Monday, June 13, 2011

A few days of fun in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

We spent a few days last week in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tenn. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with some family members and to have plenty of vacation fun. I needed a reminder that Gatlinburg is less than two hours from Bristol. We had so much fun we are already looking forward to our next extended trip, or even a day excursion.

It had been more than 10 years since I had been to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, so plenty of offerings were new to me. But here are some things we did during our visit and truly enjoyed.

SPACE NEEDLE: The Gatlinburg Space Needle is located just off the Parkway and about a block from the Gatlinburg Convention Center. It is an all steel observation tower that is more than 400 feet tall. Visitors ride a glass elevator to the observation deck, which offers 360-degree views of the city (what a great photo my husband took of the city!). I must admit I had a bit of vertigo on the observation deck. As in, I did not come within about 10 feet of the railing and was more than happy when the others wanted to go down. There is a large, printed history of Gatlinburg on the tower and I entertained myself reading it, while glimpsing at the spectacular views from a safe distance away from the edge. The cost for this event is $8 per person, but you can go a second time for free, within 24 hours. The Space Needle is housed in a massive arcade (warning to cash-strapped parents!) and you must walk through it upon exiting the elevator to depart. This attraction is open 365 days per year.

RIPLEYS AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES: The aquarium is a must-see attraction that features a clear tunnel where visitors can view various types of fish, sharks, sea turtles and other marine life. It also features a stingray exhibit where visitors can don wet suits and swim with the rays, and an elaborate penguin habitat (sure to be even more popular with the summer release of the movie Mr. Popper’s Penguins.) This was a spectacular family outing and there is an enormous city parking lot behind the aquarium. Visitors can park, tour the museum, then hit Gatlinburg on foot or by trolley. (Cash only to pay for parking in the lot.)

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.: Yes, this is one of a chain of restaurants themed around the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, and his friendship with Bubba, who loved to eat shrimp prepared every imaginable way. The gift shop is full of movie-themed items (T-shirts and stickers that say: Run Forrest Run; Stop Forrest Stop; Bubba is my good best friend, etc.) It was a fun place to stop for lunch and we enjoyed excellent seating and a charming, funny waiter.

My youngest son dug in to the Shrimper’s Heaven – a combination on coconut shrimp, chilled shrimp, fried shrimp and Japanese-style tempura shrimp. One of the funniest elements? The food is served on fake newspaper pages from Greenbow, Ala., with stories based on scenes from the movie. We all raved over the “hush pups” – which are hushpuppies with added fish, shrimp and corn, and served with a spicy remoulade sauce. Super delicious! See the menu here.

I ordered the shrimp and grits – it was spicy, creamy and downright delicious. If you want to try this dish at home, here is a very similar version from the Food Network. Yum!

CHILLIN’ BY THE POOL: Most days, we visited some attraction in the morning, then spent the afternoon and evening at the pool. We stayed in a cabin at Clabough’s Campground, which is owned by my mother’s cousin. It was relaxing and quiet and located on Wears Valley Road, about a half mile from all the action in Pigeon Forge.

One of the favorite things I saw during our stay was a mother duck and her seven ducklings. She herded them around the camp, warning anyone who got too close. I looked for them every day, thinking of this wonderful book from childhood: Make Way for Ducklings.

We ventured briefly into the Great Smoky Mountains Park, visited a variety of restaurants and tourist traps and played plenty of rounds of mini-golf. And we have a list started for the attractions we want to see on our next trip. If you live near Bristol or Knoxville, Tenn., going to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg could easily be a day trip.

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