Summertime! And the vacation bug is biting. You're ready for fun and sun--and plenty of both. You yearn for something different, and you want it right now. We have a terrific getaway suggestion--a place where the air is clear, the folks are friendly, and a weekend trip won't cost you your firstborn. Point your car toward East Tennessee, where Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Dollywood await your arrival.
To get to Sevierville, take Exit 407 off I-40. State 66 merges into U.S. 441, which is also called the Parkway.
If you are hungry, try the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, on Apple Valley Road off the Parkway at traffic light 1A. (All traffic lights are numbered, which helps tremendously in finding attractions). The Farmhouse Breakfast ($7.50) includes two eggs, home fries, grits, and hickory-smoked bacon. But if you'd rather have something from the lunch menu, the fried catfish ($7.95) proves hard to beat and comes with soup, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and choice of a vegetable.
Check in to Comfort Inn Apple Valley in the same complex as the restaurant. It offers large rooms and is convenient to area attractions and restaurants (rates start at $96.50).
Ready to see some wildlife without having to trek into the mountains? Just go down the street to RainForest Adventures, where you can see 120 species of creatures, including lemurs, pythons, and cockatoos ($11.99 adults, $6.99 ages 3-12).
Proceed with caution to NASCAR SpeedPark; then let the rubber meet the road on one of the eight tracks outfitted with miniature race cars. You can also pretend you're at Mount Everest on the indoor climbing wall or play miniature golf. (Cost for the indoor games and driving on the track varies depending on what you choose. Call (865) 908-5500 for information. Height restrictions apply to some rides and tracks.)
Try Damon's Grill for dinner. Stay away from the appetizers--not because they're not good--but you must save plenty of room for the ribs, which are served with salad and a baked potato ($14.99). Ask for extra napkins; the ribs are worth the mess. And you just might have room for the crème brûlée cheesecake ($3.99) if you don't eat those old salad greens.
If you're not too tired, venture over to Tanger Five Oaks. The outlet mall is open until 9 p.m. on Friday, and its 107 stores will fulfill your shopping needs.
Whew, better get some rest. Tomorrow you go to Dollywood.