A Family Winter Travel To The Tennessee Mountains
Updated: Jan 10
Are you in need of inspiration? For motivation, for decorating, for dinner, for life? Simply answer the call of the mountains. Tennessee was like a second home to my family and I growing up. I’ve white water rafted down the Pigeon river. I’ve explored ancient caverns and I’ve laughed at the shows performed at the comedy barn. I’ve shopped in Knoxville and my mother, grandmother and sister (extreme Elvis fans) have visited Graceland several times. I recorded an actual CD with nine songs, country-music-star-style, in Nashville TN! I’ve visited almost every Ripley’s museum in the state and I have toured a number of other museums and eaten at some of the most fantastic restaurants this side of the state line. As a writer, constantly looking for inspiration, I was absolutely thrilled that my mother’s christmas gift to us this year was season tickets to Dollywood and a TN stay in December. December in TN is a little early for snow but can be quite frigid, none the less. So to the "net" I went, to guard myself with the best advice and a game plan for a near perfect winter stay in Pigeon Forge TN.
What to do:
Obviously Dollywood. Yes, this Disney fanatic and desperately loyal pass holder wanna be, is actually recommending another theme park that is not Walt Disney World. Dollywood has one thing that Disney will never be able to touch, the most affordability and the most delicious food. For starters, the season pass is 100% worth it if you plan on going more than 3 times! Yes, just three visits or more will save you money being season pass holders. Regular one day tickets can start at $79 a person. 2 day passes start only at $99 a person. That means you can visit any two days within a five day period. Season passes start at $164 per an adult and includes so many perks:
*As long as the actual pass holder is present, Pass holders can get non pass holders $5 off of a regular one day admission.
*20% off Dollywood cabins (subject to availability)
*Pass holders are allowed to enter the park one hour earlier than regular admission hours
*$3 off Dolly Parton’s Stampede show
*50% off Stone Mountain Park regular one day adventure pass
*50% off Wild Adventures regular one day admission
Remember to text Dollywood to 41411 when you enter the park and receive a special offer good for that day. Dollywood is HUGE. Two days is a must when visiting this beloved Tennessee park. Between the unique shopping and the delicious food, you won't run out of things to do. The cinnamon bread has a line that is sometimes longer than any ride there so be sure to take one for the team and jump in line while others are in line for a ride. It is SO worth it. I promise.
The Island in Pigeon Forge:
Shopping, eating, touring, observing, laughing, drinking, walking… Are you tired yet? No? Perfect! Let’s keep going. I'll start by giving you this link: https://islandinpigeonforge.com/my-itinerary/ The Island at Pigeon Forge is so full of entertainment, shopping and dining experiences that this website has created a way for you to plan out what you would like to do during your visit. You can easily read about every single attraction and mark which one you would love to do by creating your own personal itinerary! How genius, right? More companies should follow suit. This makes your Island at Pigeon Forge trip much less overwhelming. So take a look, but first, I will bullet The Adventurous Alford’s recommendations.
*Let us start with the rides. There are so many carnival style rides at the Island. Kids will see this and will request a ride or two, or seven. If the rides are at the bottom of your list then pay per ride. If this is the top of your list, there is an unlimited 48 hour ride pass. For a child that will need a parent to ride along, the pass includes an adult chaperone for free. This pass is $30. For $10 more, it can include a one time ropes course. If you ride nothing, please consider The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel for the most spectacular views of Pigeon Forge.
*There are two places you can stay within The Island at pigeon Forge; Margaritaville Island Hotel and Margaritaville Island Inn. The Inn is definitely budget friendly but the Hotel offers the making of frozen concoctions in your room... so there’s that. The Inn includes a complementary breakfast and access to bike rentals so my vote would definitely be the Inn if you are set on staying within the Island at Pigeon Forge.
*Shopping: So. Much. Shopping. Several of these stores we actually have back home in Savannah GA, like the Paula Deen store, the Nourish bath soap store, Del Sol, and others so we stuck with ones like Bootleggers Winery (for us), the Toychest Company (for the kids), and Emory’s 5 & 10 for a little something for everyone.
*Timberwood Grill: This eatery was great! If you have small children and making a special visit to the Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine attraction next door is not an option, then consider Timberwood's moonshine flight to sample right there at your table. Beware of the "Blue Flame" sample. I felt that one for a hot minute, no pun intended. The Rocky Top Pork nachos were so amazing and could be eaten as a meal and shared by two adults for sure!
*The Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine: If its just the adults looking for a cool experience, swing into this distillery and sample some Tennessee moonshine. If you're staying at the Margaritavilla Inn or Hotel, you can walk back to your room, if not, you will definitely need to call a Lyft/Uber so plan accordingly.
One could easily spend an entire day at the Island at Pigeon Forge with all that there is offered to do. So get ready to have a blast.
I have to say, you can not help but to feel the overwhelming sensation of awe and gratefulness that the views of this attraction boast. My family and I got to Anakeesta in the afternoon, determined to beat the sunset, and were immediately excited to learn a chondola would take us up to the attraction. You are then free to wonder around the shops, walking trails, and you will have loads of photo ops. There is also zip lining ($), mountain coasters ($), and a treehouse style playground for the kids. During the holidays, Anakeesta takes the experience up a notch by adorning many of the bridges and walkways with thousands of twinkling lights. Pure magic. And just wait until 2020 when the expansion is complete and a huge playground is added for the kids. With spectacular views, such as these, why not make it even better by enjoying a delightful dining occurrence? Dress warm and dine at the Cliff Top Grill and Bar. This restaurant is an indoor/outdoor eatery, equipped with small heaters for the winter months, and spectacular views all year round. Be sure to try a cocktail from their full bar. In our group, the blue chips and burgers were the biggest hits. The Altitude Adjustment was a fun and sweet twist on the margarita. After a few bites at Cliff Top, head over to Beavertails for a fried batter, covered with delicious toppings of your choice. But if beavertails are not your jam (how could they not be?) then head over to Pearl’s Pie in the Sky for some ice cream or bakery style items instead. Either way, you can not lose in the food/beverage/dessert trifecta that Anakeesta has to offer. Stay warm by the fire pit and watch the stars above while nestled up with someone special. During the winter, nothing could be cozier, but during the holidays, Anakeesta takes their Magic in the Mountains slogan to a whole other level by serving holiday special menu items and drinks like the Holiday Wassail. I tried this with a spiked twist and enjoyed it while shopping and sight seeing the grounds. Cozy, right? When the sun goes down, the temps drop quick, especially in the winter months so be sure to bring some “hot hands”, gloves, hats and thermal socks for this experience. If you happen to forget yours, no worries, each shop sells these along with so many other cute souvenirs. If the weather is really cold and you're ready to leave, the heated shuttle van will take you back down quick with just as awesome views. I must add, I would not count this attraction as very handicap and stroller friendly. Our grandmother was in a wheelchair that was provided by Anakeesta but a lot of the things to do here required steps and bridges. The pathways are beautiful and smooth but with some incline here and there. My grandmother still had so much fun eating, shopping and sight seeing but skipping some of what this attraction has to offer is something to consider when panning your visit. Also, you can not let young children run free, in my opinion. Though there are barriers here and there, there are also many drop offs without barriers so keep kids close when wondering between the fun stuff. The mountain coaster was fun, but again, ride at your own risk. It was definitely for the thrill seeker and I was terrified that I had my three year old on it. My brother, however, loved it! All in all, Anakeesta was so fun. Think, miniature ski town with breathtaking mountain views and holiday magic surrounding you at every turn. I want to personally thank Anakeesta for hosting our wild crew for this experience and as always, the opinions of this post are my own.
Where to Shop:
The Island at Pigeon Forge is loaded with shopping. See above. There are also dozens of gift shops at every turn you make. Even Dollywood has a terrific gift shop along with other unique shops. And check out the Old Mill House district as well. But if you love christmas, the Incredible Inn at Christmas Place is where you need to be. Give yourself plenty of time here to shop and peruse the phenomenal display of christmas wonder, you wont regret it. Santa is also nestled within this great wander but that experience (and its definitely an experience) comes with a price tag so be prepared for that before you tell the kids all about it.
Where to Stay:
*DreamMore Resort. This hotel is nothing short of stunning. Don’t even get me started on it’s beauty during the holiday season. This resort will keep your heart warm and protected from the lowering mountain temperatures that await you outside, metaphorically speaking, of course. But it truly feels like a warm and loving hug when you enter DreamMore’s breathtaking lobby. Friendly staff greet you upon arrival and make you feel welcomed. Do not miss the opportunity to dine at the resort’s restaurant, Song & Hearth, a southern foodie’s dreamland. You can even dine with Santa for breakfast during the holidays. AAA/CAA, AARP and SUPER pass holders receive amazing discounts when you book online so be sure to have those forms of identification with you at check in. This Dolly Parton owned resort was inspired by her love for family, togetherness and the beautiful smokies that she calls home. And DreamMore is just that... home.
*Vrbo: My family and many of my friends stay at this Vrbo: https://www.vrbo.com/1094143?fbclid=IwAR36hohnj8GOtmLjcpgwmciANDSp5zGBBxCSffm3rBRTEbuOqZCCOdMIPj0&unitId=1642301 The balcony looks out to the Tennessee mountains and the electric fireplace gives you a cozy glow throughout the night. The location puts this condo at the top of my list of where to stay in Pigeon Forge for sure. It has nothing to do with the fact that there is a Dunkin' Donuts at the entrance of the grounds or that there is a heated indoor pool... And with a full kitchen at your fingertips, you can bring your own food to cook to cut costs for those longer trips.
Where to eat:
This portion of the post could easily be a ten minute read alone! I will try to stay focused… you try not to drool. As mentioned before, Song and Hearth should definitely be on your list while staying at the DreamMore resort, and Timberwood Grill at The Island at Pigeon Forge as well, but let’s take a look around. This is definitely the more family focused Tennessee post so the Frizzle Chicken must be on the list of places to eat. With tons of pancake variations to choose from, you can also stay entertained by the singing chickens that stay perched above your head while you eat. (The chickens are mechanical so no need to worry about extra unwanted frosting on your short stacks.) The kids are given a faux egg that they can decorate while dining! So cute. The funfetti pancakes were voted best by our group, the biscuits coming in at a close second. Mel's Diner was a fun and affordable place to eat late at night after a full day at Dollywood. Its actually an authentic style diner with loads of memorabilia to observe on the walls. Don't forget to order a coke float or milkshake to complete your meal!
And for the most obvious and most notable…
The Old Mill House area. Let me just say that there are almost not enough opportunities in a day to experience all of the culinary wonders of this place. With shopping, eating and many holiday events, there is so much to love about this historical area. Within the Old Mill House area, there is a cafe, restaurant, distillery, candy shop, a creamery and shopping! Visit https://old-mill.com/ to learn more about this years events and to drool over their menu. For our family, the cafe was the best food we had the whole trip. Finish your meal with a slice of banana fosters cake and thank me later. I wish we would have devoted more time to this place to explore. The only regret from the entire trip, I assure you.
Where to Play:
MagiQuest. We frequent Great Wolf Lodges due to that being one of my kids' most favorite places in the world so when we learned that there was a MagiQuest attraction in Pigeon Forge TN, we were stoked, to say the least. MagiQuest is like a magical scavenger hunt. Using wands, you wonder through different realms, waving your magic to unlock hidden treasures that bring you closer to completing each quest. If that wasn't enough fun, add a 5000 sqft mirror maze, a timed laser obstacle course and black light mini golf and you've got yourself a couple of hours of nonstop fun that the entire family can enjoy! Our competitive family took full advantage of the opportunity to whoop each other in the Vault (laser maze) by trying to beat each other's times. Our Magi trainer, Dillon, was fantastic in teaching us the ways of the wand. Thank you so much to MagiQuest for hosting us and ensuring that we all had a fantastic time. This opinions of this establishment are my own.
Wear Farm city park: This FREE park is perfect for the kids. With trails and a playground, you will definitely enjoy this for some down time between attractions or meals.
I highly recommend Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville Tennessee as a family fun destination for ALL budgets and ages. You can do as little or as much as you want here at this fantastical playground but for the best experience, I recommend four days to fit in a great amount of fun! Invest in your family and get inspired by the mountains of Tennessee!
Cheers, and a happy new year!
The Adventurous Alfords