All members of the brood have their own personalities and interests, so the task of pleasing the whole crew can be more stressful than “Are we there yet?” coming incessantly from the back seat.
Yet, when loading up the family vehicle for a Georgia-based vacation, you can easily shake off that concern. More than enough options can be found to keep all ages engaged and help create priceless memories.
Lake Winnie Amusement Park
This long-standing theme park just outside Chattanooga has been thrilling families since 1925. Its name comes from the Native American word Winnepesaukah, which means “bountiful waters.” This makes sense, because Lake Winnie’s first ride, the Boat Chute, dates back to 1927 and continues plunging guests down a massive hill and into the lake itself. Other old-school classics twist and turn throughout the park, including the circa-1967 Cannon Ball wooden roller coaster with its 70-foot drop. The hand-carved and painted horses and chariots of the carousel look as regal as they did when they were crafted in 1916. Fast-forward to 2014, when Lake Winnie debuted its Soak Ya water park, a 5-acre expansion featuring everything from high-speed body slides to a laid-back man-made river. Each season offers concerts and special events, and the park’s rich history of performances dates back to bluegrass greats Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs picking in the 1960s. Most recently, acts such as Colt Ford, Jana Kramer and Big Smo have plugged in at Lake Winnie.
1730 Lakeview Drive, Rossville. 706-866-5681, lakewinnie.com.
From its natural beauty to its family-skewed attractions and edutainment, Jekyll Island has lots to offer. Driftwood Beach, located on Jekyll’s north end, teems with huge, twisted webs of driftwood. Call it Mother’s Nature’s playground, as kids typically climb like monkeys on the branches and trunks. Don’t forget the camera for breathtaking photo ops. The picturesque setting also makes Driftwood Beach a hot spot for weddings. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center plays host to injured and ill sea turtles, offering the creatures the care they need. The interactive exhibit gallery shares sea turtle facts and explains the center’s mission of research and wildlife conservation. Step next door to the rehabilitation pavilion, where sea turtle patients heal in tanks and prepare to re-enter the wild. Summer Waves, Jekyll’s water park, blends white-knuckle excitement with sun-soaked relaxation. Man-made swells crash in the 500,000-gallon Frantic Atlantic Wave Pool. The Thunder and Lighting slides shoot riders down 150 feet worth of enclosed flumes. Others can simply chill while floating along Turtle Creek, the park’s lazy river.
100 James Road, Jekyll Island. jekyllisland.com.
This lush resort, known for its azaleas, sprawls across 6,500 acres in Pine Mountain. Oodles of activities await. The glass-enclosed Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center houses more than 1,000 butterflies. Guests explore the flora-filled facility as its inhabitants flutter about. Live birds of prey shows soar to life in the amphitheater at the Callaway Discovery Center. Hawks, owls and other creatures that are unable to be released into the wild swoop above guests and land on the gloved arms of raptor experts. During warmer months, crowds flock to Robin Lake Beach. Some simply worship the sun and splash in the drink, while others try pay-to-play water sports activities. Visitors can experience skiing, wake boarding and tubing, as a professional ski boat tows them across the 65-acre lake. The summer 2016 season kicks off Memorial Day weekend with the 57th Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament, with the pros jumping ramps and performing feats in the lake. Just steps away from Robin Lake, underneath the big top, the Florida State University Flying High Circus provides free performances throughout the summer. Some opt to explore Callaway Gardens off the ground; the TreeTop Adventure attraction features 10 zip lines and a bevy of other challenges — think ladders, netting and more — suspended high above. Other family-friendly activities include golf, tennis, fishing, boating and biking.
17800 U.S. 27, Pine Mountain. 1-800-852-3810, callawaygardens.com.
Even before carloads of Atlanta families reach Orlando, they have the opportunity to get their theme park fix in Valdosta. Wild Adventures’ collection of rides run the gamut from yelp-inducing coasters to more benign kiddie fare. Fans of the former can brave the Boomerang, which takes riders through a roll and vertical loop before repeating it all over in reverse. And it’s not just the rides that put the wild in Wild Adventures. Its resident animals allow guests to get a glimpse of creatures ranging from elephants to alligators to water buffalo. This year, the park has a new Dinosaur Explore section. Special effects allow more than 20 faux dinos to move and interact with parkgoers. A T. Rex, a raptor and a gaggle of others bring the stone age to the 21st century. Guests can cool off at Splash Island, the water park within a park. You’ll find waterlogged visitors drenching themselves in attractions such as the Hakini Rapids, a 5-story slide. A total of 15 concerts will take the stage for the 2016 season, featuring performances by Montgomery Gentry, Cheap Trick, Martina McBride, Jacob Whitesides, Skillet and others.
3766 Old Clyattville Road, Valdosta. 229-219-7080, wildadventures.com.
Okefenokee Swamp Park
The frozen-in-time park allows guests to get a glimpse of pre-history, where looming, knotted cypress trees and copious wildlife reign. Hop aboard a 45-minute guided boat tour of the swamp where the vessel cuts through lily-lined waterways once used by Native Americans. Keep an eye open for black bears, otters and sandhill cranes, the latter often topping out at 5 feet tall. Yet, the most high-profile inhabitants remain the alligators. One of the park’s more popular gator residents is Allie, a female who laid more than 30 eggs in November of last year. The wooden walkway, dubbed Adventure Walks, sits just above the water. Watch out for alligators, snakes and other denizens that often find themselves on the boardwalk. The path allows guests to take a half-mile round-trip trek to the 90-foot observation tower for a bird’s-eye view of the park. Those who’d rather experience the swamp in less daring fashion can hitch a ride on the Lady Suwannee, a replica steam engine train, for a 1.5 mile ride along the edge of the wetlands.
5700 Okefenokee Swamp Park Road, Waycross. 912-283-0583, okeswamp.com.
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