A couple week ago, our family traveled to Lexington, Kentucky. It isn’t your usual vacation destination and it seemed everyone we met in Kentucky was shocked to hear a family from Iowa chose to spend their vacation in Kentucky. But, we had a great time and there was plenty to do there. Why did we choose to go there? Well, we needed something drivable in a day. It was just 8 1/2 hours from our home. We wanted to go somewhere new. We’ve been to most of the typical Midwest destinations already. Plus, we had heard how beautiful it was in Northern Kentucky and we weren’t disappointed.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites on Newtown Pike in Lexington. I had originally hoped for a VRBO/AirBnB but I couldn’t find the configuration we needed with location and price points we were looking for. We have loved staying at Embassy Suites in the past and this one had a two bedroom suite, perfect for our family of five. When you walked in the room, there was a large living area with a dining room table, two chairs, and a pullout couch. Then on each side, there was a bedroom and a bathroom. Yes, two bedrooms AND two bathrooms! That was such a huge time-saver for us as we got ready every morning. If you’ve stayed at an Embassy Suites you know they have an amazing breakfast buffet including made-to-order omlettes and other hot items like potatoes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and oatmeal, as well as bagels, cereal, fruit, and yogurt. They also have a manager’s reception in the evening that includes free drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) and snacks. In the past, the snacks were often veggies, hummus, chips, dips, salsa, etc. Now, at least here, it was just a mini bag of chips. But, we had plenty of our own snacks on hand, so we just enjoyed the free drinks. I will also mention that maid service is no longer available daily. If we needed something like towels or toilet paper, we had to ask for it. Otherwise, no one came into our room. The only issue we had with this was the garbage. Since we ate some meals in our room, the garbage piled up quickly and we had to find a place to take it out. But, overall, this really was the perfect place for our family to stay.
Our first stop was the Ark Encounter. This is a life-size ark, built according to the specifications in the Bible, to match the ark Noah built. It is quite large as you can see.
Inside the ark, there are various depictions from Bible verses as well as what researchers believe the ark would have looked like inside. It is quite something to see. I don’t want to spoil it, but they have done quite a job with explaining things even I had questions about. Such as Noah had two “kinds” of every animal, not two of every animal. He would have had just two bears for example, not two brown, two black, two grizzly, etc. You walk through each level of the ark with various animals (not real), spices, supplies, and wax figures to depict life in the ark.
Along with the ark, there is a small zoo and petting zoo area outside. The day we toured, it was very hot. We stood in line, outside for 45 minutes which was pretty grueling. We arrived just before 11:00AM and it seemed everyone else did as well. When we left at around 2:00, there were no lines and much fewer people there. We did walk through the kangaroo enclosure, but since it was so hot, they were staying in the shade, taking naps. We didn’t go any further outside. I would recommend an afternoon arrival to avoid the morning crowds.
The Ark Encounter was our most expensive spot on the trip. For our family of five (4 adults, 1 teen) it was $240.00. But, we felt like it was a worthy spot on our trip. There is also a Creation Museum about 45 minutes away and you can choose to tour both as part of a package rate. We did not go there this time.
After the ark, we had lunch at Fazoli’s. We used to have one in our area, but they closed and it was one of our favorites. We then went back to the hotel for snacks and to cool off. In the early evening we went downtown to the Thoroughbred Park. There isn’t anything to do, but I felt like it was an iconic location that we needed to visit. We walked around the park and enjoyed a lovely evening. We then brought Kentucky Fried Chicken back to the hotel. It just happened to also be National Fried Chicken Day, so we decided, when in Kentucky, we must get KFC!
The next day we drove to Louisville, just a little over an hour away from Lexington. We toured Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. You need to book your tickets ahead as they do fill up. The tour begins with a 360 degree movie giving the timeline of a horse being born all the way to race day as well as some Derby history. It was an informative movie since all of us were going in blind.
You get to briefly tour Churchill Downs and then have time to go through the museum. There was some construction so we couldn’t see everything, but it was quite a neat experience. This tour cost our family of 5, $80.00.
After this tour, we headed to downtown Louisville for our next tour. We walked a few blocks and got some Greater’s Ice Cream. Then we headed in for our tour at the Louisville Slugger Museum.
This tour was also quite interesting and informative. You actually get to tour inside the factory while the employees are working and see bats being made. It’s a worthy stop if you are close by. Everyone gets a free mini bat at the end of the tour. This tour cost our family of 5, $80.00.
We enjoyed an early evening meal in a neat area of Louisville, at The Eagle.
We sat outside and enjoyed drinks and delicious food. We tried their hushpuppies that were spicy but oh, so good. I ordered a fried chicken sandwich and a sweet potato dish. It was so delicious. It was our most expensive meal on the trip, but we loved the atmosphere, excellent service, and amazing food.
Our next day included some drives around the countryside. We wanted to go to the Nada Tunnel and the Red River Gorge, but the tunnel was closed and it was raining. So we just drove around the smaller towns around Lexington including Winchester, Paris, and Versailles. We saw many horse farms and beautiful landscapes along the way. You will also notice the narrow roads with no shoulders and no yellow dividing line. I’m thankful we didn’t meet many vehicles.
In Winchester, we found the Bluegrass Heritage Museum thanks to a friendly chat with a local officer in Starbucks. He suggested we check it out and we are very glad we did. We took a self-guided tour (although guided tours are offered) and found some neat items from as far back as the Civil War.
Our tour was just $16 and well worth the price. The museum used to be a hospital, so the third floor is still set up that way with an operating room and patient rooms.
Their local “claim to fame” is a young man who was part of raising the Iwo Jima flag. Unfortunately, his uniform made it home but he did not.
There was also a room set up like a Barber shop. This contraption was used, I am guessing, to curl hair. Thank goodness we don’t have to go to all that trouble any more!
At the end of the tour, the volunteers offered us an Ale-8. It is bottled in Winchester and has a very top secret recipe. None of us had tasted Ale-8 before. It is a kind of sweet, ginger ale. I thought it was similar to a Mountain Dew, but less sweet. We all liked it. They also have a cherry and orange variety. Of course, we went to Kroger and brought some home!
Our last day included a visit to Old Friend’s Farm. This farm offers tours to small groups and it completely outside. You are walking around on a farm, so be prepared for mud and dirt. This was my favorite part of the whole week. Old Friend’s Farm is a retirement home for thoroughbreds. Over 200 thoroughbreds have spent their final years here after highly successful racing careers.
Throughout the tour, you are introduced to many horses. You are given a bag of carrots to feed the horses as you walk by them. They were happy to come and greet you.
They even have their own mascot, who wrote his own book. Lil’ Silver Charm resides on the farm and is the favorite among everyone. A CHARMED LIFE is Lil’ Silver Charm’s story and I’ll be sharing that in a future post soon. This tour was $125 for the five of us and well worth it. There was also a CBS Sunday Morning special on this farm, HERE.
The rest of our day was wide open so we found a fun mini-golf place and played all three courses. We chose the Bible Mini Golf location as it was quite unique. The courses were based on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Jesus’ Miracles. Each tee shares a verse or story that goes with the hole. So, for Jonah and the Whale, the hole is in the shape of a whale, and Noah’s ark’s hole plays around the rainbow.
In between our three rounds of golf, we ate at Blaze Pizza. Our oldest son had been to one and chose it for his meal pick. Since we were gone five nights, each of us got to choose a meal. How do you choose your family meals on vacation?
We had a great week in Kentucky and would love to go back and visit Bowling Green (Corvette Museum) or Mammoth Caves. We also didn’t visit any distilleries either because they were closed, tours were full, or didn’t allow people under 21. We definitely want to go back and take the Bourbon Tour.