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Posts Tagged ‘Smoky Mountains’

To celebrate 30 years of couple-hood, John and I stole a weekend away in Gatlinburg.  Secure in the knowledge that Lorelei and William were in Emily’s capable hands, we headed South on Saturday afternoon.

We are so blessed to live so close to Gatlinburg, which feels like a getaway even though it takes less than an hour to get there.  After getting settled in our lodgings, we went out to explore.  Normally we stay more in the middle of town, but this time we were on the north end which gave us the opportunity to see something new (to us).

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There are several antique shops at the north end of town and both because of their location and the fact that we always have kids with us we’ve never set foot inside a single one.  American Sideshow Antiques was open and we enjoyed browsing through the eclectic wares and meeting Danny, the owner, who told us about his harrowing escape from the recent fires that devastated the area.  He shared with us the support of his regular customers from many states who have come to his aid by ordering from his shop from afar since the fire.  Having experienced similar kindnesses after our own fire, we were moved by his story.

And actually that’s why I’m writing this post, because in our many interactions with the people of Gatlinburg we discovered that businesses are suffering because of rumors that Gatlinburg was leveled by fire and that there is no reason to visit anymore.  This mistaken belief is causing more suffering to those who live and work in Gatlinburg, many who have already lost their homes and belongings.  Whenever possible, I donate money to fire victims–today I am donating my time and this space to convincing as many people as possible to visit Gatlinburg!

After the antique store, we headed to the Smoky Mountain Trout House, a Gatlinburg institution we had never tried before.   When we noticed that the upstairs was closed, the owner told us that he hadn’t needed that space since the fire because tourism is way down.  Let me tell you that people don’t know what they are missing, with super-fresh trout deboned right there at the table and big enough to cover the entire plate, along with the usual fixings.  We only barely managed to eat it all.

The next morning was cloudy but mild.  We enjoyed our motel’s ample free breakfast before setting out to walk along the Parkway.

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When I was a child, Gatlinburg shops consisted primarily of t-shirts and cheap, kitschy items, and if you went in one of them you’d pretty much seen all there was to see.  A lot has changed since then, with multiple outdoor malls showcasing a combination of local crafts and high quality mass-produced merchandise.  Window shopping is always fun, but if you want to buy something you can do it without breaking the budget! And if you don’t want to carry your haul around all day, many merchants will hold items for later pickup.

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Gatlinburg’s main strip was almost untouched by the fire.  There were two or three shops that remain closed, but most everything was in full swing.  I’ll be honest, though–we spent most of our money on alcohol. 🙂

One big change that has come to Gatlinburg in recent years is the proliferation of distilleries and tasting opportunities.  I believe this began with Ole Smoky Moonshine but they are no longer the only game in town.  We warmed up with two wineries, each of which allowed us to try two varieties for free.  But we were just getting started.

At Sugarlands Distilling Co. we learned that a new procedure for tasting has been put in place.  What used to be free now costs $5 per person, but you also get a $5 coupon good toward the purchase of any item in the store.  Since you are definitely going to want to buy some moonshine after you’ve tasted it, this is the cheapest drink in town.  Our bartender was Gyver, and he regaled us with jokes and creative shine recipes.  Gyver was one of many locals who lost his home and possessions in the fire.  He asked us to encourage anyone who wants to help fire victims to vacation in Gatlinburg.

We sampled 12 varieties at Sugarlands and used our coupons on hazelnut rum.

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Moving on down the road we ended up at Ole Smoky, where live music was in full swing.  We took a look at the product in process before heading in to sample the wares.

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D’Brickashawn was our bartender and he won us over by making fun of everyone who didn’t know what snow cream was.  Yes, there is snow cream flavored moonshine and along with blackberry that’s what we used our coupons for.  By now after 24 (small) samples I was a bit tipsy.  That facilitated bonding with our neighbors at the bar who told us that they were high school sweethearts reuniting for the first time in over twenty years.  Gatlinburg is very romantic!

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Our last stop was also Ole Smoky, at their whisky location on the other side of the road.  We got 13 samples there and took home a bottle of Tennessee Mud.  There is one more distillery in town but they weren’t open when we walked by.  That may have been for the best as each tasting was the equivalent of about 3-4 shots!

After more window shopping we walked back to the motel.   In the evening, we drove to The Peddler restaurant, one of the few old homegrown places left in town.  Because there was an hour wait, we went for a drive up the mountain to pass the time.  This is where you see the devastation wrought by the fire–burned foundation after burned foundation.  It’s unbelievable and heartbreaking.

We had a great dinner–worth the wait–and went back to the motel, enjoying the Winterfest lights along the way.

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It was back to Knoxville, reality, and hungry children the next morning but it’s nice to know that an inexpensive and fun weekend is always such a close drive away for us.

Now, you want to help the people of Gatlinburg, don’t you?  Here are two easy ways:  You can schedule a weekend getaway of your own–or a day trip if you are local!  Or you could share this post to let folks around the country know that Gatlinburg is open for business.

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REVIEW- Hollywood Wax Museum in Pigeon Forge (SPONSORED)

This has been a traveling year for us so far! In May, we went to Baltimore for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday; in June, we took the kids to Gatlinburg; in July John and I went to Chicago; in August we spent a weekend in Pigeon Forge; in September we went to Nashville for my cousin’s wedding; and this month we are headed to our first Notre Dame football game!

I’m writing today about our little Pigeon Forge vacation, during which we visited the Hollywood Wax Museum and the Castle of Chaos and all the attractions therein.  I was provided with free tickets for myself and my family in exchange for my honest opinion.

We did not start our mini-vacation with the Wax Museum, though.  We went up on a Friday afternoon, and the first thing we did was go to Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner.

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PF 2John was excited about this crazy drink.  We were ALL excited about eating crab.

After dinner, we were able to go next door and play some miniature golf because we still had a ticket left from my review of the Ripleys attractions in June!  In fact, we played twice because I got a hole-in-one on the final hole!  Then we headed across the street to the motel we had chosen.  This vacation did not require much driving once we got to Pigeon Forge (well, I think technically we were still in Sevierville at this point.).

PF 4 The Oak Tree Lodge fulfilled all Sholly requirements for suitable lodgings and then some.  We demand free breakfast, free WiFi, and a pool.  This place also had cookies in the lobby, unlimited free arcade games, and an exceptionally friendly staff.  Also, the pool was super awesome with the splash pad you see above and a big slide!  We made our first trip to the pool before bed, and then the kids and I went back the next morning while John slept in.

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Then is was time for the main events of the trip–and the main subject of this review.

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We have been curious about this place forever, because you simply cannot miss King Kong looming over the building as you drive down the Parkway.

PF 7PF 51The first building is home to the wax museum, while the Castle of Chaos (pictured below) is in the same parking area, set back a bit from the road, and houses three additional attractions.
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We decided to start with the Hollywood Wax Museum.  We were welcomed by this fellow:

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PF 22This aerial view is to show you his hand, where all entering parties are told to pose and first smile, them look scared, while they are photographed.  At the end of your tour you have an opportunity to view (and purchase!) said photograph.

The exhibits begin in the next room.  Let’s start with the positives.  There are a wide variety of exhibits.  Great care has been taken with the setting of said exhibits–actors are dressed as some of their famous roles, with backdrops to match, and even the theme music playing in the background.  There are fun little factoids and interactive kiosks posted throughout.  Opportunities for interacting with the scenes–including dress-up items–are provided, as you will see in my pictures.

The negatives?  Well, here’s a big one:  a lot of the figures are just BAD.  Conspicuously absent from this museum is any explanation of how they make their figures.  After having visited Madame Tussaud’s in D.C. earlier this year, we were spoiled.  Rather than meticulously measuring the models as was described there, it’s quite clear that in some displays heads were attached to generic bodies.  Now, I have seen worse wax figures.  I might have appreciated these more if I hadn’t been to Madame Tussaud’s first.  And they are not all bad by any means.  I would say the quality appears to be improving.  But I will post some pictures and let you decide for yourselves.  Keep in mind that but for one exception (and you will be able to tell which one it is, I assure you) I did not post the worst figures because I didn’t feel like photographing them when they didn’t look anything like the people they were meant to represent.

First I will show some examples of my family interacting with figures.  Some of these figures were not the best but we liked whom they represent so much we wanted to get into the scenes anyway!
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Anyone who knows William will understand why this was his favorite part of the museum–and it was also the most well-done part, presumably because it’s harder to mess up non-human figures.

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Didn’t you always wish you could get inside that bottle when you were a child? I know I did.

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This was kind of fun since when we visited Savannah we saw the ACTUAL bench and location where this iconic scene was filmed.

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And here are some figures on their own.  In my opinion, the basketball player’s hands are the most well-done thing in this museum.  What do you think?

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With that, it was time to leave Hollywood for the Castle of Chaos.  I’m going to TELL you what we did there, but I can’t SHOW you, because the experiences were not conducive to picture-taking.  You can see some promotional pictures at my preview post for this review, if you want.

First up was Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors. This is the third mirror maze I’ve been to this year, and it was the best.  With mirror mazes, it’s a kind of “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” deal, and they have worked to change that here.  This maze comes with a story–a little movie that you watch at the beginning, which provides a purpose to solving the maze (besides just getting out!).  There are also a few additions to the maze itself–musical stairs, a “rotating” bridge, characters appearing in the maze–that make it special.  If you want to do a mirror maze, pick this one.

Next we hit up the titular attraction, Castle of Chaos.  This was a 5D theatre experience in which we spun about to face various scary scenes.  The twist here is that we were armed and got to shoot at them, and our scores appeared on the screen along with our pictures at the end (John shot the most things out of everyone in the theatre!).  This was a slightly scary and mildly entertaining attraction.  The Ripleys 5D attractions are better if you are looking to experience this kind of thing.

I’m going to rave about the final attraction, though.  Outbreak–Dread the Undead was well done and lots of fun.  William and I went to this one alone, because Lorelei was scared and John sat it out with her.  The premise was that we were going to be doing some clean up of a government experiment gone wrong.  Supposedly all the zombies were locked up, but something went wrong . . . We went through several rooms, and there was a combination of models and live actors playing zombies.  Per usual, there were jump scares and imitation blood flying.  It was just creepy enough and I would do it again.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to decide which of these attractions you’d like to visit.  If you want to hit them all up next time you visit Pigeon Forge, here’s a coupon for my readers:

My Readers receive $2 OFF ALL ACCESS PASS
Please visit HERE for more information about the attractions.

As for the rest of our visit, we ate dinner at our favorite Asian place in Pigeon Forge before returning to the motel for MORE swimming and a good night’s sleep before heading back home on Sunday.  We have been really enjoying these short weekend jaunts.  I want to take the kids to Chattanooga next and look forward to sharing that trip with you.

HOLLYWOOD WAX MUSEUM REVIEW (SPONSORED)

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