Just as waterfront real estate is always at a premium, Travel Alliance Partners know that waterfront fun is always popular with group travelers. Whether it’s cruising alongside humpback whales on the open ocean, cresting 500-foot-high sand dunes on the Pacific coast or braving the rapids during a white-water rafting trip, travelers love activities that put them on the water.
Downtown Louisville hugs the southern banks of the Ohio River, and the 85-acre Waterfront Park is a hub for river-related activities, said Susan Dallas, communications manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Belle of Louisville launches from the park wharf and takes passengers onto the Ohio River for sightseeing tours, lunch and dinner cruises, and themed cruises such as live bluegrass or disco nights.
The Spirit of Jefferson, a smaller riverboat built in 1963, also offers sightseeing tours. The city owns both the Belle and the Spirit.
The city also has a new pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River where visitors can watch passing ships and take in “phenomenal views of the river,” Dallas said. The Big Four Bridge is a former train bridge that is being converted for pedestrian use. Although people can now walk the span of the bridge over the river, they can’t step foot in Indiana; the Indiana ramp is expected to be complete in early 2014.
When it reopens next year, groups can also visit the WaterWorks Museum at Water Tower Park, the 150-year-old site of the city’s water pumping station on the banks of the Ohio River. White, Classic Revival-style buildings from the 1850s house the museum, which explores the city’s connection to the river and Louisville’s historic quest for a clean public water supply. The museum is now closed for renovations but will offer tours when it reopens in early 2014, Dallas said.
Just across the Ohio River, groups can visit Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana, to view 390 million-year-old exposed Devonian fossil beds. The park’s Interpretative Center features exhibits, galleries and videos about Devonian and Ice Age geology and paleontology, as well as more recent history including European settlers and the Lewis and Clark expedition. August through November is usually the best time to visit because low river levels expose most of the 220 acres of fossil beds.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches along 40 miles of the Oregon coast, but people driving along U.S. Highway 101 “cannot grasp the expanse and beauty of these dunes,” said Meg Trendler, tourism sales manager for Eugene, Cascades and Coast, the region’s convention and visitors bureau.
The dunes are located between the highway and the coast and are five miles across. They are dotted with freshwater lakes and ancient forests buried in the sand — and there’s no better way to experience them than during a dune buggy tour, Trendler said.
Both Sand Dunes Frontier and Sandland Adventures have small buggies for four to eight people and larger buggies that can hold 20 people. Although the large buggies are a bit slower, they still deliver plenty of gritty thrills when cresting the top of a dune — some of which are 500 feet high.
“You learn to scream with your mouth closed,” Trendler said.
More adventurous groups could try sandboarding, which is like snowboarding but on sand, at Sand Master Park, a 40-acre commercial sandboard park in Florence. There, visitors can take lessons, rent a sandboard or a sled, or take a dune buggy ride or a sand-sculpting class.
About 11 miles north of Florence is the Sea Lion Caves, “one of those iconic must-see’s along the Oregon Coast,” Trendler said. Sea Lion Caves is the largest sea cave in America and is the mainland home to hundreds of Steller sea lions.
Although the cave is natural, three families built the visitor facility 80 years ago — two of those families still own and operate the attraction today — and spent three years drilling through 200 feet of rock to install an elevator that takes guests into the cave.
Sometimes there are only a handful of sea lions in the cave; sometimes there are hundreds.
“That’s a multisensory experience,” Trendler said with a laugh.
The region also offers plenty of chances to get on the water, whether ocean or river.
Numerous companies take groups white-water rafting on the glacier-fed McKenzie River, and kayaking is another popular group option, Trendler said. Land of the Chinook Adventures rents kayaks and offers guided tours on both the coast and the Siuslaw River. The company also takes groups up the river on its pontoon boat, with a stop for guests to explore shops and cafes in downtown Florence, Trendler said.