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!

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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!

5 Essential Steps to Enjoying the Smokies with Teenagers

Being together with the entire family on vacation is one of the joys of getting away. Sometimes it is also one of the biggest challenges! After another one of my impromptu surveys of the pros (parents of teens and teens themselves), here are the essentials for having a great Smokies vacation with teenagers on board (both physically and mentally).

1. Give them an activities planning assignment. Choose one or more activity windows during your trip, and allow your teen to plan the entire adventure, using online resources and/or local brochures. Check this Things to Do tab for some creative ideas. There are so many options, anyone can find something that is of interest to them, something they have never done before.
Teen suggestion: Outdoor Gravity Park http://outdoorgravitypark.com
2. Allow your teen to choose the food. Kids can be involved in meal planning for dining at your Pigeon Forge cabin rental, and also can make location choices while eating out. I’m not suggesting that every meal should include french fries or off the wall cuisine. But fresh opinions for at least a couple of meals could easily become a fond vacation memory, and maybe even a tradition when returning to the area.
Teen suggestion: Little Tokyo Hibachi Grill & Sushi
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3. Go laissez faire for an afternoon. To maximize every vacation moment, most parents attempt to make that happen by overscheduling. Tap into the spontaneity of youth by playing it by ear. Hit the Parkway with no plan, and let the vehicle destination be unknown. You just may discover a treasure you otherwise would have missed.
Teen suggestion: Top Jump Trampoline Park  http://topjump.com
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4. Include water. Even the most jaded child usually enjoys water activities, and our area offers many unique opportunities. Some of our cabins even include local swimming pool privileges, and there are multiple water parks and slides in the county. Or go more natural with a waterfall hike, river wading at a national park picnic area (like Chimney Tops or Metcalf Bottoms),  or river tubing.
Teen suggestion: Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing  http://smokymtnriverrat.com
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5. Schedule downtime. Most adults struggle with doing nothing, but teens thrive when relaxed and unscheduled. Our cabins offer plenty of room to spread out for some private time away from each other to sleep, catch up on social media, play video games, whatever needs to be done to maintain equilibrium.
Teen suggestion: Zzzzzzzz
Beware that the selections may include some elements that are not exactly your style! Yet these steps can help ensure that everyone has a part in making this Smokies exploration more interesting and fun for all. Good luck, from our VCR families to yours!

Don’t Scream! Best Places for Freshly Made Ice Cream in the Smokies

Talk about surviving the season! These sultry, summer days immediately whet my family’s appetite for a cool, sweet treat, and not just any ice cream will do. Of course, there are multiple locations of scoop servers like Baskin Robbins, Ben and Jerry’s, and regional Mayfield stores if you just want a simple fix. However, there are better options, where the frosty concoctions are made fresh in house, and not delivered by truck in frozen containers. Let’s review some preferred locations as listed by those unbiased, professional tasters on our staff.

Marble Slab Creamery-Although this too is a chain, all of their products are made fresh by the batch daily in store. They have many options of fruit and candy items that can be mixed into your chosen flavor to customize your serving, making it easy to satisfy everyone with exactly the treat combination they are seeking. There are two convenient locations in Pigeon Forge:  in the same building as Mellow Mushroom on the Parkway on the north end of town, and adjacent to Burger King, also on the Parkway on the south end of town.
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Apple Valley Creamery Ice Cream and Bake Shop-Located in the center of the Apple Barn complex in Sevierville, the parlor is an old-fashioned spot to sit and and enjoy traditional ice cream treats, freshly made with generous portions. Its location serves over 60 handmade flavors rotated seasonally, has a pleasant nostalgic atmosphere, and plenty of free parking. An adjacent bakery area in the same store also offers fresh breads and muffins for purchase. Go for a banana split (enough to share), or the warm apple crisp a la mode.
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Old Mill Creamery Ice Cream Bar-Another parlor location that is tucked in the shops of the Old Mill Complex in Pigeon Forge, this establishment is favored and remembered for its unique signature flavors. If you have never had Biscuits and Honey ice cream, or if you think that  chunks of homemade oatmeal creme pie should be included in your scoop of the day, try the too-big-for-one person servings at this shop.
Sweet Frog Premium Frozen Yogurt-Though not really ice cream, I must include a frozen yogurt location for those fans that prefer a lighter, yet still decadent treat. This place offers the soft serve stuff that you would never even realize is not custard ice cream, until you read the sign. Multiple unique flavors can be served individually or twisted. Serve yourself to get the exact quantity of each flavor you desire. Visit the clean and ample candy and toppings bar to add in whatever you require to complete your sundae masterpiece. My son swears the caramel apple flavor is like nothing else–and will never eat anything else! Gluten-free and sugar-free options are also available. One caution for nut allergies (with which our family must deal): the chocolate flavor is paired with peanut butter in the same dispenser. Because they can be twisted together in the center of the machine, the chocolate can contain residual traces of the peanut butter flavor. (I would change that in my perfect world). That has never kept us from being regular customers (even in December) at our beloved Sweet Frogs location, next to Firehouse Subs on the Parkway across from the entrance to the Island complex in Pigeon Forge.
This unscientific survey is provided purely by popular in house opinions, and does not reflect all available options for frozen treat indulgence in our area. But at least we can get you started with some viable options. One of them just may become a perennial favorite each time you visit your Pigeon Forge rental cabin. Guaranteed to make your vacation all the sweeter!

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.”

Join the Crowds for New Years in the Smokies

Newyeargat

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!

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.