Author Topic: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee  (Read 514 times)

Offline saw50st8

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saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« on: October 09, 2017, 09:08:33 PM »
My 9 year old had been bugging me to fly somewhere for our summer vacation. We usually drive because there are so many places to see near NJ and my kids are all really close in age, so the thought of dragging 4 really little kids on a plane was really not appealing. But at this point, my youngest would already be 4 so I agreed that if we could find cheap flights somewhere, then we could fly. I was playing around on google flights one day and found non stop flights from EWR to TYS for $120/pp. I've been to Tennessee a few times and always wanted to go back to the Smoky Mountains. I logged onto Chase and those flights were slightly more expensive, but I booked them anyway. We got all 6 flights for under 60,000 UR.  My son was so excited when I told him!

Next up was looking for a hotel. I wanted a hotel that was convenient for all the activities and also big enough to have the 6 of us in one room. We chose the Holiday Inn Express in Downtown Gatlinburg. It had a spacious room and when the couch bed was open, there was still plenty of room to walk around.  The room came equipped with a decent size fridge, microwave and my absolute favorite feature - a second sink outside the bathroom! The hotel has a wonderful waterpark with 3 water slides, a heated indoor pool and two bathrooms in the waterpark/pool area. The hotel is also connected to a Holiday Inn Vacation club resort so you can use the facilities there including the other two pools and two hot tubs. In addition, the resort has daily activities that you can join. It's about a block off the main road in downtown Gatlinburg and really convenient to most things you would want to get to. I will say that Gatlinburg itself is everything I think it wrong with touristy places (like Ripleys Believe it or Not and all the other tourist traps) but being even a block off the main, road, we didn't see much of that, except to drive by.

Outside of the Hotel:



Hotel Water Park:



After a short flight, we drove from Knoxville to Gatlinburg. The views are incredible right away. I'm not exactly sure where our GPS took us (or why because the route didn't make much sense), but we ended up driving through the Smoky Mountains and stopped for lunch at a creek where went wading.

Drive to Gatlinburg:



Creek:


We found a snake in the water:



We drove to our hotel, checked in and then went grocery shopping at Food City, a few miles from the hotel. They had plenty of kosher bread, frozen food (including cheese pierogies!), canned goods and of course junk food. Prices were pretty good too.

After our food run, we had a blast at the water park. My kids could have stayed there for hours, but we put them to bed early to get ready for a long day.

Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2017, 09:22:00 PM »
Day 2: Dollywood

I had such fond memories of Dollywood from when I was a kid, that this was a must see item on my list. As it was the last week of August, schools are already back in session in the south, Dollywood and Splash Country alternate days that they are open. It also means that the park is basically empty and there are almost no lines. We didn't say at the Dollymore Resort so we couldn't get access to early hours, but once we got there, they let us in early anyway. We opted to go through the park clockwise by traversing a sort of back/side route to the park (the regular route is more of a counterclockwise).

The park is great. It has a balance of really big roller coaster, medium sized rides, kids rides, local crafts and even a museum about Dolly Parton. There's a whole section of local crafts including glassblowing, iron smithing, candles, woodworking. Their official rule is no food, but you can bring in whatever you want. They also give out free water all over the place.  One neat thing they had was a photopass - you pay one price (I don't remember, maybe $29?) and you get all the photos they take of you in digital format. It's even better if you go on all the big roller coasters because then you get a ton of pictures of you screaming.

We stayed all day - we were there before it officially opened and stayed until closing. We rode every ride in the park that we wanted to and many of them multiple times.









Glassblowing:



Magic Show:


Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2017, 09:58:03 PM »
Day 3:

The Holiday Inn had Parrot Mountain come for a presentation in the morning. We got to see a few types of birds and the kids got to hold and play with them. It was a nice bonus feature of the hotel!



The week before we left, I got an email for a flash sale at Dollywood Splash Country - $24/person. My kids have never been to a pure water park (we've been to Hershey and places like that but it's very different IMO). We rearranged our schedule and added Splash Country in and we were not sorry! Once again, the park was totally deserted. The longest line we waited on was 5 minutes. We rode every water slide multiple times.

Splash Country is really strict about food. You can bring in one snack per person and nothing with a bread product. Since the park was so empty, the walk back and forth to the car was no big deal but during busy season, parked further away, it would be annoying. They search through everything and count. They do give out plenty of free water in the park and you can only bring in one water bottle per person. They also have a height measuring station and give out wristbands. Get them! The signs are very confusing and the wristbands make it easier to remember.





The coolest ride in the park was this water roller coaster (picture doesn't do it justice). You ride up and down multiple drops.



70 foot drop - this pride proved that my 9 and 7 year olds are braver than I am!



We again stayed from the moment they opened until closing. My kids passed out from a long, exhausting and wonderful day.

Offline Denverite

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2017, 04:53:35 AM »
What a great TR! I went to Dollywood and love those kind of sweet places for my kids and now you've put it back on my radar!

How much were regular daily tickets? How was the weather in August?  Also did you look into staying at the timeshare side of your resort where you could have had a bigger apartment with a full kitchen? I love to book into timeshare properties for that reason.

Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2017, 06:47:12 AM »
What a great TR! I went to Dollywood and love those kind of sweet places for my kids and now you've put it back on my radar!

How much were regular daily tickets? How was the weather in August?  Also did you look into staying at the timeshare side of your resort where you could have had a bigger apartment with a full kitchen? I love to book into timeshare properties for that reason.

Regular tickets are $78 I think. They also had a 2 park $99 ticket. We ended up paying $55 for Dollywood and $24 for the water park (normally $48) so we didn't get those tickets.

Weather was absolutely beautiful! It was in the 80s and not humid.

The price was something like $180 for the family suite and $280 for a 2 bedroom with kitchen.  But you don't get free breakfast. In theory you could eat at the hotel anyway

Offline chinagel

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2017, 08:48:02 AM »
Regular tickets are $78 I think. They also had a 2 park $99 ticket. We ended up paying $55 for Dollywood and $24 for the water park (normally $48) so we didn't get those tickets.

Weather was absolutely beautiful! It was in the 80s and not humid.

The price was something like $180 for the family suite and $280 for a 2 bedroom with kitchen.  But you don't get free breakfast. In theory you could eat at the hotel anyway
you can get rooms there for free with holiday inn club vacations if a timeshare presentation is your thing.

Offline ludmila

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2017, 12:02:36 PM »
Great TR, we were there 7 years ago, had a great time.
I was the Best,still the Best, and will always be the Best.
Pele Good,Maradona Better, George Best.

Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2017, 08:15:02 PM »
Day 4:

We started the day at the Sugarlands Visitors Center, wherewe enjoyed a small exhibit on animals in the area (including a bunch of stuffed ones). There is usually a video presentation but it wasn't working when we were there. We bought a map of the park ($1 - They charge for maps because there is no entrance fee) and spoke to the ranger about our hiking plans. We settled on the Trillium Gap Trap in search of a waterfall.

What he neglected to mention, was that there are copious amounts of extremely narrow bridges to cross and that the mileage felt a lot longer than it seemed. The hike was really fun, but due to our schedule we couldn't make it to the waterfall. The hike itself was amazingly beautiful. The entire area is a greener green than I've ever seen and we had great fun climbing over the bridges. My kids also like finding every bug in the forest.







We got back to our car and drove to our next stop - rafting! It was the first time we were rafting as a family and we chose to book a family float trip with Rafting in the Smokies (coupon on their website!). What I didn't realize was that I stupidly booked it for Thursday instead of Wednesday, but they were super accommodating and let us go anyway. The guide, Chad, was funny and wonderful and kept the kids well entertained and safe. They had safety helmets and vests for everyone. Everyone, even my 4 year old, got a paddle. It's called family float (there's a more aggressive part of the river to raft upstream) because it's mainly floating in the current with some small rapids, just enough to be awesome but not terrify little kids. It was a great introduction to rafting for my kids. The trip itself took about 2 hours from start to finish and we all left wanting more (I'm going to try to plan a rafting trip for next summer!).








Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2017, 08:32:49 PM »
Day 5:

This was the only day we did a lot of driving. We left first thing in the morning and drove to Athens, TN to visit the Mayfield Dairy Factory (again, something I had done as a kid!). They have a cute play area right when you come in, along with a gift shop and ice cream store. The tour starts with a short video about the history of Mayfield Dairy Farms. Then you don red hair nets and get a guided tour through the actual factory. You get to see them bottling milk and juice (gallons, pints, school size and a whole bunch of other sizes). They started with regular white milk and then switched over to chocolate milk. It was really interesting to see how they bottle, cap and label all sorts of products. They also explained how they fill generics with the same exact product for stores.

Then we walked to their ice cream production. Interestingly, they were doing a run for Baskin Robbins that day - they follow Baskin Robbins recipe for that run instead of the Mayfield Dairy Farm recipe. My kids loved watching the machines do all the hard work and seeing how far the products move in the factory. It was a great tour.

At the end of the tour, everyone gets a scoop of ice cream from the shop (it's kosher). The ice cream is really fresh and delicious and not available near where we live!




Next, we drove to Whitwell to see the Children's Holocaust Memorial. If you don't know what that is, look up Paperclips (the movie). It's about a class from Whitwell, TN and their holocaust project. In this tiny town, near a hotbed of KKK activity, these young middle schoolers established an incredible Holocaust Memorial. I explained to my two older kids that this part wasn't really fun, but important, and we spoke about the significance of what these kids did. The memorial is small but incredibly moving.















After we left Whitwell, we drove to Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. It's really pricey and beautiful but they really rush you when you get to the actual falls part. First, you walk through a beautiful underground cave and see interesting stalagmites and stalactites.  They have fun colored lights that highlight everything. At the end is the falls - they are tall and beautiful, but because they have so many groups coming through, they set a time for the lights and really limit you. That part was definitely rushed.









Outside the gift shop is a beautiful view of Chattanooga:




We drove back to our hotel and passed this sign many times (it cracked my kids up):


Offline zow

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2017, 07:12:50 PM »
thanks for a great TR and great pictures.

Offline yelped

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2017, 12:22:24 AM »
Awesome trip report!

Offline saw50st8

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #11 on: Yesterday at 09:47:56 PM »
Day 6:

The day started off rainy and wet. Our original plan had been to drive to Cades Cove in the morning and hike in the afternoon but we figured the animals would be hiding in the rain so we switched it up. We drove up to the Trillium Gap trailhead for our hike to Grotto Falls. The ride is on narrow roads that twist and turn up the mountains. The drive is not for the faint of heart, but the roads are well paved. There is limited parking but we had no problem finding a spot.

The trail is well marked and has a warning sign for spotting Llamas on the trail. Much to my kids chagrin, all we saw was llama dung.  The trail winds up the mountains amongst lots of foliage with some breaks in the trees that highlight the beautiful views. It's an easy climb up. The hills aren't too steep. There are a lot of roots to climb over but nothing my 4 year old couldn't handle.  Most people made the climb in about 45 minutes, but it took us about an hour and ten minute or so.

At the top is Grotto Falls - a beautiful waterfall you can walk behind and there is a small cave behind them. The trail continues on, but we stopped at the waterfall and went back down the mountain.

On the way up:



Grotto Falls:



Local Wildlife:




We left Grotto Falls and drove towards Cades Cove, passing beautiful nature the entire way:




Cades Cove is basically a beautiful scenic drive with wildlife roaming around and a visitors center midway. Everyone drives really slowly to see the animals and views and there are plenty of places to pull over. We saw wild turkeys, deer, all sorts of birds and horses.








We pulled into the visitors center and started walking around. We were excited to see deer and then went to the old mill.





We also saw the largest spider ever (picture doesn't do it justice):




There are some old houses including "Aunt Becky's" house.



We walked to the back barn area, when a ranger came up to my kids and said "Hey, come look at this." He shows them a set of prints and asks if they knew what it was. My son answered "Deer prints." The ranger walked a few feet and said "Now what's this?" My other son piped up and said a bear print. Then the ranger asked them if they were a deer, where would they run if they were trying to get away from the bear and they pointed to the woods just a few feet away. The ranger responded "Great! That's what happened, only the deer didn't make it very far." He pointed into the woods where there was a deer carcass and a young black bear pacing back and forth. We got to watch the bear wandering around his lunch. It was an incredible view of nature.



We drove back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbos.

Day 7:

We had a nice, relaxing shabbos at the hotel. The staircases were accessible, well lit, and unlocked. We went down for breakfast, hung out downstairs playing cards and games. After lunch, everyone napped and then we walked to the main street in Gatlinburg to look around. It's all extremely cheesy touristy things that were fun to wander around, including a wood artist carving a large bear with a chain saw.

Day 8: Time to leave. No one wanted to go. My 4 year old was so sad when we went to the airport and asked if we could go back again. Yes we can little buddy.

Goodbye Tennessee!


Offline ludmila

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Re: saw50st8 TR to Tennessee
« Reply #12 on: Yesterday at 10:26:43 PM »
Enjoyed reading the rest of the TR, thanks.
I was the Best,still the Best, and will always be the Best.
Pele Good,Maradona Better, George Best.