NKY’s tourist attractions provide a lively distraction from pandemic fatigue

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By Shannon Clinton

A popular spot in Newport on the Levee is Bridgeview Box Park, a bustling container park featuring eight restaurants and local retailers along the river.

While creatively adapting to a post-COVID 19 reality in 2020, NKY tourist attractions and destinations have continued to attract visitors while planning for a brighter 2021.

A regional tourism economic impact study conducted in 2018 found that the industry supported more than 80,000 jobs and created 26.6 million visitor connections, $5.3 billion in spending and $1.2 billion of tax revenue.

Although the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the hospitality and tourism industries in 2020, MeetNKY President Julie Kirkpatrick predicts that as the pandemic subsides, “you’re going to start to see the return of some of the great events in this region”, such as Glier’s Goettafest, celebrating the region’s favorite German-inspired sausage called goetta. The free event has been extended to eight days but postponed to 2020.

Likewise, Taste of Cincinnati has been postponed twice and June’s Taste of Newport event has been canceled, as has the 29th annual Newport Italianfest, Rides on Monmouth Car Show and Oktoberfest. Still, other attractions were open with new security measures once state mandates cleared.

Newport on the Levee, a dining, shopping and entertainment venue, welcomed guests with new distancing and enhanced cleaning measures, among other precautions. Free signature events took place from last fall through December, including yoga, live music, and trivial parties. The mixed-use development was purchased in 2018 and is being renovated and reinvented.

In November, a temporary 11,000 square foot craft market was inaugurated at the seawall. Other new developments include the open-air Bridgeview Box Park, with retail stores, take-out, a tiki bar, wine bar and Second Sights Spirits.

Newport Aquarium
The Newport Aquarium at Newport on the Levee has thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water. It attracts around 700,000 guests a year.

The Newport Aquarium, also at the Seawall, opened with new safety protocols, although some exhibits, activities and animal attractions remained unavailable. New for 2020 was the “Shipwreck Realm of the Eels” exhibit.

In Williamstown, Ark Encounter and its zipline, playground, restaurant and zoo offered free admission to children 10 and under in 2020.

The Creation Museum, which includes a zoo, planetarium, special effects theater and zip lines, has reopened its Petersburg facilities and reduced its capacity. It also used enhanced security and cleaning measures. In Covington, another outdoor box opened in September, called Covington Yard, featuring food vendors and a wide variety of beers and cocktails. It is also dog-friendly and has outdoor TVs and sometimes live music. Yoga is among her future plans.

Bourbon, breweries and wineries

Carus Wagoner and Rick Couch are the co-founders of Second Sight Spirits in Ludlow, which produces 2-year-old straight bourbon, six types of rum, hazelnut liqueur and four types of moonshine. The distillery opened in 2015 and uses smaller 15 gallon barrels.

In addition to the box yard presence in Newport, tours at Ludlow continue with limited numbers and outdoor tastings, Waggoner said.

“I think we have one of the most unique craft trail tours at our location,” Wagoner said. “We built our still ourselves with a bunch of repurposed parts and pretty much the entire store was built through repurposed parts and barter.”

Northern Kentucky bills itself as “The Edge of Bourbon Country” and a gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, inviting guests to ride the B-Line, a 14-stop tour of area distilleries, breweries and restaurants. Additionally, Covington, Bardstown and Frankfort have joined forces in the marketing campaign called “Come Find Bourbon”. And another “Select Six” – BB Riverboats, NEAT Bourbon Bar, Rich’s Proper, Union 42 Bourbon & Brew, Midway Café and Mainstrasse Village Pub – held special barrel selections in 2020 to generate excitement for the native spirit from Kentucky.

With free entry, the Bacon, Bourbon and Brew Festival is held annually (non-pandemic) in Newport and is already scheduled for July 8 at Riverboat Road in 2021.

The Sprouts & Stouts Festival in Covington was canceled in 2020, but organizers are looking to 2021 with its traditional plant fair which will feature live music and beer from local breweries Rhinegeist (Cincinnati) and Wooden Cask ( Newport).

The Northern Kentucky Back Roads Wine Route features six local wineries, including Stonebrook, Baker-Bird, Seven Wells, Atwood Hill, Redmans Farm Winery, and Camp Springs Vineyard. Craft Connection Northern Kentucky offers a variety of local brewery stops, visiting several breweries in three to four hours.

Hotels, restaurants and retail

Joshua Hunt, business development manager at Florence, said racing fans can expect continued changes at the old Turfway circuit, bought by Churchill Downs in 2019. There are plans to build a new facility there $150 million in games and races.

“With that, there’s a whole new track, which is already finished,” he said. Hunt said hotels have been one of the biggest growth sectors in Florence, with eight new hotels in the past three years, three more on hold and a possible fourth. Currently, the city has 29 hotels with 2,589 rooms. He said the investors and developers he spoke with were optimistic and hadn’t slowed down their plans.

“Our market is really good for hotels,” he said, citing the area’s proximity to major freeways, low-cost airlines and growth in business travel at Cincinnati International Airport. /Northern Kentucky in recent years.

The Aloft Newport on the Levee hotel is located near the popular Newport entertainment district, as well as the Hampton Inn & Suites Newport/ Cincinnati and the Holiday Inn Cincinnati Riverfront in the MainStrasse village of Covington.

The Covington Hotel is a $22 million hotel housed in a historic downtown building that once housed the iconic 1910 Coppin’s department store.

In early 2020, it was announced that the 114-room Covington Hotel would undergo additions to bring 12,000 square feet of retail space, 27,000 square feet of office space, and an urban bourbon distillery.

Retail is doing well in Florence, too, Hunt said, with no vacancies in big box stores. Florence Mall features Aeropostale, American Eagle, Build-a-Bear and a host of dining options, and Duluth Trading Co. recently opened a new location on Meijer Drive.

To help local retailers weather the pandemic, MeetNKY has compiled a long list of local establishments where gift cards and gifts could be purchased during the holiday season and beyond. MeetNKY also promoted local businesses on their social media.

A foodie’s dream

Northern Kentucky continues to establish itself as a place for foodies to indulge, with a variety of restaurants in the MainStrasse Village of Covington, Newport on the Levee, and historic Main Street neighborhoods. And, of course, there are the area’s famous Cincinnati-style chili establishments.

Knotty Pine on the Bayou offers Cajun dishes and seafood nestled on the banks of the Licking River. Yonder by Commonwealth, a rooftop bar nestled above MainStrasse, offers an adventurous small plate menu that changes weekly. Three Spirits Tavern is a fun neighborhood bar in the heart of Bellevue that serves drinks, flatbreads and more. Fort Thomas is home to the hidden gem Grassroots & Vine, a dedicated craft food market, restaurant, retail bottle store and tasting room bar in the historic Midway district. And don’t miss the Bircus Brewing Co., where the surreal world of the circus meets the love of beer. Artists juggle clubs, spit fire, hula hoop, walk on drums and perform trapeze acts.

The 2021 Great Inland Seafood Festival is scheduled for August 12 on Riverboat Row in Newport and Taste of Newport features restaurants, breweries, local artisans and shops.

Many restaurants in the area have created outdoor patios and sidewalk dining options to feed customers while adapting to new COVID-19 mandates. MeetNKY has compiled a comprehensive list of outdoor dining options in Northern Kentucky at meetnky.com.

A sampling of tourist attractions in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati:

Encounter with the ark
Williamstown

BB river boats
Newport

Big Bone Lick State Park
union

Blue Licks Battlefield State Park
Carlisle

Braxton Brewery
Covington

Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati

The fabulous furs of Donna Salyers
Covington

Elk Creek Vineyards
Owenton

Full-throttle adrenaline park
Florence

Great American Ball Park
Cincinnati

Kentucky Circuit
Sparta

MainStrasse Village
Covington

New riff distillation
Newport

Newport Aquarium
Newport

Newport Gangster Tour
Newport

Newport on the seawall
Newport

Northern Kentucky Side Roads Wine Route
Camp Springs

Purple People’s Bridge
Newport

Riverbend Music Center and Coney Island
Cincinnati

Food tours by the river
Covington

Roebling Suspension Bridge and Murals
Covington

Sherlock Escape Rooms
Florence

Smale Riverside Park
Cincinnati

Turfway Park
Florence

USS Nightmare
Newport

world of golf
Florence

world peace bell
Newport

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