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Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

A little over a year ago, almost all our family (Jake excepted) took a short vacation together.  Going on vacation all in the same car was something we thought we’d sworn off forever, but this was a quickly planned journey.

John’s uncle was sick, and he wasn’t getting better.  John felt strongly that we needed to get up to Baltimore to see him, and soon.  It turns out he was right.

We had a wonderful couple of visits with Uncle Boh.  He’d been in the hospital right before we arrived, and had to go back almost right after we left, but he was home while we were there, and we were able to share meals and conversation.  It was truly a blessing, as he died less than two weeks later.

We couldn’t burden Uncle Boh and Aunt Barbara with our company the entire time we were in town, obviously.  So we took the opportunity to see some sights.

Even when you’ve spent as much time visiting one place (Baltimore) as we have, there’s always something new to explore if you look! We visited Harpers Ferry, West Virginia one day and the Baltimore Museum of Art the other.

John and I had been to Harpers Ferry close to 30 years before, but I had only the vaguest memories of that rainy day visit.  We were blessed with incredible weather this trip, which made for some beautiful pictures that I am excited to share here.  Unfortunately, my waiting so long to memorialize this trip means that this post will be long on pictures and short on explanations.

If you’ve heard of Harpers Ferry at all, it will be in connection with John Brown and his failed attempt here to abolish slavery via armed insurrection.  You’ll learn plenty about those events if you visit.

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That, obviously, is the man himself!  Below you’ll see the building where he and his men holed up.

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Harpers Ferry is full of history with displays in several of the buildings on the main street.

There are also shops and restaurants to explore along the main thoroughfare and side streets.  Harpers Ferry is a stopping point along the Appalachian Trail so there is some serious hiking gear available.

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There’s an historic home to visit and a church (and the remains of a church) to investigate.

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Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, it’s also a place of extraordinary natural beauty.

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Looking back at this visit one year later, I still remember how beautiful everything was and how happy we were.  It was one of those perfect days.

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The next day we stuck closer to home base, and visited the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I can’t think why we’d never been there before.  It’s not because of the kids, because our kids like that kind of thing.

Here’s some of what we saw outside:

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Inside there were several sections to explore.  We saw sculptures and other three-dimensional expressions of art:

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The collection of the kind of paintings most people probably think of when they hear the words “art museum” was indeed impressive:

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But they also have interesting collections of art from Africa and Asia:

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They also had a great modern collection that we had to rush through because we were supposed to be somewhere.

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But that’s okay, because now I have a reason to go back there!

And don’t worry, we didn’t leave Baltimore without taking part in the essential summertime ritual:

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We didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break this year, except to the zoo.  Today’s planned trip to Dollywood was canceled due to illness.  So I got to feeling nostalgic about last year’s Spring Break trip, which I had never gotten around to sharing here.

Because I’ve waited a year to write about this, the details of the trip are less than clear.  So I’m going to dump a LOT of pictures here, with less explanation than usual.  But let me start by saying that if you live in Knoxville, and you’ve never taken a trip to Chattanooga, you are missing out.  If you live farther away, it’s still worth the drive.  We only did about half of what we wanted to do last year–the children’s museum, the nature center, the art museum, and more all await another visit.

So one year ago yesterday we packed up and drove 90 miles to Chattanooga, where our accommodations were cheap and convenient and that’s the best that could be said about them.

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Clearly, Echo was not in favor of our leaving!

Tickets to local attractions are available at reduced prices online, so we were ready to get started as soon as we arrived.  We began at the bottom of Lookout Mountain and rode the Incline Railway to the top.

I’ve ridden this thing before, years and years ago, but the cars were more enclosed than they are now and the . . . STEEPNESS . . . did not register with me.  It registered with poor William, though, and he was not a fan.

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Once at the top, the first thing to do is marvel at the beautiful views, which are not in short supply on Lookout Mountain.

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We also got a look at the machinery that runs the Incline Railway.

Our first stop was Battles for Chattanooga, right down the street.  On our way we enjoyed the beautiful homes and gardens we passed.  We browsed the gift shop which is replete with Civil War memorabilia while we waited for the show to start.

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The show itself is a combination of film and one of those models of all the battlefields that lights up to illustrate the various campaigns.  You may have seen something similar in Gettysburg or Atlanta if you’ve been there.  This was the first time I’d been to this attraction, and it was very instructive and provided context for Point Park, our next stop.

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History, rock formations, and views are plentiful in Point Park, which charges a small entry fee on the honor system.  There’s a little self-guided museum, and miles of walking trails which I am hoping to return to explore one day.  Seriously, it’s so beautiful and you could spend an entire day right here.

We had other places to go, though, so we rode the Incline back down (William had to be very brave!) and drove the car back up so we could SEE ROCK CITY, just like the barns say.

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Rock City is an attraction that is hard to categorize.  The brainchild of Mr. and Mrs. Carter above, what began as an extension of the garden around their home is now a network of trails, massive rock formation, nerve-wracking bridges, breathtaking views, and more.

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Above you see a nice solid rock bridge and a swinging bridge.  Can you guess which one I walked across?

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I bet you guessed right! 🙂

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Directly above you’ll see a shot of Lovers’ Leap (with the waterfall turned green in honor of Saint Patrick!) and then what Rock City is probably most famous for: the view of seven states which strikes me as totally possible on a clear day.

There are some rare white fallow deer housed at Rock City.  I didn’t get a picture but you can see Lorelei and William looking at them below!

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The white deer are part of the fairy tale motif for which Rock City is known.  Gnomes are plentiful, and there’s a whole gallery of nursery rhyme scenes.

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At the conclusion of our Rock City adventure, we found a family-friendly Asian restaurant nearby before retreating to our lodgings to rest up for the next day’s activities.

We started the second day of our trip with another iconic Chattanooga attraction:  Ruby Falls.

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All I can say is that it’s a good thing God chose Leo Lambert and not me to discover His handiwork and reveal it to the masses.  The story of his harrowing crawl through the pitch-dark and tiny passageways is terrifying. Luckily we can experience the beauty of the caverns without doing that.  I’m just sharing a few pictures because even with an iPhone (WAY better than the Kodak with flip-flash I had the first time I visited almost 40 years ago!) it’s just hard to capture good images in the low light.

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With Ruby Falls behind us, we headed down Lookout Mountain and into downtown Chattanooga with the Tennessee Aquarium next on our agenda.  They’d added a whole new building since our last visit.  One building showcases freshwater and the other seawater creatures.

I’d give more info on these creatures if I could, but it’s been a year and my memory of what things are is hazy.  William would be able to tell me if I asked him–it’s fun to hear him announce the names of obscure animals without reading the informational placards.

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These guys I recognize and you will too.  There are many of them in the bayou area and it was fun to watch them.

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I love all the beautiful colors and patterns–living art.

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Water creatures share the Aquarium with some other wild things.  This was taken in the butterfly room, where if you are lucky you may find yourself a perch for several butterflies!

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And while penguins seem a bit out of place to me I’m not going to complain because look how cute they are.  We had a hard time dragging the kids away.

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These guys though–they are creepy.

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The other-worldly, ethereal beauty of jellyfish is always fascinating to me.

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And there were more to come, as the Aquarium is currently hosting an art exhibit with jellyfish and art inspired by them.

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I’m pretty sure my kids would name the Aquarium if you asked them which part of our visit to Chattanooga they enjoyed most.

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We were there until closing time and then we hit downtown to search for a William-approved restaurant (Genghis Grill) before heading back to the motel.  We squeezed a lot of fun into two days and I was just talking to John today about how much more there is to see and do in Chattanooga.  We will be back!

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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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I told y’all we’ve been traveling a lot lately–one trip each month since May–and last weekend was our October trip.  Thanks to the generosity of one of my oldest and dearest friends, we had tickets to the Notre Dame vs. USC game, so we headed up for some football and a visit with Teddy, who is a Junior now.

This was my third visit to Notre Dame–John and I brought Teddy up to begin his college career, and then I returned that Spring for Moms’ Weekend.  John was the one who drove him up to see the campus when he was in high school, and he’s been up briefly to pick him up a few times, but since Teddy has a car now we hadn’t had any reason to visit since his first year.

We left on Friday with the idea of arriving early.  Can I laugh at our hopeful plans?  First we couldn’t even make it out of Knoxville for one reason or another until almost two hours after we left our house.  Then en route we had to sit unmoving for 1.5 hours because of a wreck that shut down the bridge over the Ohio River.  So it was after 9 p.m. when we finally arrived.  We blundered about a bit because I was driving and I can’t see so well in the dark until we were able to find the parking lot where Teddy wanted to meet us so we could have a late dinner together.

I got my hugs, which is my favorite part, and we had a good time talking over supper.  Teddy probably would have been good to hang out some more but we are old and tired and still had to get to our hotel (12 miles away because football).

The football game was a night game, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m., so I asked Teddy what time we would need to arrive at the game.  He said tailgating started by noon (actually, it starts even earlier!).  I asked who was having a tailgate? “Everyone,” he answered.  I asked which ones we were going to, and he replied, “All of them.”

Well, that turned out to be an exaggeration, but it was still pretty amazing.  We made a trip to the bookstore first–which was predictably a zoo, but I needed a sweatshirt–and then spent about five hours taking in the spectacle that is Notre Dame tailgating.

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The pictures really don’t give a sense of the full scope of the thing, with an enormous parking lot pretty much completely given over to revelry.  Tents, televisions, generators, tiki bars, rows and rows of porta-potties, food of all kinds (we sampled brats, burgers, and burritos, to name just a few), and naturally freely-flowing alcohol (insert Irish stereotype here).

I’m not a seasoned tailgater, so perhaps the above isn’t so unusual, but there were definitely some uniquely Notre Dame touches:

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The tents we visited were hosted by parents of Teddy’s friends, many of whom attend all the home games.  It was good to meet them, and also to talk to Teddy’s friends and hear them say nice things about him.  And to see him get irritated when they heard us calling him Teddy instead of Theo (his preference) and tried to follow suit.

We were ready to head to the stadium before Teddy was, him having no interest in the pre-game activities.  So around 6:30 we left the party and headed over.  To me it was a thrill just to enter the stadium.  Not that anything can top Neyland Stadium here in Knoxville, but there’s just something about Notre Dame football.

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It was sunset when we arrived, and not too cold yet, but that was soon to change.

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We were pleased with our seats–we had a good view of the field and of the famous Touchdown Jesus.

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All colleges have special traditions and ways of doing things.  Notre Dame may have more than most.  Of course I appreciated that when the players run out onto the field they all fall to their knees at the end of the field and pray before the game begins.  Yet there was no invocation before the game–perhaps that’s a Southern thing?  Every time they announced their fight song they let us know that it’s the best one ever (I forget the exact words they use but the phrase is always the same).  In general, Notre Dame fans and for that matter their alumni seem more insanely devoted than people from other schools.

Anyway, we enjoyed the new experience–and the win–but not the rapidly falling temperature; it was 37 degrees by the time the game was over and we went to find Teddy.  There was still some tailgating going on–one of our hosts sang an Irish tune for us before we headed back to our car.  Thankfully, Teddy lives off campus just a short walk away, and was able to get us free parking there; non-residents normally pay $35 on game days.

The next morning we drove back to campus to hang out with Teddy for a little while, which gave me an opportunity to take some Fall pictures:

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We ended up at the Grotto to say a prayer before heading back to Knoxville.

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There were no blocked bridges on the way home, thankfully.

We will visit Notre Dame again for Junior Parents’ Weekend in February, after which you will likely be seeing some pictures of a snow-covered campus!

Fall, Family, and Football

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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 it 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.

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PF 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 featured in some of their most 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 the 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 bad.  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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Happily, none of the attractions I wrote about below were damaged by the recent wildfires. Please make plans to visit soon to support the business owners and the local economy.  I know I will never take it all for granted again.

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It’s been a couple of months since I let you know that I would be visiting all of the Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg and reviewing them here.  That’s because there are EIGHT separate attractions, and we needed to pick a time that we could visit them all.  Originally we had intended to go up for the day (Gatlinburg is less than an hour away from us) but we ended up planning a weekend trip–just me, John, and the “little” kids (not really so little, but that’s what we call them here!).

We left Knoxville on Thursday evening and couldn’t even make it all the way to Gatlinburg without stopping to eat.  We picked Joe’s Crab Shack.

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We made it to the hotel with barely enough time to enjoy the pool for half an hour, but since the pool is the main point of staying at the Glenstone Lodge (a family favorite from when the big kids were small, but where the little ones had never been) we stayed until they turned off the lights!

gburg 59The next morning we got up early and headed to the Pancake Pantry, a Gatlinburg tradition.  Once we were fortified, we headed out for our Ripley’s adventure.

We started with the Aquarium, because that’s where we had to pick up our tickets. (I received free tickets for my family in exchange for my honest review of the attractions.)  Okay, you ask yourself, why is there an aquarium in Gatlinburg? There’s no ocean there.  Is this an aquarium highlighting things like salamanders and crawdads?

But that’s one of the things that’s really neat about Ripley’s–they always find a way to link their attractions to the locale, and I will be showing you several examples of that in this review.  Here’s how they frame Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies:

gburg 3I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty clever.

I have a lot of pictures to share with you.  The Aquarium is a good-sized attraction and took us a couple of hours to go through.

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gburg 4Every exhibit is accompanied by an informative sign like the one above.  What was fun for me was having William announce what the creature was before reading the sign, and being right about 99% of the time.

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gburg 7Y’all, I could not stop taking pictures of the jellyfish.  I think they are magical.

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gburg 15It’s probably a good thing that Lorelei kept stealing my phone to make You Tube videos.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

In addition to all the interesting species, we also got to take a peek into the way the Aquarium operates:

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There are also interactive opportunities.  Below you will see Lorelei petting a horseshoe crab and William getting his dead skin eaten by some kind of fish (NOT piranhas, although they had those too!).

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gburg 27These things are scarier than piranhas to me though:

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Apparently they actually EAT spider crabs in Japan.  I know it would amount to a lot of meat, but those things seriously give me nightmares.

The Aquarium is very kid-friendly, with play activities, interactive opportunities like I’ve already shown you, and entertainment (like these mermaids):

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gburg 22At 14, William was not as interested in the kids’ activities, but he was fascinated by this prehistoric specimen, which he of course already knew EVERYTHING about:

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But the highlight of the Aquarium for all of us, and I think for pretty much anyone who visits, is Shark Lagoon.

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In addition to looking down on the sharks from above, visitors have the opportunity to get closer thank they ever thought possible by going THROUGH the lagoon in a transparent tube, being moved along via conveyor belt.

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If it’s not obvious, we loved the Aquarium.  It’s expensive, but it’s worth it, and I recommend it to anyone who is visiting Gatlinburg.

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Now, that would have been enough fun for anyone, but remember we were still getting started at that point with seven attractions left to visit!  We made it out through the gift shop relatively unscathed and then started heading to our next destination, which we picked because according to the map we’d been given, it was the next one we would come to as we walked along the main road.  That was the Mirror Maze, which was pretty much exactly like the one in Baltimore, which I already told you about here.

Our next stop was the Guinness Book of World Records Museum, a place that has been in Gatlinburg for as long as I remember, and which I’m assuming Ripley’s acquired at some point as its most likely competitor!

Here again a lot of effort was expended to showcase records that would be of particular interest to local folks:

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gburg 33Aside from the local exhibits, I was most impressed with the Space area, which included a neat video about the moon landings.

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The exhibit below reminded me of my grandmother and the many, many afghans she made for us:

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There were some fun interactive displays also, like these:

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And of course we all loved this:

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This is just a small sampling of what was available, much of which will be familiar to regular readers of the Guinness Book of World Records–tallest man, fattest man. et cetera.  I think we spent about an hour there.

Our last stop of the day was the Ripley’s Odditiorium.  I remember this when it was called the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.  Or I should say that’s what its predecessor–a much less impressive affair–was called, before it burned in a fire some years ago.  It’s a Gatlinburg attraction I remember from my childhood, although we never went there.

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I’m going to get my complaints out of the way at the beginning: it was crowded and hot, especially the first part, which is a balcony over an area that is open to the street and hence is not climate-controlled.  I much preferred the set up of the Baltimore Odditorium, but there were plenty of new curiosities to see here.

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gburg 48We were welcomed by a holographic version of Mr. Ripley himself, inviting us to come along with him on his adventures.  I thought that was pretty cool!

I learned in my last Odditorium experience that I could expect to see authentic artifacts and I was not disappointed.  This actual piece of the Berlin Wall was a thrill:

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There was a dark and creepy area that showcased instruments of torture and other creepy things:

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gburg 55There was a very interesting prison display, that managed to insert some local color:

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We met an old friend from our last Odditorium visit:

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And here are just a few more interesting sites.  I wish I had more pictures, but I had to fight with Lorelei for the camera all day, as she is an avid filmmaker and needed footage, 😉 and by this time my battery was running low as well!

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The above portrait of Eminem is made of M & M’s, by the way!

Luckily at this point we were right by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  We’ve tried most restaurants in Gatlinburg at this point, and frankly most of them aren’t very good now that all the ones I remember from 20 years ago have closed up shop.  But we hadn’t been to Bubba Gump, and we did enjoy it.  After that, exhausted by our long day and the searing heat, we trudged back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the pool and the air conditioning.

Day Two of our Gatlinburg-Ripley’s adventure began with a buffet breakfast at the hotel and one last quick swim before checking out.  We drove down to the main road and found a centrally-located garage and then made our way to our first destination:  Ripley’s Haunted Adventure.

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See that guy in the bottom picture? He leans out of there and heckles passersby! I had never been there–frankly, I’m not big on seeking out scares because life is frightening enough already–but I was a little bit excited about this.

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See Lorelei’s sweet little smile? It was about to get wiped right off her face.

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After we passed by that lovely sight, we headed for this cage-like elevator that you have to board to get up to the top of the attraction.  Along the walls we read the set up for the whole thing which I won’t explain except to say that it was another way of anchoring the attraction to the area.

We were in the elevator with two middle-school aged boys.  When we debarked, our guide gave us such a speech about how scary this was going to be and the need to decide RIGHT NOW if it was going to be too scary that the boys left!  He then told us to grab hold of the shirt of the person in front of us and no matter what happened not to let go and not to run.

You may notice the absence of pictures in this part of my story.  That’s because it was too dark to take pictures, nor did I have a free hand.  The first couple of rooms we were in were very well done.  This isn’t like a warehouse with people jumping out and screaming at you (not that there weren’t people jumping out and screaming too of course!).  It’s well-decorated, well-done, with a theme running through it.  But it wasn’t long at all until Lorelei was sobbing, and then we made a wrong turn and were in a completely pitch-black area, and when our guide asked us if we wanted to leave we were all thrilled to say YES!

Well, John wasn’t thrilled.  And although William was walking through with his eyes closed, he was hoping we would finish and that someone else would tell him what happened!  But Lorelei and I were VERY glad to be out of there.  I guess if a scary house scares you that much, it’s a good one, right?

Happily, this was right next door:

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They were showing the same two movies that we had already seen in Baltimore, and the motion makes both William and me sick, but it was just what was needed to calm Lorelei’s nerves.  So William and I sat on a bench outside and waited while John and Lorelei watched the movies.

The last two attractions were outdoors, and the weather was looking a bit foreboding:

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Still, we didn’t have anything else to do, and I wanted to be able to finish my review, so we retrieved our car and drove toward Pigeon Forge, stopping here:

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This is another place I’d never been.  For years there was another golf place here, Jolly Golf, with a dinosaur theme, and before that there was Mystery Hill, which is somewhere I did visit as a small child and have never forgotten.

Did you know that mini-golf was invented in the Southeast?  So that makes this the most appropriate attraction of our weekend, even though the connection between Davy Crockett and the decor of the course (at least the course we chose–there were two) escapes me!

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It certainly gave off plenty of that hillbilly vibe that visitors to East Tennessee seem to crave.

Anyway, we had fun.  Lorelei was the first to get a hole in one!

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William was a bit sulky at first, but as he proved surprisingly good he began to perk up a little bit.

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Toward the end of our game it–you guessed it!–began to pour down rain!  We intrepid golfers did not let that stop us from finishing, however!

We had one more attraction left to see at this point:  Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf.  But y’all, we were golfed-out, and hungry, and ready to stop having fun, honestly.  We went to a favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge (Fusion Cafe), and then went home to collapse.

But the awesome thing is that our tickets are good for one year from the date of issue.  And our final destination is in Sevierville, not Gatlinburg–right next to Joe’s Crab Shack. 🙂  And also by the Tanger Outlets, if that’s your idea of fun (it isn’t mine).  Anyway, we will head back out there in a few weeks and I will update you then.

So what are you waiting for?  You can go right here to read more about all the attractions.   My readers will save $3 off Adult and $2 off Child Admission to all of Ripley’s Attractions in Tennessee.  You’ll need to make your purchase online and enter the following promo code when you check out: USFAMILYGUIDE  Click here for more information about this offer and about U.S. Family Guide.

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Please consider a donation to the fund Dolly Parton has set up to support families who lost their homes.  Over 700 structures have been reported destroyed so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We had a big morning planned (two lectures and a tour) but we kind of forgot about it and slept in instead.  We had to take a cab to make it to Georgetown in time for the Family Picnic (which we would totally have bagged too except we had already paid for it).  The food was good, though.  We chilled (Or tried to chill.  It’s in the freaking 90s here and the humidity is around 85%.  I mean it is brutal.)  for awhile until time for this afternoon’s panel discussion: Cementing a Legacy:  Analyzing a Second Term President (do we Georgetown grads know how to party of what?).

This thing was held in the brand-new business school building which is all stone and old-fashioned looking on the outside and all glassy and modern inside, and the reason they were holding the discussion in the fancy building was because C-Span was filming it!  And you know, it was really an interesting panel but I woke up with a headache and the medicine I take for that knocks me out completely.  It just does.  So if you watch C-Span don’t think that sleepy woman in the audience isn’t FULLY CAPABLE of following the nuances of the conversation.  She’s just on drugs, okay?

One of the graduates in the audience asking a question was just completely obnoxious.  He made me remember that I went to school with a fair amount of obnoxious people back in the day.  How shall I put this delicately?  Let’s just say, there are not many folks of the Southern persuasion here.  And I am back to being used to my polite and friendly fellow Southerners, after twenty-five years away from this place.

And have I mentioned the heat?  Yes, it does get hot at home.  But it cools off at night.  And there’s less asphalt and concrete.  Or something.  We are walking along like we are REALLY old, just not kind of old.  I’m telling you, it is sapping all of our energy.  We’re longing for our hotel room at about eight, and when we were here in school we didn’t even START partying until after that.  Things are later here.  That’s something I forgot.  You can walk into a restaurant at seven and get a seat, no problem.  It’s at eight that things are busy.  That’s backward from Knoxville.

But different is good, right?  So after the panel we went for another walk, this time down Wisconsin Avenue.  Most things we remember are gone, but my favorite ice cream place–Thomas Sweets–is still there!  Then we retrieved our car from the parking garage where we left it over night at less than half the price our hotel wants–take THAT, Melrose Hotel! and went driving into Virginia to visit some of our old haunts there, including a favorite restaurant from the year we lived here after we were married.  Then we took the car back to Georgetown and took another little walk around campus–short walks are much more manageable in the heat.

We ended up in the library.  This is a place where I spent a LOT of time, folks.  Not because I was studying.  I never once went there to study.  I worked there, though, at the circulation desk, for 12-15 hours every week for four years.  It’s so fancy-schmancy that I don’t even recognize it now, but the reading room next door is EXACTLY the same.  I think even the furniture is the same–it sure looks like it.  And the books that line the walls–books I’m pretty sure no one even opens any more–are encyclopedias.  Encyclopedias about everything–art, music, history.  Also the Oxford English Dictionary.  And all kinds of guides to periodical literature.  The kids probably sit there and laugh while they look all that up on their iPhones.  But I’m glad they haven’t thrown away the books yet.

We took a cab back to the hotel and now we are trying to work up the energy to go back downstairs and take a hike to the White House–seven whole blocks away.  Will we make it?  Find out tomorrow . . .

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

EDIT: Tomorrow never came apparently, because for some reason I never wrote THE REST OF THE STORY.  We did, however, go out that evening for a little walk and stared at the White House, and got ourselves a snack at Old Ebbitt Grill, which is one of those old places where the movers and shakers eat.

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