So this week we took our first official family vacation! Yes we have been out of town before, but we usually end up visiting and staying with family. We decided we needed to have fun with just the three of us and now we really want to make it an annual (at least) thing. We went to Pigeon Forge.
We did make one little pit stop to visit my Grandma in the Knoxville TN area. First we went to The Lost Sea in Sweetwater TN.
We had seen signs for this the last visit to Grandma and looked it up on line. It looked interesting and a way for Terry to "cave" without crawling into a hole somewhere. It was a great family activity. This cave is huge and they have handrails and a fairly good walkway throughout. I highly advise wearing sneakers as there is a lot of red clay dust and pebbles and you walk up and down steep grades in the pathway. A stroller is a complete waste of time, so wait till the kids can walk on their own (plus being old enough to appreciate the cave helps). We ended the tour with a ride on the underground lake in a glass bottom boat. The fish were huge!
I can't say enough about our guide Ashley. She was very informative about the cave and answered any off the tour questions we asked. Even though I knew she was using a script, she added her own personality and it never felt like "oh great another bunch of people I have to tell this story to". Not sure I would do this more than once, but it was definitely worth it.
Then we stopped to eat with my Grandma and Aunt at a Dinner Bell restaurant. It was convenient for all of us to get there and after checking it out on line, it looked like it would fit our needs. Grandma likes Cracker Barrel and this was as close as we could get in Sweetwater! It was a small home cooking style buffet and had a little general store in the entry. The food was good and fresh even at 4 in the afternoon, they kept bringing out small new portions while we were there. The waitress we had was really nice and friendly. My son ordered the "adult" size cheeseburger and it was HUGE! This was no frozen patty slapped on a grill, it looked like they had made the patties by hand. I added the dessert bar to his dinner for about $1.50 more. There were quite a few guests in and out during our time there, and every one left satisfied. My Aunt said she would definitely return there with friends and family. We paid the bill and for five people it was around $50.
We then went on to our room in Pigeon Forge. I searched on line for hotels and deals (what with it being a holiday weekend) and picked the Quality Inn and Suites across from the Dixie Stampede. (which we didn't get to go to) I joined the Choice Privileges program and got a better rate, but you do have to prepay and it is a non-refundable/no cancellation/no changes type of deal. The pool was small but obviously recently redone and they provided towels at the pool for the guests. They could use a few more chairs around the pool for us parents to sit and watch the kids swim until they grow gills. The room was clean and we lucked out with a first floor room (my husband uses a cane, but I didn't mention it when I booked the room) and it was NON Smoking. The beds were very comfortable and the linens were very clean with nice fluffy pillows - a must with all the stuff we did to exhaust ourselves! There was a nice size refrigerator and microwave in the room, which we used. My only complaint is that at check in we were told there would be bacon as part of the "free" breakfast, and apparently we were not the only guests told that, but it never showed up! We ate there 2 days and ate our breakfast out 2 days. I would stay there again, but we are looking at the hotel across the road for our next trip..The River Chase. They had an awesome slide for the pool and we loved the rustic look.
Our first day we decided to try MagiQuest
I looked it up on line and it is an interactive game where you play using wands and clues. They have several locations and an on line game too! I have two "boys" who love dragons, video games, etc so this was perfect for us. Your first visit you have to buy a wand and the boys got the upgraded ones and we all added special toppers so the price was a bit more than we originally planned, but you only pay for the wands the first time and the returning cost is much lower.
We got the Ultimate Package that included 90 minutes of play, a Mirror Maze, Blacklight Mini Golf and a Lazer Game. It wasn't cheap with the 2 upgraded wands $3 each and the toppers $12 each (I admit I got one too) but we spent about 4 hours there. We worked as a team to find all the clues and move up to the next level. Dad and I did the Quest, Maze and Golf, but let Justin use our tickets for the Lazer Game. We had so much fun! I also found out that they have a location in the Great Wolf Lodge in Mason OH, about 30 minutes from where we live. Each location has its' own game running and with our wands we can play everywhere for about $10-12. I see a trip to Mason in our future. You can also play on line the first level costs about $10, not sure I'm up for that yet. I'd rather play in real life with my family.
We needed a break after all of that and chose Bennett's BBQ
for obvious reasons...we are the Bennett Family after all and we love BBQ. The food was delicious. We did not use the salad bar, but our portions were more than enough to fill us up. I got a platter with chicken, ribs, and pulled pork and ended up giving half to my husband. They had kid friendly food so Justin got the standard chicken strips, no surprise there. Our waiter was very friendly and we made a big joke out of being Bennetts. We definitely will return.
We drove into Gatlinburg TN it was packed, and while many people love it we were a bit overwhelmed and glad we were out in Pigeon Forge. We do want to do the Ober Gatlinburg on our next visit, the tram ride alone would be awesome. We stopped at this great store and got Terry a cane, I got a beautiful pair of earrings and necklace and we found some straps for our sunglasses for the river trip the next day.
We also somehow ended up at the World's Biggest Knife Store, the things I get talked into! It was another huge store full of everything you wanted and more.
We checked out some junky gift shops and the Three Bears Store. We stopped to check out the gem mining (that Terry really wanted to do) and look at the store. It was huge inside. We wound our way thru the store to the upstairs where they had the Relaxation Station. We got lucky that day and got a bargain..15 minutes for only $5 for either the Aqua Massage and the Massage Chairs. They were great!
This may have been my husbands favorite thing of the day! We had him worn out from all the walking. We also got some ice cream and milk shakes and a few test samples of stuff like apple butter and cheesecake. Yummy.
We were so tired that night I just ran up to the Food City and got us some snacks for the room. They have a customer card (kind of like Kroger) and oddly enough I have one because my daughter lives in Bristol and I shop there when we visit, however I didn't have it on me, but the lady used the card from the customer in front of me. We crashed and burned!
The next day we ate at the Red Rooster for breakfast and did the River Rage Tube Ride. Thank goodness we filled up with protein and carbs! We needed them for the next part of our day. Now they did warn us the river was down, but we went anyway. A trip that should be about 1 1/2 hours took me and my son 4 hours...yup 4. Some of it we spent waiting on my husband to cross the rapids..fall..pick himself up..fall again...walk a few steps...fall again. He finally just walked up to the road and they picked him up. I was pretty determined to finish what I started. Some of the reason for that was to show my son he didn't need to be afraid and he could do it and so could Mom. The last rapid he fell out of his tube, so I stuck him on mine and let him go telling him to ask grownups for help at the bottom. I then slowly crossed on my butt so as not to fall and injure myself more. (I have the bruises to prove it) I could always see him from where I was, and yes, the grownups helped him. I got to the bottom and we switched tubes. By the time I could see the end, I was exhausted! Another nice Dad towed us in most of the way. I could see Terry waiting and was so glad to get out of the water. I saw the Dad again and thanked him profusely! My legs were jelly. I would do this again, just only when the water was higher. The staff was great, even offering my husband some medical attention as his leg was cut and bleeding.
On our way back to the room we passed an awesome woodcarving place
I loved this table! Terry managed to buy a cane that would help in the rest of his trip. They had fireplace mantles furniture and other carvings that were just beautiful. We will visit them again.
Showers were definitely in order! Then we napped and woke up hungry. We made it a mission to eat local so we tried the Boston Shrimp Restaurant the food was pretty good, but the service was iffy. If we go back I would get one of the fried platters. I must mention the salad...it was great! The lettuce was dark green and very fresh. The broccoli with my dinner was a huge portion and very well prepared.
On to Go Carts and Mini Golf on the request of the kid! We rode The Wild Woody, it was so much fun! We had a coupon so it cost $6 for Justin and I to ride and we flew around the track. Next time I may buy more points to ride some of the other carts, unfortunately by then he will be big enough he won't need to ride with Mom.
Across the street was the Lost Treasure Mini Golf. We played the Diamond course and had another great time. Special note - there were lots of benches and places to sit along the way for a tired Dad!
We ended our day with ice cream from the Mad Dog Creamery right next door. I got a scoop of Peach and Blackberry Cobbler (drool).
So the next day we haul our aching carcasses out of bed for breakfast. We had to try FlapJacks. There are more than one in the area and the food was good, coffee was excellent and service great. The place was packed.
We headed to Wonder Works.
A lot of interactive exhibits and we felt a good deal for the price. We avoided the game room and gift shop by using the stroller exit and elevator. Once you buy your ticket it is good all day so you can leave and come back until they close. We probably were there 3+ hours and all the kids had fun!
We also stopped at the Mountain Valley Winery.
They offer tours and tastings all day! We picked up a nice bottle of Mountain Valley Red. Back to the room for a rest, then we went for dinner at Mama's Farmhouse food was served family style with a daily set menu. It was all you can eat and it was good, but I don't need to go there again. It was a little hard for picky kids to have no kid choices at all it was take it or leave it. Lucky for us the biscuits and ham and banana pudding worked for him. We then went back for Gem Mining at the Three Bears Store. It was a deal for $22 (we had a coupon) and we got lots of neat stones out of one bucket.
We headed back to the room to change into bathing suits and swim and also got to see the fireworks display! Where we were sitting they were right overhead, a perfect ending to a great day and vacation.
On our way back home we stopped at the biggest Bass Pro Shop I've every seen! Good thing Terry was tired or we'd have been there for hours!
The things I do for my husband!
We are already talking about our next trip...where to stay and what to do. Definitely Ober Gatlinburg and a helicopter ride. I also didn't get to shop the craft galleries so I will plan that too while the guys do something else. The Old Mill area looks promising and would be close to where we stayed. I can't wait!
I almost forgot...I highly recommend using Banana Boats Sport Performance Clear UltraMist spf 50. It proved to be very water and sweat resistant as stated on the bottle. After 4 hours in the river no sunburns on any of us!