'Little' city features large array of attractions

Senior editor Henry Magenheim visited Little Rock, Ark., where he evaluated the city as a group destination. His report follows:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Agents and operators looking for quality, affordable vacation components should consider Arkansas' capital, where suppliers are motorcoach-friendly.

Little Rock has a wide choice of hotels suitable for vacation and meeting groups, as well as surprisingly diverse attractions for a city of only 200,000.

Among principal hotels and chains are: Amerisuites, the Arkansas Excelsior (the future Peabody), Baymont Inn, the Capital (an historic attraction in its own right), Cimarron Inn, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, DoubleTree, Economy, Embassy, Fairfield Inn, Guesthouse Inn, Hampton Inn, Hilton Inn, Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, LaQuinta, Masters Economy, Motel 6, Premier Suites, Ramada, Red Roof Inn, Residence Inn, Super 8 and Travelodge.

The Arkansas Arts Center contains less-publicized Impressionist works of Van Gogh, Utrillo, Degas, Pissaro, Monet and other works.

On display through Jan. 7 is the exhibit: "Dale Chihuly: Installations," devoted to the artist's creations of glass and ice.

The Central High Museum and Visitor Center focuses on the 1957 desegregation of the school, which was enforced by federal troops.

The center is housed within a restored 1957 Mobil gas station (A gallon of gas cost 22.9 cents then). Across the street is the high school, still in use.

The television, film and print exhibits detail the actions of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus, federal troops, white hecklers and the nine black students in this historic event.

IMAX Theater-Arkansas Aerospace Center, near the airport, offers screenings featuring the Grand Canyon and Alaska. The theater, which seats 300, also features exhibits of historical planes and spacecraft replicas.

The Old State House Museum has a recreation of President Clinton's Oval Office, a permanent exhibit on 30 of the state's First Families (including the Clintons), and a selection of quilts made by African-American Arkansans on display until Jan. 12.

The 35-year-old Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performs in the Robinson Center Music Hall, next to the DoubleTree Hotel. Tickets are $15 for ages 13 and older; $5 for those under 13.

Among 2001 concerts is "Radio Days," on Feb. 10, featuring big band music.

Murry's Dinner Theater, popular with bus tours, has light entertainment such as murder mysteries, comedies and musicals.

Upcoming shows are: "Sorry! Wrong Chimney," from Nov. 21 to Dec. 31; "Butterflies Are Free," Jan. 9 to Feb. 4; "Harvey," Feb. 6 to March 11, and "Showboat," March 13 to April 23. Tickets, including a buffet, are from $22. Midweek shows are discounted for groups.

The Little Rock Zoo offers groups of up to 20 behind-the-scenes tours featuring interaction with a baby giraffe and a full-size rhino. The zoo also caters evening receptions for up to 150.

The River Market offers fresh produce, gourmet food products, local art works and noteworthy dining and drinking establishments.

The Underground Pub, a local watering hole, offers a British atmosphere and live music. Friendly service and light fare such as fish and chips are on the menu.

A neighboring upscale dining choice is Sonny Williams Steak House, where choice cuts are the specialty.

The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau can help arrange excursions to nearby Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Hot Springs National Park (53 miles) and Pine Bluff (42 miles), underscoring the city's value as a base for exploring much of the state.

In addition, Little Rock's airport is only a few miles from downtown.

Agents with FITs can get a list of commissionable bed-and-breakfasts, such as the Hotze House and Empress of Little Rock.

For more information, contact the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 844-4781.

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