Disclosure: I was provided lodging and complimentary attraction experiences in Gatlinburg, TN. All opinions are my own.
The boys and I recently took a quick trip to Gatlinburg, TN. The drive from Atlanta was gorgeous – through North Georgia, North Carolina and into Tennessee. The view was amazing with all the fall colors!
One of the things that could have put a damper on our two day escape was the rain. No downpours, just on and off drizzles. What do you do then? You make the best of it and check out the following activities!
Gatlinburg Home Base
Our hotel for the weekend was in a great location. If you’re not familiar with Gatlinburg, the “main strip” with most of the attractions is Parkway. Our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, was just one road behind it. In walking distance to most attractions but far enough from the noise of the main tourist area, the Hilton Garden Inn was ideal.
We had two queen size beds and the sofa in the living area was a sleeper. As you can see from the above picture, everyone felt quite at home and there was plenty of space for teenage boys to stretch out. Our room also had a microwave and a mini-frig which is ideal for families.
We got room service our first night because it was late and I was tired. The prices were reasonable, the food was great and the service was impressive. When the person delivering the food saw my crutches, he asked what happened and immediately asked if I would like him to get me some ice packs. I gratefully declined, but I was touched by the offer.
While my kids were reveling in the indoor saltwater pool and adjoining hot tub, I was nearby in the lobby. Why? Because a slippery pool deck doesn’t seem like a good place for a person on crutches. A much better place was by the fire place in the lobby, with complimentary beverages and snacks.
Although my reservation had been made long before I found myself on crutches – you can read that story here – by happy coincidence I was booked into a mobility accessible room! The number one thing this meant to me was a shower with a seat and an adjustable shower head. It was glorious.
Our first stop of the day was at Ober Gatlinburg. This is an amusement park and ski area that is up on top of a mountain! We piled into the aerial tram for the 2.1 mile ride up to the top! If you are braver than my oldest and youngest, you can take an open chair lift instead. There is always the option of driving, but the tram and chair lift definitely offer the best views.
What is there to do? Well, there is a mountain coaster, an alpine slide, mini golf, a cool maze… All things that you can’t really do in the rain. What saved our trip was the indoor ice skating rink! Since I was born in Buffalo, NY I learned to ice skate when I was very young. I never got around to teaching these Georgia boys, though. They laced up for the first time and had a blast.
There is also an arcade but I tried to dissuade the boys from doing something we could do at home. We headed outside in the light sprinkle to the Wildlife Encounter. We saw bears, otters, bobcats and other animals outside. Inside the nocturnal house were owls, raccoons, flying squirrels and more! My boys have always loved critters, so this was a hit.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
We went from land animals to sea creatures! We have never met an aquarium we didn’t like, so everyone was enthused to hit up Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. There is a parking deck directly behind the aquarium that was convenient and reasonable. This aquarium is truly family friendly and here’s why – the display windows are kid-height. I remember countless times having to hoist my kids up so they could see something when we visited other attractions years ago. Being in a wheelchair for this visit, I was basically kid-height. I appreciated that I could see everything just fine while sitting in the wheelchair.
There were a lot of touch tanks, which was fun! I touched jellyfish and stingrays. There were also horseshoe crabs out for touching. There is a play space on the bottom floor with plenty of opportunity for climbing. You can stay put and rest while the kids blow off some energy!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium
All my boys have been big fans of the yearly books that Ripley’s Believe It or Not puts out. Weird and gross facts are their jam, y’all. So this shrine of bizarre was of high interest to my people. I felt like there was a good mix of museum-type facts and hands-on activities. My boys’ favorite was the room with optical illusions and activities.
There were funny displays, there were creepy displays. You’ll find a little bit of everything at the Odditorium. There are three floors and sixteen themed galleries in this attraction! Here’s a tip – you can purchase tickets to other Ripley’s attractions as a bundle and save money! Are you an E-bates user? Save money and get 5% cash back if you purchase your tickets through E-bates. Not a member? Join through my affiliate link and shop through December 31, 2017 and you’ll get $10 in your account!
A Little Something For the Grown Ups
While I enjoyed the attractions we did as a family, there was one experience that was just for me. I made a visit to Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery on Parkway! Now, don’t make that face. This is not the moonshine that comes from stills in the backwoods and makes you go blind. I got the chance to tour the distillery on site. This is not a quick process! I never knew where the term “corn mash” came from. Four hours cooking. Four days soaking. I got a little taste of the shine right out of the still and I almost saw Jesus right there, y’all.
For people like me that are not quite so hardcore (I love Jesus but I drink a little) I encourage y’all to belly up to a counter and participate in a tasting. My new friend Rabbit made this a stand out experience. Don’t worry about coming out of there sloshed – the tasting cups are almost thimble sized. It’s just enough to give you a taste of each product but without taking in enough to make you sloppy. Yes, they have the traditional White Lightning, but there are so many other flavors that are a smoother introduction to moonshine. One of their most popular flavors is the Apple Pie. I like the lemon tea and the margarita flavors but came home with the butter pecan! I am kind of regretting not purchasing a bottle of their Salted Caramel whiskey. I’m not a regular whiskey drinker, but the taste I had was good and made me think that it would make for a great holiday gathering drink!
Our time in Gatlinburg was short and we didn’t get to explore nearly as much as we wanted to. Rest assured, though, that while Gatlinburg is known for it’s gorgeous scenery and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is still plenty to do if the weather just isn’t cooperating. We are definitely including a longer trip on our bucket list to take in as much as the National Park has to offer. But even if the weather is sunshine for miles, we still might make time to revisit these fun places!
To find even more to do regardless of the weather, visit the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for tons of great ideas!