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Chattanooga Tenn.

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Chatanooga - train

Chattanooga Choo-Choo: the "Missionary Line" pulls out of the station.

All aboard for family fun in Chattanooga Tenn.

-- a guest article by Tony Conboy III

Long famous for its Choo Choo, Chattanooga Tenn. is now known for more than the song made famous in the 1940s, and is carving itself out a niche as a top destination for family vacations.

This town's tourism centerpiece is the Tennessee Aquarium, which is located in its Downtown - and getting around its downtown is easy. A free electric shuttle runs seven days a week, so you can park your car and take the shuttle from attraction to attraction. Here are the top family attractions, almost all of which are reachable by the shuttle.

Top Attractions for families in Chattanooga Tenn.

Tennessee Aquarium/Imax Theaters

While many cities are now rushing to build aquariums to anchor downtown rebuilding efforts, Chattanooga's aquarium is world-class. Give your family about three hours to make your way through it. During your time at the aquarium, you will enter "Cove Forest," the "Gulf of Mexico" and "Discovery Hall" to see some of the aquarium's nearly 9,000 residents. The highlight for kids - in Discovery Hall they'll get the chance to have a hands-on experience with a sturgeon - a definite hit with kids. Adjacent to the aquarium is its IMAX Theater. It offers sea related film features in large screen format. Admission to the IMAX is separate from the aquarium.

Rock City/FairyLand Caverns

Don't let the name fool you or your children. I promise the family will enjoy a visit to Rock City. No, it isn't a collection of rocks, but an elaborate stone path with a variety of different types of rock formations that leads to a magnificent view atop Chattanooga's famous Lookout Mountain. If the weather is right you will be able to see seven states.

The beauty of the experience for a family is that itis all natural and all outdoors, the kind of vacation your grandparents might have had years ago. In addition, while at Rock City, don't forget to visit FairyLand Caverns. In the caverns, the rock walls are illuminated with characters from fairytales. It's a truly unique experience.

Ruby Falls

One of Chattanooga's most spectacular sites won't be found Downtown on the river or in the air above the city, you'll only find it under the ground. At Lookout Mountain, the trip to Ruby Falls begins with a short elevator ride that takes you deep inside of the mountain. Next, it's a 15 minute walk through a narrow corridor that has been blasted out of the mountain - you'll pass stalactites, stalagmites and underground streams until you finally reach the attraction's namesake - Ruby Falls. When the tour guide turns on the lights, the result is breathtaking: a 145-foot high underground waterfall that was originally discovered in 1928. Give yourself about two hours to tour Ruby Falls.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Billed as the "world's steepest passenger railway," the Incline Railway is an engineering marvel. The one mile railway goes from the base of the Lookout Mountain virtually straight up to the top of mountain.

Tennessee Valley Railroad

What child doesn't love a train ride? Chattanooga has the TVR train ride. The six-mile long roundtrip runs daily and includes a stop and turntable turn-around. Passengers disembark and watch as the engine is turned around on a turntable at the end of the run. There is also a tour of a working train yard.

These are just the highlights for visitors; there are a variety of other activities downtown that make Chattanooga Tenn. a memorable family vacation destination.

How to Get There:
US Airways is the biggest player into the Chattanooga airport.

Select Hotels/Resorts:
The historical Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo-Choo features a limited number of reconditioned rail cars as rooms; The Chattanoogan is impressive and new; and the upscale Marriott is connected to the new convention center. Visitor Information: Phone numbers and websites for all attractions mentioned are available at www.Chattanoogafun.com or by calling 800.322.3344.

Photos courtesy of Tony Conboy III.

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