of Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri), Dollywood (east Tennessee), and many other family attractions, saw the value of Liberty Farms and did not want its story to end. They bought the park and renamed it Wild Adventures.
The original vision for the park was to be a place every family member could enjoy. Herschend wanted to continue that purpose and strove for a balance between thrill and experience. That purpose is even reflected in their current motto – “Everything from Mild to Wild.”
“We have been intentional about the layout,” Pearson said. “We have animal exhibits, but there is no ‘animal area.’ They are dispersed across the park. We want the entire family to enjoy the entire park.”
The thrills go on
One result is Boomerang, a roller coaster that flips riders forward and then in reverse, situated next to a house full of butterflies. While thrill-seekers wait in line, those preferring to keep their feet on the ground always have something to do.
A walk through the park leads to Splash Island, the Polynesian-themed water park. True to Wild Adventures’ purpose, countless hours of enjoyment await parents and children of all ages.
The excitement of rides and the experience of meeting new animals are not the only offerings from Wild Adventures. The park hosts concerts and shows on a near-weekly basis. Six of those concerts this year are with Christian artists including Newsboys and Skillet.
“All our shows are family friendly,” Pearson said. “To us, that means we do not allow any alcohol in the park and have in artists’ contracts that there will be no foul language from the stage.”
From areas where kids can ride slides with a bit of freedom (under the watchful eyes of lifeguards) to a lazy river, from breath-taking rides to cliff-like slides, from holding butterflies to concerts and special events, at Wild Adventure there is always a thrill or a great experience for everyone in the family.
Want to enjoy family entertainment with a more historical focus? Herschend Family Entertainment also operates Stone Mountain, a theme park built around the world’s largest granite mountain near Atlanta. With ropes courses, train rides, golf, and dining, Stone Mountain is a place where history meets the present and stone comes to life. Visit stonemountainpark.com for more information.