Keep the Smokies Weird! 5+ Quirky Places to Visit

The Tomb attraction in Pigeon ForgeSometimes you just want to kick back, daydream and do absolutely nothing on the deck of your cabin in Pigeon Forge. Of course, you may have planned some regular pit stops iif you are a returning visitor (the majority of visitors to our area are repeaters). Today, I just want to challenge you to try a few new locations that might interest you. They are at least unusual, if not downright strange.

1. The Tomb, Pigeon Forge-Of course, an ancient Egyptian pyramid makes perfect sense in Pigeon Forge, right? Tucked behind Firehouse Mini-Golf and adjacent to Calhoun’s BBQ in Walden’s Landing, this indoor archeology attraction can be amusing on a rainy day, as you puzzle your way through the guided “pyramid innards”. This place is most fun for a group on its own curious expedition.

2. The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, Gatlinburg-If you appreciate the process of collecting, you’ll enjoy this display of one family’s efforts to amass the unusual of those functional pairs of kitchen items. Created over 25 years, with over 20,000 pairs (?!), it’s worth an interesting look when you are in Gatlinburg. Be aware that should you want to purchase a pair of shakers, there are many options available online also.

3. Parrot Mountain, Pigeon Forge-Hundreds of beautiful, tropical birds have a local aviary residence at this 4-acre garden park, near Dollywood on McCarter Hollow Road. Come see more parrots, lories, and other birds than you’ve ever seen in one location: in a lush setting where you can also feed them by hand. Don’t forget your camera for some photos!

4. Smoky Mountain Knife Works, Sevierville-Need a sharp knife? Like taxidermy too? This large complex on Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville is billed as “the World’s Largest Knife Showplace”. From collectibles, to kitchen performance brands, to military and martial arts, there are so many brands of knives available, it is literally mind boggling—who knew? The safari animals on display have never made sense to me, but they too are a bit interesting. If there is any type of knife you can imagine needing, you will find it here.

5. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, Gatlinburg-On the Parkway in the heart of town, this museum is the definition of quirky, with all sorts of exhibits to meet that “beyond belief” quotient. Yes, you should probably go and enjoy this well-known center of kitsch and odd entertainment.

Ripley’s obviously hasn’t cornered the market in this area on the, ahem, unusual. Keep your antennae up and sensors on search, as there are still more places like these dotted across our landscape…Smoky Mountain Cathouse, anyone? So, raise that one curious eyebrow, and enjoy. To each, his own!

Caution! You’ll Be Crushed if You Miss this Local Potter’s Clay…

rap3We are very blessed to live where there are so many options for handmade merchandise. When you choose to venture forth from your Gatlinburg cabin for souvenirs, a must-visit location for gifts should be Alewine Pottery Studio.  Say it like a local: ale’-uh-wine.

There are originals, and then there are imitators. Robert Alewine and his family are of the former ilk, creating art from Appalachian clay for over 30 years in the Smokies area. Their quality items range from functional kitchen pieces like mugs and mixing bowls, to display pieces like luminaries and decorative art pots.
rapThe studio’s signature emblem features real leaves that are embedded into the artwork and kiln-fired as part of the design, making a small bit of the Smokies an intrinsic part of each work.  The stunning choices of glazes are color-saturated in both neutrals and vivid tones. My personal favorites are the cobalt and copper hues among their many creative options. You’ll easily find something pleasing for your taste also.

Visit the wonderfully friendly Alewine family members at one of their three locations:
—The Glades Craft Community store is the largest, anchor studio where most pieces are created daily. Enjoy watching the artists and their creations in progress while shopping here.
—The Village Shops retail store located in downtown Gatlinburg offers a large selection of souvenir mugs, along with a nicely curated selection of other wares.
—Alewine Pottery at the Island is their newest location, opening late 2014, granting the opportunity to access their unique products in the heart of the county, at the bustling Island Complex in Pigeon Forge.
rap2So choose a perfect hand-thrown, pottery gift for someone back home (Christmas too!), or select a personal memento of your vacation to our area. You’ll find beautiful, original, artisan items at fair prices. If you haven’t begun collecting their pottery wares, you must visit the Alewine family, and choose your first work of art soon.

One last Summer Thrill: Reviewing the Roller Coasters of Dollywood

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How quickly the sunny-day, good times disappear with the approach of the school year, and the havoc that the fall schedule wreaks on discretionary family time. Want one last thrill before leaving your Smoky Mountain cabin rental behind? There’s no better adrenaline rush found in Sevier County than the roller coasters at Dollywood theme park. Though there are also many family and children’s rides, along with water-infused attractions, this post is limited to strictly the coaster rides and their virtues. Coasters at Dollywood, save one, are all steel, and have been built from 1978 to 2014. Let’s review the options.

Sideshow Spin-Located in Country Fair, this kiddie coaster was originally built in 2005 with a Veggietales theme. It’s the perfect junior coaster for any first-time rider, child or adult. Its small, spiral footprint makes viewing the entire ride from outside the fence simple, and its top speed is about 14 mph.Think of it as a permanent fair coaster ride. Inevitably, screams of delight from short people happen most every trip.
Blazing Fury-Opened in Craftsman’s Valley in 1978, when the park was still Silver Dollar City, this ride has senior status, and in some ways shows its age. The ride is an indoor venue in the dark, and its few dips and turns occur in complete (or near complete) darkness to build suspense for this mild theme ride. The theme is 1880’s fire fighting, and top speed is 22 mph. Many overlook this vintage ride for newer venues, so lines are usually shorter than most. Having ridden this ride multiple times in a row as a teen, I miss the splash down spray stop at the end, which now just comes to an illogical halt without the defunct water feature.
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Tennessee Tornado-Also in Craftsman’s Valley and just a few steps past the Blazing Fury, this ride opened in 1999 with a windstorm theme, patterned from the popular “Twister” movie. Top speed is 63 mph, with 3 inversions, a  straight vertical overloop and two consecutive spiral loops, and a short tunnel pass thrown in for photos, which are available for purchase after exiting the ride. This one gets it right. Although a short ride (at just under 2 minutes), it is smooth and sweet: a nice introduction to “big coasters” for the uninitiated. Even my mother in her seventies checked this off her bucket list, although she did swear “never again”.
Firechaser Express-Pictured at the beginning of this blog, Dolly’s newest coaster opened in 2014 in Wilderness Pass, a well-planned addition to fill a niche. Billed as a family coaster, the ride has no inversions, but some nice twists and turns up to its top speed of 35 mph. It is a “dual launch” forward and reverse ride (backwards is along a different and shorter track to the loading station point of origin). Like the Blazing Fury, it too gives homage to vintage firefighting, with some mild pyrotechnics in the “fireworks” shed (feeling the heat from the flames for suspense), before beginning the backward run. Our young son loved the ride, but hated the fire flames part.
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Thunderhead-For the purists (like me)! The park’s only wooden coaster opened in 2004 in Timber Canyon, with a loud, clattering, and stomach-dropping layout that proves inversions aren’t necessary to have a great ride. The coaster reaches a top speed of 55 mph, though it feels faster because of the the vibrating nature of a wooden train. Thrills of note are the initial drop and the overhead pass back through the loading station mid-ride at almost full speed, along with numerous twists throughout this amazing stretch of turbulence. This ride is far and away my favorite, for the suspense being generated by what can be seen ahead of you as you ride, as opposed to any themes or special effects. Let the thunder roll!
Mystery Mine-This cool, mine-themed ride is located in Timber Canyon, and opened in 2007. The ride is both an indoor dark coaster with special effects, and also an outdoor looping ride. Reaching a top speed of 46 mph, the action here is more about the inversions and the suspense involved throughout. Thrills include a 95 degree drop (beyond vertical), multiple loops and rolls, and an Immelmann loop. To me, most disconcerting are the two horizontal lift rides to reach the drop zones, as opposed to the drama of the curves themselves.
Wild Eagle-Truly the park’s biggest and baddest, Wild Eagle features a soaring eagle theme, honoring the bald eagle sanctuary located onsite at the park. The ride is located across the promenade from Firechaser Express in Wilderness Pass, and opened in 2012. It tops out at 61 mph, and offers 4 inversions. This unique wing coaster has you riding outside the track with nothing below (legs dangling), and also nothing but air above you. The body restraints are set wide to better emulate a flying experience and create a smooth ride (no head banging here). Featuring loops, rolls, and corkscrews, it’s a great way to fly through wooded terrain. A few tips to maximize your “adventure flight” on Wild Eagle: choose the front row for some great views of the Smokies as you ride. The right side outside seats also maximize the “swing” factor (hold onto the black knobs located at the bottom sides of the seats).
Since Wild Eagle is the ride that is most difficult to envision, I’ve attached an onboard video link here.
As you can see, there is a nice variety from which to choose; something for all tastes and levels of courage. On-ride videos are available for all of these rides online, and there is also a generous amount of information on the Dollywood site itself. Don’t let your summer end before you get one last rush with your bravest family members. I strongly recommend it!

Come Fly Away Standing Still: Wonders of Flight Balloon Ride

wonders-of-flight-balloon-rideWhen we talk with customers regarding their desires for amenities in Pigeon Forge cabin rentals, our discussions almost always include questions regarding the mountain views from the home’s location. We are so blessed to live and work in such a beautiful setting, and are glad that you choose to come share it with us. How about a 360 degree view, unobstructed and panoramic, with up to 30 of those you love with you?
As long as you don’t have a fear of heights, Wonders of Flight offers pure viewing pleasure any time of year.It is particularly striking in the upcoming change of seasons to fall, where colors and vistas transform with jaw-dropping loveliness. What a great photo background for your family Christmas card! Repeat, DO NOT forget your camera for photos. This flight attraction is a tethered, helium-filled balloon with a round, open air gondola suspended below it as an observation floor. The balloon rises up to 500 feet, providing an “above it all” view of the surrounding sights. In silence, with no engine noise, this outdoor elevator of sorts is a truly unique experience.
Rack coupons, group discounts, and morning flight discounts are available, so you don’t have to fly for full price. Children under 36″ tall are free with an adult ticket purchase. The platform also allows wheelchair accessibility, so all members of your family can ride simultaneously. All rides are weather permitting, with outdoor temperatures, precipitation, and windspeed impacting the experience. 
Look for the upside down house that is Wonderworks, next to the Hard Rock Cafe in Pigeon Forge. Wonders of Flight is located directly behind these attractions. The experience is a true bird’s eye view via a floating scenic mountain overlook, of the valley and mountains beyond by day and of the city lights by night. This flight does not require wings or a super hero cape! So check a balloon ride off your personal bucket list: we “highly” recommend it.
For the creator’s explanation of the balloon ride, watch this short video:

http://www.wondersofflight.com