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Water-themed attractions make a splash

Courtesy Norfolk CVB

Water, wildlife and nature are plentiful in the United States; put these dynamic components together and a travel itinerary is a smash hit.

Aquariums that offer experiences with aquatic life around the world, a daredevil ski show with spectacular bluffs as the backdrop and a rafting trip where bears and elk dot the mountainous landscape are just a few of the venues that offer these smash hits.
Norfolk, Virginia

Norfolk’s location on the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean offers everything aquatic, including historical museums, cruises and beautiful beaches.

Museums include Nauticus, a science maritime museum located on Norfolk’s harbor and a showcase for global maritime commerce and the world’s largest navy. “The museum features hands-on exhibits, interactive theaters and high-definition films,” said Erin Filarecki, media relations manager at VisitNorfolk.

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum, operated by the U.S. Navy on level two of Nauticus, celebrates the 234-year history of the fleet in the Hampton Roads region. This museum is home to collections of authentic uniforms, weapons, underwater artifacts, detailed ship models and artwork.

Berthed at Nauticus, the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the Navy, offers visitors the opportunity to tour this ship that earned five battle stars during World War II.

Groups can choose from a variety of cruise experiences, including a narrated naval base cruise where captains provide the commentary as passengers cruise by aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and guided missiles. On the American Rover, enthusiastic sailors can lend a hand with the sails, take a turn at the helm or simply sit back and enjoy a narrated harbor or sunset cruise.


Billie Swamp Safari
Big Cypress Seminole Reservation
Clewiston, Florida

Although the 2,200-acre Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe in Florida, is enclosed, panthers, water buffalo and bison are still able to come and go as they please.

“Our visitors really experience the wonders of nature,” said spokeswoman Melissa Sherman.
A guided tour of the swamp and cypress-draped areas that are so protected that the Seminoles once took shelter there during hurricanes includes a variety of activities. A swamp buggy ecotour — an excursion on an open-air, jeeplike vehicle — sloshes through the swamp and dry land. “From alligators to deer to some rescued animals that all roam free, passengers see so much wildlife,” said Sherman.

An airboat ride zips through saw grass where fish, snapping turtles, alligators and many land animals are naturally on display. Bird-watching and photo opportunities abound while walking the swamp’s nature trail.

Three shows are also part of the package: an alligator-wrestling show, a reptile and venomous-snake show, and a swamp critter and bird-of-prey show.

“This is where groups meet all the native critters, like the vultures that have made themselves at home here,” said Sherman.

True adventure-seekers may want to opt for a night excursion where folklore and stargazing are the main events. Overnight stays can be arranged in rustic lodges with amenities, and a meal of Seminole fry bread, alligator bites, frog legs and more is always on hand.


This one-time steel city now glistens on the Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny rivers, and groups can enjoy the famous sights like the fountain at the Point, Heinz Field and the North Shore Riverfront Park aboard one of the vessels of the Gateway Clipper Fleet.

“These river party boats and paddle-wheel boats not only showcase our city but the spectacular, mountainous countryside that surrounds Pittsburgh. From dinner cruises to sightseeing excursions to themed cruises — anything from a Hawaiian cruise to a Christmas cruise to a fall foliage cruise — groups can choose the kind of experience they prefer,” said Kristen Mitchell, public relations liaison for Visit Pittsburgh.

Sailing from historic Station Square, a 52-acre shopping and dining riverfront complex, one of the newest Gateway Clipper Fleet themes is the Rivers Casino Luncheon cruise, offering entertainment and lunch aboard a sailing vessel and a stop at one of Pittsburgh’s newest attraction, the Rivers Casino.

Offering skyline views from the rivers and a city tour on the streets, an amphibious cruise on Just Ducky allows groups to learn about the history and architecture of Pittsburgh.


San Antonio, Texas
SeaWorld, home to Shamu the Killer Whale and sea lions Clyde and Seamore, is host to nearly a dozen shows that star these crowd-pleasers and many of their friends.

“New in 2010 was ‘Azul: Lure of the Sea.’ Showcasing beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, colorful birds and human acrobats, this celebration of sea and sky offers surprises at every turn,” said Brian Carter, director of communication.

Other shows include “Shamu Rocks!” where live rock ’n’ roll music and a light show accompany a killer whale’s splashy performance; “Cool Vibrations,” a ski show with daredevil stunts; and “Pirates 4-D,” a comedy film that combines 4-D technology with multisensory theater effects — groups are even sprayed with water.

Bank groups especially enjoy the many behind-the-scenes tours that allow visitors to get up close with stingrays, penguins, bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions and more. “Saving a Species: Memorable Experiences” offers guests time in the zoological support area, where they can feed and touch a bamboo shark and learn about the conservation efforts of endangered species.


Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Rated the No. 1 family destination in the United States in 2010 by Trip Advisor, this 20-square-mile vacation mecca on the Wisconsin River is also deemed the Waterpark Capital of the World.

“We have over 20 water parks, from toe-tickling experiences to the granddaddy of them all, Noah’s Ark Water Park, featuring the world’s largest waterslide, lazy rivers, miniature golf and more,” said Melanie Platt-Gibson, director of marketing and communications at the Wisconsin Dells Convention and Visitors Bureau.

However, Platt-Gibson said a large percentage of visitors are adults looking for an aquatic getaway.

“We offer timeless attractions that have entertained over generations, like our classic Wisconsin supper clubs or the ‘Tommy Bartlett Ski Show,’” she said.

“In 2011, this show is offering a new theme, ‘Living the Dream: 60 Years of Tommy Bartlett.’ Groups will be awed by the high-energy stunts and nostalgic atmosphere, like the ladies on a swivel line with marshmallow hats and 360-degree helicopter spins off of jumps.”

The scenery has always been the main draw in the Dells, and visitors can choose from a variety of boat tours to enjoy the bluffs, the sandstone layers that form the shore-lined rocks and the history of the area. Single- and double-decker boats, paddle-wheel vessels and World War II amphibious craft offering water and land duck tours are just some of the options.


South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston, South Carolina
Groups can get close to more than 6,000 amazing aquatic animals at the South Carolina Aquarium, which river otters, sharks, loggerhead turtles and more call home.

“We have more than 60 exhibits representing the rich biodiversity of South Carolina, from the mountains to the sea,” said Elizabeth Bender, marketing and public relations coordinator.

“Recently added is a rare ghost of the swamp, an albino American alligator in the renovated Blackwater Swamp exhibit. Visitors can reach out and touch stingrays, sea urchins and horseshoe crabs at the Touch Tank and catch a glimpse of a diver in the ocean depths of the Great Ocean Tank,” Bender said.

After a visit to the 4-D Immersion Theater, where what happens on the screen meets the reality in your seat, groups can also visit South Carolina’s only sea turtle hospital for a look at the care provided to rescued sea turtles.


More water-themed attractions:

Aquatic attractions make a splash
WEB EXCLUSIVE! Five U.S. Aquariums