My Family’s 5 Favorite Places to Eat in the Smokies

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I am a member of SEVERAL Facebook groups about the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. They are a great resource for things like current traffic and weather reports, things that are open or closed due to the season, new things to do since my last visit, etc. But what drives me crazy is that very quickly, they become an endless circle of the same. exact. questions. Albeit, sometimes, the questions make ZERO sense….for example: We arrive next summer, we will have an infant, myself and my husband, my angst filled teen, and my 98 year old great grandmother who is in a wheelchair. What is there to do that we will all enjoy?

Now, while that might be be ever so slightly exaggerated, it is 100% honestly the ridiculous types of questions that begin to flood those pages. I want to answer in all caps, NOTHING! NOTHING AT ALL! But, I don’t. I scroll on by…something that took me a long time to master. But, I digress….

So, I have already posted my 10 favorite FREE things to do (things that the infant, the angst filled teen, and granny will all love, by the way ;) ), but I also wanted to share our favorite restaurants. Because, just as that is another super frequently asked question, the answers are equally repetitive and chain-filled. So, here are a few places you may not have visited that we have discovered and LOVE!

Johnny Rockets – Yes, this is a chain….but it is not a chain that we have here in South Louisiana. It has become our tradition to hike several miles, knowing that burgers and unlimited (yes!) fries await us at Johnny Rockets.

Johnny Rockets of Gatlinburg is located right on the main strip. There is a big parking lot in the back (paid parking), but if you are lucky, you can park on the street itself for free.

Things I love about Johnny Rockets:

  1. Unlimited fries – they are included with the burgers, which run about $10-12 each depending on your choice. We have been to other Johnny Rockets and while the burgers were a few dollars cheaper, fries were not included. UNLIMITED HOT FRIES, y’all!
  2. COUPONS! I get coupons for 20% off from time to time. Plus, since we are usually there for Mardi Gras, and my hubby’s birthday is in February, we often get a BOGO coupon as well. So, whether it is a free burger or 20% off, every little bit helps and the burgers are awesome! Did I mention unlimited fries?? Join their E-Club HERE, but don’t do it until right before you go! You might get an email with a free burger when you sign up!
  3. CASH BACK! They are on the DOSH app! This is the latest app that I have tried for cash back and I am BLOWN AWAY at how fast it works. We have used it 3 times now and at restaurants, the rebate credited before I signed the merchant copy of the receipt! So, you get free fries, use a coupon, then when the waitress swipes your Dosh-connected card, you get 7% back IN LIKE A NANO-SECOND!

4. Smiley face ketchup! It’s just cute!

My 8 year old, Noah, chose Johnny Rockets to be added to the list. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you can get alllll the fries you want!” (Told ya!)

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The Local Goat – Located in Pigeon Forge, this is our absolute MUST DO for dinner, or lunch, I am not picky! We discovered Local Goat 3 trips ago when it was suggested to me by a member of my timeshare FB group. Man, was she right!

Things I love about LOCAL GOAT:

1. The Local Goat uses locally sourced, fresh ingredients to make all their menu items fresh from scratch. We have not had a single bite of anything there that wasn’t great!

2. Kids Meals are just $5 and are just as good as the adult menu. (See below photo) Top is a kids’ burger and lower is chicken tenders. Nice portions for $5!

3. Menu items are just different, not your standard food. They do, of course, have classic favorites like onion rings and spinach dip….but then, there are things like deep fried deviled eggs…..

4. So far, we have never had to wait for a table…now, we travel mostly during Mardi Gras when it is off season there. We have passed by at dinner time on a weekend night and the parking lot is PACKED. But, so far, we have always been seated immediately.

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Pottery House Cafe – located in Pigeon Forge, across the street from The Old Mill

Photo Credit: Andy Lake

After the November 2016 fires, we made our regular visit for Mardi Gras 2017. The wounds were still fresh, so we took a King Cake to the Fire Department that happens to be located less than a mile from our resort. We spent well over an hour with them while they told us stories from those terrifying days, explained how they operate in such crazy terrain with huge trucks, and how the water supply flows from other towns. When we were leaving, one of them asked if we had been to the Pottery House Cafe. He said that is was where the locals go and when he is in trouble with his wife, he takes her there to get out of the doghouse.

So, we headed over that night. Pottery House Cafe is owned by the same people as The Old Mill, but it is far less known and therefore less crowded. I won’t say it is NOT crowded, it’s just less, but so totally worth the wait. This is my husband’s addition to this list. He said, “I love the Goat, too, but I think I have to rank Pottery House just a bit higher.”

Photo Credit: Tammy Vance

Things I love about Pottery House Cafe:

1. There is a firepit and rocking chairs outside. So, if you can grab a rocker, you can wait for your food in a lovely, relaxing atmosphere, and keep warm if it is cold out.

Photo Credit: Tammy Vance

2. There are several shops nearby to browse while you wait for your table. There is a store where the Pottery is made. You can buy pieces or sets, and sometimes watch them making it. This is the same pottery you will eat your Cafe menu items from when your text tells you your table is ready.

There is a candy store, a food store that sells soup and dip mixes, flavored oils and coffees and so much more! It’s a cooking mama’s dream! There are also candle stores and oddity stores within a block and we got our text to go to our table while back there. So, there is plenty to do to burn that wait time. (Which is usually 30-45, but always less than quoted. (Photo Credit: Tammy Vance)

3. The FOOD! Everything we have had was excellent from baked potato soup, to the warm bread they serve upon seating. But, the holy grail for my family has been the ribeye sandwich. I ordered this on my first visit and expected strips of steak. But, when the sandwich arrived, it was a whole ribeye on a hoagie roll, y’all! You know that piece of ribeye, that little strip that runs around the edge that is always so tender? Yeah, that little strip was hanging out of my hoagie, so I pulled a piece off and tasted it..half expecting a tough dry steak. It was quite possibly one of the best steaks I have ever eaten and it was on a roll with sauteed onions and cheese. Now, for some odd reason, our food never makes it to camera here. So, I borrowed this photo of the steak sandwich from Andy Lake, who is also a member of my vacation club and admin of the corresponding Facebook group. His sandwich appears to be dressed a little differently than mine, but you can see the quality of the steak part!

4. The atmosphere! I love the rustic, homey feel to the dining rooms. There is a huge fireplace in one room that is so awesome on a cold February night while you eat warm bread and yummy soup (or a steak sandwich).

Also, while I have yet to partake of this, they have a beautiful outdoor courtyard patio area. But, because we are usually there in February, it is closed due to cold. But, my next trip is planned for Spring and we will be utilizing the patio for a little al-fresco dining!

Photo Credit: Tammy Vance

5. The quote on the menu…..it just sums it all up…

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APPLE VALLEY CAFE located in Townsend. This was my almost 12 year old, Evan’s choice. He said “I liked eating at the Apple Valley Cafe because the fries were fresh and hot, and the burgers, too! They have a toppings bar that you can select your own dressing for your sandwich and not worry that there will be too much or something you don’t like. After you are done, you can next door to the General Store and sample some fudge or buy candy?”

What I loved about Apple Valley:

  1. The Country Store next door! Purchase jellies, jams, salsa, butters, soup mixes and so much more! I always buy Pumpkin Butter here and use it to make Pumpkin Cheesecake in the fall.
  2. There is a big front porch with rocking chairs to relax for a bit!

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Mel’s Diner – located one block off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge on Wears Valley Road.

We have been going to Mel’s Diner for YEARS! It’s another funky 50’s diner with vinyl booth seats and classic music playing on the jukebox.

What we love about Mel’s:

1.See photo! They have awesome nostalgic food and desserts. Shakes, malts, sundaes and floats!

2.The food is great, the prices are not bad AND,

3. You can print a coupon HERE!

What are some of your favorite restaurants that we may not know about?

******Read about 10 FREE Things to Do in the Smokies HERE!*****

10 FREE things to do in the Smoky Mountains

This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links.

To be known for being such a tightwad and never paying full price, we sure do travel a lot! There are several reasons for that.

One – We bought a small package of time share points as a spontaneous, knee jerk reaction. While I don’t suggest doing that, if you REALLY want to, send me a message and I will tell you more about it. I am not going to recommend doing that because it wasn’t the best financial decision, but it is done and now we have learned how to make the best of it. It has made us travel with our kids more, we have given our parents trips and spent Thanksgiving week with my parents and brother. No regrets…AND, it’s almost paid off, so even better.

Two – I have learned how to get around having ridiculously expensive trips. I have blogged many of these tips over the past 7 years and will continue to do so.

Three – We have learned to love the great outdoors as much as we love any mouse or theme park. The difference is that the great outdoors don’t cost a thing!

I have been to the Smoky Mountains 6 times over the past couple of years using my time share points, so I don’t have to pay for a hotel. We cook in the room a good bit, so that helps. We also take full advantage of the things to do there that cost nothing. We have a fabulous time and hate to leave each trip. So, here are some things that I want to share with you to help do the same. (All photos below are mine, taken within the last 3 years)

FREE THINGS TO DO IN THE SMOKIES

1. Cades Cove

Cades Cove is an 11 mile, one way loop, that winds through a valley encircled by the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a fabulous place to see beautiful scenery, wildlife, history and just be at peace. There is no cell signal in there, so you only need your phone to take pictures.

There are hiking trails within the Cove, old homesteads that you can walk through as well as old cemeteries and fabulous spots for picnics. We have seen coyote, deer, turkey and the holy grail is to see bears! We haven’t been lucky enough to see them lately, but we are always watching for black spots as we drive through.

       

Cades Cove is about 24 miles out of Gatlinburg, but the winding road between mountains and streams makes the drive over an hour long. It’s a beautiful drive, but don’t think you will be there in 30 minutes. The Cove is open year round from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. PLEASE NOTE – Cades Cove Loop Road is closed on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, from May through September, until 10 a.m. for those who want to walk or bicycle the loop.

 

2. Roaring Fork Motor Trail 

I call Roaring Fork “Cades Cove’s Little Cousin”. It’s another one-way driving loop. But it is IN Gatlinburg, is much shorter and is in the mountains rather than a valley. For this reason, it is often closed during winter months due to the higher elevations having icy roads and conditions.

Roaring Fork has several scenic outlooks where you can pull over and just take in the view. The last time we did see a bear, it was on Roaring Fork. We have also had deer walk right in front of us and often see large flocks of turkeys.

Note the old cabin in the upper left corner. Yet another historic homestead that you can explore. *Please don’t write your name on the walls in a Sharpie (sigh)*

There are cabins and homesteads and lots of trailheads along the motor trail, which means that there are hiking trails. But even if you don’t hike a trail, park the car, get out and walk around. We found a GORGEOUS little place that was less than a 3 minute walk from a parking lot. Even though I now know that it isn’t terribly unique, it was the first thing we found out exploring and we go back to “Mama’s favorite spot”, as my boys call it, every trip.

We pull over at roadside waterfalls for picnics, and climb up huge rocks to explore caves. It’s truly a fabulous little journey!

3. Place of 1,000 Drips

At the end of the Motor Trail, just before you get back into Gatlinburg, you will pass the Place of 1,000 Drips. I left my son in this pic rather than cropping him out so you could see how big this 30′ tall drippy spot is compared to his little 7 year old body. My older son and hubby climbed to the top and looked in the cave. **Bring a flashlight, it was too dark, so they didn’t go in.

You can park on the right side of the road and the falls are on the left. The amount of flow is determined by how much rain has recently fallen. It’s usually pretty low, hence the name. But it’s a great place to pull over, climb and take some cool photos!

4. Noah “Bud” Ogle Cabin and Nature Trail

This is one of the first places to stop on the way to Roaring Fork. It is on the lower road that leads to the Motor Trail, but this part isn’t closed for weather as often.

While there are several of these type of things in the area, The Ogle Cabin one is close to town and easy to google to find it. The cabin was built in 1879 and in 1977, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Walk through the cabin and barn and imagine yourself as Laura Ingalls. Or at least, that’s what I do. ;)

I am in awe of the workmanship and think of how hard it must have been to create these buildings in that time.

When you have gotten your fill of the cabin and barn, there is a Nature Trail in the back that leads to a river. This is about a .5 mile path that leads you over rocks and downed trees. It is not a difficult trail, but you will have to climb over these things, so not super friendly for strollers or wheelchairs. It’s a great first hike for little kids, too!

At the river, you will find an old mill. Explore the structures, and walk out on the large rocks in the river. There are plenty places that you can stand on out in the water and just be at peace. I could literally do this ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY.

5. Sugarlands Visitor Center

Want to learn a bit more about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Then you need to stop in the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Watch a 20 minute film about the park, check out an awesome gift shop/bookstore and talk to Park Rangers for all their expertise on the park. The Visitor Center opens at 8am every day except Christmas Day.  There is a 15 minute hike to the lovely Cataract Falls (see photo at bottom of post) directly behind the Center that is a stroller and wheelchair friendly path.

While at the Center, you can grab a log book to track all your hikes. You can get one for you as an individual or for the whole family. Collect stickers as you reach certain mileage thresholds, and then collect pins at some of the larger milestones. I think the books were $1 or so, but the stickers and pins are free.  We just earned our 25 mile pins on the last trip! We have logged close to 40 miles together as a family!

The Visitor Center offers Ranger led programs at different times of year. It is also a great place to stop for a potty break before heading into the wilderness! They have large restrooms in a separate building.

6. Bush’s Bean Factory

The Bush’s Bean Factory is about a 30 minute ride from Gatlinburg. Watch a very entertaining and informative film about the company, the Bush family and DUKE! Then, you can go on a scavenger hunt of sorts in the museum. Have your photo made with Duke (not the real one) at the end. You will complete your visit in an ADORABLE little gift shop with tons of trendy farmhouse items, as well as plenty of Bush’s products and memorabilia!

There is a cafe on site and the actual factory is across the street. You do not go into the factory, but the visit, film, photo opp and scavenger hunt are all totally free.

#6 1/2 -On the way back to town, you may want to take a detour to see the Historic Harrisburg Covered Bridge. It is just a couple of miles off the main road that you took to get to Bush’s. Then, take the backroads ride back into town through a countryside filled with lovely homes and stunning views.  It leads you right back into Pigeon Forge if you are headed that way.

The bridge was built in 1875 and restored in 1972. A federal grant allowed for complete restoration to as close to the original structure as possible and that work was completed in 2005.

7. Elkmont Campground

Elkmont Campground is located about 8 miles out of Gatlinburg. It is between Sugarlands Visitors Center and Townsend, in the vicinity of Laurel Falls trailhead. Look for the big sign on the left.

If you are into hiking, you may have heard of the Troll Bridge (pictured at top). It is located in the old Elkmont Campground, just off the Little River Trailhead. Even if you are not into hiking, you can easily check out this unique little spot. The bridge is less than a 3 minute walk, yet so many have trouble finding it. There are so many unique and interesting buildings and it is all free to check out!

This old abandoned campground was where the wealthy from Knoxville “Summered” back in the mid-1900’s. Some of the cabins are being torn down amidst lots of controversy and conflict over whether they are “historical landmarks” or dilapidated eyesores. But many of their chimneys still stand making for interesting photo opps!

In fact, about 2 minutes from the trailhead, look for THIS chimney with the concrete “benches” on your left….just after you pass it, there is an unmarked opening/semi-trail on the right. That leads you to the bridge. It is located between 2 old cabin sites.

These cabins were torn down as recently as 2017, but there are still some that I found in November and fell in love with. You can walk though the old cabins of an area called Daisytown.  I didn’t even really know about this area, but we stumbled upon it after locating the troll bridge.  I found these little jewels and they became the setting for our family photos and Christmas cards!

This is the Trentham Cabin and my favorite! The cobblestone skirting, the red windows, the old barn doors, the corner joints…… that chimney, though….

When I saw this one, it SCREAMED Christmas Card. I had planned ahead and brought a wreath and hanger and that little touch made the perfect backdrop for our cards this year. We only explored 3 minutes worth of Little River trail, found the troll bridge and then hung out in Daisytown in November, but we have plans to go back and see what else we can find!

 

8. Newfound Gap 

Drive over the Newfound Gap to see stunning views.  This winding road (you can see it the photo below) takes you up and over the mountains and back down into neighboring North Carolina. Cherokee is just over the mountains, but takes about an hour to get there. It’s a gorgeous drive and a fun one if you like that kind of thing.

When you get to the top, there are various places to pull over and take it all in. It is truly a breathtaking view from up there! If you do this in the winter, please be advised of a few things. You are taking 441 out of Gatlinburg for this ride. This seems to be one of the first roads to close in icy conditions. So, be sure to check on that before you begin your journey. You can  call 1 865-436-1200. #2, #2 for updates on the roads, or follow Smokies Road info on Twitter. 

Also, if it is a tolerable 40 degrees in Gatlinburg, it is likely to be a frigid and windy 20 up on top. We watched the temp drop 20 degrees as we reached the peak, and then climb that same 20 degrees as we came down into North Carolina. Be prepared for crazy cold, unforgiving wind and super fast photos because IT. IS. COLD up there, y’all!

9. Clingmans Dome

At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the Smokies! Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, you can climb the half mile, paved trail then walk up to the lookout. Don’t let the short distance fool you. This non-hike kicked my booty! It is rather steep and very high altitude…yeah, that’s what we will say…it was the altitude.

Once, you reach the tower entrance, you walk what we called the “LSU Stadium Ramp” up and around to the observatory. It was a bit easier to handle than the walk up there. Except when I found a spot of snow covered ice.

The tower was closed in mid-2017 for some renovations, but re-opened in November. Much to my husband’s delight, we were able to make it up there after all. We had been reading that it was closed and it suddenly re-opened. Nice surprise!

If the weather is right, you can see 100 miles and 7 states from the tower. Totally worth it, but MAN! That’s a tough walk. Stroller and wheelchair friendly, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to push anything up that hill! (See left below).  If you notice the stunning views in the lower right photo, just above my son’s head to the right…that white curve is the parking lot. It’s half a mile, and it’s paved, but what a doozy!!

10. GO HIKING!

I could number this one 10 – 10,000,000. Y’all…I wish that I had started doing this before I was in my 40s! I absolutely LOVE hiking in the Smokies! I have always wanted to get out and explore the rivers and such when I was there as a child, but we were always headed somewhere else. So, I told my husband that I wanted to do that a few years ago.

Once we started exploring, we realized that there was so much more to see than go-karts and theme parks. So, we started with some short trails and became completely addicted. It is so peaceful, albeit sometimes strenuous. There are no screens, except for pictures. You stumble upon all sorts of things along the way, and usually get some big payoff of a waterfall or stunning view at the end.

We have logged almost 20 miles as a family over the last few years of Mardi Gras weeks, and in November, we got the log book to track it all. The history, the nature, the beauty, the peace, the fresh air…..it is simply magnificent. I think about what trail we will conquer next ALL. THE. TIME.

I joined a Facebook group dedicated to Hiking the Smokies and seeing those photos in my newsfeed all the time keeps it in the forefront of my mind. It also shows me things that we need to find on our next journey. It was on that page that I learned about the Elkmont Campground, the troll bridge and all the adorable cabins there.

I use this blog as my bible for hiking. I love that is allows you to sort the list of trails by location, length, difficulty and alphabetical order. It also gives you specific distances of points of interest along the trails. I read this blog all the time.

(l) Abrams Falls (back of Cades Cove) Feb ’17  (r)Cataract Falls (behind Visitor Center) Feb ’16

These photos below are from the Alum Cave Trail in November 2017. It is my current favorite. At 4.4 miles round trip, there is ALWAYS something cool to see and the payoff at the cave is breathtaking. We only hike a couple of times a year, and have managed about 5-6 miles at a time. This hike took us less than 2 hours to reach the Cave. Then, we took our time coming back down and stopped to take lots of pictures. Less than 4 hours total. My absolute favorite to date.

Above left -Arch Rock is 1.3 miles in. The rock was hollowed by freezing and thawing over and over. Stairs lead you up and out the top of the rock. Above right – I love love love all the little bridges along these trails.

Lower – taken at Alum Cave. The views up there are ridiculous.

Have I missed anything? What are some of your favorite FREE things to do while vacationing in the Smokies?

 

Check out our 5 favorite restaurants HERE!

Get your FOOD and your FEUD at the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud! #sponsored

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Last month, while visiting the Smokies, we decided to try a dinner show. Since Hatfield and McCoy was right next door to WonderWorks, we thought it would be the perfect end to our day.  00

So, when it was time, we entered the ticket area and were assigned to the McCoy Family! Welcome to the family! We had so many new “cousins”!

We waited for the doors to open and were led to our table. It appears that all seats are good seats. Your table sits against a wall and the table in front of you is much lower. The tables are somewhat close together as expected, but we were still comfortable.

Very soon after we were seated, “Cousin Gidget” started to bring out our ALL YOU CAN EAT dinner. Yummy soup, Bread and butter, fried chicken, cole slaw, bbq pork, mashed potatoes….it was all so yummy! Then, after a while, they announced that the show was about to start and since it would be dark, the food service would be ending.

The feud between these two families was both hysterical and full of “hidden” talent. There is tons of musical talent, dancing and even a little acrobatics mixed in with plenty of slapstick humor.

The show was so much fun. The Hatfields and the McCoys hated each other so much that they ended up……well, I can’t tell you that!  What I can tell you is that we had a great meal, and a couple hours of fun entertainment inside while it rained outside!

I highly recommend this show for kids and families! Be sure to take advantage of the fun photo-opps outside!

Get your tickets to the show HERE. Be sure to check out their website for discount tickets to other shows to save some $!

I received media rate tickets for this show. All opinions are 100% my own.

WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge is a Must-do while visiting the Smokies! #familytravel #sponsored

This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links.

My family was offered complimentary admission to WonderWorks in exchange for sharing my experience and opinions with you. All opinions are always my own.

Last week, my family took our annual Mardi Gras escape trip to the Smoky Mountains. While this was our 5th trip, there is still so much that we have not done. We did our best to check off some new experiences this trip. WonderWorks was one of our checks!

For the last few trips, the kids have been obsessed with “the upside down house” located on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Our schedules are always so tight because we are usually there on a 3 day weekend. But, this trip, we had 6 glorious days and I decided it was time to check it out.

The first day was forecast to be rainy, so it was the perfect opportunity to visit an indoor activity. We went in the cracked, damaged and upside down building, got our tickets and then entered far more than we had ever imagined would be inside those walls.

There are games and activities to stimulate your mind, body and senses. You enter through an “inversion tunnel”. This starts you off a bit askew as it is very difficult to stand up straight.

(The theory is that since everything is upside down, you must be inverted, too)

There is simply a small bridge to walk across and if you close your eyes, you are fine. But, if you try to walk with your eyes open, the tunnel spinning around you plays tricks on your brain and you lean, uncontrollably to the side as you try to walk.

Once you get your bearings, you step out into a huge, multi floor area of STEM related activites that can fill several hours of the day.  These “Wonder zones” are separated into 6 categories.

Natural Disasters – we were able to stand inside a Cat 1 Hurricane…I lived through Katrina while 11 weeks pregnant, this was “a breeze” literally, in comparison! There was also an earthquake room, a Google Earth map (we found our house), as well as a place to see how long you can stand to have your finger or hand in the water that the Titanic victims had to endure. (Not long, I promise you!)

The Light and Sound Zone – this was a fun room. I totally smoked my hubby in the hand-eye coordination challenge. (Even I was shocked over that!)  The boys practiced their pitching speed and accuracy with a digital sports game.  My kids danced in front of a thermal screen (they even did the DAB). This was one of our favorite zones.

The Imagination Lab was a bit crowded, but this would be a good place for the smaller kids to play. Stomping and coloring and gears, oh my!

The Physical Challenge Zone was another favorite. The boys laid on a bed of nails and played Mindball. This was amazing! This was an exhibit that challenged our overstimulated 2017 brains to calm down in order to force a ball over your opponents goal by EEG technology. So much fun and so very interesting.

The Space Discovery Zone offered simulations of landing a space shuttle as well as actually riding a simulated roller coaster. This was also the area of the SpaceWalk. This overhead obstacle course boasts multiple levels of balance beams and paths while you are supported by a harness and pulley above your head. My kids did it, but I was a sweating, nervous wreck watching from the safety of the ground! (no skirts, dresses or open shoes allowed on this for all the obvious reasons)


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Far Out Gallery  is at the top of a grand staircase. This area is filled with busts of Dr. Seuss’ characters as well as sculptures that appeared to be a tangled ball of wire…until the light hit it from the correct angle. So many things that tricked your mind here.

We played a fun game of Laser Tag with another kid from the NOLA area, and that may have been the most fun 10 minutes of the day!

I always enjoy when I go to a new place with expectations of not being impressed, only to be blown away. I always try to remember that most people who leave reviews do so because they are mad. That greatly skews the ratings. I had seen reviews that this place was not worth the cost and you couldn’t spend more than an hour or two there.

I highly disagree with that. My kids begged to go back the entire trip. We were there over 3 hours and didn’t get to do it all….and I was there with very low crowds! So, I am very happy to suggest that you spend that rainy day of your trip….or that evening (they close at 9pm right now) in the air conditioned/no rain/plenty to entertain the kids WonderWorks of Pigeon Forge.

Tickets to WonderWorks are $25.99 for adults and $17.99 for kids. Ages 3 and under get in free as there is just not a ton for them. This is certainly geared toward the tweens and teens. However, for just $3 more, you can add a game of Laser Tag with the Laser Combo. That 10 minutes is so much fun and TOTALLY worth the $3 extra bucks!

You can find their website HERE, and you can also request a $2 per ticket discount on THIS PAGE. Please tell them you heard about it on NorthshoreMama.com on that request form.

 

Don’t miss the boat! Visit TITANIC in Pigeon Forge!

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photo credit: www.titanicpigeonforge.com

The TITANIC seems so out of place on the busy strip of tourist attractions in Pigeon Forge, TN.  It stands out among the mini golf and neon signs for country music like a sore thumb. But, it gets your attention! A huge ship sitting on the side of the road…..in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.  What?

However, once you are “on board” the ship, you tend to forget where you are, even who you are. This is because you are assigned the identity of a real life passenger from the manifest of the Titanic. You are given a brief biography about your new alter ego and their place on the ship.

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Then, as you begin to tour the ship and read the stories, see the models and the authentic memorabilia, you kind of become that person.  You get to see where they/you would have slept and dined. You get a sense of the difference between the classes of passengers and you fully take on your new identity! Once you are through the entire tour, you get to find out if you survived or perished. (The boys and I made it, hubby didn’t fair so well.)

One thing that I was really impressed by is the tour is totally different for children.  We had listening devices that looked like remote controls. As you approach a new exhibit, you dial up its corresponding code on the device and listen to a narrative about that particular topic.  But, the kids had their own code to dial up and listen to the information from a kid’s point of view. My oldest LOVED this. At 7, the thought of having his own buttons to press, and the freedom to roam that room at his own pace was very liberating. The 4 yr old, he just liked to push the buttons. But, he was happy, none the less.

In fact, there is an exhibit that is only there this year that focuses on the 133 passengers classified as children (under 15). There are many tales of the children aboard that sent chills up my “mommy” spine. We were sitting at the foot of the Grand Staircase when the maid noticed my boys with their hats on.  She said that they reminded her of a story of a mom and her two sons trying to get back home to America. One was 9, I believe she said, and the other younger. But, the older had his father’s hat on and he loved to wear it and “be like Daddy”.  However, in the rush to the lifeboats, some of the adults thought he looked much older with the hat and didn’t want to let him get in the lifeboats. So, the mom had to decide if she would stay and argue for the older while putting the younger in the boat with strangers, or take the younger and hope that they let the older onto another boat.  I will leave the outcome for you to discover on  your visit. But, the very thought of that situation was gut-wrenching.

You can see all the stories of these children in this room for the remainder of 2013.

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Another story that stood out was something that I wouldn’t have thought to be common in the days of Titanic. A French father had his two young sons for visitation over Easter. He was to return them to their mother, but instead, he boarded the Titanic under assumed names for himself and the boys. When the lifeboats were loading, he handed the boys to a lady who spoke French. Of course, the father perished at sea, but no one knew who the boys were because they were not identified on the manifests correctly. So, pictures began to circulate around the areas where Titanic had docked and where passengers had originated. Finally, the boys’ mother saw the pictures and was able to retrieve them from America.

So, there are many VERY interesting stories of these passengers, especially the younger ones that you may never have heard if you do not visit this fascinating place.

There are some pieces that will interest the fashion-ista as well.  There are props and costumes from the movie. Some of the huge hats the ladies wore were just amazing. We also saw a dress designed by Lady Duff Gordon, known as the greatest fashion designer of her time. But. she never had the opportunity to make it.  So, the dress has been created in accordance to her drawings and is on display.  It was in the First Class stateroom when we were there, but is often placed in other locations.

You can stand at the wheel on the Captain’s bridge and “steer” the ship into the darkness. You can see the iceberg outside and get a feel for what it must have been like to peer into the darkness that cold night. After that, you can exit that room into the night. There is an iceberg wall that is actual ice. The kids got a kick out of this. You are actually walking around the Captain’s Bridge that I just described and it is so very cold. There is a small “trough” of water at 28 degrees. You can stick your hand in that frigid water and move it around to simulate “swimming” and get a feel for just how cold it must have been for those people.

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photo credit: www.titanicpigeonforge.com

There are many other rooms that I was fascinated by, such as the Gallery of Father Browne’s  photos. His are the only authentic photographs of the ship. He was on one leg of the Titanic’s voyage and got off before she started across the Atlantic. He began to tour and lecture about the ship and her sister “Olympic”. White Star Line, the ship builders, sent him a letter requesting that he only lecture about the “Olympic”, but “not mention Titanic as we do not want anyone to memorialize such a calamity.” The actual letter is there on display with his photographs.

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photo credit: www.titanicpigeonforge.com

So  much that I could write, but I think you get the general idea. It’s fascinating, interactive and it’s all true. So many things that my kids are impressed by, I have to tell them that it was all fiction. So, my oldest especially, was very interested in the whole thing because he knew ahead of time that it was all real. Real people were on that REAL boat, and they REALLY died.

If you want to smuggle in some education and history while on vacation, this is the place to go.  (There is also a Titanic exhibit like this in Branson, MO.)

Disclosure: My family and I were given complimentary passes and listening devices in exchange for sharing this post with you.  All opinions are my own. Photography is not allowed inside Titanic, so I was given access and permission to use their gallery photos.

Going to the Smokies?? Country Tonite is a MUST DO! (Half Price tix and Kids are FREE!)

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On our trip to the Smokies last week, one of the things that I had lined up to do was to see Country Tonite. It’s a music show with live singers and musicians. They even have two  kids (12 and 14) that star in the show that are extremely talented!

One thing I LOVED about this, is that even though it is voted the #1 Show in the Smokies year after year, KIDS 12 and UNDER ARE FREE!!! That’s almost unheard of in a massive vacation destination like Pigeon Forge!  So, that was a definite to do, for sure!

So, for about 2 1/2 hours, were entertained by some fabulous songs from Classic country tunes to current ones. A little gospel, a little rock and then……there was Bubba.  You know all of these shows have the comedian character and Bubba did not disappoint! I laughed until I cried at one point! He was hysterical!

 

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One of the female singers was Melinda Hyder from Survivor: Panama.  She was wonderful, as were the other singers and dancers.

My oldest son (7) pointed out how quickly they changed their costumes!  Every song (and there were probably close to 30) had a different color scheme and costume! After he pointed it out, I started noticing and it had to be FAST! The entire show never lost our attention. Even if it had….that would have been about the time that Bubba (or Bubbina) showed up and shook things up!  So, it was a full 2.5 hours of constant treats for the eyes and ears.

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So, yes, we laughed…..I laughed until I cried…..and then, by the end of the show, I just flat out cried. A very moving acknowledgment of our veterans in the last number moved many to tears.  A great end to a great show.  I highly recommend you take this opportunity to grab these tickets. There are coupons all over town and even on their own website you can save $5.

 

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**Disclosure – My family and I were given complimentary concessions during our visit as our tickets had already been purchased. All opinions are my own.