Spring break in Tennessee? It's Elvis, Dolly...and close-to-home family fun

03/03/2011 12:00 AM

03/04/2011 12:58 PM

Chattanooga tourism officials promoting their city for spring break say a visiting youngster can be an animal keeper, spelunker, riverboat captain, art explorer, train car or trolley conductor and culinary creator.

And in Sevierville, you can surf. Sort of.

Tennessee has no beaches, and it's too cold anyway during spring break for sunbathing. Nevertheless, some in the state's tourism industry consider the annual spring tradition a chance for travel dollars.

For sure, Tennessee is not a hot spot for college students on break. They are more likely to head for the alluring sunshine in Panama City or Daytona Beach, Fla.

But the state does offer some appeal for families wanting to travel while the kids are out of school.

The Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has aimed some of its advertising at families by promoting a "spring break safari," calling the city "a place where kids rule and adventure is everywhere."

"You can become a participant in a lot of things," said Steve Genovesi, the bureau's vice president of sales and marketing. "It grows every year."

In Sevierville, the Wilderness at the Smokies waterpark has an indoor water attraction, the Wild WaterDome, where you can surf, use a wave pool or relax in a hot tub. Its SurfRider shoots 19,000 gallons of water a minute.

"It creates a six-foot wave and you can belly board or stand up," said Richard Laney, park spokesman. "We have people who do it both ways."

No sandy beaches in East Tennessee, but there are bears. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has some 600 black bears, and is one of the few places in the eastern U.S. where black bears live in wild surroundings. With 9.4 million visitors annually, it's the most popular national park and a major draw for families.

"Most people who come here want to see a bear," said Bob Miller, a park spokesman.

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, both near the park, are lined with go-cart tracks, thrill rides, miniature golf and more.

"Everything you need is here," said Leon Downey of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.

The Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge opens Saturday, March 26, too late for most of the spring break business.

Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, is offering family discounts and opening three new exhibits.

Elsewhere in West Tennessee, college students get in free at the Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum in Jackson from March 13 to 26. And at the Children's Museum of Memphis, the exhibit "Out on a Limb: Adventures With Nature & Art" runs through May 15.

Tourism is big business in Tennessee with up to 50 million visitors annually. Much of the revenue, however, is produced in the summer and fall.

There is some concern about spring breaks getting shortened because of school systems making up for snow days. Chattanooga's Genovesi said his city actually could benefit.

"We're known as a two or three-day getaway," he said. "For those who planned an entire week but it's been cut short, Chattanooga might be considered instead."

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