From Virginia to Georgia and Missouri to Louisiana, see what’s new across the South for 2020.
Rosie’s Gaming Emporium
Virginia’s gaming scene grew this year with the opening of Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Richmond. The emporium features 700 gaming machines based on historic horse races. Groups can also arrange meals at Rosie’s Kitchen, a casual restaurant with burgers, pizza and sandwiches, or enjoy signature cocktails such as a Rosie’s Punch or Blueberry Lemon Drop at Rosie’s Bar. This is the fourth Rosie’s location in the state; others are in New Kent, Vinton and Hampton.
The city of Greenville recently broke ground on the first phase of a new six-acre greenspace: Unity Park. The park will feature a 10-story observation deck that offers visitors scenic views of the nearby Blue Ridge mountain range. Other highlights will include a gathering hall for special events and concerts and a pedestrian bridge and landscaped riverbanks along the Reedy River. The idea for Unity Park was formed in 1907.
U.S. Marshals Museum
During the Wild West heyday of the 1800s, more U.S. Marshals died serving the territory around Fort Smith than any other place or time in American history. To commemorate the work of the marshals, the U.S. Marshals Museum will open in Fort Smith this year. The project was first announced in 2007 and is being built with more than $50 million in privately raised funds. When it opens, the museum will feature both historic artifacts and state-of-the-art multimedia technology.
Union Station Attractions
From 1894 to 1978, Union Station served as St. Louis’ primary train depot. In the 1980s, it was repurposed as a mixed-use facility. Last fall, a number of new experiences opened at Union Station, including a Ferris wheel, a carousel, mini-golf, a ropes course and a mirror maze. But the biggest news will be the opening of the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station this winter. The 120,000-square-foot aquarium will house more than 13,000 marine animals.
Almost Heaven Airstream
The West Virginia Tourism Office is taking its “Almost Heaven” message on the road with the new Almost Heaven Airstream. This refurbished classic American travel trailer was retrofitted to serve as a mobile visitor center that highlights West Virginia experiences. The Airstream features TV screens playing videos of West Virginia scenic destinations as well as activity stations with post cards and West Virginia trivia, all with John Denver’s “Country Roads” playing in the background.
Craft beer is growing in popularity across Louisiana, and a number of new breweries have opened in different parts of the state. Flying Tiger Brewery in Monroe honors hometown hero Gen. Claire Chennault, an aviation pioneer who led the Flying Tigers squadron. In Natchitoches, the new Cane River Brewing is housed in a refurbished cotton gin. And Bayou Teche Brewing in Arnaudville makes beers to complement Louisiana cuisine.
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center
Bardstown is one of the top bourbon-producing destinations in a state known for the spirit, and groups visiting the area will find new visitor experiences awaiting them at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center. The visitor center recently completed the first phase of a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation project that added three new tasting rooms. The renovation also brought a new retail area designed to feel like a home kitchen and living room.
One of auto racing’s most famous tracks is in the midst of an improvement project. In 2018, Talladega Superspeedway started a renovation to improve the fan experience. Highlights include new parking garages and a new infield fan zone that will allow racegoers to see the action closer than ever before. The new facilities were unveiled last spring during a celebration of Talladega Superspeedway’s 50th anniversary.
When it opened in 2004, Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium was the largest aquarium in the world. Now, it’s getting even bigger. A project called Expansion 2020 will feature a redesigned entry as well as a new shark gallery with floor-to-ceiling windows that will help guests learn about these misunderstood creatures. The expansion will also give the aquarium opportunities to grow its conservation and education efforts. The new areas are scheduled to be unveiled this fall.
Gatlinburg’s Skylift Park is already a popular attraction for travelers who want to take in the beauty of the Tennessee Smokies from atop a mountain peak. Now, adventurous visitors can experience even more thrills with the Gatlinburg Skybridge, which opened at Skylift Park last spring. This 680-foot pedestrian suspension bridge is the largest in North America. Made of wood and featuring a 15-foot-long glass section, it hangs about 140 feet above the forest floor.
Aquarium of the Gulf Coast
A new aquarium opening this spring will give visitors to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast a new way to learn about marine life from the Gulf and beyond. The Mississippi Aquarium is set to open in Gulfport at the end of April. The $93 million facility will sit on more than five acres of beachfront property and will feature more than 1 million gallons of saltwater and freshwater exhibits. Highlights will include a 30-foot-long immersive tunnel and large-scale outdoor exhibits.
Last spring, the North Carolina Ferry System added a passenger-only route from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor, giving travelers a way to explore the island’s central village without a car. The 98-seat Ocracoke Express Passenger Ferry will take visitors straight into Ocracoke, where they can explore the village, rent bicycles or golf carts or board a free shuttle for transportation around the island. Ocracoke is known for its beaches as well as its Blackbeard history.