Danger! Weight Gain is Likely When You Dine at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen

Southern hospitality is defined as your hostess insisting on feeding you when you enter her home. Paula Deen has built her career on successfully feeding millions her homestyle Southern cooking from her original home base in Savannah, Georgia.
paula-deen-frontThis month, we won’t have to leave Pigeon Forge to inhale the aroma of delectable Southern cooking, as Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen opens at the Island entertainment complex. Full-service and family style. Many home cooking places offer buffet, serve-yourself operations. This restaurant offers a server-attended experience, with a sit down and kick back meal: as close as you can get to a family table meal together in a restaurant environment. After you collectively select your entrees and sides, the items are brought on serving platters and in bowls to be passed and served around the table to each diner. Whether you are a family of two, twelve, or twenty, you’ll be able to consume food that a truly Southern mom has created and cooked up for you, through her restaurant business.
Be aware that a meal here at the Family Kitchen would not be considered a hurried, weeknight affair. No, by all means, these meals are more the celebratory, holiday get-together affairs over which you unbutton anything that constricts, and vow to start your diet on Monday (or at least use this as your cheat day).
We have found the hardest part is everyone agreeing on the three main dishes to choose, as it is hard to eliminate choices from the list of tasty favorites like fried chicken, pot roast, and spare ribs. You might need to negotiate and compromise on side items like corn casserole, creamed potatoes, and candied yams to settle the score.

paula-deens-kitchen Rest assured there is plenty for every palate to savor. Take it literally when it says “all you can eat”. That considered, also use your appetite guideline to choose which meal of the day makes most sense for your group. Since the restaurant is new and in a high traffic location, be aware that prime eating hours will be busy. Allot the amount of time necessary to not ruin your experience by trying to rush (that won’t work anyway). Call ahead seating is available, and is advised for large parties.
When asking others’ opinions, the only dissatisfaction with this venue would be from those who are “light eaters”. Consider the meal price and the volume as “all you can eat”, so there is not a “doggy bag” service to take any food away from the table with you. If you want dessert, which is included, make sure you pace yourself and don’t order appetizers. Don’t let your eyes overwhelm your stomach, and not much should be left behind. If you want a cheap breakfast, don’t expect to get it here. If you only eat one plate, make sure the bottomless plate price is okay, before you think the price is too high. The food quality is far better than a less expensive “belly up to the buffet” joint, and so is the atmosphere, which is upstairs overlooking the commons area of the complex.
So, access the menu on your free WIFI while still relaxing at your cabin rental in Pigeon Forge before taking a group to dine. That way, any gridlock over shared selections can be resolved to better enjoy the meal when you are at the restaurant.
paula-deens-storeBefore you depart, don’t forget to visit the Paula Deen retail store on the street level, as you waddle away from that satisfying, gut-filling, old-fashioned comfort food. The spacious store offers all things kitchen, with food preparation equipment, condiments, foodstuffs and cookbooks all available to those interested in the ways of the the Southern chef. In addition, housewares and clothing, and country home decor items are also available. Think a Williams-Sonoma store with a twang.

If you don’t mind the caloric content, it’s worth a stop to visit Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen Restaurant while you are in our area. Butter, seasonings, and hospitality. “Come on over, y’all.”

Smokies Hiking 101: What to Take and How to Act

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Once you have settled comfortably into your Gatlinburg rental cabin, you surely have plans to explore your surroundings. Following a trailhead in early spring offers many advantages to the warmer, people-packed, buggier summer months ahead. Here is a short summary of what you will want in your backpack, and a few tips that experienced hikers want everyone to know.

Backpack Items for the Trip:

Spontaneity is not your friend on a trail in the wilderness. As tempting as it might be to take off on a hike without planning, don’t do it. Conditions change very quickly in our area because of the terrain, and knowing what you might face before you go is essential. Plan appropriately for a hike by first checking the weather. Rain or shine, time outdoors can be lovely as long as you are prepared. A few items that can be of help are:
  • A trail map. Even if you know where you are going. In case of emergency, since others may not.
  • A first aid kit. Plan for a wide variety of ailments from cuts to bugs to blisters.
  • Water and food. Both plain water and electrolyte, and even a water filter to use local water sources to refill. Never drink untreated water! Salty food and about twice the quantity of snacks that you think you will need.
  • Light source. A flashlight, or better yet, a headlamp for hiking out after dark, so you can see where you need to step. Check that it works properly before you go.
  • A whistle and mirror. For signaling for help, if you need to contact someone and can’t move.
  • Extra clothes. A dry set of clothes (and preferably something waterproof) can prove invaluable should you happen to need it. No, I have never slipped on a river rock either.
  • Phone in a plastic or waterproof bag. Place it in airplane mode or turn it off. Though there is little cellular reception in the national park, it still may prove valuable if needed.
  • There are many more items that can be included, of course. Include what best fits your trip needs, for a short walk or a daylong hike.

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Trail Courtesy Tips:
Any activity is more fun when everyone follows the basic rules of play. Here are four tips that pro hikers practice daily:
1. Always hike with a friend. Hiking alone presents many hazards that most are ill-equipped to handle. Also make sure you have a contact check-in plan. Leave this information with someone who expects to hear from you when your hike is completed: which trail you are hiking and where you are parked, who is going, and when you plan to arrive back.
2. Don’t litter, and don’t abandon extra or broken gear. You are not doing anyone else a favor, and it is both unsightly and a hazard to local wildlife. Carry a few resealable plastic bags, and pack out all trash so that you leave nothing behind. Not even food scraps or poured out soda. Leave. Nothing. Behind.
3. Be polite to others on the trail. Know that uphill hikers have the right of way, and let them pass you if you are descending. If you want to pass a slower moving person or group, slow down, and let them know that you want to pass, saying something such as “Passing left please”. Startling someone on a mountainside can be dangerous.
4. Be quiet, and do not disturb. Respect nature and its inherent serenity. Many people explore to get away from noise, and a loud crowd can spoil the peace for some distance in both directions, not to mention ensuring you will see zero wildlife. So hold conversation to a minimum, and make children behave. Everyone will thank you for doing so.
So get outdoors, and see the beauty of the Smokies up close and in person. Everyone at Volunteer Cabin Rentals has their favorite spots in the mountains, though we don’t get to visit as often as we would like. Just ask, and we will be glad to steer you toward that perfect path. We hope to see you this spring, and hope you will return again and again to experience our area’s wilderness in several seasonshikers

Top 5 Vacation Errors in the Smokies

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There are DIY instructions for most anything you can imagine on the internet (love some of those Pinterest fails, by the way). This blog is a source of Do NOT traps that tend to snare visitors to our area. With a little forethought your family will not be one of them.

1. Not actually going into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park-Yes, it is possible to get such a panoramic view from your cabin balcony that you may not think you need to physically drive into the National Park, but please don’t make this grievous mistake. “Look, don’t touch” does NOT apply here. Unless the weather is absolutely pouring rain or icy and snowing, the slight inconvenience of leaving behind modern facilities and getting into nature is worth the effort. Yes, even with children or physically challenged family members. You came to the mountains, didn’t you? Don’t squeeze them out of your schedule and regret it later.
Idea: At the very least, choose a motor nature trail like Cades Cove or Roaring Fork. Better yet, discuss an easy hike with one of the friendly park rangers at the Sugarlands Visitors Center near the main park entrance. They are experts at fitting the proper outdoor event to the needs of your family.
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2. Eating all meals at chain restaurants in town-Safe and predictable, yes. Memorable, no. I’m not suggesting avoiding familiar chain establishments completely, but can’t you go there while at home? There are many locally owned dining options throughout our area that are delicious places to try a new experience. Step out and make a memory.
Idea: Eat local. Ask any of us at the office our favorite places around town or to suggest a location to fit your desired cuisine. You just may discover a gem that you will return to every time you visit. Eat in. Both diet and budget friendly, don’t just use the full kitchen for storing bottles of water and soda. Plan for a special breakfast, movie treats, or a midnight snack if you must eat full meals when out and about. Just make it something different than your normal home routine.
3. Playing too hard-Because your vacation hours are precious, many tend to schedule every moment for maximum impact! Certainly you want to make a plan that best fits your family’s lifestyle, whether that’s excessive outdoor adventures or a repetitive shop-eat-sleep cycle. Please also plan to avoid arriving home with less energy than when you left! For most, doing nothing and recharging is becoming more of a challenge.
Idea: Plan for some specific, no-electronics downtime. Soak in the hot tub; rock on the deck; sink into the couch; read a book; listen to the quiet. Don’t miss your opportunity to REST in the Smokies!
4. Paying too much-Often economy cabins can be enjoyed for the price of a hotel room, with many more amenities. These same features can also cut expenses for food and entertainment, since full kitchens and game rooms are included in your nightly rate.
Idea: Volunteer Cabin Rentals has great promotions throughout the calendar year: just consult the website or ask our customer service representatives for our current best promotion discount available. When visiting area attractions, don’t forget to search in advance for coupon booklets, found in literature racks throughout the cities. Discount books are even available from the local outlet centers to save on shopping. You could pay more, but why?
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5. Not spending time together-Though alone time is a rare commodity, don’t miss the opportunity to create family memories. Vacation, like any holiday, is a fleeting chance to enjoy each other, without everyday stress and distractions. Children can always make this a challenge, regardless of age. Be different this trip. Make the effort.
Idea: Get down on the floor and actually play a game with a little one. Look into their eyes, while they are still young enough to not be rolling them at you. Let your teen choose and plan a specific activity for the family to enjoy together. Don’t immediately veto their attempt: they may surprise you. Overcome the selfie habit, and make sure everyone is in the picture. Take pictures. Lots of them. You will never be in the same spot at the same time ever again.
Good luck and good planning for avoiding the mistakes made (and lessons learned) by others who have come before you. Call us at VCR for assistance in choosing your perfect Smoky Mountain cabin today.

5 Best Pleasures of Off Season in the Smokies

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Whew, what a ride this last year has been! I have spoken to many visitors who feel the same way; there are those of us who need a vacation, even from the vacation hustle and bustle! But now that the crazy holiday season has once again come to a close, may I strongly suggest you consider why the Smokies are a sensible place to be from January to mid-March? If you believe in resolutions, why not make one for a quick inhale of a respite weekend at a secluded Smoky Mountain cabin rental?

I present my case for some favorite pleasures of an off-season visit here. You can live like a local, and even contemplate becoming one of us!
1. Negotiating traffic not required. If during busier times, you have been stuck in traffic in a sea of “plates from multiple states”, come see what happens when three lanes of Parkway leave plenty of room for all to share. Should you want to travel from Sevierville through Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg, you will find it a rather pleasant drive. I immensely enjoy an uncrowded Parkway where I can briefly survey the mountain range beyond in all its glory on my morning drive. Getting around is a pleasure, and allows for plenty of exploring.

2. Seasonal views are available for a limited time only. Since it is an easy task to explore the area, I highly suggest you choose to hit some nooks and crannies that you may overlook at other times. First, winter in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should not be missed. Even if there is snow accumulation (and the Newfound Gap Road over the mountain to Cherokee is closed), there are still many locations to check out breathtaking vistas. Because the days are shorter, I strongly suggest going early in the day, and changing your chosen spot to some of the lesser known areas for an almost private experience in the wilderness. Bears are hibernating, so there is not much concern there either. Though not vibrantly green like other seasons, you may be surprised to discover how intricately attractive GSMNP can be even while dormant. Review the website link, or talk to the visitor center for suggestions for a new spot to try. May I recommend Greenbriar Cove as an option? You need to find it anyway, because it is a hotspot to return to in the spring for the wildflowers and rhododendrons.
Of course, don’t forget that Winterfest lights also remain throughout the county through February, and even that hilltop view from your cabin is usually a more panoramic vista when the leaves make their seasonal exit.
http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/things2do.htm

3. Immediate seating is available. Now is the time to enjoy a romantic dinner together at your favorite restaurant. You can also consider those new eateries that are always require an extended waiting period in summer. Happily, for both visitors and locals, dining this time of year is an easy pleasure! Choose downhome barbecue from Bennett’s, hearty fare from the Pottery House Cafe, one of the restaurants at the Island in Pigeon Forge, or a special celebration at the Melting Pot or the Peddler in Gatlinburg.

4. Pull up to the door and shop until you drop. No need to navigate through a sea of sweaty fellow shoppers! Cool weather makes shopping here even cooler. Plenty of parking and a leisurely pace may just make you decide that all that pre-holiday madness is worth missing. Take your time to patronize the Glades Craft Community, the Village Shops, or the Tanger at Five Oaks.

5. Fire and Ice!-Okay, it’s fair to say that eastern Tennessee has its weather moments: usually a beautiful snow that lasts for a couple of days, and some tricky, icy backroads that linger a bit longer. Just be informed by Doppler and be prepared. No matter the weather, you can always enjoy the snow at Ober Gatlinburg. Much of it is “handmade” in addition to any natural accumulation. It’s the perfect place to learn to ski, snowboard, or try your hand at snow tubing and ice skating. You will probably see more folk, though, particularly on weekends.
Oh, and the fire part? Perfect. The only way to describe that carefree moment of bliss that can be achieved while staring into the flames of your cabin fireplace. Wood-crackling or gas logs, the warmth of the fire is my favorite suggestion to reheat your passion for winter relaxation here in the foothills.

Need more reasons to stay? Call us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals; we’ll be glad to help you with any suggestions you might need to make your winter getaway everything you desire. Make your reservation today!

Join the Crowds for New Years in the Smokies

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If a 50,000 people party is your style for ringing in the New Year, then you must plan to be in Gatlinburg for the New Years Eve celebration to ring in 2015! The focal point for the celebration is the Space Needle at Parkway and Historic Nature Trail, next to the Convention Center. Cap off your year with a festive ball drop and fireworks. Here are a few tips for planning your attendance to avoid some frustration:

Park-Choose your parking location ahead of time or ride the trolley into town (and enjoy the lights while doing it), since attempting to drive in and randomly find a spot later in the day would prove aggravating.
Watch-With a little research and asking locals for suggestions, choose your venue for the countdown. Whether that’s parking yourself streetside, viewing from a restaurant balcony, or just walking among the throngs, think ahead to enjoy it best.
Eat-Yes, you gotta. Absolutely plan restaurant reservations! Or for just one more worthy treat, please don’t skip the Carmelcorn shop on the lower end of the Parkway. It’s a local institution, and you can walk off the calories, I promise.
How about being above the foray yet still among the throngs? Enjoy ringing in the New Year at Ober Gatlinburg. There’s plenty to do for family activities throughout the day and evening: snowtubing, skiing and snowboarding, ice skating, and more. With a little planning and cooperative weather, one could watch some of the festivities below on an aerial tramway ride down the mountain.
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If you’d rather choose Pigeon Forge, then consider celebrating with the mass of folks at the Island at Pigeon Forge. Family activities, a midnight countdown, and fireworks are all a part of the festivities. Live entertainment starts earlier in the evening, and also adds to the party atmosphere. So “get stranded” as they say, at the Island in Pigeon Forge.
If you want to fill your evening with music, multiple theaters offer special evening celebration packages. Consider the Smoky Mountain Opry or Country Tonite as possible options.
If you want to stay on the move enjoying a variety of activities, you can’t get more seasonally festive than Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas (open until a few days into January). Extend that holiday cheer by taking in some of the live performance shows, letting the kids have a character visit, or walking among the wonderland of lights throughout the park. Get some cold face windburn by riding a few roller coasters to end the year with some adrenaline rush. How about one last calorie-laden indulgence with a loaf of fresh, hot cinnamon bread chased with a cup of steaming cocoa? Guaranteed there will be a line to wait for purchase, so you might get two loaves for good measure. Dollywood closes at 10 pm, just in time for a late evening restaurant meal to sit back, relax, and offer a toast to blessings past and good fortune for the days ahead.
Multiple restaurants throughout the area offer self-contained New Year’s Eve packages and party celebrations, from upscale to down home. There are many options available; check your favorites early.
How large your party crowd is to be is entirely up to you. Could it be as simple as a festive family gathering to celebrate? You purchased your fireworks at exit 407 and party goods from Hobby Lobby on your way into town, right? Why not just settle deeply into a get-away-from-everything evening at your secluded Smoky Mountain rental cabin? To me, there’s extreme gratification in focusing on those you love most, and remembering the joys and trials, successes and mishaps of the prior year. Start the year together with sharing your hopes and plans for the coming days ahead.
So if your crowd is several hundred, a couple of dozen or even a party of two, make early plans to celebrate, so nothing can derail your idea of the perfect way to begin your year in the Great Smoky Mountains. Best wishes for a fantastic 2015 from all of us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals, and we look forward to your visit with us again this year. See you soon!

Enter into Indoor Adventure! MagiQuest Castle Pigeon Forge

If December weather holds true for east Tennessee this year, playing while away from your Pigeon Forge cabin rental for the day may require short sleeves or a winter parka! If you find that you desire a few hours of indoor adventure because of obstinate weather, consider MagiQuest Castle on the Parkway.

There are two stories of multiple activities contained within, which can be purchased as a package or separately. Be forewarned that if you are searching for inexpensive entertainment, this location is not it. Be informed (and preferably ticketed online) before you arrive to avoid admission sticker shock, and to choose the best value purchase option for your family.
The ground floor of the building has three separate attractions that are independent of the Quest experience, and can be explored on the same day or at a different time. Typically these three events are purchased as a nominal $5 upcharge combination to the quest attraction (a decent value since each event is about $4.50 child/$6 adult individually). If an ultimate package is purchased ($30 each person with online coupon), you receive all four activities (including basic take home wand) that can be used all together or on different days, since you receive an individual ticket for each event.
Indoor Black Light Miniature Golf-The Special FX Pirate Miniature Golf course is an 18-hole layout doused in neon colors, which creates a unique experience for the typical game of putt-putt golf. The course is self-contained in an enclosed area with pirate-themed scenery throughout and a centerpiece galleon ship in the middle. The course is not too simple, yet also not too challenging for even the youngest players.
The Vault-This activity is a takeoff from the latest spy movie you might have seen. A single open area is lighted only by green laser beam lines. As a timed, single-run event, each participant enters alone and is scored on how quickly they move through the room, and how often a laser beam is disturbed. Scores are available for viewing (and competitive comparison) after exiting.
Odyssey Mirror Maze Adventure-If you have a poor sense of direction, then you may spend longer than twenty minutes or so wandering the aisles of this attraction, among the disco lights. You are given complimentary plastic gloves to minimize fingerprints and keep from marking and spoiling the trail for others in this mildly challenging walk-through. Most families thoroughly enjoy this, and the price here is less than other mazes in the area.
The second floor is completely devoted to the interactive  scavenger hunt that is the Quest experience. Though most would consider this a youth activity, there are plenty of gamer adults that enjoy participating also. First-time visitors will be instructed by a host with a short tutorial regarding how to play the game. Each participant works independently with a personal, programmed wand to advance through the steps of the hunt. The location supplies plain loaner wands as part of the experience, but rest rest assured your child will want you to purchase a take-home version with decorative adders for an additional fee (poof! instant increased profit!). Note that the magic wand turns into a pretty stick when you are not using it in a Quest facility, so its “magical powers” are location specific without an active imagination. Regardless, the facility database stores what hunts (quests) that each specific wand/player has completed, along with character information. Should you want to return to any of their multiple locations around the country to continue the games not finished or selected on your visit here, the information is saved for your convenience.
The play session is 90 minutes long (or 60 minutes if you choose the less expensive loaner wand option), more than enough time to complete at least a few (maybe 2-3) quests, by following tasks and clues that require you to wander the forest, dragon’s lair, and village venues for multiple trips to solve the mysteries of your choice. A multi-screened “tree” is the starting point to select what scavenger hunt of clues you wish to try. The wand is pointed at screens and other emblems and items throughout the area, to virtually “gather” items. Additional clues and recorded instructions are given to advance through the hunt. Adults can accompany and assist younger children without any additional entry charge required.
There is really nothing frightening about the mysteries or spaces, unless mild suspense of a “dragon’s lair” or perhaps being in an enclosed “secret room” with some potential for having to figure out an exit would cause concern. There are costumed villager hosts stationed throughout the area to assist with questions, or help you advance with more clues as needed. This venue is as much fun for the creative mystery lover as it is for the silly adventurer, and also a great place for photo opportunities.
My take on the pros and cons of this attraction: If you are seeking something rather different from other fare available on the Parkway, this virtual, medieval scavenger hunt fills the bill, and even includes more traditional fun with a small upcharge. The facility is clean and well-maintained, with nothing diminished by nonfunctioning elements or the like.
Your experience can be adversely impacted by overcrowding that regularly occurs, and how respectful (or not) the group of your fellow patrons behaves. Early in the day and evening times are less populated, so plan on an off-hours arrival for a more private/personal experience, and less waiting in line. Nice outdoor weather also usually equals less volume of adventurers to share your journey.
So take some time to explore MagiQuest for entertaining, interactive, mystical fun in the mountains. Return later in the week (or on your next trip) to complete another challenge: Ye just might find it addicting!
For more complete seasonal pricing, operating hours, and activity details, visit the the website link below. Use the website coupons to purchase your best price package online. For a visual preview of what perils lie ahead, check out this video.

3 Absolute MUST DO’s at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival

GristMill.ashxWe are so glad that you will be settling in for a special vacation holiday this year at your cabin rental in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The crisp air and crackle of the fire in the hearth are completely relaxing, and soon you will be ready for some serious entertainment. One of the best Christmas events in the nation is located in our area at Dollywood, which is transformed from its summer playground into a very special place to gather for the holidays. Please go visit, and while you are there, don’t forget to complete this short list.

1. See a musical show. Choose from a variety of award-winning options, all of which have the intrinsic power to put you into a holiday state of mind. Choose the classic tale “A Christmas Carol” to rid yourself of any trace of Scrooge. This professional live production includes original Parton-penned music. There is even a “Dolly-fied” holographic twist, appearing as one of the ghosts that Ebenezer meets as the plot of the 45-minute performance carries through to its hopeful and powerful finale.

Try an infusion of Southern gospel quartet harmony with “Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs”, a truly soul satisfying music experience. One of our favorite repeat traditions is the “Christmas in the Smokies” production, a mountain home medley of Christmas favorites with a sweet storyline and an always happy ending. There are several more shows to choose from the playlist daily, each with its own uniqie emphasis on the meaning and joy of the season. Please do take the time to settle in and absorb more than one performance. You will have no regrets, and memories will come flooding with each familiar tune.
2. Indulge and eat a treat. Okay, of course you can do this anytime during the year at Dollywood. Savor some Southern “down home” cooking that will warm your insides at several restaurants throughout the park. Special Christmas holiday menus offer additional choices with the normal selections. Check out the options at Aunt Granny’s Buffet, or have a laid-back, full service Southern meal at the Backstage Restaurant.
 But our family’s very favorite (oh, mercy!) treat is made from scratch onsite at the Dollywood Gristmill, located in the heart of the park at Craftsman’s Valley. Watch as the gooey, hot, cinnamon-laced, pull-apart pastry bread prepared and then taken directly from the oven to cool in the sales case for your finger-licking enjoyment. Don’t forget the extra cup of glaze to make it an over-the-top indulgence! One loaf is enough for a family to sample, but you may find it too quickly gone.
3. Take a multitude of pictures (or have some taken)! Photo opportunities abound throughout the park, with some perfectly beautiful venues as backdrop for the family Christmas card shot, or at least some stunning vacation mementos. If you are handy with aperture adjustments and the like, the Christmas lights themselves make lovely scenery (see above). Flash NOT recommended, of course. There are many other spots to consider. Try character meetings at Holly Jolly Junction and Santa’s Workshop for fun child moments, the Robert F. Thomas Chapel for a country church setting, or next to the Dollywood steam engine locomotive (or just on the empty tracks) for some interesting shots. You can even enter a gigantic snow globe for a still family photo, or the best “snowball” fight photo op ever.
I strongly suggest reading some of the details on Dollywood’s website link, so you can preselect a few not-to-miss locations to suit your own group’s preferences. I think it’s more enjoyable to have a loose to-do list, than to wander aimlessly and perhaps overlook something you wish you hadn’t. So enjoy a steamy cup of hot chocolate for me, and relish this Christmas season together like no other. Happy holidays from all of us at Volunteer Cabin Rentals!

Holiday Snow Wonderland at Titanic Pigeon Forge

titanicsnowExperience Another Era’s Winter: Titanic’s Holiday Snow Wonderland
When you come to the Smokies this season, wouldn’t it be marvelous if you could plan to wake up to a beautiful snowfall outside your Pigeon Forge cabin rental? Well, it’s not that easy to predict frozen precipitation in the mountain foothills. Except for the GUARANTEED SNOW that occurs every Friday and Saturday evening at the Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge.
Guaranteed snow? Yes, real falling snow is created outside at the bow of the ship for visitors’ enjoyment. Everyone can enjoy the delicious fun of an evening snowfall, and then can extend the wintertime ambience by visiting the Titanic’s museum. Robed in vintage holiday decor, come gaze at the lights, Edwardian and Victorian ornaments, the Christmas trees, along with holiday music and carolers. In addition to providing a unique and memorable vacation experience, fulfill your interest for education by taking a two-hour, self-guided tour of this special facility.
The museum building is a permanent, 1/2 scale, 3-deck replica of the original Titanic ship, with 20 galleries contained inside. The building’s interior includes reconstructions of various areas of the ship, carefully crafted from the original design blueprints. Real artifacts are also on display, all recovered from both surviving passengers and crew, and also from salvage efforts of floating debris by rescue boats.
Your entrance ticket is a printed boarding pass of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member, which personalizes the travel experience for each visitor. The fate of each name is listed on the Memorial Wall at the conclusion of the museum tour.
The whole family can immerse themselves in the events of the voyage. All ages can access a trove of historical information, to study at length as much as desired. Everyone can, even today, realize the awe of the large-scale undertaking that was required to create and sail the massive ocean liner.
Children will be fascinated by such activities as the following:
–attempting to balance on decks that vary in slope, to show the steep changes as the ship sank
–to play and learn in the little tots room for ages 6 and under
–to touch an iceberg’s frozen surface and feel the chill of the ocean water that night
–to steer the ship’s wheel from the helm room
–to listen to a special youth audio player with facts and stories
–to participate in a scavenger hunt activity
Much more is found throughout, with anecdotes and articles that will teach everyone something they did not know prior to visiting.The museum gift store is open free to the public, and offers items of interest along with a schedule of special events that occur throughout the calendar year.
The facility is also available to host your own gathering event, such as birthdays, weddings, or corporate activities and meetings. More information can be obtained from the staff, and also on the website.
Bring your entire group to experience and study the legacy left by the many lives and stories of those present on the fateful voyage of the Titanic that cold winter season. History can be truly fascinating!

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!