We traveled to Gatlinburg over Memorial Day weekend and stayed through the following Saturday, June 1. DH, DD13, DD11 and I traveled by car, while DD27, SIL and DGS2 flew to Knoxville and rented a car. For our part, Friday night we drove up Hwy 61 to Memphis and then across I-40 to Dickson, TN before we stopped for the night. Saturday morning we drove on to Lenoir City and took Hwy 321 through Maryville and Townsend . . . and then drove across to Gatlinburg by way of the national park. All told, the driving time was about 9:15–way faster and more scenic than had we come all the way across I-40 and down through Sevierville and PF to Gatlinburg
Upon arriving, we checked into Park Place Condominiums and then dragged all of our stuff up to the condo (they do have nice baggage carts situated by the elevator), then hit the road and walked about a block to eat lunch at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. After that, we meandered down and purchased tickets to the Skyway (something we’d never done before). Though we enjoyed the ride, as well as the view up top, there wasn’t much of interest up there to warrant the $40 or so we’d paid for tickets–so it’s not an experience we’d repeat. After the return ride down the mountain, we strolled back to the condominium to retrieve the car and went to buy groceries. After making it back to the condo, we prepared dinner and just hung out for the evening.
Sunday morning, we ate breakfast in and then traveled together to Clingman’s Dome. We walked the half mile to the observation tower (even DD27 seven months into her pregnancy) and enjoyed the vistas. It was crowded–but not too terribly awful. After descending, we drove back and stopped at Chimney Tops Picnic Area and enjoyed a nice picnic, after which the girls and our grandson enjoyed playing in the nearby stream. We returned to the condo to relax and rest, then DH, DD, SIL and I headed out to the Buckhorn Inn for an adults only meal while DD13 stayed in w/ DD11 and DGS2. We had a lovely evening and wonderful meal . . . and returned home to find the baby all in one piece and ready for bed. We visited a bit longer and then retired.
Monday morning, we ate breakfast in again and then split up and headed separate ways. DH, SIL, DD11 and I headed out to Sugarland Visitor Center and met Carey (a retired park ranger) from A Walk in the Woods for a guided hike. We walked to Courthouse Rock and really enjoyed learning about the plants and trees along the way. DD11 enjoyed tasting some of the edible plants, chasing salamanders, petting a king snake and climbing around the perimeter of the rock before heading back. It was a great day–one we thoroughly enjoyed. Meanwhile, DD27, DD13 and GGS2 rode the tram up to Ober Gatlinburg; DD13 tried ice skating (and did surprisingly well) while DD27 and the baby enjoyed the playground and black bear habitat. We all met back at the condo for the afternoon and after a nice long rest, we headed into Pigeon Forge for the Black Bear Jamboree. We had a GREAT time! Then we went home and visited more ‘til bedtime.
Tuesday morning, we split up again. DH and SIL went out to breakfast and went white water rafting. I headed into Roaring Fork and parked in the Rainbow Falls parking area and hiked from there to Grotto Falls and back again (a good 7 mile round trip). I raced back to the condo for a quick shower and then headed out for a walk around Gatlinburg w/ DD27, DD13, DD11 and DGS2. We went to Fanny Farkle’s, ate lunch and allowed the kids to play for a while before heading back to the condo for a nap. We’d intended to visit the Haunted Mansion on River Road, but apparently they are a little lax about their operating hours; hence they weren’t open on the way there OR the way back. We sat around and relaxed; DD11 and I went down to the pool for a bit. After DGS woke up, we split up; DH, DD13, DD11 and I drove around the arts and crafts community (I scored a bunch of used books for CHEAP) while DD27, SIL and DGS2 enjoyed a little alone time (the girls were wearing on everyone’s nerves a bit) at the pool. Later that evening, the whole family ate dinner in before DH and I drove to Pigeon Forge to see Country Tonite (free tickets, courtesy of the condominium complex). It was an EXCELLENT show. Came home to find that our younger daughters had been perfect angels for DD27 and SIL (nice attitude adjustment) and that they’d gone out to Ben&Jerry’s for some ice cream. Visited and . . . went to bed.
Wednesday morning, we woke up to some threatening clouds, but after a few showers, things cleared up and we went about our day. We drove to Sevierville and visited the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Petting Zoo. Everybody had a good time there–even DD13 and DD11–poor things had never been to a “petting zoo” so they enjoyed feeding the animals and petting them. DGS2 loved looking at the animals but wanted no part of petting them. We drove back to the condo and ate lunch and then rested briefly. DH, DD13, DD11 and I headed for Dollywood right at 3:00 and enjoyed the park until it closed (DD27, SIL and DGS2 joined us after the baby woke up from his nap). On the way home, we stopped in Gatlinburg and ate supper at the No Way Jose Cantina . . . and had thoroughly enjoyable meals, all around (which surprised me, really, in light of the many bad reviews I’d read). We returned to the condo . . . visited and went to bed.
Thursday morning, we got an early start and headed back to Dollywood. We got there not too long after the gates opened. All the big kids and the non-pregnant adults got to ride the roller coasters at least 2x each before things started getting crowded. Then we headed over to Miss Lillian’s Chicken House for lunch (good food, but a little overpriced; nonetheless, what can one expect–it’s a theme park) and from there we moved to the little outdoor theatre and watched the Country Crossroads performance. After that, we rode more rides (most of us stayed in the Country Fair area so the baby could enjoy the kiddy rides . . . but DD13 and DD11 ran off together to do their own thing). After finishing in the Country Fair area, we moved back toward the water rides and the baby and the girls (and SIL) had a blast getting wet and cooling off before leaving the park. We headed back to the condo and ate dinner in and DD11 played in the pool again.
Friday morning, we ate breakfast in and then headed out to walk the Parkway. We bought a little candy; everyone completed their souvenir shopping in record time; the baby enjoyed the chance to toddle along and people watch . . . and we returned to the condo for lunch. After DGS2's nap (while DD11 and I went back down to the pool), DD27, SIL and the baby headed for the airport in Knoxville.
DH, DD13, DD11 and I said good-bye and headed back into the park and hiked to the Chimneys . . . and even did the rock scramble to the summit (DH thought DD13 and I would never make it to the top of the trail, let alone the summit–I’m slow and DD13 didn’t want to come so she walked as slowly as humanly possible, thus forcing even ME to wait on her) and then headed back down the trail. We got back to the condo, changed clothes and headed up to Ober Gatlinburg (DD13 hadn’t gotten enough ice skating in and DD11 wanted to try it as well). We stayed ‘til the ice arena closed, then took the tram back down the mountain and ate a late night dinner at Cherokee Grill. DH and I really enjoyed our meals (prosperity steak and ribs) while DD13 and DD11 said theirs was merely okay (fried catfish and kids’ chicken tenders). I got the crab bisque as well–I must say, I wasn’t too fond of it–I’ve definitely had better. The dinner salads were excellent, however! Anyway, we headed back to the condo and went straight to bed–a long tiring last day!
Saturday morning, we woke up, packed and straightened up the condo. We checked out and drove to Log Cabin Pancake House. We had a great breakfast (good service, good food, no long wait) and then headed through the park toward Cades Cove. After arriving there, we went horseback riding w/ the folks at Cades Cove Riding Stables. It was a nice ride, but DD11 was disappointed because she was hoping for a more adventurous experience (she wanted to run her horse). After leaving there, we headed straight for Townsend (DH is not about long, slow auto tours) and Miss Lily’s Café. We had a great lunch there . . . and after that, vacation was “over” and it was time to head back toward Maryville and Lenoir City.
We took an alternate route home–down I-75S to I-24W to I-59S through Chattanooga, Birmingham and into Tuscaloosa. We stopped for the night and then continued from Tuscaloosa to Greenville across Hwy 82. It was a longer drive . . . but the views were much better along the way.
Reading back through my report, the whole thing sounds idyllic . . . but in all candor, many of our family activities were punctuated by comments like: “Why do we have to do this . . . it’s just so STUPID” from the 11 year old . . . followed by a very enjoyable outing . . . and then a short meltdown afterward whereupon she would exclaim again that the entire experience had been “horrible and just . . . so . . . STUPID.” Meanwhile, DD13 kept driving everyone batty with her repeated requests to return to Ober Gatlinburg for more ice skating along w/ a few comments about how we’re on vacation so WHY can’t she do EVERYTHING she wants to do regardless of cost? Augh! So it wasn’t all love and laughter like one might see on a commercial from a chamber of commerce/visitor’s center. In fact . . .the RIDE to the Chimneys trailhead Friday afternoon is one that will probably live in infamy. DD11 actual SPAT on DD13 in the backseat . . . and DH tried to crawl back there to beat the living daylights out of her. So . . . imagine me tooling up the road, regretting ever leaving the condo, asking DH if we should turn back . . . while DD11 is crying in the backseat after being swatted . . . and DD13 is wiping the spittle off and muttering “GggRRROOOOOOSSSSSSSSS!” in the backseat. Aah, the memories!