I LOVE CAVES. So during what has come to be known as the Last Great American Road Trip - when we packed up our car, suitcases, and cats and headed about 2700 miles east to Connecticut - we specifically planned a 2 day stop-over in Kentucky. Now Kentucky hasn't always been at the top of my list of exciting vacation destinations (sorry Kentucky, it's nothing personal), but there is one particular sight there that everyone should visit in their lifetime: Mammoth Cave National Park.
Mammoth Cave boasts the world's longest (not to be confused with the largest or deepest) cave system and is truly a magnificent sight for folks of all ages. Unlike other caves such as Carlsbad Caverns, any exploration of the cave and its chambers must be done via tour during which no flash photography or tripods of any kind are allowed.
We went on the Historic Tour ($12) and the Domes & Dripstones Tour ($14), both of which were easy enough that we saw young kids and older folks on them, but still fascinating and exciting. At no point that I can recall, even in the the tight area known as "Fat Man's Misery", did anything get too scary, exhausting, or claustrophobic.
Cave tours can be reserved in advance, which is great for making definitive plans, but since the tour limit was well over 100 people there were many spaces available when we showed up on a weekend in March to take our tour.
If you're hoping to get some decent photos of the caves, make sure to bring a camera with a manually adjustable ISO and exposure, like a DSLR. I watched so many other folks on the tour desperately trying to capture images of the cavelicious delights on their phone or point and shoot, but sadly to no avail. Most of my images were taken at ISO 1600 or 3200 with a 1-2 second exposure. Because of the lack of tripod, the majority of them came out blurry, but I still was able to get some decent shots when I balanced my camera on a rail or rock.
If you're looking to plan a trip to Mammoth Cave on a budget, I would recommend the Cave City Super 8. Other than the misleading pet charge on their website (it says $10 per pet per night, but was increased to $20 and never updated online), we had a wonderful quiet stay there for two days before continuing onward. The wi-fi in the rooms even worked and Cave City seemed like a safe place that also had lots of other family-friendly attractions, some of which were seasonal.
I'd like to finish this off with a mention of the wonderful restaurants we ate at while we were in Cave City, but that never happened. If you like basic fast food and American chains, they've got you sorted, but my interests lie elsewhere. I think we made dehydrated camping meals in the hotel room and saved the food exploration for later in our cross-country journey.