Have a Blast in the Smokies

Do you want to shop? Soar on a coaster? Tantalize your taste buds? It's all here in East Tennessee.
Wanda McKinney

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.

Fun Friday
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.

 

Songbird Saturday
Get up early, and have the complimentary Continental breakfast provided by the hotel so that you can get to Dollywood by 9 a.m. to beat the crowds and get a prime parking space. (Check www.dollywood.com for weekday operating hours.) A couple of tips: Have your $6 for parking ready, and write down which tram stop is yours. And don't bring in food or drink.
Adult admission costs $42.40; admission for ages 4-11 is $32.35. Children ages 3 and under are free. If you have three days to devote to this attraction, your best bet is to buy a "Splash and Play" ticket, which covers three days at Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country water park for $66.90 adults and $51.30 ages 4-11.

June is a great time to be at Dollywood. The KidsFest is in full swing from June 18 through August 8, with an Extreme Sports Show, Perondi's Extreme Canines Show, and a Smoky Mountain Bear Jam, not to mention all the usual rides and shows.

First you'll want to hit the Tennessee Tornado, which is in the back of the park. It's a great spiral, triple-looping roller coaster that takes you through a 128-foot drop at 70 mph. And, yes, you do have to be 48 inches tall. Next, prepare to get wet on Blazing Fury, an inside roller coaster that sometimes barrels along in the dark.

If you're ready for a snack, head to the Grist Mill (a giant cookie costs $2.29). Or try the Backstage Restaurant right next to the Celebrity Theatre for some mighty fine meat loaf and vegetables for less than $10.

After a ride on the 1943 steam train, it's time to see the craftspeople. Don't miss the blacksmith, who fashions wonderful things with fire and forge (an iron door knocker sells for $50), or the leather shop, where you can pick up a nice purse for $60.

Now that the day has heated up, head on over to Splash Country water park. Choose from among such grand plunges as the Butterfly, which is one of the park's fastest slides, and the Raging River Rapids, which gives you a great family raft experience.

Worn out? Pack up the family, and head back to the hotel--by way of The Old Mill and Restaurant (traffic light 7). Enjoy a great dinner, such as fried chicken served with corn chowder, homemade fritters, all the vegetables you can eat, salad, and dessert ($14.95). Then it's time to wander back to the hotel for some much-needed rest.

Super Sunday
For a hearty, delicious breakfast, try Flapjack's Pancake Cabin, just down the Parkway. You can't go wrong with the Old Fashioned Buttermilk Pancakes ($4.29), but the Wild Mountain Blueberry Pancakes ($5.99) are also a favorite.

For a true summertime thrill, revel in a Tennessee Smokies baseball game. The Class AA affiliates of the St. Louis Cardinals provide a good time for only $9. The excellent park is just off I-40, and you'll find a game taking place every Sunday afternoon in June. Get there early, grab a hot dog, and sing along in the seventh inning stretch. It's an all-American ending to a great weekend.

This article is from the June 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.