Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Travel Bug: Gatlinburg

Two weekends ago, Gray and I got to spend the weekend in Greenville, SC with my sweet family that always shows us the best time and sweetest hospitality. Last weekend, I went to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN with three girlfriends of mine, and we had the best, most jam-packed weekend of adventure. In two weeks, Gray and I are going to Charleston, SC (my most favorite place ever) for my 23rd birthday, and then we have another trip planned to Washington, DC for the weekend of July 4th. I think it's safe to say the travel bug has bit us, and I love it. I am so thankful to finally start seeing some benefits of my job as a travel agent, and I know some of these opportunities would be impossible without the connections and relationships I've formed.

Today, I'm going to share about my trip to Tennessee. It was the most carefully planned, jam-packed trip I think I've ever been on. We left at about 7pm on Friday night after work, and arrived at our cabin around 11pm. Other than food, our cabin was the only part of this entire trip that we had to pay for out of pocket. We rented the cabin through Patriot Getaways, and what we found waiting on us far exceeded our expectations. The name of our cabin was Black Bear Hide Out, and whoever owns it has put such thought and time into making it a cozy, charming, mountain home. It is not at all generic or decorated with cheezy, basic decor. Instead, there were interesting, unique decorations that make the place welcoming and inviting. 

This weekend... these girls... SO MUCH FUN! They are all so different, and I love them all dearly for different reasons. I'm so thankful to have friends who love adventures as much as I do.
On Saturday morning, we had the best breakfast at a place in downtown Gatlinburg called the Pancake Pantry. It is a darling little place with big windows and an impressive menu.
After this delightful start to our day, we embarked on our next adventure: white water rafting down the Big Pigeon River. The company we used is called Rafting in the Smokies, and we had a wonderful time. The river is a nice mix of beginner and intermediate level rapids.
After this, we went on a six rope lip line course at the same location, which was a lot of fun (if you don't mind heights, that is).

Next, we went to Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. Although the tacky outfits made for great pictures, I have to say that this was a huge disappointment. I was so looking forward to this, but found the grungy, almost creepy interior of this place to be a huge turn off. The floor looked like pulled up carpet (with streaks of grated, dried glue) and the rubber base trim had been pulled off to reveal a dirty-looking yellow glue substance there, too. We were placed in a room which was also dirty and dilapidated looking, to watch a five minute instructional video, which was also highly outdated. After the video, we were given goggles, helmets, and loose-fitting body suits to put on - and there was no evidence that they had been sanitized at all after the previous user. I kept thinking to myself... am I really doing this? Not exactly the thoughts you should be having before you allow your body to be suspended in mid-air at the mercy of a teenage boy instructor.

I was also surprised that it took us about an hour from the time we entered the building to the time we exited, and only about three minutes of that time did I spend "skydiving." It doesn't even really feel like "skydiving," not that I've done the real thing or would ever in a million years want to (I don't think planes are meant to be jumped out of), but it was just really more like getting blown upwards by a dirty fan blowing hot air at a speed that made me question whether my skin was going to blow off.
This is the wind tunnel. The sides are lined with pads and the bottom is a net over a huge fan.

Whew... talk about an adventure! I'm glad I can say I've done that, but I wouldn't do it again. Ever.

So, onto the next part of the day...my favorite part of the trip! On Saturday night, we went to a Soul of Motown Dinner Show at the Grand Majestic Dinner Theater in Pigeon Forge. It was INCREDIBLE. These performers were so talented! They sang songs by the Drifters, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Temptations, and Earth, Wind, and Fire (and a lot more, too). I expected that we would have an hour for dinner and then the show would last about an hour but it far exceeded my expectations. We arrived at 7 for dinner (which was a yummy chicken dish with mashed potatoes and vegtables) and the show started at 8. It wasn't over until after 10 and then there was an opportunity to meet and greet with the performers in the lobby. Although I did not have to pay for the ticket, it would be well worth the $50 it costs to me. What a blessing! If you ever get the chance to go, you should go for sure!

On Sunday morning, we were sad to pack up and leave our beautiful cabin. Ideally, we would have had much more time there, and would have been able to enjoy leisurely cups of coffee on the porch in the rocking chairs. Unfortunately, there was no time for that on this quick trip, but I look forward to returning one day (hopefully for at least a full week).

Before heading back to Charlotte, we had a few more adventures to squeeze in. We toured the Titantic Museum, which was incredible. I would recommend it to anyone going near the area. It's really a must-see. With over 400 genuine artifacts from the Titantic, interactive exhibits, and an excellent audio tour, it was well worth the visit. When you enter, you are given a boarding pass. On it is an actual person who traveled on the Titantic. I was a 53 year old lady named Edith and at the end of the museum, in the Memorial Room, I discovered that I did survive the tragedy. Others find that they did not. The theme of the museum is this: "It is said the best way to respect and honor those who gave their lives is to simply tell their stories."

There is one part of the museum where visitors are able to feel the frigid 28 degree water and it really brings to life what the people went through as they were plunged into the dark, cold ocean. In another part of the museum, visitors are able to walk up sections of the ship at different inclines, which allows you to feel what it must have felt like as it tipped upwards and slipped into the depths of the sea. I loved being able to walk through the replicas of each type of cabin, seeing facts, stories, and photographs along the way. It was altogether just a fabulous experience.

Although you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, I did capture these two photographs of the outside. It's massive, and truly resembles the iconic ship.

Afterwards, we went to Dollywood, which although I visited once as a very small child, I had no real memory of. It felt like it was my first time going, and I was so excited. The park itself is decorated with such care. It is like walking back in time... kind of a Tweetsie Railroad meets Carowinds meets an old county fair experience.

Overall, the conclusion I reached about Dollywood is that I just need to go back in 10 years when we have kids and maybe I'll love it. It really is a darling place, I just don't think it is a good fit for entertaining my age group. I would have liked to have sat down and watched a show, which we did not get the chance to do, but as far as the rides and shops, I was slightly unimpressed. After about an hour and a half, it started raining and we had to go.

Our last stop before the drive home was at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, which was a recommendation by our zip line guide. I love getting recommendations from the locals when I travel. They always know the best places. This proved to be true, as we had a delicious lunch before heading back to the Queen City. Thankfully, my friend, Sarah drove home, so I could sleep for a few hours. I had the best weekend, and can't wait to go back to Tennessee!

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