The Smoky Mountains are Calling…..
Continuing my quest for great weekend "get-a-ways" just a stones throw from Lexington found the High family racing southbound on I-75 following the conclusion of ABC 36 News at Noon on a fabulous Fall Friday… A few hours drive from the Horse Capital of the World puts you smack on another national treasure…The Great Smoky Mountains! Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are at its base, literally brimming over with family fun. The options are just overwhelming for a mere 2 night stay so we had to pick our battles. But we love the fact that we can easily return here time and time again and there is always something new to see and do. It is so accessible from Lexington.
When they first come into view, the majesty and raw power of the Smokies stir deep feelings. It is in my DNA, apparently, as my parents brought me here numerous times as an infant and toddler, when our young family was getting started in the early 1970’s. Treasured old family films show my youthful parents walking trails, fording streams and riding the skylift for breathtaking views of this paradise…with me in tow via stroller or baby backpack. So it seemed very right to invite my folks along on this trip and watch them enjoy their Grandsons.
Our home away from home was the Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort in Sevierville. With our boys livin large at 8 and 3….we simply can’t just stay at a hotel….noooo…it has to be a water park extravaganza, and I’m happy to report that Wilderness Resort delivered big time and is second to none in this arena. The rooms are beautifully appointed… Our room was connected to my parent’s room by a large central family room with stone fireplace and kitchen that made us feel like we had our own cabin. Bunk beds for the kids on my parent’s side and some privacy for Mom and Dad made everybody happy!
The indoor and outdoor waterpark was outrageously fun….an engineering marvel. Waterpark passes were included with the room for your whole gang so your entertainment dollar value is off the chart. This is a place that my kids will get more and more out of the older they get…..a massive game room, rock wall, Adventure Forest….perfect for their tween era just a few years ahead of us. The indoor waterpark boasts over 60,000 square feet of slides, wave pools, hot tubs, kids play areas, Surf Rider and more. We were blessed with sunny fall weather so we did the indoor waterpark at night and by day took full advantage of the outdoor waterpark, featuring one of the best Lazy Rivers I’ve ever drifted down.
We were so spoiled at Wilderness….It was hard to pry us out of the resort, and with great restaurants on top of everything else…your instinct is to settle in forever. But Gatlinburg has way too much to offer to stay in one place too long so we hit the road and were overwhelmed by the sights and attractions on the way up the mountain…….. What a shock to see the RMS Titanic sitting proudly at the base of the Smokies! It is a must do museum event that any student of history young or old needs to experience. Wonderworks, Hollywood Wax Museum, Magic Quest…..so many attractions, you need a full two weeks to hit them all.
After riding the straight shot of a beautiful stretch of road canopied by forest….you emerge at the foot of Gatlinburg. Here is the town I remember…..small, unique shops, fudge stands, arcade games, Ripleys Believe it or Not, dozen after dozen of fantastic food choices…the list goes on. Here are the chair lifts, observation towers and sky lifts that afford you the real star of this region. Views and vistas in the Smokies are not to be rivaled….. Per usual, there is never enough time and we leave so much undone with a promise to return.
But we still had a Sunday afternoon to spend before the 2.5 hour ride back to Lexington. The pressure was on to make a great choice.…… We settled on Dollywood….and approached it with some apprehension, because we had no idea exactly what was inside. Sure, we enjoy Country Music, but we didn’t want to be smothered in it. Sure, Dolly Parton was cute as a button in “9 to 5” and has the voice of an Angel, but we didn’t want to spend an afternoon being lectured on the fine points of her childhood and career. We just didn’t know what to expect….
All of our misconceptions were shattered and our spirits rose just minutes after walking through the gate. Quite simply, Dollywood was the nicest theme park we have ever been to. Pleasant, nostalgic, comfortable…..totally geared to the family and to guarantee you a great visit. A class act, all the way. There is an 1880’s village so realistic that it literally transports you back in time…a bakery producing wonderful product from their own gristmill….a steam locomotive that thrilled our kids to no end, and fun rides, shows, attractions and shopping to keep you busy for days, let alone one afternoon. Again, we left vowing to return with more time to invest on the next visit.
Variety seems to be the bedrock of the Smokies region. You can camp it, rough it and plunge yourself into pure nature and natural wonder…..you can do the family resort / hotel with every comfort and indulgence with volumes of attractions and entertainment on tap. Or, split the difference and rent a cabin to live the best of both worlds. No matter what you choose, the Smoky Mountains will deliver memories for a lifetime for you and yours and carve out a place in your hearts and history that you will re-visit time and again.
For more information on the Wilderness at the Smokies Water Park Resort:
Make the time, my friends!