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New attractions in the Southeast

Courtesy Harrah’s Cherokee Casino


There’s always something new to discover in the Southeast. This year, though, there’s a wealth of new attractions waiting for bank groups traveling throughout the region.

Movie magic, history and science attractions mix with new entertainment options to fill any group tour itinerary in the Southeast. Movie buffs will be thrilled to combine history and film on North Carolina and Virginia tours. Country music fans will want to head straight to Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, which has undergone a historically accurate renovation.

This year, space shuttle Atlantis will go on permanent display at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and Walt Disney World’s addition to Fantasyland awaits in Orlando, Florida. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has updated its already popular boardwalk. And Georgia’s innovative white-water course and Cumberland Island tour will soothe the souls of outdoors-lovers.

North Carolina
Beer and bluegrass events will make a splash in North Carolina this year, along with several other new tourism developments.

April rings in North Carolina’s first Beer Month celebration. The Division of Tourism, working in partnership with the North Carolina Brewers Guild, is coordinating efforts among the state’s 70 breweries and local venues. Events include the Hickory Hops Festival, lodging packages, beer dinners, special tours and newly created activities.

“We consider ourselves the state of Southern beer,” said spokeswoman Suzanne Brown for the North Carolina Division of Tourism. “According to the American Brewers Association, we have more breweries than any [other] state south of Pennsylvania and east of Texas.”

The World of Bluegrass has picked Raleigh as its capital for 2013 to 2015. Bluegrass performers and industry leaders will converge on downtown Raleigh for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s weeklong celebration, which includes the IBMA’s annual awards ceremony and the Bluegrass Fan Fest, a three-day weekend showcasing the genre’s top talent.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort opened the 18,000-square-foot Mandara Spa this past December. The spa integrates Native American culture into its Balinese-inspired treatments.

Film-lovers will want to connect the big screen to North Carolina’s scenery on a movie-themed tour. “Iron Man 3” was filmed largely in Wilmington along with “Revolution,” a top-rated television drama. “The Hunger Games” tours are quite popular, and “Bull Durham” celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2013. Walking and water tours of Southport take in locations for “Safe Haven,” the newest Nicholas Sparks movie venture, as well as “A Walk To Remember.”

“A movie-themed tour could cover the Wilmington area, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, with a stop at the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield,” said Brown.


Florida is unveiling major new facets at popular attractions this year, as well as a brand-new dinosaur museum.

Space Shuttle Atlantis has found a new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Atlantis retired in 2011 and will be housed in a $100 million building that opens in late June.

Atlantis was the last space shuttle to fly a mission. Two other shuttles that have successfully flown in space are displayed elsewhere (one at the Smithsonian and the other at the California Science Center). Unlike the other shuttles that were cleaned up after their final flights, though, Atlantis was left just as it was when it touched down to Earth for the last time.

“Visitors will see how Atlantis looked after it landed,” said Rob Varley, executive director for the Space Coast Office of Tourism. “You just can’t believe the beating it took. It’s going to be a very interesting display.”

In Cocoa Beach, the new Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Culture opens this year with two floors of exhibit galleries, located above the existing Dinosaur Store. One floor focuses on dinosaurs; the other primarily features artifacts from ancient Egypt, China and Mesoamerica.

“The owner is an amateur paleontologist but has been allowed to go where professionals haven’t even traveled in Egypt,” said Varley.

Storybook fantasies come to life at Walt Disney World’s new Fantasyland, where “Beauty and the Beast” takes centerstage. The beast’s castle sits regally above the new area. Inside, Be Our Guest Restaurant serves “good food fast” during the day and evening table service.

Digital technology combined with traditional artistry creates a landscape that gives guests the feeling they are actually walking into locations from the movie, such as the lavish dining room, the elegant ballroom and the mysterious west wing.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.