My son and I have traveled a bit and take in cave tours wherever we can, from Hawaii to Missouri to Virginia. This one was a bit of a disappointment overall.
First the good:
1) They've done a great job of preventing damage to the caves from installing airlocks to misting systems.
2) They've preserved the original sinkhole entrance.
3) They're preserving the natural fauna and flora.
4) They're trying to educate.
5) Electric trams take you to the cave entrance.
6) There are camping areas and picnic benches, and plenty of parking.
7) There's a model of a giant sloth that's pretty cool, along with models of the ancient sloth bones found in the caves.
8) The hiking trail provides some awesome views of the mountains all around, all the way to Mexico. Plenty of photo opportunities.
1) NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Look, I get that you don't want to slow down tours and snapping flashes blind other tourists. (That was the reason we were given when we asked.) BUT the draconian limits are unnecessary and really annoying. My greatest inducement for paying the ridiculous entrance fee was to get some great shots of unusual formations as research for a book I'm writing. The crew not only doesn't allow ANY photography in the cave, you can't even have a camera out from the time you start the tour. Seriously. And the tour is your only opportunity to view the sinkhole entrance (great photo opportunity, you're moving very slowly past on a tram, so wouldn't slow any tour, and no flash!) I've been in Luray and Meremac Caverns and I certainly didn't slow the group down while picture taking. I am not rude enough to use flash when not supposed to. The whole thing is nuts.
2) The rules may have changed. We had a youngster on our tour that didn't stop making noise the whole time. Either there are no kids under a certain age allowed, and it's a reverent tour for adults, or kids are allowed and more fun should be had by all. I don't think anyone enjoyed the shushing by our otherwise very nice tour guide.
3) No flashlights. Jeez. Get over yourselves people. One person flashing a flashlight around is not going to ruin the experience for all of us.
4) Tours that are toooooo basic. Listen up. I am not 5. I've seen a lot of caves. I know some of your visitors may not know a stalag from a stalac, and I don't mind if you cover the basics for their sake. But I know what a bacon drapery is. I want to know some specific and in depth information about THIS cave, as compared to all others, or what's the point? The tour just didn't give that much new info for anyone who has ever seen a cave formation before.
5) Too much talk. We got the rules the first time, ok? We don't need you to repeat how the formations are made... again, and again, and again. It's ok to just walk without talking. The long talk before the tour felt like a grade school lesson that wouldn't stop.
6) They don't spend very much time at all discussing the wonderful technology that went into the place and scientific experiments being conducted! Let's pretend for a minute here that most of us are grown ups, interested enough in science, nature, and the like to actually plunk down your insane fee for a short walking tour of an unimpressive cavern. Maybe we'd like to learn about the recirculating system, the airlocks, the low tech measuring equipment and how it works and why. I'd love to know what all this careful preservation we are a part of actualy works to keep the cave alive. We got a disdainful wave by the park ranger and a dismissive comment about technology not working well in high humidity. Really? Then how do bathosphere's function lady? The one piece of technology she pointed out wasn't even explained!
7) Lighting. I know too much lighting raises the temp in the cave, a bad thing. There are modern lighting systems that run very cool that could be installed and run relatively inexpensively. This really needs to be addressed. We are not still in the 70s when the place was discovered. I'd like to SEE the formations. There were many ignored entirely on the tour. We had to try to spot them for ourselves, in the dark, no flashlights, no explanations.
8) False advertising. Much is made of the cavern boasting the longest soda straw formation in the country. Then once you're inside, they tell you it's in an inaccessible (by the tour) part of the cave and would be very hard to spot anyway, so hey, here's one that's half as long. NOT impressed with the bait and switch.
9) Not that big, not that decorated, not that colorful, not much decoration, not much variety. Overall, it's only an average cavern system when compared to other commercial and public touring caves. There were some really interesting shapes. But since I couldn't photograph them, you'll have to take my word for it, won't you?
10) Biggest drawback of all, if you hadn't guessed by now, is the price. We paid $45 for two adults, no military discount, throne room only. $45 and we didn't even get a pic to take home. That's just utterly ridiculous. They're missing the marketing strategy whereby you charge a reasonable amount for the big draw, then funnel the suckers into the gift shop. Who has money for trinkets after plunking down that kind of loot for an hour of "entertainment" that isn't? I didn't feel like shopping or eating at their little diner (which closed before our tour let out anyway, duh again.) I felt cheated and not very charitable. Thus no repeat business either. Not smart marketing.
11) The Discovery Center was a bit dated and lame given it was supposed to educate the public and is a National Parks facility. Much of the information was on caves in general, not this particular one. I could get the same info from Google, thanks. There was only one display of original equipment, etc., a pair of boots and miner's hat. No mining or tunneling equipment, no spelunking displays. Some of the video presentations didn't work. The video in the theater doesn't even fill the screen. The announcing system is very difficult to understand. They need to work a bit harder here.
12) The loop hiking trail is not a scenic beginner trail. It is a moderately difficult, hilly, 2.5 mi path through the foothills. The only warning sign is a cute little woodcut sign that tells you to bring water. They might want to post a map, provide check in service, inform guests that there are some steep climbs, multiple stairs, narrow rocky paths, and a couple of tricky passes on that hike. I picture a couple of older adults starting out only to get half way and need rescuing. There ARE some benches in the more scenic overlooks, but no water, phones, or emergency bells to sound in case someone breaks a leg.
Overall, not that great a value for the money.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.