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August 29, 2018
Hickman, Kentucky: Discovery Park of America

Today’s port was supposed to be New Madrid, Missouri. But several days ago, the crew informed us we would not be able to go to New Madrid due to “a docking issue.” (Our suspicion is that the water level is too low. We were not able to dock at Beale Street in Memphis for the same reason.)

Instead, today we docked further upstream at Hickman, Kentucky. Our port time would be 8:00 am through 1:00 pm. Hickman is the largest and second-oldest city in Kentucky on the Mississippi River. Mark Twain called is “a pretty town perched upon a handsome hill.” Hickman’s famous residents include “Casey” Jones of railroad fame.

The port at Hickman was quite industrial, with a granite quarry right next door

Unfortunately, we would not actually be visiting Hickman. Instead, all four of AQ’s hop-on hop-off buses were taking us 20 minutes away to Union City, Tennessee. Here, we were all invited to spend the morning at Discovery Park of America. (AQ made this a free premium excursion for everyone, possibly to make up for missing New Madrid.)

We were able to get onto the first bus off the boat at 8:30 am. During the ride over, Gail was skeptical about going to what had been described as an “amusement park.” She wondered if we should just take the bus directly back to the boat and ride bicycles into Hickman instead.

But once we arrived, Gail changed her mind. Discovery Park, which opened in 2013, was the brainchild of Robert Kirkland (the man behind Kirkland Stores throughout the southeast). One of the guides told us that Kirkland was meticulous about this project. If something didn’t meet his satisfaction, it was torn down and rebuilt.

Discovery Park of America

The centerpiece of the park is a 10,000-square-foot, three-story Discovery Center that is a hands-on science museum. There are areas devoted to Science, Natural History, Transportation and Native Americans, among others. The place is modern, clean and well laid-out. As we walked through, Gail kept saying, “They’ve done a really good job with this place!”


This humanoid sculpture is actually a two-story slide!

Gail makes friends with a catfish and a northern pine snake

Surrounding the building is a 50-acre outdoor site. It reminded Gail of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village back in her native Michigan. There are historical buildings, landscaped flower gardens and even an outdoor maze.

The Discovery Center is surrounded by 50 landscaped acres

The Outdoor Discovery

Gail took a lot of nature photos

We loved this sculpture, which reminded us of our three grandsons

We ended up spending more than two hours at the park, and we could have spent all day there. (We also took advantage of the park’s free Wi-Fi to catch up on business back home.)

We were astonished that such a world-class place exists in the middle of acres of soy bean farms. Kirkland built the park to bring more visitors to his native Union City. He died in 2015, but Kirkland’s Foundation has dedicated $2 million a year for 20 years to cover operating costs and expansions. A hotel is currently being built next store, and the main highway will soon pass through here. We can highly recommend Discovery Park of America as a visit well worth making.

Russell, Gail and Davy Crockett


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