Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 2014 - Gatlinburg, TN

June 22, 2014 - Gatlinburg TN

Day 1-
This summer we decided to go back to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  We had a great time here back when Jacob and Max were the little ones.  This time we flew here because we had some airline vouchers that were going to expire.  There wasn't a really close airport, the choices were Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN.  We chose Asheville, I think they were about the same distance.  It took us about 2 hours to drive to our resort from the airport.

We are staying at Club Chalet.  Which has a number of units in the mountains near the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort.  Our unit is 8b, which is the bottom half of this building.

The unit seems pretty old and is a little musty, but not too bad.  It's a beautiful area, although it's a little tough to get up the steep incline to park our car.
The unit is very old and a lot musty for the record.  If I had not known what we were in for ahead of time, I would have been grossed out.  I had read about it though and seen pictures and it was actually better than I anticipated.  It's kind of like we are roughing it in an old mountain cabin. 
Here are some pictures of the inside:

Queen bed

Full bed

Adequate kitchen and dining area

It's not really big enough for our bunch, but we don't plan on spending a lot of time in the room anyway.

After we arrived and unpacked I dropped off Kyrie and the four oldest kids at one of the pools and Zach and I drove to Wal-Mart to pick up some groceries and a few other things we needed.  That was a mistake.  Wal-Mart is quite far from here, especially with all of the tourist traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  It took us forever and Kyrie and the kids were stranded at the pool since it was too far to walk back to our room.  I think the kids had a good time though.

The nicest thing about this "resort" is the pools.  There are three separate pool areas.  We checked out two of them.  This one is the closest to us and the best for kids.  It was really nice.
The play structure was impressive too and the kids definitely had a good time in the play area and the pool.
We wouldn't even have minded being stranded except that my phone was out of batteries so we didn't know how long we would be there and I always start to worry something bad has happened.

I brought back KFC for dinner, because anything local would have taken a lot longer.  Soon after dinner the kids were really tired from their long day.

By the way, I decided to use a different format this time.  Instead of doing a separate entry for each day, I'm just going to keep adding the days to the bottom of this.  I think it will be a little easier to read that way.  Also, our oldest, Jacob, has decided to write his own blog this time.  His is at

Day 2 -

We slept in this morning and then headed down to Crockett's Breakfast Camp.

We had planned to go to The Apple Barn in Sevierville for breakfast, but since we did sleep in, we were all pretty hungry by the time we got ready and hit the road.  Marc spotted this place quite close to us in Gatlinburg, and it looked cool so we decided to give it a try instead of trekking another 30 minutes to The Apple Barn.

  The food was great, but the portions could have been bigger...
Just kidding, of course.  That is my skillet breakfast plus it came with a pancake, also some of the kids had pancakes and they were seriously an inch thick.

I am glad we stopped here, it was very good!  It's funny though, when we got there the place was practically empty and I thought it was because we were so late (9:30am) that we missed the crowd.  Turns out we were early!  There was a line out the door when we left.

Gatlinburg (in the evening)
So, here's a brief description of the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area for those of you who have never been here.  The main street in Gatlinburg sits in a deep valley between two mountains.  The Smokey Mountain National Park surrounds Gatlinburg.  The main strip in Gatlinburg consists of a couple miles of small shops, restaurants, and attractions.  As you continue west, you get past the mountains and enter Pigeon Forge.  This area is a lot more open and consists of many miles of larger shops, shows, restaurants, hotels, mini-golf, go-carts, and several other attractions.

Many outrageous buildings adorned Pigeon Forge's roadside

After breakfast we took a brief driving tour of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  When the kids weren't bickering with each other, they enjoyed seeing all of the sights and planning stuff they wanted to do.  Then we stopped at the Sugarlands Welcome Center in the National Park to watch a movie about the Smokey Mountains and learn about the national park.  We enjoyed the little museum there that showed some of the plants and animals that inhabit the park.

There is also a nice gift shop that is not priced any higher than any of the area shops.  I bought a beautiful Christmas ornament there to commemorate our trip.

The kids were fascinated by this Turkey's hairy chest

After that we headed back to the room to get a little rest before heading out the Dollywood for the rest of the day.

We arrived at the park just a little before 3pm because they have a special that if you arrive after 3pm then you can go the next day for free.  When we got there it was all sunshine and smiles...

....we had just enough time to grab a few snacks...

...before this happened...

We thought we were in a good location, at a table under a big overhang...

Just before the storm

But, eventually there was so much rain that the ground flooded almost up to my ankles and the blowing rain kept us from staying very dry.  It was still a lot better than being poured on, but it was still pretty wet.  Zach thought it was the coolest thing ever though.


It took about 45 minutes for the storm to pass and then it was all sunshine again until the very end of the day.  We headed over to the newest roller coaster, hoping that the rain had driven a lot of people out of the park.  Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have the same idea.  The roller coaster is called Fire Chaser Express.  I was surprised that Zoe could go on and that she wanted to go on in the first place.  It was a pretty big roller coaster for such a little girl.  I don't think she liked it that much, but she didn't complain either.  

Then we went on the river raft battle ride.  We all got soaked and it really made Zach mad.  

After that we started looking for dinner.  We thought this pie was the biggest food in the park:

The pie cost $130 or about $18 for a slice

But, it turns out that they have a 12 pound pizza also. ($57)  If 2 people can eat one in an hour they get season passes.  Well, we weren't quite up to that challenge so we continued looking.  We ended up at a pizza buffet which wasn't very good.  

After that we headed over to the Country Fair area which had more rides for the smaller kids.  Zoe was happy to get to go on some rides that were her size.

We spent the rest of the evening there and then watched the fireworks as we exited the park.

Day 3

Today, we spent the whole day at Dollywood.

Dollywood has a small park feel, but is quite large.  It reminds me a lot of Silver Dollar City (in Branson, MO) to the point where I wonder if the two parks were created by the same people originally.  The park works with it's natural surroundings and because of that there are quite a few steep hills to walk up.  The abundance of trees hide the rides, so the map is often necessary to figure out where stuff is.  Dolly Parton's presence is evident in much of the park, including a Dolly Parton museum, tour bus, a replica of her childhood home, and of course her music is often playing in the park.

We arrived before the park opened and headed straight to some roller coasters.  Max went on the Fire Chaser Express this time and really liked it.  Zoe skipped it this time.

After that, Kyrie and Jacob went on several of the big coasters while I took the little ones to some of the play areas.  They all loved building with the giant Legos.

Max's Flower Garden (Ever since he was three he's been building flowers out of Lego and Duplo blocks.)

All the kids except Zoe really liked the log flumes.  Zoe thought she was going to fall off during the twists and turns and couldn't wait to get off. 

The path up was so long and steep that I had the kids stop to pose for a picture mainly because I wanted to rest, but also because the park is so beautiful and I'm addicted to taking pictures.

Soon it was time for lunch.  We ate at Aunt Granny's fried chicken buffet.  I thought it was good when we came here 6 years ago, but this time it wasn't so great.  Anyway, then we went on some more rides and the kids posed for some pictures.

Max making a goofy face to make fun of me posing them for pictures

We finally had enough of the rides and saw a couple of shows.  The first was the bird show, which consisted of various birds of prey.


It was a pretty interesting show...until the end...when the animal trainers started singing to the bald eagle.  Seriously...singing!  That was just a little weird. 

I don't know that they were singing TO the eagle, and although it certainly was unexpected, it wasn't really that bad and they did have pretty good voices.

The other show was the Gazillion Bubbles show.  This show was half good and half not so good.  The performer could do some pretty amazing things with bubbles, but the show itself needed some work.  Also, the bright lighting behind the stage made it hard to see the things that were going on with the bubbles from where we were sitting.

I kept thinking about how if this act was on America's Got Talent, it would be buzzed off at various points.  It was kind of off.

We also saw some of the Dolly Parton stuff today.  We saw the replica of her childhood mountain home, which still exists nearby.  We found out that she lived in that tiny house with 10 other brothers and sisters - amazing!  The replica didn't make it clear where all of those kids could have possibly slept.  We also got to see Dolly's old tour bus.  Well, Zach wasn't cooperating at that point, so I took him for a walk and everyone else went in.  Here are some pictures:

They were told that Dolly likes to do all of her own cooking and that the driver and her childhood friend that travels with her do all of the cleaning.  Also, the kitchen has all full sized appliances including a dishwasher.

The tour guide said Dolly is in Europe right now with her new motorhome.  She said she always has it shipped over there to use too.

For dinner, we didn't eat too healthy.  But this honestly was the best tasting food and most successful meal we had at Dollywood.  The fries were from fresh cut potatoes, nobody complained, and we didn't waste much.

We ended the day with some Dippin' Dots.  The kids are wild about these and we finally gave in.

Day 4

We started the day having a late breakfast at the Apple Barn Restaurant.  They had delicious apple fritters, cinnamon muffins, and some kind of special juice Applewood Juleps to start the meal and then a pretty standard breakfast menu after that.  It was good food.  Attached to the restaurant are several shops and a cider bar where you can get apple cider, fritters and fried pies – we should have just gone there!

After breakfast, the kids played at a playground with Kyrie while I took care of a cruise booking, and then we went to the Goats on the Roof store. 

It’s a little souvenir store that has actual goats living on the roof.  Of course you can (and we had to) buy food to feed the goats.  And they have some clever contraptions setup for getting the food to the goats.  We all had fun feeding the goats and looking for souvenirs.

Max pedaling to raise the chow up to the goats
Zoe raising a cup of goat chow up to the roof

We were going to go to the aquarium, but it was already after 3pm and we decided to head for the pool instead.  We spent a little over an hour swimming and then drove back to Pigeon Forge for dinner at The Old Mill restaurant. 

The Old Mill is over 150 years old and has quite a history (including secretly making uniforms for the north during the civil war).  Now it is a restaurant that serves really good southern food.  I had the fried chicken and Kyrie had the BBQ ribs.  

Day 5

This morning I took the kids to the aquarium while Kyrie went to some of the small shops in Gatlinburg.  The aquarium was a lot of fun.  There is a very long walk through tunnel under the shark area and then you get to see it from above as well.  The kids also really liked the penguin area where they could pop up "inside" and play with the penguins through the glass.  

A prehistoric turtle fossil found in South Dakota

The very first complete humpback whale skeleton ever found (from 1800's).

Part of an iguana (These are Jacob's pictures)

Poison Dart Frogs


Moray Eel

I tried to get a picture of Zoe in the crab suit, but she got so mad while she was getting it on, that I couldn't get the picture.

The first of MANY penguin pictures.  This is Derby.  He played with Max for like 10 minutes, following his every move.

I didn't include most of the penguin pictures, since this all look pretty much the same.

Our gang scurrying across the street to the restaurant
The shopping wasn't as fun as it sounds since I had no cash and no one took American Express, the only credit card I had with me.  It was fun to look through the shops though and I noted a few places I wanted to return to with money.

We met up with Kyrie at lunchtime and ate at No Way Jose's.

The food was excellent. 

After lunch Marc and the kids returned to the aquarium for a while.  He gave me $40 cash which I quickly spent at "Beneath the Smoke" a photography gallery.  When they had their fill of the aquarium, they joined me for a little shopping and an afternoon snack.  You can tell it's vacation since ice cream cones served as the snack!
See what happens when the kids pose themselves?
Next, we drove along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  It's a short drive up through the Smoky Mountains mostly along a stream.  It's a very beautiful drive.  We were hoping to see bears, but only saw a few turkeys (which was also cool).  There are a lot of places to get out and walk around and even some walking trails, but we mostly stayed in the car since the babies were sleeping.  It was only a few miles, but took us probably an hour and a half.

Before long it was dinner time.  This time we headed back to the Apple Barn to try dinner there.  They still had apple fritters and I enjoyed my sampler platter of various chicken dishes.  Kyrie didn't like her steak, but decided that she probably should have ordered a more traditional southern entree anyway.

Some other pictures around the area...  We were not brave enough to try moonshine.

Day 6
This morning we had breakfast at the Log Cabin Pancake House.  The food was good, but to me all the breakfast places are starting to taste the same.  I think we’ve been eating too much on this trip! 

After breakfast we took a hike at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to Cataract Falls.  We had a lot of fun on the hike.  The kids just had to walk over the stream using the giant log.  Jacob pretended to lose his balance and then he did for real.  He didn’t get too wet.  The waterfall was nice and the kids liked playing around the rocks and the stream.  When the little ones are older it will be nice to take some of the bigger trails.

After the hike, I dropped off Kyrie and the older kids in downtown Gatlinburg while I took the two Z’s for a drive so that they could take a nap.  Zach fell asleep immediately, but Zoe had to fight with me first, for like 20 minutes, about why I couldn’t turn the Frozen song back on that had just finished playing on the radio.

When the naps were over, I picked up the rest of the family and we headed to Hillbilly Golf.  This is a fun mini-golf course where you ride an incline up the side of a mountain and the play mini-golf as you work your way down.  It was definitely a unique experience, but I think they could have done more to make the holes more fun.  We all had a good time though and the scenery was beautiful while we golfed. 

After the golf we headed back to the Old Mill to look at the pottery store and to eat dinner there again.  

Day 7
We started the day at The Village shopping area where we had a doughnut at the Donut Friar (we really need to get home and eat "healthy" food!), and watched some pottery being made  at Alewine Pottery.  The boys are fascinated by pottery now and want their own pottery wheel.  Then we walked around downtown Gatlinburg for a while.  We went to Ripley's Believe it or Not Odditoreum which is always a good time.  We hadn't been to this one yet, but we've visited the one in Wisconsin Dells and San Antonio.  This one had many of the same exhibits, but was still a lot of fun.  By the way, all of the Ripley's stuff in Gatlinburg (including the aquarium) has a great homeschooling discount, so if you're a homeschooler make sure you research this ahead of time.  (Admission to any Ripley's attraction including the aquarium is $7 per person.  Bring your homeschool student IDs.)

After the Odditoreum, it was time for lunch.  We ate at The Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant.  They have a wide variety of unusual pizzas.  It was very good but very slow.  

On our way back to the car, we ordered a wooden sign for our vacation house and then headed to Pigeon Forge to pickup the engraved rock that Jacob picked out for his souvenir yesterday.  Zach and Zoe fell asleep so I stayed in the car with them while the others did the mirror maze at MagiQuest.  They had a lot of fun doing that.  It's always overpriced, but also a lot of fun.

Finally, to end our trip with a bang, we went to the Hatfield and McCoy's dinner show.  The theater for this show is really cute both inside and out.  The show itself wasn't anything special, but it was pretty good.  Zach really liked the music and the food was good.

Well, tomorrow morning is our flight home, so this is probably it for the blog for this trip.  We had a good time in the Gatlinburg area.  Our hotel could have been a lot better, but it was fun staying up in the mountains.  I wouldn't recommend Club Chalet, which is a shame because the staff was all real nice and the location is excellent.  Unfortunately, the room needed a lot of maintenance now that we have someone staying above us I found out that there is no insulation between the first and second floor.  So we hear every step they take and I'm sure that in the middle of the night they'll be hearing Zach every time he wakes up.  I definitely can recommend Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge though.  There's a ton of fun stuff to do, including quite a few things that we couldn't do because of the babies.  My favorite was just the little hike we went on to the waterfall.  I know the kids loved pretty much everything - except being in the car!  Anyway, I look forward to coming back again someday.


  1. Oh - boy. I just typed a bunch in and it disappeared. :(
    I found this blog via DISboards where I thought to type in Dollywood in the search. I've been there twice before. Once in 2001, with DH and one son; and again in 2009, with DH, four kids, and my mom & aunt. We are contemplating returning in 2015 with our six kids, and my mom and sister. I'm just having a hard time deciding when to go. Did you find the operating hours were long enough in late June? Did you have plenty of days to swim?
    We have great memories of our 2009 trip, but some tripadvisor ratings suggest Dollywood is a shadow of what it used to be. Do you have any comments toward that?
    Thanks so much for this entry.


      that is the end of our TN vacation 2009... other days with Dollywood are before that.