DIY Dollywood Scavenger Hunt

Sometimes it can add extra fun to combine a little mystery into your theme park experience. As family season pass holders and frequent visitors to Dollywood, we have literally explored almost every corner of the park, watching it expand and evolve over the years. On a recent excursion, we began to collect trivia throughout Dollywood for an upcoming group gathering. Here is the resulting scavenger hunt that we compiled, along with the answers (and location if needed).

1. What European city is depicted in the painted murals on the Waltzing Swinger ride?
2. What two names are engraved on the bottom of the horses’  hooves?
3. What are the names of the two vintage steam engines that provide the locomotion for the Dollywood Express?
4. What year was Temple’s Mercantile Warehouse and Old-Fashioned Candy established?
5. How many spokes are on a single side of the small water wheel that is fed by the elevated water flume?
6. What saying is above the entry door just inside the Robert F. Thomas Chapel?
7. What partially intact vehicle has “landed” in a tree?
8. What building is the origin of the flaming explosion on the Firechaser Express?
9. How many whistles are located on Willy’s Engine?
10. If you choose to play the gong in the Lumberjack Jam Band, what cooking item was used to create it?
BONUS 11 . Who is the Master Craftsman Candy Maker of Dollywood?
1. Found in the Country Fair section, the scenes on the ride depict Venice, Italy.
2. On the Village Carousel, the horses’ all have the names Bradley and Kaye engraved on the bottom of their hooves.
3. The engine currently pulling the train cars is often mentioned while on board the ride, and any park conductor will know that Klondike Katie and Cinderella are the two engines that work so hard, out of the train station located in the Village.
4. The exterior Village building placard says 1880. Many establishments in the park are named after real locals known to Dolly. Jimmie Temple and his wife Marie operated the landmark Temple’s Feed and Seed in downtown Sevierville for many years.
5. Found in Craftsman’s Valley close to the chapel, there are 9 spokes that are sooo much easier to count when the wheel is not turning! Note-this is NOT the gristmill giant wheel, which will disqualify you on this question.
6. “The world is filled with beauty when your heart is filled with love.”
7. Adjacent to the Tennessee Tornado coaster in Craftsman’s Valley, most parts of a wooden wagon still remain “treed” all these years later after that epic windstorm.
8. This coaster in the Wilderness Pass area has its termination point in Crazy Charlie’s Gas, where the flames explode the coaster into reverse!
9. Whistlepunk Chaser is the location of the answer for this question, found in the Timber Canyon section. Willy’s Engine is the centerpiece display engine of the coaster, and there are 6 whistles on this vintage steamie.
10. On the downhill walk back from Timber Canyon to Showstreet, this children’s musical area has a gong created from an oversized iron skillet, not unlike those used for cooking in other areas of the park. A metal mallet is also attached for effective noisemaking.
11. On the wall of the Sweet Shoppe on Showstreet, there is a plaque that honors Linda Rice for her 35+ years of service in fresh candy making!
 If physically searched in order,  the hunt begins in Country Fair, and then makes a simple loop through the park to finish close to the main entrance on Showstreet. We awarded simple prizes for our event, but you can easily award the quickest successful players with park treats like fresh homemade taffy, an ice cream sundae, or the well-loved cinnamon bread. We hope you enjoy adding an extra twist to what is always a fun day, which can be shared by both the young and the young-at-heart. Come tell us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals if you enjoyed your extra detective work while visiting Dollywood!

5 Easy Ways to Play in the Water in the Smokies

Every summer includes water play of all sorts, depending on your preferences for getting wet. Though not located on the ocean, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a splash just a short distance from your Wears Valley rental cabin. Consider these alternatives:

1. Pool privileges. Volunteer Cabin Rentals offers multiple cabins with local pool privileges. Never overcrowded, but with a few playmates for the kids, it’s an easy early-morning  swim, or even a lazy, all day splash and relax!
2. Waterfall Hike*. Should you prefer to get out into some nature with a little cardio exercise included, how about a waterfall hike? Here are a couple to consider:
For the entire family to enjoy, Cataract Falls is just a short stroll from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead starts directly behind the center, and is only .1 of a mile to a sweet photo opportunity.
Grotto Falls is located midway around the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trailhead starts at the parking lot, and winds for an easy 1.2 miles one way. We truly think this one is much fun! The payoff for the hike is that you can actually walk behind the falls, if you don’t mind getting a little wet. Based on yearly rainfall, this spot also has a pool at the bottom for swimming in a really attractive setting. Refreshing for both mind and body!
3. River Wading and Swimming*. For wading, Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area is hard to beat, and is a just short drive from your rental cabin in Pigeon Forge. Many picnic sites are directly on the river: super for wading, exploring, and a little swimming. I strongly suggest water shoes for the rocky bottom and a length of rope for any floats because of the current.
Also close to the VCR office, the Townsend Y (or wye) is a large, natural swimming hole favorite of many in the area. Very easy to reach, it is located shortly past the Townsend entrance to the National Park, right before where the road splits to reach Cades Cove and Gatlinburg. Parking is available both in an adjacent parking lot, and also roadside. It is a junction of two rivers, and a popular location, so don’t expect privacy. There are places to sit: rocks, a beach area, and grassy area too. For older kids and adults, it’s a clear winner.
*It is my duty as a local to make sure you understand that many areas in the Smokies are NOT safe for swimming, and extreme danger can occur when proper safety measures are ignored. The National Park Service strongly cautions those who choose to water play in the mountains should understand the risks and adhere to these water safety recommendations:
4. Tubing/Rafting. Want to catch some sun and relax on the water? Try something perhaps new to you: if you have never been tubing, you have been missing great fun! River Rat Tubing Outpost is a short drive from your cabin, and located on the Townsend end of Wears Valley Road on the Little River. The firm has this outdoor experience down to a science. Head down the “Rat Hole Tunnel” to making memories with your family! Tubes are available both with and without bottoms, and tethers can be used to attach a couple of tubes together. Educate yourself on the upper and lower river options (lower is milder) and know what a push-off stick is. Relatively inexpensive for a group, and naturally exciting. Trust us, you will not regret a tubing run. For more information and rates, consult the company link here.
5. Dollywood’s Splash Country. This premiere, award-winning water park is a day’s worth of adventure and a destination unto itself. If you are serious about an entire sun-soaked water day with 35 acres of pools, slides, and water rides, this is the best place to make that happen. Rather than expound on all our favorite moments here, study their link for the details you need.
At the edge, floating on top, or fully submerged, make sure you take advantage of the clear, cool waters of the Smokies while you are here: an easy way to guarantee a great vacation memory for you and your family!

Over 20 Places You Should Visit in Sevierville

In our tourist area, most regulars are very familiar with all the attractions in Gatlinburg, and things to do in Pigeon Forge. But we find that many are far less familiar with our county seat city, Sevierville, Tennessee. Home to many locals, it is a destination in its own right. Here is just a starter list of locations to shop, eat, explore, and play in Sevierville.

Once you have rested in your Smokies cabin rental, it’s time to go forth and shop! Have you forgotten anything? All the necessary suburban sprawl chains are available for your needs: grocery stores, Walmart, Lowe’s/Home Depot, Bass ProShops, Orvis, Party City, and more are close by, with several being added quite recently.
For fun time shopping, start first by choosing from the 100+ brands located at Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center. You can get your entire fix in one location!
For non-chain experiences, consider the Apple Barn Cider Mill and General Store for gifts, home items, souvenirs, bakery goods and ice cream treats, just for starters. Smoky Mountain Knifeworks is also a worthy, interesting stop.

After power buying, you must be hungry. Three local eateries downtown serve both locals and tourists alike. Courthouse Donuts is a half block from the Dolly Parton statue anyway, so indulge in their delicious homemade custom orbs, and pick up lunch while you are there too.
Healthy Balance is two blocks away if you desire freshly prepared fare that is both tasty and nutritious. They can even provide prepared meals that you can tote back to your Sevierville rental cabin for a made from scratch solution to dinner.
If you prefer laid back, comfortable place for a nice dinner, try the Southern fare at Bistro 109. They will take good care of you.

Explore and have fun learning at these three locations: Tennessee Museum of Aviation is a great spot for those who enjoy airplanes and military history. Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum is the ultimate place to reminisce about revving those engines with a private collection of 90 vehicles. You can even go down under at Forbidden Caverns, an always cool, 58 degree place to take a guided cave tour in the midst of a steamy summer day. Add these three together, and it is guaranteed you will learn and see some things you have never encountered.

Now let’s play! If you want to relax and watch a great game, get in on the season at Tennessee Smokies Baseball Stadium, just off exit 407 at Interstate I-40. The Smokies are a minor league farm team for the Chicago Cubs. Always a great evening out, the games even finish with fireworks on Friday nights.
Burn off some boundless child energy, or even test your own athleticism at Sevier Air Trampoline and Ninja Warrior Park. This almost 40,000 square foot adventure park has ninja warrior courses to climb and hang from, in addition to the traditional trampoline and dodgeball venues. Determine the true warriors in your crowd.
Want to get on the water? Douglas Lake is a 30,000 acre recreation area just a couple of miles off our main thoroughfares. Rent a boat at Douglas Lake Marina, or just lay on the public swim beach at Douglas Dam Headwater Campground. Visit the Douglas Dam Scenic Overlook for an unmatched mountain vista over the water. Douglas Dam was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority as part of their watershed for hydroelectric production. You can also walk right up to the dam and observe the underwater turbines in action when water is being spilled into the French Broad River below.

I have only scratched the surface of Sevierville with some ideas to get you started. Do not overlook these opportunities to add more shopping, eating, exploring, and play to your next visit to Volunteer Cabin Rentals. Let us help you find places you have never been!

Essential Tips for the 4 Wettest Rides at Dollywood

If you are like our family, all are looking ahead to summer vacation. Regardless of your destination in the Great Smoky Mountains, preparation is key to assuring your family’s comfort and that everyone has a good time. After checking into your Pigeon Forge rental cabin, most head outside for adventure. Visiting Dollywood during the hot weather months can be more enjoyable with these few specific tips while hitting the water rides. There are four seasonal rides that can quickly cool you off. Here are the details:

Mountain Slidewinder: This is your opportunity to board a single file foam canoe with holding straps, which you will definitely need. You will launch onto a waterslide down the mountainside. Parts of the ride are partially enclosed tunnels, and the curves often create riding high up on the sides as you go. It is well worth the short uphill walk to reach the ride. Do it!
Your wet factor: The amount of soaking on this ride is inconsistent. There are intermittent water splashes to the face and most definitely wet bottoms. The more weight in your raft means both a much faster and wetter ride.
Daredevil Falls: A classic attraction from the Silver Dollar City days, the flatboat ride is a mild journey winding through a themed river, building suspense for a single final 60 foot free fall drop to splash down at the end. There are no restraints required, just a seatback bar in front of you to grip for the descent.
Your wet factor: Depending on where you are seated in the boat, think of getting splashed with a few full buckets of water. The front of the boat receives far more water impact than the back portion. It is inconsistent whether hair, shorts, back, or all gets wet. If you duck behind the seat when freefalling, you avoid the direct splash to the face, and can take the brunt of the water on your back instead. But only if you want to.
Smoky Mountain River Rampage: Visible from several areas of the park, the twisting, winding “river” sloshes the round boat rafts down a whitewater type event. No two rides are ever the same because of the rotation of the raft on its own accord throughout the ride. Put your feet up if you don’t want your shoes filled with water. The rafts are self-bailing, with water draining through the bottom.
Your wet factor: Typically the heaviest person will get the wettest, since that side of the raft rides the lowest in the water, and usually rotates toward that side in the dips where big side sloshes into the boat occur. There are also a couple of moments with dripping and splashing water overhead. A decent soaking is usually included for most, not always to the hair, but sometimes.
River Battle: The offering here is a large, 8-person flatboat raft ride, winding through a compact, theme decorated pool area. Manually operated water soaking guns allow you to shoot at other rafts as you pass each other and also to people ashore at various points. There are over 100 targets throughout the ride that include talking animals and other motion and special effects when the bullseye is engaged. The ride is ADA friendly and not at all frightening, so it is applicable for all ages. Lining the shore perimeter are several “return fire” manual cannons where a volley of water can stream back and forth as you shoot ashore.
Your wet factor: Be aware that it can vary tremendously! High attendance park days usually guarantee a much wetter experience. Here’s why: although one can get wet from the streams from other boats, someone with a shore gun and no mercy can literally “swamp a sitting duck” if they choose. From my experience, one ride both a man and his son “took a liking” to me, and I literally had no dry spot left on my person! It was as if I had jumped in a pool. If you avoid such a line of fire, you will be pleasantly soaked, which is the best part of the fun.
If targeted from land, River Battle is (surprisingly) far and away the wettest ride at Dollywood. Don’t fear though- there is a pay per dry machine outside both River Battle and River Rampage. Many unsuspecting guests end up using it.
My tips for wet riding are a little different than for those just going swimming for the day.
Attire: I recommend a dri-fit type tee or rash guard shirt and swim bottoms with athletic shorts and wet sandals. This allows for quick drying without suit discomfort on other rides. A swimsuit alone does not always transfer well to other activities.
Protecting your stuff: Take use of the free cubbies for stashing things at the beginning of the ride in a backsack or a simple, unpretentious pack. The staff oversees them during your adventure, and in over a decade of visiting, we have never had any issue with possessions. If you must carry items with you, ziplock plastic bags are the best to protect cameras, phones, wallets, and the like.
Carry with you items: Carry sunscreen and reapply, as wash off from sweat and water contact does frequently occur. Hand sanitizer is also wise, as wet does not always equate with clean! I have seen folks also using dollar store ponchos (which I don’t understand on wet rides), but it’s a lightweight item to carry if you want them.
My best tip of all is to visit the park on a warm, but rainy or overcast day. Showers are often short lived, and the park clears of many folk who are rainwater phobic. We have had many lovely afternoons riding wet rides over and over with short to no lines on rainy days like these!
So prepare appropriately, and go forth to enjoy your soaking! Know that all of us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals would love to be right beside you enjoying the fun. Summer will be here in a moment. We look forward to having you visit us very soon.



Quick Guide to Saving Money at Dollywood

It is an undisputed fact that theme parks can be an expensive family activity. To maximize your fun and minimize your cost while at Dollywood, check out these ways to cut expenses on admission, dining, and parking.

Admission Cost:
Seek discounts. Immediately review the Special Offers on the Dollywood website that are active during your visit. For example, Summer Saver tickets are $10 off each ticket if you purchase online, and attend between June 5 and July 2. Combination, multi-day tickets for both Splash Country and Dollywood also offer savings.  Military families receive substantial discounts with valid ID by purchasing tickets at the front gate. Not taking this step leaves money on the table!
“Come after 3pm, and the next day is free.” This highly promoted feature is a great deal for families to explore the park at leisure. Evening attendance also has the advantages of temperatures cooling after sunset and shorter lines at all venues. Study the map of the property, and plan your activities to be completed in each section, instead of wasting time crisscrossing the park for the next biggest event.
Consider season passes. If you are a regional traveler and visit the area different times of the year, it saves to purchase Dollywood season passes. A pass is less than two days admission price, and allows you to enjoy the various festivals throughout the year. A Gold Pass upgrade for one member of your party is also smart for multiple discounts: 20% on food and merchandise, and FREE parking. Hit all the hot weather water rides and view the nightly fireworks of the Great American Summer (June-August). Then return for the massive lights displays and holiday theater shows of Smoky Mountain Christmas (November-January). It truly is a different park experience for each event.
Food, Drink and Merchandise Expenses:
Eat the treats! Like any theme park, sitting down for a family meal can be pricy. If you choose to do so, know that Dollywood’s food is Southern hearty and quite tasty. The biggest budget saver is to eat meals off park (a large breakfast or lunch elsewhere) and then just enjoy treats while visiting. You must not miss the Gristmill cinnamon bread: it’s just $7 per loaf and is enough for several to enjoy a taste of its rich goodness. We also enjoy the Sweet Shoppe’s freshly made taffy candy for its lightweight portability. The  watch-it-made kettlecorn is another munch as you go smart buy.
Hydrate the smart way. Drinks are easy if you prefer water. FREE cups of ice water can be acquired from any food vendor in the park. Just ask for one: it’s company policy. If you must have soda, choose a refillable cup, share it, and then receive refill discounts throughout the season with that cup (you just have to tote it).
Go for Gold Pass discounts. Choose one adult member for this pass upgrade, and let them purchase all of the food, drinks, and merchandise. 20% off really does make a difference. The gold pass person must be present though, so consider who is the best choice to hold it.
Parking Fees:
Think park and ride. Parking at Dollywood is $12-18 depending on the size of your vehicle. Consider the convenience of the Pigeon Forge Fun Time Trolley system. The Trolley Station at Patriot Park is centrally located in Pigeon Forge and offers free parking. Rides are $.50 per person one way and depart about every 15 minutes during high season, offloading at Dollywood’s front gate! For a family of five, that’s $2.50 total each direction, plus the convenience of “front door drop off”.
Gold Pass makes it FREE. Allow me to do the math: the season pass gold upgrade is $52. It doesn’t take many visits to recoup this expense, and it is also quite pleasant to breeze through the entrance gate on the way to your parking spot without the extra initial outlay. If you are a regular attender, it is smart savings. Full disclosure, yes I am the Gold Pass holder for our family.
Overall, the Dollywood Corporation cares about providing a positive experience for your family. They work hard to make it a down home, pleasant, countrified day to a beautifully attractive place to visit.  Locals love it too. Ask anyone at Volunteer Cabin Rentals about their favorite coaster ride!


5 Foolproof Romantic Places in the Smokies

You spend so much of of daily life handling problems: work issues, school project deadlines, sports activities scheduling, and maintenance and repair surprises. When it is the too short timeframe to enjoy being with the person that you love, make each moment count! Here are some ways to ensure you create great shared memories when visiting the Smoky Mountains this month.

1. Try a fun activity together like ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg. Whether a new experience for one or both of you, it is a simple pleasure to circle the Olympic-sized ice rink hand in hand. Bonus hand holding time is available if you park in downtown Gatlinburg, and ride the aerial tramway car to the summit. Descending from the resort at dusk grants a lovely panoramic view of the sunset over the  surrounding ridges and the lights of Gatlinburg below.

2. Enjoy a leisurely, peaceful dinner at the Peddler Steakhouse, seated at a table overlooking the Little Pigeon River. Located in an historic Gatlinburg landmark cabin, it’s an intimate atmosphere to enjoy a steak, hand cut to your liking at tableside. The salad bar is extensive and can even be a meal in itself. Plan to finish by celebrating with delectable homemade desserts like hot blackberry cobbler, peanut butter mud pie, or Kahlua Creme Brulee.
Extra tip: If the Peddler is too crowded during your planned visit, try its co-owned sister restaurant, the Park Grill. Located a couple of blocks away, this larger, more contemporary lodge restaurant also can be a pleasurable dining experience for two.
3. How about going for a drive together on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail? I have written previously in detail about this popular roadway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although extremely beautiful in the spring when the native rhododendron bushes are blooming, the driving loop offers mountain serenity every season of the year, and will most likely not be very crowded in the February winter. Be aware that it is within the national park boundary, so this road can be closed at times due to inclement weather. There are multiple stopping points along the roadside: streams, trailheads, and historic homesites all can be explored along the way. Donate a dollar for a self-guiding booklet in the honor box at the driving trail entrance. If local rainfall has been recently adequate, make a beautiful photo op stop at marker #15, the Place of a Thousand Drips. This waterfall is just off the roadside near the end of the trail. An umbrella can make a fun photo accessory!
4. Perhaps you should forge a closer bond by surviving danger with your bestie at Smoky Mountain Ziplines. Full disclosure, such activity is weather permitting in the winter months (call the office to check for tour availability). This adventure park has a selection of zipline tours, from novice to advanced, for those with previous experience. I suggest you test your courage on their new canopy tour (opened in 2016). It features multiple lines with manmade platforms. Some platforms are independent towers and some are tree platforms that encloses a selected trunk. The mix provides both wide open scenic views and zips that are immersed among the forest trees. SMZ also is the only local company with a rappelling feature (descending vertically from a tower platform) to move from one line to the next. Not your typical date, but a fantastic adrenaline rush, guaranteed! This video gives you a taste of the tour.

5. Perhaps the best romantic spot of all is to relax in each other’s arms, in front of the fireplace in your secluded Smoky Mountain cabin. Whether you choose an old movie favorite on television, or just gaze at the flames with some quiet conversation, it’s the perfect setting for time that is all your own.
As you plan your visit, enjoy one or all of these suggestions to make this special time everything you hope for it to be. Let Volunteer Cabin Rentals help you with the details, and we look forward to seeing you both here soon.

Top 6 Best Guy Shopping Locations in Sevier County

You have already heard about outlet shopping. You may be familiar with the outstanding arts and crafts community. You might even have visited the Bavarian-styled retail spot called the Village. This blog is for the guys. Not to say that women would not enjoy these locations, but let’s find some purchase opportunities that might help with the man cave. So while you map out a shopping route plan on your GPS before leaving your rental cabin in Pigeon Forge, consider these stops for your list. Some are chains, some are locally-owned, independent establishments.

1. Bass Pro Shop (3629 Outdoor Sportsmans Place, Kodak). Located just off the exit 407 interchange from Interstate 40, you may have already spotted this opportunity on your way into town. This massive retail playland for hunting, fishing, and boating has a few things to keep the whole family entertained: an instore Starbucks and restaurant (Uncle Buck’s), a small arcading area upstairs, a glass elevator, and an oversized fish viewing tank. There are also seasonal events that are worth checking out if they occur during your stay.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Adjacent to the main building is a small shopping area that includes The Beef Jerky Outlet (3609 Outdoor Sportsmans Place, Kodak). Beef, turkey, and wild game jerky are offered in over 200 varieties, plus free samples. Enough said.

2 and 3. Smoky Mountain Knife Works (2320 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville) and Buds Gun Shop and Range (2270 Two Rivers Boulevard, Sevierville) are literally across the street from each other. The Knife Works slogan is, “If it cuts, we carry it.” An impressive array of all types and brands of knives, along with camping and sporting goods, kitchen items, clothing and gifts of all sorts. It’s unique, and worth at least a short visit. If you’d prefer a little more ammunition, try Buds. With knowledgeable people on staff (we know two retired policeman friends who work there for fun), you can find a variety of weapons, ammunition, and accessories at competitive prices, and be assured of making a good choice with your purchase.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Also located next to Buds is the Coleman Factory Outlet Store (2270 Two Rivers Boulevard, Sevierville). Whether you like to go roughing it, or prefer glamping, this place has many bargain items for use in the great outdoors. From kayaks to coolers, a good place to purchase dependable Coleman products.

4. J. Floyds Golf & Guns (539 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville). Located in close proximity to Sevierville Golf Club, this store can provide most of your golfing needs without having to pay the premium prices of local pro shops. All familiar name brands are offered, and they also fit, adjust and service equipment to meet your specific requirements. If you are thinking of a new club or even a set, check here first. J. Floyds will also ship merchandise for your convenience.
Close by Pitstop Tip: The Home Depot is directly behind J. Floyds, and Lowes is across the street. Not that you need anything, but it’s always good to know where one of these home stores is located, just in case. My wife jokingly (?) calls them “man Walmarts”.

5. Harbor Freight Tools, 205 Forks of the River Parkway, Sevierville. This retail chain just opened last month, and although there may be one close to home for you, when do you truly have time to go browsing? Stop in to view those “quality tools at discount prices” that they have advertised since 1977.
Close by Pitstop Tip: There is a location of Trapped Escape Game in this same strip shopping center. If you are a puzzler and want a fun adventure, it’s worth a look. Not technically a store, but hey.

6. Rocky Top Harley-Davidson (105 Waldens Main Street, Pigeon Forge). Who doesn’t want to ride a Harley? For novices, did you know that you can enroll in a New Rider course? This location offers academy classes almost every weekend, and the minimum age is only 15 to “Learn to Ride the Harley-Davidson Way”! If you already own a two-wheeled prize, skilled rider courses are also offered, along with plenty of fine machines for purchase. If you will always be only a wanna-be, there is also an apparel shop of Harley items to buy the look.
Close by Pitstop Tip: Five Guys Burgers and Fries (2525 Parkway, Pigeon Forge) is located about a block from Rocky Top Harley. Because after all the browsing, a guy’s gotta eat.

As a postscript, should you be forced to visit the Tanger Outlet Center with family, don’t despair. You can score some sport deals with Under Armour, Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Reebok. Visit Oakley Vault for sunglasses and maybe a jacket from The North Face, and you are all set. There are even more clothing stores, if you really have to do that too. Let me just say that there’s still more here to see in our area that didn’t make this blog. With a little effort, even guys can spend some serious green in Sevier County and be happy about it. If you want any recommendations from anyone on our VCR staff, please don’t hesitate to ask!

The 6 Most Overlooked and Underestimated Rides at Dollywood

Only a couple of weeks of school remain, and our favorite family activity on the last day is to leave the school parking lot and drive directly to Dollywood to celebrate. Many vacationers in the Smokies make a beeline to the queues at the newest and largest rides at the theme park. Here is a list of rides that are worth your attention, and typically not as populated with the longest lines and waiting times.

5. Blazing Fury-Let’s begin with this old-fashioned firefighting-themed, indoor roller coaster ride. Many stroll right past since it is indoors, not realizing the content of this ride. Blazing Fury is located in Craftsman’s Valley, is the oldest coaster ride in the park, and is a holdover from Silver Dollar City days, before the park became Dollywood. It is mild for adults on the wow factor scale, but its dips and turns are in complete darkness, which adds to the suspense. It is perfect for building a thrill for the tweens that are too old for the kid coasters. This is also a ride that some enjoy riding several times in a row when lines permit such behavior.
4. Daredevil Falls-This is a classic wet boat ride, similar to a log flume ride adults might remember from childhood. The boats float along bumping and building suspense throughout, for a single last freefall drop to a splashdown ending below. Also located in Craftsman’s Valley, this is a mild ride for those graduating from the kiddie section, but also quite intimidating for adults afraid of falling from heights.
3. Dizzy Disk-Located in the Country Fair area of the park, this rotating ride really does have the appearance of a midway ride. The orientation of the seats outward creates a pretty unique ride while both spinning and swinging in an arc from side to side on the disc base. Think of sitting astride a scooter and holding handlebars, as the safety brace locks at your back at waist level. The disorienting spin thrill is actually more than it appears from an off-ride point of view.
2. Barnstormer-Bystanders can easily observe this ride “up close and personal”. Watching a cycle or two will help you determine whether this one is for you. Built to resemble an airplane flying through a barn, the ride is a large pendulum swing with rows of seats. It reaches a 230 degree maximum rotation, and a 45 mile per hour motion that flies to 81 feet in the air. If that excites you instead of making you want to toss some cookies, then Barnstormer definitely delivers. Incredibly (at least in my opinion), this is a favorite of teens for consecutive ride achievement. How many times can you stomach the swing?
That said, don’t miss the Owens Farm area as a respite stop for families with both small and older children together. In addition to a sweet toddler playground and splashpad area, there are two rides here that really shouldn’t be missed for the older and braver set (Barnstormer and Slidewinder). My tip for the adult watching the littles: visit the adjacent bathroom facilities first, then the upper floor of the Grist Mill for cookies or cinnamon bread to munch while attending to playground duty. You are welcome.
1. Mountain Slidewinder-I laughed to myself recently when speaking with a guest who thought they had conquered every ride at Dollywood, and yet missed this one completely. I am absolutely certain this gem of a ride is the most overlooked in the park, both because of its obscured location and the shortened season of this water ride (like several others that don’t operate in cooler weather). There is a short, inclined paved walk with a few stairs to the top of the hillside, which is a physical deterrent to some. Most will have no difficulty making the trek: it really can’t be called a hike since it takes less than 10 minutes. Passengers are loaded sitting single file, in foam rubber canoes with grip handles. I promise you truly need to hold on tight. These literally shoot down a curving waterslide, where you ride high on the sides, and it includes a nice final splash drop to the finish. The more weight in your boat, the faster and more exciting your ride. It will catch your breath, guaranteed.
Bonus Thought: Thunderhead. Though certainly not overlooked, this ride is definitely underestimated. In my humble opinion for all you coaster enthusiasts, inversion-laden track does not always equal the best. The terrifying clatter and g-forces of this long ride wooden coaster far surpass the shorter, flip-you-over rides of today’s coasters. Thunderhead gets an A+ from me for both perceived speed and thrills. The angled dips and curves, and particularly the flyover pass through the loading station are totally worth any length of line at this venue. Plus it is relatively fast loading, so lines move rather quickly. I promise you won’t be disappointed staying right side up (well, sort of right side up). The staff no longer shouts this phrase prior to your departure, but I still say, “Let the thunder roll!”
So are you up for some adventure? If you arrive in town early afternoon, check into your Pigeon Forge rental cabin. Then go ahead and visit Dollywood in the evening (after 3 pm). Lines are shorter, the temperature cools down after sunset, and the next full day is included in your admission price. More time to ride and play-what a fantastic way to start this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!

Quick Guide to Paula Deen’s Fast Casual Cafe in Pigeon Forge

Anyone familiar with down home cuisine is acquainted with both the persona and recipes of celebrity chef Paula Deen, also known as the “First Lady of Southern Cooking”. Though healthfully tempered in recent years, her rich ingredients are enhanced with farm-grown flavors and sometimes surprising seasonings. Recently opened, Paula Deen’s the Bag Lady Cafe at the Island in Pigeon Forge takes Paula’s cooking back to its origins.

Paula and her two sons began her home-based commercial business in the late 80’s, with an express lunch delivery service to Savannah, Georgia area office workers. What became Paula’s food dynasty began as simple, delicious catering to fill a local market need. There is still a similar need in today’s market for convenient food that is created homemade fresh. Those same sandwiches, salads and sweets that made Paula famous are now delightfully available in a cafe environment, to be purchased as grab and go, or enjoyed on site at your leisure. If you have ever lived in the business box lunch catering world, this is cuisine that you already understand.

All menu items at The Bag Lady are created from Paula’s recipes, are freshly made inhouse, and include seasonal items to keep things interesting. A variety of sandwiches include standard meat and cheese offerings, along with tuna melts, chicken and egg salads, and homemade pimiento cheese. There are also healthy salad options and a kids menu.

Whether on your diet plan or not, strongly consider the Ooey Gooey Butter Cake dessert, which is an original signature Paula item that helped to drive business volume all those years ago. You really must taste it for yourself!

A thoughtful tip for your shopping day-though single drinks appear a little expensive, free refills are allowed for the entire day. This is very attractive on those steamy days ahead as you explore all the shopping, dining, and entertainment the Island complex has to offer.
The restaurant represents a more casual, quick meal offering of “Paula fare” in addition to the Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen: a family style, sit down country meal, also located at the Island complex.
As options for casual dining increase throughout our area, don’t overlook those that strive to provide standard quick fare done one step better. Sure, you can always choose the familiar chain store submarine or hoagie. You can also save money by visiting the new Publix grocery store in Pigeon Forge to stock up on sandwich items to assemble in the kitchen of your Pigeon Forge cabin rental.
But at least once during your stay, come visit the venues of the Island and make a stop for a great quick fix from the Bag Lady: the Paula Deen experience without the long wait.
Don’t expect fancy. Do expect to enjoy the eating. Don’t forget to chase it with sweet tea and some dessert, y’all!

6 Different and Tasty Pancake Breakfasts in the Smokies

It’s time for that rare experience: a leisurely, hot pancake breakfast. Not cooked by a family member at your Smokies rental cabin, but served to you in a restaurant-where no one on vacation has to make everything and then clean up afterwards. Eat it all, and then walk (or waddle) away. Here are some out-of-the-ordinary breakfast treats you really should try while in our area. All of them are locally owned establishments. There are more locations, and some excellent chain choices available, but consider starting with these.

Log Cabin Pancake House (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge)
They know how to do pancakes right, and for more than a few generations of family. The restaurant offers a broad, delectable variety of specialty pancakes, and also many crepes.  Try the blackberry crepes for a special twist, or the buckwheat pancakes for a richer option than the standard stack.

Red Rooster Pancake House (Pigeon Forge)
A red metal roof, vintage tractors, and the token giant red rooster statue at the front door let you know you are in the right place. The chocolate eclair pancakes are the special favorite here. The stack is layered with Bavarian cream, drizzled with (not just a little) chocolate and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sweet teeth absolutely crow with delight (I promise no more bad puns in this blog). Regular respect on Trip Advisor and large portions keep people returning each time they visit town.

Reagan’s House of Pancakes (Pigeon Forge)
A long-time family establishment, Reagan’s has served many tourists and won best area pancake awards multiple times. For something different, try their fruit roll ups. This is not the kid plastic chew from a box, but a berry and cream cheese combination rolled between pancakes (choose your favorite berry). Definitely different and delicious. For those wanting a cross section of items, try their filling breakfast buffet.

Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Kodak)
These folks are near you wherever you may be roaming, with six locations sprinkled across Sevier County. Start here with sticky bun pancakes: cinnamon swirled pancakes with pecans, and then drizzled with creamy icing. These are fan favorites, and the food here has received national award recognition and has also been mentioned in Southern Living Magazine.

Sawyer’s Farmhouse (Pigeon Forge)
This country breakfast restaurant is a place that anyone with a big appetite can love. Hearty portions can make this a two-meal’s worth carb extravaganza. Think about the Bacon Belgian Waffle, with the bacon cooked inside and topped with butter. Make sure and drizzle the peanut butter syrup with a heavy hand (also excellent over the chocolate chip pancakes). Some swear there have been Elvis sightings here!

Pancake Pantry (Gatlinburg)
You cannot talk about pancakes in the Smokies without mentioning the iconic Pancake Pantry, the original pancake purveyor on the Sevier County map. Many visit this downtown Gatlinburg location again and again, as a family tradition. Along with many fruited versions, there are also choices like cornmeal pancakes and pigs in a blanket. Something worth a try that isn’t actually a breakfast, but a lunch item: the Blue Ribbon Burger. This hamburger is topped with green pepper, bacon, cheese and banana slices, and a special sauce to complete a blend of flavors you won’t find elsewhere. The Pantry will also make box lunches for carryout. So if you have visited before, try them again for something different.
There are many options in our neighborhood for those golden brown orbs of goodness. Whether you enjoy adventure with new flavors or are just looking to indulge in your old standby, all of these locations offer good choices, along with all the other breakfast trimmings, and most offer hearty lunch menus too. All offer casual atmospheres where the entire family can be comfortable and well-fed without over-the-top pricing (check for coupons too). What’s not to love?