Visit the Tropics Up Close and Personal This Winter: Rainforest Adventures Discover Zoo

After you gain your second wind from relaxing in your Sevierville cabin rental, this is the season to divide and conquer. Don’t drag the kids through all the holiday shopping. Send the diehard gift acquirers in another direction (but don’t forget the unique things found in the gift shop here). Take a break yourself with the sights, sounds, and a few smells of the tropical rainforest, just off the Parkway in Sevierville at Rainforest Adventures Discover Zoo.
No matter your age, you’ll meet something you’ve never seen. We looked straight into the nostrils of a python from six inches away (glass between!), and were lucky enough to hold a blue-tongued skink. There is a vast assortment of reptiles, including an albino boa (which is a beautiful combination of sunflower yellow and cream). Small creatures like lizards, blue poison dart frogs, and Norway rats share the indoors with cockatoos and lemurs.rainforestvcr1
The whole family can enjoy this venue for a few hours of escape. Its unique collection of  animals can be viewed (and some interacted with) up close and personal. All are well-cared for, with the staff intrinsically involved with their ongoing welfare, and true concern for their well being. It is a reptile house also, so be aware there are odors that naturally come from such an environment, which some misinterpret as unclean. It’s an indoor zoo, folks.
This locally owned animal habitat is not actually just a zoo. Many small organizations are run strictly for profit and self-interest using creature performers. Not here. Let’s draw back the behind-the-scenes curtain on this special place. The owner of this location is a renowned animal preservationist with many years experience in animal rescue and rehabilitation. For this reason, a few of the residents here are actually living in a safe home for trauma recovery after being victims of abuse. One example is a toothy caiman crocodile that the Park Service wildlife management requested be removed from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He was saved from the local Little Pigeon River between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge: an illegal pet that someone cruelly turned out to fend for itself. Among the reptiles is a beautiful python relinquished from a fraternity house. There are also some endangered species inside that are no longer found in the wild.rainforestvcr2
The team here has a heart for education regarding animal appreciation. Captive breeding helps increase endangered species numbers, and also provides a haven for those injured in the wild that can no longer survive in the natural environment. Rainforest Adventures works with other zoos around the country to find happy homes for those who have healed after trauma, or are growing and waiting for a proper family fit, including mates and suitable animal social groups.
Throughout the year, babies arrive! We have seen a three-day old capuchin monkey holding tightly to her mother’s shoulder, and a golden-headed lion tamarin that will develop a lovely mane as he grows, and a day-old baby goat sweetly bleating. Most of the exhibits are located comfortably indoors, with glass front enclosures for viewing mere inches away. What a fantastic benefit to study an animal you would never have the opportunity to even glimpse in the wild.
Let’s step outside. Terrapins, llamas, emus, goats, sheep, and more are located here for viewing, seasonally dependent. Coin-operated feed machines dispense appropriate treats for hand feeding the animals. Some are more greedy than others, but all are well-fed and entertaining. These animals understand respect. The llama will spit if he deems it appropriate!
One sweet animal friendship I learned of is Ro-Ro and friends. He is a parrot that was surrendered by his owner, who has a snuggly relationship with a pair of South American cavys. They “groom” each other, so his feathers are a bit askew. He will sing “Row, row, row your boat” with you if he feels inclined. He is one of many great stories inside this creature habitat.
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Educate. Rescue. Protect. Rehabilitate. There are some who think zoos are wrong. Spend five minutes with the preservation staff here, and you will appreciate that exotic animals are fascinating! Also, it is quickly obvious that rescuing vulnerable wildlife from irresponsible owners requires both hard work and loving care. Don’t look for a flashy parade of trick animals here. Come and learn, and see the intricate beauty of so many lovely creatures you’ll never see in your backyard.

Turn on the Lights! Best Tips to Enjoy Smoky Mountain Winterfest

For the locals who regularly drive the main Parkway arteries, Winterfest actually starts early in the fall, when local municipalities begin to erect all the structures that create the magical, intricate lighting displays throughout the county. This illuminated holiday cheer then extends until  late February, before evenings grow dark again, and disassembly begins.
Please join us for the official city kickoffs for this year’s 25th anniversary Winterfest celebration season! Here are links for the lighting ceremonies in each city:
Pigeon Forge Annual Winterfest Kick Off and Veteran’s Parade:
Sevierville Music, Lights and Magic: https://www.facebook.com/SeviervilleWinterfest
Gatlinburg starts the season with a chili cook-off and street fair. Pigeon Forge has a patriotic veteran’s parade and lighting ceremony. Sevierville’s “Music, Lights and Magic” festival offers live local performers, fun food, fireworks, and other family friendly activities in a town fair format before the lights are turned on. Don’t worry: the municipalities coordinate dates so that you can attend all three celebrations, if you desire to do so. These November events are just the beginning of the season that stretches through Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day.
So what’s Winterfest all about? It really is a blanket celebration term applied to our four month winter tourist season in the Smoky Mountains area, and means different things depending on your perspective. Let’s categorize a few highlights here, but know that there are “and even more” statements applied to every discussion, since multiple businesses throughout the county add their own special events to our cheerful season.
Lights! Shows! Events! In addition to the many beautiful lights throughout the area (over 5 million and growing), many local businesses compete with seasonal decorations and festive lighting displays of their own. Each year notes growth and change; no season is ever the same.
One venue you must visit while here is Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland, located in the parking area of the Tennessee Smokies Baseball Stadium in Sevierville, at the exit 407 interchange. You literally can’t miss it, just load everyone together and visit! This huge, 10-acre drive-through LED lighting display, is programmed and synchronized to holiday music, and also has Christmas Village family activities adjacent. The show changes and grows yearly. Here’s a video link (a partial aerial view from a few years back) and website information:
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Shows! Want to be entertained to soak up some holiday spirit? Many area theaters offer  Christmas versions of their shows, including the largest dinner show, Dixie Stampede.
Events! Too many to be all inclusive here, but don’t miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas (that will be another blog in the near future all its own), the natural winter splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cades Cove Loop, and even local church musical events. Think about coming to our area after your own holiday celebration at home. The week leading up to New Year’s Day is still “holidays in full swing” here in the Smokies. So many choices! If you want to know our favorite traditions locally, just ask any of our employees.
Let’s finish with a great gift idea. Think of Valentine’s Day for a Christmas gift! What better way to celebrate? Gift to your significant other a romantic weekend in February, to come back to the the mountains, for just the two of you to recover from the holidays together. We’ll be glad to reserve a Gatlinburg rental cabin for you to enjoy in early 2015! This is a guaranteed winner for an experience gift.
Come early or late, but please come and celebrate this most loved and precious season with us in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Let the festivities begin!

3 Easy Steps to Your Smokies Thanksgiving Holiday

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After the fall leaf season, but prior to the massive Christmas shopping rush, November can be a very pleasant month to spend a little family time together here. Consider making this year a more grateful holiday for all involved. Have your Thanksgiving celebration in the mountains! With these few reminders and a little planning, your family can easily make some treasured memories during this Thanksgiving holiday break.
 
1. First, make your decision regarding the big meal: cook and eat in, or dine at a local restaurant? 
If you are preparing and dining in, don’t bring everything with you. Carry only the specialty food items and extraordinary cooking equipment that you consider essential. After a making a list from recipes before leaving home, stock up on all the basic and fresh items needed at local outlets like:
Walmart (Sevierville)
Kroger (Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Seymour)
Food City (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Kodak, Seymour)map
About the turkey or ham centerpiece: these also can be purchased as groceries from the above, or consider professional preparation from a local restaurant like Buddy’s BBQ, which is reasonably priced and delicious. This also is an easy method to supply the mass quantity of protein needed for sandwiches throughout the long weekend.
If choosing a restaurant, there are multiple establishments open serving complete Thanksgiving meals, from fast casual to family style to upscale. Our crew recommends these spots to consume the “too much meal” without the effort of preparation or cleanup:
Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que (Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg) http://www.bennetts-bbq.com/index.html
Old Mill Restaurant (Pigeon Forge) http://www.old-mill.com/info/groups
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (Pigeon Forge (2), Sevierville (2), Kodak) http://www.crackerbarrel.com
2. Reserve the right cabin for your family’s needs. Volunteer Cabin Rentals has a very nice selection of lodges of all sizes to make your holiday celebration both fun and comfortable for the entire family. Confirm your attendees, and then select the Pigeon Forge luxury cabin that best meets your requirements. If you have questions regarding the amenities of your specific chosen gathering place, don’t hesitate to contact one of our friendly reservationists directly, to avoid any surprises or unneeded trips back to town for a forgotten item. We’ll help any way that we can to ensure you have answers prior to your arrival.
 
3. Decide and schedule your after-the-big-meal activities. Beyond the sleep-off-the-tryptophan coma, you have so many options for family fun together. Staying in? Bring those best DVD movies along, settle into that sofa for a ballgame, knock around in the game room, or soothe yourself in the warmth of the hot tub. Need more action? Consider going into town for an evening theater show (yes, some have performances on the holiday), or plan the ultimate midnight shopping trip, as the holiday promotional season kicks in at Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center and other local retail locations.
Smoky Mountain Opry: http://christmasinpigeonforge.com
Easy as 1-2-3, with just a little forethought, this could be your best Thanksgiving ever!. Come join us for a down home mountain celebration. No regrets, just gratitude.

Danger! Garlic Overload Alert. Find Great Local Italian Food Here.

When the weather turns cooler as autumn approaches winter, thoughts turn (or at least mine do, anyway), to enjoying a large meal of comfort food with family. Of course, you can put your best chef relatives into personal action preparing a holiday meal in the weeks ahead. All of our cabins in Wears Valley offer fully equipped kitchens that make dining in together a simple, shared pleasure.

If you would rather have someone else handle kitchen preparation and cleanup, here are a few spots to consider, located across the county for your convenience. Italian is our cuisine of choice this time, since even most picky eaters can find something to suit their palate.
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I’m not saving the best for last, but listing it here first for your consideration. Friendly family service and freshly-made Italian entrees make Two Brothers Italian Restaurant in Sevierville worth trying. The ample portions also make it a great value. Full disclosure here: several of our staff are intermittent regulars at this local hangout. Intermittent only because you can gain weight if you choose to clean your plate here too often! Two Brothers is a place easily overlooked by passersby. It is located in a small tenant space in the Food City Sevierville shopping center, on Dolly Parton Parkway at the first stoplight past the Sevierville U.S. Post Office. Steaming, fresh garlic knots with marinara are a complimentary appetizer. Don’t overdose on them before your meal arrives. From pasta to salads, juicy burgers to a little Greek food thrown in for good measure, we’ve yet to find something we don’t like. Bring your crowd, including the kids, and become part of the family for authentic Italian fare. There really are two brothers: Nick and Paul; you’ll know them when you see them. If garlic is your favorite culinary perfume, you’ll be happy here.  Check out the menu details at this link:
If it’s a mild day in Gatlinburg, and you would enjoy eating outside, hunt down this “been there forever” original location. Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria has long been tucked into the back part of Elks Plaza, across the Parkway from Hampton Inn, close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the north end of town. If indulging in a calzone as big as your head (read enough for two), is your idea of solid nourishment pleasure, then this place is for you. Make sure and snag an outside spot on the patio next to the stream. It’s a nice little respite from the downtown clutter and clatter. There is also a second location directly on the Parkway close to Aunt Mahalia’s Candy. Their website even offers a free parking pass for the Ober Gatlinburg parking lot, located a couple of blocks from the original location. Here’s the link for more information and menus for this locally-owned landmark restaurant:
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Dude, if pizza is what you want, then if you haven’t been to Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, you must go. Funky and fun, this is actually a regional chain restaurant which originated in Atlanta in the 1970’s, emphasis on hip, laid-back, mellow. There are three locations in Sevier County to catch the good vibes, and every restaurant has its own character. Gatlinburg has one location on the Parkway, and there are two locations in Pigeon Forge: one directly on the Parkway, and the newest location is at the Island Entertainment Complex. If cheap delivery pizza is okay with you, know that this is not it. Order your own masterpiece pizza, and have fun while you’re at it. Kids and adults alike enjoy the creative atmosphere and quality food found at the House of ‘Shroom. Special note for those with vegetarian requirements and gluten issues: the restaurant offers lots of veggie items and also gluten-free pizza and drinks, properly prepared with designated GF stations. This is also a decent spot for a souvenir ball cap or such item to commemorate your vacation pie. Here is the main site link, and then check your specific location for a detailed menu.
Of course, all the typical chain locations for Italian fast food are also located throughout our area, but don’t eat somewhere that you have at home. These are just a few of your many culinary options. Buon appetito. Enjoy!