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Up and Coming in America’s Heartland

There’s always something going on in America’s Heartland, from new attractions to facelifts of old ones. Group travelers can visit beautiful gardens, experience the latest 4D interactive ride, enjoy a variety of adult beverages, catch a baseball game or become immersed in the wonders of the sea at these new Heartland offerings.


Sycamore Falls At Reiman Gardens

Ames, Iowa

In 2021, Reiman Gardens will open a $3.4 million addition to the Iowa State University botanical garden called Sycamore Falls that will feature multiple waterfalls over native limestone walls, sculptural terraces and a large reflecting pool.

The installation replaces a three-acre garden that represented the natural landscape and contours of Iowa.

“Those types of gardens are difficult to maintain,” said Edward Lyon, director of Reiman Gardens. “They get lots of weeds and, in the past, we haven’t had a huge enough volunteer base to make it look good.”

As part of the gardens’ new master plan, the facility came up with a distinctive design to attract more visitors to that corner of the property. The focal point of the new gardens is a large asymmetrical tower built out of downed trees from the university campus. The tower is what visitors see first when they enter the gardens.

A waterfall comes straight down the wall below the tower, eventually turning into a bubbling stream that cascades into a large reflecting pool at the bottom. When guests walk beneath the tower sculpture and look up, they feel like they are surrounded by trees.

With 20 individually themed gardens and the world’s largest garden gnome, the gardens display a variety of gardening styles, from a formal rose garden and a home demonstration garden to a year-round, indoor butterfly exhibit.

Riverfront Stadium

Wichita, Kansas

In 2020, Wichita celebrated the arrival of its new AAA baseball team, the Wichita Wind Surge, by building a state-of-the-art baseball stadium for the club. Riverfront Stadium replaced a stadium that had stood in Wichita since 1934 and that had fallen into disrepair.

“It is gorgeous,” said Jared Forma, senior vice president and general manager for the Wichita Wind Surge. “It is a big, spacious, comfortable, state-of-the-art multivenue stadium.” Along with 70 Wind Surge games every year, the stadium will also host football and soccer games, concerts and a winter festival that turns the baseball diamond into an ice skating rink.

The stadium itself has extra legroom, making every seat feel like a private box seat, and tickets to games, even for the best seats in the stadium, are only $15. The $75 million stadium can hold 10,000 people and includes meeting spaces for groups of 30 to 450 people, including a picnic patio and a deck, that can be used on non-game days.

The Riverfront Stadium was supposed to open for the Wind Surge’s inaugural year in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the team won’t begin playing until April 2021. Forma hopes that corporations and group travelers will come out and enjoy all the new stadium has to offer, including the unparalleled views of Wichita’s downtown skyline and the Kansas River.

Wilderness Hotel And Golf Resort

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort is one of the most popular destinations in Wisconsin Dells, but that hasn’t stopped it from expanding and reimagining its many attractions. In 2020, the resort focused on building attractions that could be used by larger groups, like a three-story laser tag arena; escape rooms; and Take Flight, a 4D film adventure where guests are strapped into motion seats they can feel like they are soaring above national parks, iconic monuments and major destinations throughout the United States.

From the time they check in for the ride to the moment they board, guests are immersed in an airport setting, with interactive televisions and a kids club. The ride vehicle tilts, rolls and heaves for seven minutes, and visitors experience the sensations of scent, wind and water. Guests won’t see the large screen until the ride starts and the rows of seats rise up in front of the huge screen, which is 65 feet wide and 48 feet tall.

The Twister Room Escape gives participants 60 minutes to find and recover valuable items from the aftermath of a monster tornado and get to safety before a second powerful tornado hits. The escape room is based on the 1974 Super Outbreak, when more than 30 F4 and F5 tornadoes cut a wide swath across the U.S. during a 24-hour period.

Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands Cheers Trail

Sandusky, Ohio

To showcase the many wineries, breweries and distilleries in the area, Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores and Islands visitors bureau devised a Cheers Trail that takes visitors to 19 locations in the area that are famous for their spirits. The trail stretches as far east as Avon Lake to the islands on Lake Erie.

Guests can visit as many locations as they want and take as long as they want to get stickers in their Cheers Trail passport book. Once they have visited six locations, they can turn in the passport at the visitors center for a prize: a Cheers Trail wine or pint glass. After 12 locations, they can trade in their stamps for a Cheers Trail corkscrew. And if they successfully visit all 19 locations, they will be entered into a drawing for an overnight stay vacation to the Lake Erie Shores and Islands region.

“It has been extremely popular,” said Jill Bauer, public relations manager for Lake Erie Shores and Islands. “People love it. People are trying in groups to get multiples.” Some wineries have restaurants, outdoor patios and live entertainment. Others are on the corner of a farmers market. Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay each have two wineries and a brewery, so taking the ferry out to the islands can nab guests a total of six stamps in their passports.

Aquarium at the Boardwalk

Branson, Missouri

Aquarium at the Boardwalk is expected to hold a soft opening this month. The 46,000-square-foot, $50 million aquarium was built on the site of the former Grand Palace theater and is part of a larger redevelopment of the area.

The aquarium has been “conceptualized over the last three years and began construction in February 2019,” said Aileen Stein, director of marketing and creative development for Kuvera Partners, the entity that is developing the aquarium. “The new attraction is the first phase of development of Branson Boardwalk, an entertainment complex at the center of the Highway 76 Entertainment District in Branson.”

The aquarium houses 5,000 animals, from a rare golden pufferfish and a giant Pacific octopus, to sharks and rays. After riding the aquarium’s Submarine Adventure, guests journey through many different ocean environments, including the Jellyfish Infinity Room, the Amazing Rays tank and the Coral Reef, home to many colorful fish and sharks. Younger guests will enjoy the interactive touch pool — where they can meet many friendly sea creatures — or hearing mermaids tell their stories of life in the sea at the Mermaid Palace. Group visitors will take advantage of discounted admission and timed tickets so they can optimize their time at the aquarium.