The Bluegrass State entertains groups with culture, history and a side of bourbon. From celebrated spirits to the Kentucky Derby to world-famous baseball bats, Kentucky is unbridled when it comes to unique experiences for visiting groups.
From celebrated spirits to the Kentucky Derby to world-famous baseball bats, Kentucky is unbridled when it comes to unique experiences for visiting groups.
And while the Bluegrass State might initially call to mind Thoroughbreds and bourbon, it also boasts other intriguing, one-of-a-kind adventures—gangsters and quilting, anyone?
Following are several interesting ways for planners to infuse agendas with quintessential Kentucky character.
Kentucky Derby Museum, Louisville
Situated next door to the legendary Churchill Downs (www.churchilldowns.com) racetrack is the Kentucky Derby Museum, where attendees will enjoy interactive exhibits like the one that teaches them how to call races and make bets.
And according to Wendy Treinen, the attraction’s spokeswoman, the fun doesn’t end inside, as the museum offers exclusive tours of the historic Churchill Downs.
“Groups can enjoy a morning tour of the barn area at the track, along with a complete Southern breakfast in the track kitchen,” she says. “Guests will have the opportunity to watch the horses work out on the track from right along the rail.”
The museum also offers groups breakfast near the Twin Spires with a panoramic view of the racetrack, Treinen adds, as well as visits to the non-public VIP areas of the track, including Millionaire’s Row, the jockeys’ locker room and the announcer’s booth.
The Kentucky Derby Museum, which features a large oval theater with the capacity for large seated dinners and dancing, can host gatherings of up to 1,000 guests.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Louisville
The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, which has called Kentucky home since the 1850s, has been offering factory tours since at least the 1930s, says Anne Jewell, the attraction’s executive director.
“What sets us apart from other factory tour experiences is that the group walks right through the heart of our production line,” she says. “They’re not up on catwalks or separated by glass, and the bats they see us making here are destined to make history in the hands of baseball’s greatest hitters.”
Jewell adds that tours can be customized for a group if they have a favorite team, players or era in mind, and that beyond the factory tour there are fun interactive exhibits, including a chance to hold bats actually used by legends ranging from Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken Jr. to Derek Jeter.
“It’s actually the only place in the world where this kind of experience is offered,” she says, adding that there are group tour discounts and space available on the second floor for groups that book a tour.
Thoroughbred Farm Tours, Lexington
Groups can play golf anywhere in the world but they can’t see Thoroughbred horses anywhere else in world, according to Scott Goodlett, owner of Scott Goodlett Events. The company operates tours of Thoroughbred horse farms around Lexington, also known as the “Horse Capital of the World.”
Visiting groups often book one of the private, unforgettable tours that take them inside this multibillion-dollar industry.
“You’ll see some of the finest horses in world,” Goodlett says, explaining that timing is everything and that attendees may see majestic animals in pasture but most of the time one or two of the farm’s “greats” are walked out for Q&A and picture time.
One of the tour highlights is a visit to the farm where the Disney movie Secretariat was filmed.
In conjunction with a farm visit, private events can be arranged at local distilleries. Goodlett says groups are picked up at a local hotel and on the way to the farms an expert speaker talks about the horses.
“And then they take a scenic drive to an area distillery for a private tour and gathering with food, live music and cigars,” he says.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Brewgrass Trail, Lexington
Lexington is the perfect jumping-off point for meeting delegates to wet their whistles, be it with bourbon or beer.
The area features three of the six distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.
The distilling process is explored via tours at each venue, all located within 30 minutes of Lexington, and at Woodford Reserve there is event space to accommodate group functions.
While Kentucky has long been known as a purveyor of the finest bourbon, there is a growing craft beer movement in the state that’s catching on, according to the Lexington CVB, which suggests planners check out the new Brewgrass Trail.
On the trail, which currently features nine brewers, they’ll find Lexington-based West Sixth Brewing, which has a tap room and a beer garden, and Country Boy Brewing, located near downtown and the University of Kentucky campus where guests are wise to ask for a pint of the Peanut Butter Stout.
National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green
The National Corvette Museum, featuring special exhibits and more than 70 Corvettes, including the only surviving 1983 Corvette in the world, is the country’s only automotive museum dedicated to just one model, according to Katie Frassinelli, spokeswoman for the museum.
“Guests will enjoy interactive trivia kiosks, a Corvette they can ‘try on for size’ and ever-changing exhibits,” she says, adding that visitors can register to win a Corvette and those so inclined can take home a brick from the Flint, Michigan plant where the original Corvette factory manufactured the first 300 Corvettes in 1953.
The museum also sports a conference center with seating for up to 500 guests, a picturesque curved glass wall, a built-in sound and video system, a catering kitchen, a stage and a bar area, according to Frassinelli.
“Outside catering is available or the Corvette Cafe can cater smaller events,” she says, adding that the museum also features the Chevrolet Theatre, which seats up to 165 people, and the Corvette Skydome, which hosts up to 100 people.
Lost River Cave, Bowling Green
The tour at Lost River Cave, which accommodates up to 40 adults, is different than any other cave tour in Kentucky, according to Rho Lansden, executive director at Friends of the Lost River.
“On this tour you will experience the natural wonder found beneath the streets of Bowling Green from the comfort of your seat in a flat-bottom boat,” she says. “Drifting along on the Lost River in the beautiful but eerily quiet cave, you will learn how it came to be formed and about its amazing cultural history.”
Lansden adds that educational or strictly entertaining group and corporate activities are available and can be tailored to fit the needs of each meeting planner.
Additionally, an evening reception in the mouth of the cave, where folks partied in the days of prohibition, can be arranged.
“Memorable events come to life in the historic Cave Ballroom,” Lansden says. “In the 1930s, Billboard Magazine announced the Cave Nite Club was the only ‘air-conditioned’ dance floor in the country. Memories made at this historic site are sure to be talked about for years to come.”
Today the Cave Ballroom can serve up to 350 guests for dinner, and the River Birch Room, which has audiovisual capabilities and kitchen facilities, is well-suited for smaller meetings.
Bryerpatch Studio, Paducah
Paducah, home of the National Quilt Museum and the American Quilter’s Society’s Annual Quilt Show & Contest, is a veritable patchwork of world-class quilting artisans, including Caryl Bryer Fallert, who is one of the most influential quiltmakers in the world and internationally recognized for her award-winning art quilts.
About six years ago, Bryer Fallert opened Bryerpatch Studio in Paducah’s historic LowerTown Arts District. Situated only three blocks from the National Quilt Museum, groups often visit Bryerpatch Studio before or after a visit to the museum, where they will see Bryer Fallert’s quilts in the permanent collection.
When groups visit her studio, Bryer Fallert starts with a brief, fast-paced digital presentation about quilting as a fine art.
“I can extend the presentation with a program about how my work is made,” she says, adding that she usually takes visiting groups on a tour of her unique building, which includes her shop, gallery, classroom, design and sewing studio, and home. “I will do a short demonstration of drawing with thread while the group is in my working studio, and they are likely to see some work in progress there as well. Groups of 30 or less can arrange an optional catered lunch in my kitchen.”
The large kitchen just off the gallery can also be used for small receptions, and there is also a state-of-the-art classroom and meeting room in the center of the gallery.
“I am happy to give a brief overview of my business and art for any groups that use my facility,” Bryer Fallert says.
Newport Gangster Tour, Newport
In Northern Kentucky’s Newport, a colorful history gives Las Vegas a run for its poker chips.
According to American Legacy Tours (www.americanlegacytours.com), Newport sported “eight blocks of villainy where gangsters made their millions, gamblers lost their fortunes and ladies of the night earned their reputations” before any such goings-on occurred in Vegas.
Guided public tours and private corporate tours are available to explore this area that was once home to casinos, brothels and speakeasies.
Named in a recent issue of Southern Living magazine as one of the top 10 things to do in Kentucky, the two-hour tour explores Newport as the mother of today’s gaming industry as well as its connection to some of the nation’s most well-known criminal figures.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus South.