Easy Drives: 5 Nearby Travel Destinations

New, Cool Penguin Fun
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new indoor/outdoor habitat. The $5-million Penguin Playhouse, opening in March, allows visitors an upclose view of African penguins. For visitor details, go to gatlinburg.ripleyaquariums.com.

Give a Day, Get a Disney Day
If your family is willing to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Hands On Charlotte or Special Olympics for day, you could get free passes to your favorite Disney park for a day. Destination ImagiNation is rewarding adults and children who give back to their community. Disney’s Give a Day, Get a Disney Day program is offering a free day at any Disney park to those who volunteer with a local organization. Sign up at DisneyParks.com; click on Give a Day, Get a Disney Day and put in your zip code to search for nearby volunteer opportunities over the next 60 days. Keep checking back, as opportunities are always being added. Limit one free Disney ticket per person in 2010.

All Aboard to See the Gorge
Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad into river gorges and tunnels carved out of mountains. The Nantahala Gorge Excursion is a 44-mile, round-trip tour (4.5 hours) that includes a one-hour layover at the Nantahala Outdoor Center with a picnic lunch. Through March 31, residents of the Carolinas can get Tarheel Tickets – $5 off for adults and $2 off for children – when reserved in advance. On April 2 and 3, join Lucy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown on the Peanuts Easter Beagle Express. For departure times, prices and online reservations, visit gsmr.com.

Beach Bound?
The Holiday Inn Resort at Wrightsville Beach now offers a Kids Suite – a separate room with bunk beds, a television and a mini-fridge. Children eat for free, too. There’s a kids’ club, for those 4-12, and parents of little ones can arrange a bedtime tuck-in by Gabby, the hotel’s costumed parrot, complete with milk and cookies. Visit wrightsville.sunspreeresorts.com.

Celebrating the Blue Ridge Parkway
More than a road, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a route filled with cultural, historical stories of the region. To celebrate 75 years as one of America’s most scenic byways, events and activities are scheduled throughout 2010 at different locations along the parkway. Events include the Vinton Dogwood Festival in Vinton, Va., in April; and Kids in the Valley, Adventuring! Hike and Picnic at Roanoke Mountain in June. For information about these events and more, visit blueridgeparkway75.org.