Rosie, PlazaQueen, PandaCat, GrandmaUgg
We were on our annual summer visit to Grandma's in Midwest Small Town, USA. Great to see the old stomping ground and the childhood friends, but it is all familiar and a trifle dull. We needed to find somewhere to go that would be fun, not too far, and not too expensive. Water parks are always fun, so an Internet search on Grandma's computer was in order. Dollywood's Splash Country popped up. Hmmm ... Dollywood ... Pigeon Forge, Tennessee ... Check the map on Mapquest (see left) ... Gatlinburg, total tourist trap destination but lots of fun things to do; only ten miles away and right next to Smoky Mountain National Park ... Perfect ... Only 5 hours away by car.
Another search on the computer got us a room reservation in a nice hotel right in the middle of Gatlinburg. We would be able to walk around town in the evening to see the sights. We packed up the car, filled it with gas, returned the library books and got new ones to keep busy during the ride down, and hit the road. The weather was a little challenging at first; the remnants of Hurricane Dennis had made it up into the Ohio Valley so we had some heavy rain to get through first. By the time we got to Lexington, Kentucky the sky was blue again and we had fun watching the thoroughbreds grazing in the fenced paddocks of bluegrass in Kentucky's horse country.
Of course we couldn't do the whole five hour trip without a break. We stopped at one of the Hut's favorite road trip eateries, Cracker Barrel. These General Store/Down Home Cookin' restaurants tend to take on the local color and regional sports teams in their wares i.e. University of Kentucky pennants decorating the walls and lots of horse themed gift items, but the food is consistently good and filling and predictable. In this case that is a good thing because eating on the road can occasionally be troublesome. Montezuma's Revenge ain't fun away from home ...
Back on the road, horse country eventually gave way to the foothills of the Smokey Mountains as we continued east and south. At Knoxville, TN we turned east again and began seeing billboards advertising the theme park and water park with Dolly's trademark butterfly logo. The last 40 miles from Sevierville through Pigeon Forge, the actual location of Dolly's parks to Gatlinburg itself were marked not only by the beautiful scenery Dolly grew up with, but also by the commercial development of the tourist industry in the area. There were numerous hotels, restaurants, and outlet malls that had not been there on our previous visit. Pigeon Forge in particular seemed almost covered over by all of the development.
The last 10 miles from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg were quite lovely. The signs and buildings ended abruptly as the road passed on into almost an avenue of trees with the Little Pigeon River bubbling along beside it. The two sides of the road split soon after the better to follow the contours of the now more rugged landscape.
Gatlinburg too had grown since our last visit, its popularity as a tourist destination demanding more lodging and restaurants as well as activities for visitors. After driving from one end of the town to the other and realizing we had missed our turn-off because we had been in the wrong lane we found the street our hotel was on. We followed the Little Pigeon River, which flowed along beside the street and found our hotel, appropriately named the Edgewater Hotel. Our hotel room proved to be quite a disappointment. We could not get into the room at first because the desk clerk had not programmed the key cards correctly. Once that problem was resolved, the first thing we noticed was that our non-smoking room smelled of cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, no other rooms were available. The lighting in the room did nothing to alleviate the gloom, but the beds were comfortable and the refrigerator kept our drinks icy cool and froze our cheese sticks! Our room on the fourth floor overlooked the pool deck and we decided promptly to try out the water facilities.
The pool was accessible from the game room. It was an indoor / outdoor pool with a short tunnel you could swim through and a glass door for access to the outdoor deck. The back of the indoor area had a fake rock wall with water flowing over the rocks into the pool. A small spa pool with seating for 6 people was located right next to the indoor part of the pool and children often went from one to the other to warm up or cool off as needed. The pool area seemed a little shabby and dull, as if it needed a fresh paint job, but it was not dirty. Perhaps it was because of the artificial lighting? Natural sunlight would have brightened it up considerably.
Refreshed after the pool, it was time to find ourselves some dinner. We walked over the canopy covered bridge that spanned the river from the hotel to the street and up one block to the main drag of Gatlinburg and where all the action was. We walked up a couple of blocks scoping out a few places we wanted to look at after dinner, then found a friendly looking Italian place called Legends by Max that could seat us immediately we were hungry! Our waiter came over quickly to let us know he would be right with us as soon as he had delivered another order. The waiter returned promptly and introduced himself with southern charm. He delivered our drinks quickly, then gave us a few minutes to decide on our choices for dinner. Three of us opted for pizza; the oddball ordered fettucini alfredo and mozzarella sticks. The pizzas were delicious, but still too big even for our travel induced appetites. We had spotted a Baskin Robbins ice cream place on our stroll down Main Street so we stopped in there for ice cream cones and continued to stroll. We mostly window shopped looking at funny t-shirts, all sorts of kitschy gift items, numerous stars and bars flags, and even the Genr'l Lee it's a Dukes of Hazzard thang ...
By then we were all running out of steam and decided to call it a night. We staggered back to the hotel, picked up some cool drinks and munchies from the vending machines and fell into bed.
To Day 2Maps from www.mapquest.com
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