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!

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!

Tips for a SAFE and Happy Smokies Vacation

Is it fair to say that we do things on vacation that we may not even consider doing at home? Though I often write on current events or places in our area, this blog originates from a recent personal experience. Our family was driving on the main Parkway, when our son pointed out the “cute little girl” in another vehicle. The child in the SUV was roughly three years old, and was having a great time bouncing around the vehicle from the side window to the front console and back, laughing and singing with her grandparents,  while her car safety seat sat empty. We traveled along with this vehicle for several miles, until they stopped at a retail establishment. After the family entered the store, I wrote a politely thorough windshield note reminding them of the danger posed to this unrestrained precious child, both literally and legally. I am certain that they were only preserving their sanity after a long ride of seatbelted protests, but the potential for disaster was not worth their risk!


Here at Volunteer Cabin Rentals, we want your family to have an enjoyable vacation in your Smokies rental cabin and the surrounding area. Here are some tips to consider while visiting, to keep everyone protected from an unexpected hazard.
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Home Away From Homefront
1. Childproofing-Though anyone with small children knows to do this, don’t let your guard down. Study the features of your cabin thoroughly, and consider indoor items like stairs, sharp corners, doors and blinds, fireplaces, hot water temperature, and tubs. Outdoors, verify the security of balconies, hot tubs, and dangers associated with the yard, slopes, and driveway. Consider bringing supplies like gates and nightlights, so that you won’t have to purchase them while here. A small pack of bungee cords and even a roll of duct tape can always come in handy to secure off limits areas.

2. Safety Plan-As you would at home, agree to an escape plan from your cabin, and designate a meeting spot outside, should an emergency occur. Accounting for everyone is much easier if the unthinkable happens.
3. Lock It Up-Consider your cabin rental a luxury “hotel room with many doors”, all of which should be secured and locked. Though violent crimes are extremely rare in our area, theft does infrequently occur, usually through unlocked doors and windows. Double check before heading out on an all day excursion to ensure you have secured all entries.
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Out and About Town
1. Hide and Carry-Conceal your valuables on your person. Tourist areas attract pickpockets on vacation looking for the easy mark: like a backpocket wallet bulge, or the perennially ugly fanny pack, which advertises that all your important stuff is in one unsightly wad. Wallets in front pockets and crossbody bags are smarter choices. When seated, wrap a strap around your arm or leg for extra security, instead of hanging bags on a seatback or placing them at your feet.
2. Please no PDA!-Like the Louis Vuitton luggage on the airport carousel, public displays of affluence are the type of PDA that makes you a noticeable target for those wishing to lighten your load. Put the expensive camera in a bag if you don’t immediately need it, and leave your best jewelry safe at home. Relax without the burden of protecting unnecessary expensive accessories.
3. Left Behind Game-Teach and employ your kids with this good habit. Whenever you are leaving somewhere, take a last glance back to make sure that you have not left behind anything that you have been carrying. Don’t let a sitting rest stop be the place you lose your favorite sunglasses or most recent shopping purchase. Last week, I saw a lonely, but full shopping bag in the roadway intersection in front of a local outlet mall. I believe it slid off the back or roof of a car, unnoticed as they drove away.
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Lost Child Strategies
1. Lost and Alone Plan-I have a friend whose son followed the wrong “mom in a red shirt” at Disney World, and got lost (he’s okay and in college now). It can happen to anyone. Have a plan worked out with steps for your children to follow if they get separated from you. This is an easy discussion that can occur during the car drive here. First step is for them to locate an employee of the store or park and say they are lost. Work out the best details for your family from there.
2. Different is Good-Put distinctive clothes on your children when traveling. Bright colors, school logos, and even matching family looks are corny, but effective in identifying to whom someone belongs. However, avoid a visible child’s name on clothing, as it broadcasts identification information to everyone.
3. Label that Kid!-There are companies that sell stick-on child identification labels, but it is more practical to employ a waterproof permanent marker. Write your name and mobile number underneath your child’s clothing, like a sleeve or above their belly button. Then all your child has to do is find an employee, show them the number and say, “I’m lost, would you please call my daddy to come get me?”
Lastly, guard your health by washing, washing, washing your hands while in public, and also by using safety practices in public restrooms (never alone if under 10, and caution buddies even then). Protect yourself, your family, and your fun on this trip to the mountains. Come enjoy our beautiful autumn, before the crazy holiday shopping season begins! We look forward to seeing you soon.

One last Summer Thrill: Reviewing the Roller Coasters of Dollywood

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

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

Come Fly Away Standing Still: Wonders of Flight Balloon Ride

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

http://www.wondersofflight.com

Best Local Sources for Celebration Sweets and Treats

So you have reserved a cabin in Wears Valley for that special event for your family, your group retreat, or your corporate event. At some point, dessert will be required! here are a few local handmade options as alternatives to buying standards from a grocery store or big box discounter. If taste is your highest priority, start here.

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Homemade, old-fashioned staples like bread, pies, and cakes can be found at Anne’s Amish Bakery in Sevierville. No prefab stuff here. The business also offers new flavors and unique items, and recently introduced diabetic friendly pies. My cocoa tooth suggests the ugly brownies or the chocolate zucchini bread. Think Grandma’s melt-in-your-mouth, and you have the right idea.

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Looking for rich cheesecake? Order a “can’t miss and won’t have any left” circle of deliciousness from Smoky Mountain Cheesecake Cafe. Made fresh daily, you will want to order ahead to ensure your choice from their artisan flavors.

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Why not cater an ice cream social? Order the complete party from Marble Slab Creamery in Pigeon Forge, complete with mix-ins and a server to make the creations by request. What could be better than a customized scoop? There are now 2 locations open to serve you.

 

cupcakeOr go easy, and just take the cake from Gigi’s Cupcakes. From basic to gourmet-flavored, try this regional chain location, if frosting-topped cakes are a must for your event happiness.
With minimal extra effort, your celebration can be enhanced with a delectably sweet finish. All mentioned locations are Volunteer Cabin Rentals tested and approved! Enjoy.

 

Danger Ahead: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Meeting Bears on the Trail

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Mmmm, there is nothing better than a steaming berry cobbler, fresh from the oven of your Gatlinburg rental cabin. Others would agree with you, including our local black bears, who are currently munching their way through the ripe summer berry season in the park. Recent local media have reported that two national park trails are currently closed due to heightened bear activity: Twin Creeks Trail and the Noah Bud Ogle Cabin and Nature Trail. Though highly unlikely to be attacked by a black bear, it’s a prudent idea to make sure you know what to do, should you meet one (or a family of them) while exploring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Do this:
1. Watch for fresh tracks and scat (animal droppings) while you hike. Remember that you are in their neighborhood, and in this season, very likely passing through their dining area. Making regular conversation, singing, and carrying a bear bell (essentially a free hanging jingle bell) decreases the likelihood that you will surprise an animal, and gives them the opportunity to naturally avoid you and your party.
2. Should you actually encounter a bear, move calmly and slowly. Back away without turning your back and without making direct eye contact.
3. Look bigger. Wave your arms calmly or grab a stick to wave to increase your visual size. Also place children on your shoulders to increase your height and their safety.
4. Leash your pet. Better yet, leave them home. A happy Labrador, for example, could make the whole situation needlessly volatile. Why risk it?
5. Turn up the volume, if the bear appears curious (standing on hind legs), or does not retreat. Use your voice to sing or yell. Bang items together or clap.
6. Should the extremely rare attack occur, fight back furiously and loudly, tantrum-style, hitting with whatever you can grab. Know that it will not likely ever come to this, if you don’t get too close. Should you have a bear encounter, please do report it to park services, so it can be recorded and the animal behavior closely tracked.
Whatever you do, don’t do these:
1. Do not run! Prey runs away from its predator. This is not the message you want to send the bear. Though you may want to flail, scream, and retreat, resist the urge.
2. Do not feed the bears. Never. Not even for the world’s best photo opportunity. Walking into a natural dining room is one thing, but establishing yourself as a food source in the mind of the bear endangers both you and all other humans to follow, as the bear develops a palate for people food. A young bear is taught by its mother to avoid humans naturally. It is appetite and needless opportunity for human food that derails innate behavior.
3. Do not smell like food or something else interesting. Avoid colognes, perfumes, or use of scented body products. Pack out your trash and any leftover scraps, preferably in sealed plastic, so as not to be viewed as a roving snack opportunity.
4. Do not show fear or aggression. Don’t play dead (that’s for grizzlies-none here). It is also unwise to stare them down: direct eye contact can be perceived as aggression on your part.
5. Do not climb a tree. You cannot out climb or outrun a black bear. They can quickly ascend to a treetop and can keep pace with a horse. Can you?
6. Do not go solo. Groups of three or more people are best for safety while hiking in the park.
We want your hiking experience to be both happy and healthy. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy watching black bears from a safe distance. Federal regulations state that “willfully approaching within 150 feet, or any distance that disturbs bear or elk, is prohibited. Violators are subject to imprisonment up to 6 months and/or fines up to $5,000. It’s just not worth it. Should you desire a wonderful memento of the bears in our park, view my blog from May 28, 2014. Two great choices for photos or paintings of local bears are mentioned, both much better and far safer than any selfie attempt.
Education is also never a bad thing. For more tips and details, check out this video made in conjunction with the National Park Service:

Over 50 Money-Saving Vacation Items from the Dollar Tree

So you have just arrived in the area, on the way to checking into your Sevierville cabin rental. Your family will inevitably stop at the grocery and/or discount store to stock up on food and other items that you will need during your stay. Our guests run the gamut from traveling with only the will to shop, to bringing absolutely everything to avoid buying any duplicates while here. For those that fall in between, I propose a pitstop you may not have considered to save you some substantial cash to reallocate as play money.

Don’t stop reading now: please give this concept a chance. Note there are several dollar discount stores in our area to shop for your liking: Big Lots, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree. All of these chains offer discount items, with some great deals among the cheap junk. For the purposes of this blog, I chose the local Dollar Tree store, since it is conveniently located directly on the Parkway in Sevierville, which the vast majority will pass on the way into town. Also located in this center are a small Belk department store, TJ Maxx, Outback Steakhouse, Popeye’s Chicken, and a local bank ATM. By the amount of out-of-state tags that I see every time I visit TJ Maxx, it is obvious that everyone likes a great deal wherever they may roam. Another plus is that Walmart is just three more traffic lights up the Parkway, so you can stop here first. In addition, a new second location has also opened this month in Pigeon Forge at 161 East Wears Valley Road, in the Shops of Pigeon Forge center.

Map of Dollar Tree, Sevierville, TN

Map of Dollar Tree, Pigeon Forge, TN
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1. Celebration Items-So many come to our area for happy times: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, showers, family reunions, buddy trips, holidays, and more. Check out these items that will help you celebrate at $1 each or less:
greeting cards, car window markers, decorations, party favors, mylar and latex balloons (mylar inflated instore), candles, gift bags, cellophane treat bags, wrapping paper, gift tissue, ribbons, bows, table covers, tableware and serving utensils, functional and decorative glassware, specific seasonal items, and holiday items. With a little creativity on your part, your celebration will not be diminished by using items that are $1 each. Even Martha Stewart thinks quite highly of tissue paper decor. Here’s the proof:
http://www.marthastewart.com/274329/tissue-and-crepe-paper-crafts/@center/276982/craft-tools-and-projects
2. Water Play Items-If you plan to play in the local waters, inexpensive water toys are available in abundance now, and there is even a small selection year round here because of area indoor water parks. Think pool noodles, diving weights, small squirt guns, goggles, tote bags and backsacks, clear zip bags, flying discs, and flipflops (gotta love shoes for a dollar). Durability is not a major concern if you consider such toy items as “use and lose”, or pay them forward for someone else to enjoy (no packing to haul home!).
3. Kitchen items-I am certain you brought your own “can’t live without” coffee creamer from home! You can find all manner of foil pans, plastic and foil wrap, clear zip bags, picnic items, tote baskets and plastic containers available, along with many oddball kitchen gadgets that may not be standard vacation rental issue.

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4. Toys and Candy-Namely, cheap entertainment, but I’m not advocating junk toys at all. Skip them for simple pleasures like balls of all sizes, sidewalk chalk, silly string, puzzles, glow sticks and glow jewelry. Not enough? Simple crafts, poster and foamcore board, paints and markers can also satisfy a kid’s creative side. See if you can challenge them to play a different way and set aside the electronics for awhile on vacation.
Candy? Yes, really. Theater box brand-name candy is $1 or less, and usually very fresh (blog writer tested). Other candies include Tootsie Roll products, Werther’s, Dubble Bubble and other name brand favorites. Many other items are American-made by regional confection companies and of good quality. Don’t be afraid to try these treats; if you have any concerns, check the dates or ask the staff. A recent score (for school gifts) was an entire box case of small Toblerone bars for $1 each, and they were completely fresh and lovely.

My point is to consider saving all you can on the functional stuff of trip life, to have more of your hard-earned dollars to spend on fun. I am assuming your innate capability to discern the foreign-made junk from the great gems that you can mine for your own shopping needs. I think you will find more than you expected, with a pleasant ending cash register total, as opposed to the typical tourist town sticker shock. For those already in the know, I am certain you have far more additional creative ideas than I could ever list here.
Enjoy your stocking pitstop, and we look forward to your arrival at Volunteer Cabin Rentals very soon!

Breakfast Options Both Sweet and Savory

Some of our guests like to leave their alarm off and snuggle deeper into the pillows in their Wears Valley, TN cabin rental. Others want to rise early and get a tasty start on their adventures for the day. Here are some suggestions for that most important first meal of the day, with menus and operating hours provided.br1

The most venerated location requires the earliest arrival, since in high season the lines extend down the street. The Pancake Pantry is a downtown Gatlinburg tradition, one of those “gotta go” places to check off your list. A broad menu of options for breakfast awaits. The first pancake restaurant in Tennessee, they have been serving up meals since 1960, and in its current location since 1975. Not really a place for a quiet meal here (unless it’s off season), since the restaurant does a high customer volume (though not rushed). They also serve lunch with good sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads. Cash only, so be prepared.

7 am-4 pm June-October, 7 am-3 pm November-May, 7 days

In Pigeon Forge, consider Log Cabin Pancake House at the north end of the city, just before leaving Pigeon Forge toward Gatlinburg. This family breakfast diner is another in-season busy location. Hearty Southern breakfast choices like ham, biscuits and gravy are offered, in addition to sweet options. Known for country cooking, think good food and large portions: you will not be left wanting more here. Friendly service, and also a simple country lunch buffet complements their breakfast. There is a second location in Gatlinburg, an option to Pancake Pantry when it is too crowded.

7 am-2 pm, 7 days
Frank Allen’s Market and Grill in Sevierville is a local hangout diner that is also a gas station. Clean and basic, grab a stool at the counter and enjoy a fresh meal from the griddle. Sausage and egg biscuit? Yum. If you need local endorsement, Dolly Parton really likes to eat here too. If you slept into lunchtime, Frank Allen’s is also known for pretty great burgers too: voted best burgers in the area for several years straight.
9 am-5 pm Mon-Sat, 10 am-4 pm Sun, 7 days
My few comments regarding these establishments: they are all straightforward basic eats, certainly not gourmet (unless you consider crepes highbrow). All are family-owned, with food made-to-order. If you want chain restaurant pricing and quality, go to the chains: there are plenty in the area. I think it’s unfair to compare family restaurants to chain establishments, especially regarding service. If pricing is a concern, check the menu prior to visiting. Please tip generously for friendly, efficient service. Servers make the majority of their income from tips, just like in your hometown.
So don’t eat at dining places you can find at home while on vacation. Experience our local Southern cooking: it’s a treat, even for us locals. Bon appetit…y’all!

 

The Glory of the Arts: Create, Appreciate, and Take them Home with You!

“If art has a purpose, it is to interpret life; reproduce it in fresh visions.” Catherine Dinken Bowen

If your creative energy is spent shaping crafts of any kind, you can indulge your passion with likeminded folk while on vacation in your Pigeon Forge cabin. Sevier County is blessed with many talented artists, both homegrown and transplanted from all over the globe. Here’s a summary of some locations of interest where imagination can be found.

 

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Want to improve your own creative skills? Try a new medium and enhance your personal artistry? Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is located in downtown Gatlinburg, and hosts visiting artists throughout the year at various functions. Five artist galleries and the artist-in-residence studios are open to viewing by the public. Evening presentation events and the library and resource center are also accessible. Visit the campus store for uncommon pieces and other items of interest. Arrowmont’s website is full of great information, so plan ahead and take a class!

 

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If you would rather see others in action with plenty of opportunity for purchasing unique items, visit the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community Trail, located off Highway 321 on Glades Road, 3 miles outside of Gatlinburg. This 8-mile loop is the largest group of independent artisans in North America, over 120 studios using all forms of media. I have blogged about this great destination in the past (see archives June 6, 2013); it is definitely worth the trip and is a great way to shop locally.

Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair brings the craftsmen to the public twice annually in the summer and fall. This year’s dates are July 18-27, 2014, and October 9-26, 2014. If you are visiting during these dates, take advantage of this trade show-style event with both local and visiting artisans from all over the country. Don’t miss these hugely popular events, located at the downtown Gatlinburg Convention Center.
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In Pigeon Forge, Dollywood’s Craftsmans Valley is actually a great location for daily artist demonstrations. See traditional crafts like wood carving, glass painting, candle making, and even more. Hot skills from master crafters like glass blowing and blacksmithing are also fascinating to watch, if you can pull the kids away from that next rollercoaster ride for a few moments.
In addition, the fall Harvest Celebration adds dozens of Celebration Crafters in booths throughout the park displaying a wide variety of skilled crafts. It’s actually my favorite time to visit Dollywood: beautiful natural countryside in all its autumn splendor, with hand-crafted beauty also on display.
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For the kids, and also the kid in you, why not paint your own souvenir from your vacation? Visit the Ceramic Art Studio in Sevierville, located at 728 Parkway. Absolutely everyone can be an artist here. Choose your own piece from a broad selection of ceramic wares. All materials to paint and finish it are provided, along with basic instruction to get you started. The pieces are glazed and fired onsite, and can be picked up or shipped to your home address–no breakage worries! Group activities are also available. Consider a girls night out, a team building corporate activity, or a kid’s party. Independently owned by friendly folk, they will gladly work with you to even bring a class to your group event location. For more information, check out this link: http://ceramicartstudio.com
So think about some art exploration while visiting this area of Tennessee. With a little planning, you can create your own one-of-a-kind piece, and maybe discover a talent you didn’t know that you had. Take home an elegant memento of your visit. Even get a jump on Christmas shopping with “can’t find it elsewhere” selections. Just another reason to love to return again to the Smokies: there’s nowhere else quite like it. Reserve your stay with us today at Volunteer Cabin Rentals, and get your creative juices flowing soon!