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On Site in Kentucky

Thanks to an attraction of biblical proportions,  a deep religious heritage and a tradition of hospitality, Kentucky has surged to become the leading faith-based travel destination in the country.

That’s what 14 tour operators, travel agents and other readers of Going On Faith magazine discovered during a four-day familiarization tour throughout the state in June. Hosted by the Kentucky Department of Tourism, this tour visited Newport and northern Kentucky, as well as historic sites in the central Bluegrass region and charming Bardstown.

During their stay, guests experienced the Ark Encounter, the new faith-based attraction that has brought international attention to the state, as well as other iconic sites. Along the way, they met some of the tourism professionals who make sure groups feel at home in Kentucky.

Follow along on this itinerary to enjoy the best of Kentucky’s faith-based attractions and other signature activities.

Day 1

Arrival in Northern Kentucky

Newport Aquarium

Belle of Cincinnati Dixieland Jazz Dinner Cruise

Guests traveled from throughout the United States to Newport, a city that sits in the northernmost tip of Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. After settling in at the new, hip Aloft Newport on the Levee hotel, group members met to walk through the Newport on the Levee entertainment district to the Newport Aquarium. From the aquarium, the group proceeded to Newport Landing and boarded the Belle of Cincinnati.

Newport Aquarium

The Newport Aquarium is the anchor attraction at Newport on the Levee. The FAM group got a guided tour of the 100,000-square-foot riverfront aquarium, which features underwater tunnels that give up-close looks at sharks, stingrays, beautiful exotic fish and other creatures. Highlights of the experience included the new Shark Ray Bay theater, a touch tank at Stingray Bay Hideaway and an adventurous walk across the Shark Bridge suspended above the top of a giant shark tank.

Belle of Cincinnati

The Belle of Cincinnati is a beautiful three-deck paddle-wheel boat that cruises the Ohio River from the Newport Landing. Operated by BB Riverboats, it is one of three vessels in the company’s fleet and offers sightseeing cruises as well as lunch and dinner sailings. The group enjoyed the Dixieland Jazz Dinner Cruise, which featured excellent live music, great food and beautiful sunset views of the Cincinnati and Newport skylines.

Day 2

Creation Museum

Ark Encounter and Lunch

Depart for Harrodsburg

Dinner and Overnight at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Participants woke up excited for the second day of the trip, which was set to feature some of the most high-profile faith-based attractions in the state. The group left Newport for Petersburg, a northern Kentucky town, where they toured the Creation Museum.

From there, the group took the short trip to Williamstown, also in northern Kentucky and home to the Ark Encounter. They enjoyed a buffet lunch in the on-site restaurant, then spent the balance of the afternoon exploring the ark’s exhibits and expansive gift shop.

After leaving the Ark Encounter, the group proceeded south through Lexington to Harrodsburg and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, where they enjoyed dinner at the Trustees’ Table restaurant, an evening marshmallow roast and overnight accommodations in some of the historic structures on the property.

Creation Museum

The 60,000-square-foot Creation Museum offers visitors a comprehensive look at the Bible’s account of the beginnings of the universe. The group explored galleries that deal with the importance of Scripture in modern life, as well as scientific evidence supporting the Genesis account of Creation. Along the way, they saw life-size dinosaur statues, animatronics, a planetarium, a special-effects theater and beautiful outdoor botanical gardens.

Ark Encounter

The entire afternoon was dedicated to the Ark Encounter, the newest and largest faith-based attraction in the state. This massive structure is built to the scale of Noah’s Ark as described in the Bible — 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high — and made headlines when it opened in 2016. Officials estimate more than 1 million visitors have come in its first year of operation. It is the largest timber-frame building in the world. The group explored all the decks of the exhibit, which includes interesting dioramas depicting the way Noah’s family lived aboard the ark and how they stored and cared for the thousands of animals on board with them.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.