Chattanooga with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

Chattanooga with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Chattanooga has some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the Southeast. But that doesn't mean its boring! There's so much to do, tweens won't even have enough time to roll their eyes.


Looking for cool Chattanooga family vacation ideas? What could be more fun than waking up in the Choo Choo. Located in the heart of the city on Market Street, the Choo Choo Hotel (140 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402 423-266-5000) is more than just another hotel. You and your family can choose a standard room in what once was the Terminal Station. But for a one-of-a-kind experience choose one of the 48 restored Victorian train cars. Train cars can sleep up to four and take you back to a bygone era while still providing modern necessities such as high-speed, wireless Internet access. Rates vary between $139 and $180 per night. Children twelve and under stay and eat for free. And that makes breakfast one of the easiest meals of the day. Two of the hotel's five restaurants serve breakfast. Have a coffee and pastries at the Cafe Espresso. Or, for a heartier meal, sample the breakfast buffet in the Gardens Restaurant.

You've seen their barns, now see the city itself. Rock City (1400 Patten Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750 706-820-2531, 800-854-0675), delighting visitors since 1932, is an historic collection of botanical and natural wonders situated atop scenic Lookout Mountain. Five minutes from downtown Chattanooga and with plenty of things to do, Rock City is a world in and of itself. Tickets are $17.95 for adults and $9.95 for children, and it takes about ninety minutes to explore everything. Take the time to wander through the Enchanted Gardens. Tweens will enjoy the waterfall and squeal as they cross the swinging bridge. Climb to the top of Lookout Mountain and count the states that can be seen from this breathtaking vantage point on a clear day. (Psst: It's seven!) Get your spelunking feet wet in the Fairyland Caverns. While it's hardly a natural cavern and the fairyland is generally psychedelic in character, Fairyland is still iconic and retro cool. Plus a morning "layover" here will prepare everyone for the next stop on your Chattanooga adventure. Hours vary by season.

What Rock City only hints at in the Fairyland Caverns, Ruby Falls (1720 South Scenic Highway, Chattanooga, TN 37409 423-821-2544; Daily 8AM-8PM) delivers with breathtaking vengeance. A must-see while in Chattanooga on a family vacation with tweens, Ruby Falls is located at 1720 Scenic Highway and is actually within Lookout Mountain, hundreds of feet below the mountain. An elevator takes visitors approximately 1,100 feet under the peak, and a tour guide leads the group on an underground trek through a half-mile of gorgeous caverns. The many beautiful natural formations are dramatically lit, but the major highlight of the tour is Ruby Falls. The naturally occurring underground waterfall drops 145 feet and is the tallest underground waterfall accessible by the public. Be prepared, though, this tour is not for the claustrophobic. Many of the passageways are narrow, but they are well worth the effort. The floors are paved and well lit for the one-mile round trip. Tickets are $16.95 for adults and $8.95 for children 12 and under. But the Double Play package with tickets for both Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain can save you about $3.00 on each adult ticket and $2.00 for each child's ticket.


After all that walking, your tweens may be more than ready to sit down and eat. Why not combine a meal, a bit of adventure and great scenery with a lunch cruise aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat (201 Riverfront Parkway, Pier 2, Chattanooga TN 37402-1616, 423-266-4488, 800-766-2784). Tickets can be purchased at Pier 2, just off Riverfront Parkway. Following the tradition of legendary riverboats, the Southern Belle welcomes visitors for a 90-minute cruise on the scenic Tennessee River. You'll watch Chattanooga slide by as the natural beauty of the Tennessee Mountains transports you back to the heydays of riverboats. The Southern Belle offers a deli lunch buffet that is a hit with most tweens. Cold cuts, cheeses and all the trimmings create tasty sandwich masterpieces. The buffet also includes a variety of Southern salads, beans, Lays potato chips, and a local favorite treat, Moon Pies, for dessert. You have a choice of coffee and sweet iced tea. $20.50 for adults and $9.50 for children is a great deal for lunch, a riverboat cruise and a family adventure.

After a river cruise, it's time to take a deeper look at what lurks beneath those waters. The Tennessee Aquarium (One Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-262-0695), one of the highest rated aquariums in the country, offers visitors an underwater view of both fresh and saltwater environments and sea life. Start your tour with the eight-story escalator ride to the top of the facility and wind your way down, stopping to admire the different exhibits, the IMAX theatre and more than 10,000 animals. In addition to fish and amphibians, the Tennessee Aquarium also protects and breeds several species of penguins. Visitors can get VIP access to the animals with the new Backstage Pass for the river or the ocean exhibits. The 45-minute tour lets you walk in the footsteps of the staff behind the scenes. You'll get the chance to feed and interact with different species as part of the tour. Tickets for just the aquarium are $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children. A combo ticket for both the aquarium and the backstage pass is $36.95 for adults and $29.95 for children ages 6-12. Open daily 10AM-6PM.


A day of family adventure in Chattanooga makes for hungry tweens. Since children eat free at the Choo Choo, head on back to the hotel for dinner at the Silver Diner (Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, 140 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN, Fri and Sat 5PM-10PM). This refurbished silver dining car serves up pizza and other kid-friendly favorites.

Hernando De Soto stopped here in 1540 looking for gold. Native American villages, Civil War battles and a vibrant 19th century economy have shaped Chattanooga. Looking for family vacation ideas off the beaten path? Why not spend an evening listening to ghost stories? The talented storytellers of Chattanooga Ghost Tours (144 Waterfront Drive, Chattanooga, TN 37419, 423-821-7125) define a ghost story as a history story with a little life left in it. Your visit to Chattanooga with tweens in tow provides the perfect excuse to enjoy the haunted city's tales. The tour starts on the downtown side of Walnut Street Bridge. Don't forget your camera to capture the mysterious orbs and other ghostly phenomena you may see during the two-hour tour. Tickets are $13.00 for adults and $8.00 for children under 12. Spring and summer, tours are Fri and Sat, 8:15PM. In the fall, tours at Fri. and Sat. 7:30PM. Reservations are suggested.
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