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Gatlinburg News, Opinion, and Wonder

2017 Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival

This is the time of the year that some of the most famous hit songwriters in country music history come to Gatlinburg to perform. Many of them have written songs for legendary country artists including Garth Brooks and  Johnny Cash just to name a few. The now annual event is in its 6th year of entertaining tourists and locals with national and local songwriters. You will be hard-pressed to go anywhere from August 16-20 without hearing or being somewhere a songwriter is performing.

The Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival in Gatlinburg features 150 shows by over 100 different artists: some of which are local, and some will be coming from as far away as California. You can find these artists performing outdoors, in restaurants and hotels; most of which you can see without paying a ticket. There are three special events for the Songwriters Festival that you may not want to miss and are sure to be worth the price of admission.

Con Hunley will be singing some of his songs at the Glenstone Lodge on August 19 at 8 p.m. The East Tennessee native had a string of 20 songs that hit the charts in the 70’s and 80’s and continues to write songs today. You can still purchase tickets for his concert for $25 and doors will open at 6.

Sylvia is no stranger to the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival, and she will be performing a matinee at the Glenstone Lodge at 4 p.m. prior to Con Hunley taking the stage. With her hit song, “Nobody”, she established herself as a major songwriter and musician in the 80’s. She also has a new album coming out, and joining her on stage will be her guitarist, John Mock.

The most famous songwriters coming to Gatlinburg for a ticketed event will be a songwriter for Johnny Cash, Jim Glaser; Bobby Tomberlin, Diamond Rio songwriter; Tony Arata, famous for “The Dance” by Garth Brooks; and Pat Alger, a multiple hit songwriter for Garth Brooks. This “Celebrity” round of songwriters will start performing at the Glenstone Lodge on August 18 at 8 p.m. This is sure to be a treat for anyone who has been a fan of country music or Garth Brooks through the years.

There are so many artists coming to Gatlinburg this weekend, it is staggering. I won’t list all the performers coming to town, but if you are one of the lucky ones who scheduled your vacation for this time, I recommend you check out the Songwriters Festival website at www.smswf.com to see the entire list of performers. Many of these performers are not household names in contrast to the ones I’ve mentioned, but they are looking for a little support and recognition by coming to this Festival, so take the time to listen to some great music; some will even enjoy having the pleasure to talk to someone who enjoyed their music. It’s a great gathering of artists you won’t want to miss.

Opening Soon in Gatlinburg: Anakeesta

Anyone who has visited Gatlinburg in the past year has seen the work that has been progressing right across from Ripley’s Aquarium. As you can see from the picture, it is the new Anakeesta development that is set to open in mid to late August–just a few weeks away. An exact date has not yet been set, but make sure you visit or just Like their Facebook page to get the news directly on your news feed. Let me describe for you what you can anticipate from the newest activity-filled attraction in Gatlinburg.

The word “Anakeesta” comes from the Cherokee word for “place of the balsams.” They are a little similar to Ober Gatlinburg, but there are stark differences too. Ober gives you the option of parking up on the mountain if you don’t want to pay to ride the tram. It is also a ski resort, which Anakeesta is not. Also, since there is no parking area on Anakeesta Mountain, visitors must ride either a 4 person open-air chairlift or an enclosed 6 person chondola to get to the top. There will be onsite parking next to Anakeesta before getting on one of the lifts, but you can also park nearby in the McMaster parking garage, where it is $6 or $7 max and $1.75 per hour in the enclosed garage

Once you reach the top of Anakeesta Mountain, you will find a myriad of options for the $20 cost to ride to the summit. There is a treetop canopy walk plus a neat children’s treetop playground; both of which are included in your price of admission. Additional costs are on the zipline, mountain coaster–which will be done later in the fall–and a gem mining activity. Each of them looks like mountains of fun that adults and kids will be sure to enjoy as part of their experience.

Firefly Village will provide a nice combination of retail and dining options. At their opening, Anakeesta will have ready plenty of dessert varieties at Pearl’s Pie in the Sky, and the BBQ cuisine will be represented by Summit Smokehouse. Shopping will include a whimsical boutique store called Catching Fireflies, and Great Outdoors Trading Company–a store that rivals NOC but on a much smaller scale–for all your outdoor or hiking adventures that await you in The Smoky Mountains. An amphitheater is also being planned for next spring, and it will feature dazzling views of Mt. LeConte. There will still be plenty of wonderful views for you to enjoy up here, even if you make this part of your upcoming trip to the Smokies after Anakeesta’s opening.

Right now the workers are getting things ready as best as they can, and Anakeesta owners and managers are also hard at work, gathering the proper people into their hiring process to make sure guests have a memorable and all-around spectacular experience at Gatlinburg’s newest and more ambitious projects in recent memory. For a full description of fun activities your family can enjoy, visit their website at www.anakeesta.com. Thanks for reading, and keep checking in for the latest Gatlinburg activities, tips, and viewpoints!

 

3 Hours in Gatlinburg

If you remember from last year, I wrote a post that described my brief Gatlinburg visit, which was a too short seven hours. This one was a similar trip which only afforded me the opportunity to spend a late afternoon/early evening visit to our favorite vacation spot. I won’t go into too much detail about the reason behind our road trip, but it relates to the same reason I took last year’s late summer excursion. Only this time I didn’t take it alone; I had my son in tow.

The day started early–but not too early–as we left home at around 7 in the morning. We arrived in Sevierville–our destination for our 2 day stay–just before our check-in time, but we still managed to get in our room before 3. I was very happy our accommodations were free, being as I am a Choice Privileges member, I turned in pretty much all of my points for our stay. The hotel, Clarion Inn Willow River, was very nice with hotel amenities such as a balcony with a nice view, lazy river, outdoor pool, indoor pool, and ample sized 2 queen rooms.

Since my son and I only snacked at the rest stop for lunch on our way to Sevierville, we were starving, so we left for Gatlinburg shortly after we got settled into our room for the next couple of days. Not long after getting onto the Parkway, it became abundantly clear I wish I would have taken the back way to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Traffic was awful even for a weekday, but it is July so that can be expected. It started to get manageable once we got near The Old Mill area. The spur leading into Gatlinburg was also pretty easy-going, and we decided to park in the garage at light 3 in Gatlinburg. I initially thought about trying to lurk down River Road to nab a spot for free but after being in traffic, I quickly nixed that idea and suddenly didn’t mind paying a few dollars for parking.

It was a bit weird knowing we weren’t going to be in town long; everything is so familiar, it feels natural to be there–like it would if we were living here, and I was running into places picking up our favorite things, which we were actually. We walked past Anakeesta noting the progress they were making; they are planning on opening next month, but stay tuned if that doesn’t materialize. I had forgotten about the Craftsmen’s Fair going on at the Convention Center, so I told my son I wanted to check it out. Well, here’s this: I also forgot that it was $7 to get in, and I found that out as I was attempting to walk into the gymnasium. Oh well, I couldn’t justify spending the money if all I wanted to do was see who was there–and did I mention we were…STARVING!

Our planned destination was Smoky Mountain Brewery–not an unfamiliar place to us, but a place we hadn’t eaten at in two years. We got seated right away, and I wanted to try some of their new craft beers as part of my sampler and some old favorites. I wasn’t a big fan of the citrus, which I believe Josh–our fantastic server–described as a summer shandy, but the other one, which is one of their IPA’s, was very good. I also had to have two of their mainstays, which are my go-to brews: Cherokee Red and Helles.

 

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Personal pizza with garlic roasted tomatoes and green peppers at Smoky Mountain Brewery

 

 

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5 beer sampler at the Brewery

 

My son and I decided to get personal pizzas, which provided us the luxury of each of us getting what we wanted on our pizzas. Zac ordered a pepperoni, and I opted for a new topping–garlic roasted tomatoes–and green peppers. I had never before ordered garlic roasted tomatoes on a pizza before due to the fact we don’t have that option at our pizzerias at home. I like tomatoes but these were so flavorful and went super well with the peppers, sauce, cheese, and crust. I felt like I was eating the perfect pizza; it was one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve had some good ones in Gatlinburg too–very, very high marks were given. I even gave my son a couple garlic tomatoes for him to try, as he can be quite picky, and even he gave it a big thumbs up–maybe even higher praise there. I was also happy to meet Bobby Fricks, who does all the social media for Copper Cellar Restaurants. He does a fantastic job and is one of the reasons why I have continued to maintain my social media presence. My hat’s off to you, sir! Wait…I don’t wear hats, oh well, thanks anyway.

So after a very tasty and memorable experience at the Brewery, it was time to run our errands for gathering treats to bring home with us. Chocolate Monkey was first. There we bought my wife’s favorite fudge, Monkey Butter, along with the ones Zac and I decided to buy: Cookies and Cream and Peanut Butter Pie. Chocolate Monkey has great fudge and you get one block free when you buy two. They also have a VIP card, which we have, that gives you 10% off as well. All you have to do is ask for one; we have had ours for several years. Everyone in there is super nice–including the manager who is a familiar face in here every time we go.

 

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Our favorite place for ice cream and fudge

 

Of course, no visit to Gatlinburg should be made without stopping at The Donut Friar. No surprises here with what we bought for the road. I will say that these donuts are still good and still seem fresh after 3 days–that’s right, you heard me…3 DAYS! Our local donut place has very good donuts, and they are not edible after just a day.

Unfortunately, with just the few hours we had, there were no moonshine tastings, no Crockett’s Breakfast, no hiking, and no, well…time. Still, we enjoyed our three hours. Heck, any time being in our happy place for any amount of time is good enough for us. I hope you enjoyed my latest edition of Gatlinburg NOW. You all know I will have another post sometime soon. Thanks for reading!

Crockett’s Breakfast Camp Offers a Unique and Amazing Breakfast Experience

Are you burnt out on Pancake Houses in the Smokies?

Do you want a hearty breakfast with plenty of options?…and good prices?

Do you just want something…a little different?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I believe you may want to give Crockett’s Breakfast Camp a try in Gatlinburg. I have eaten here with my family eleven times total in the four years it’s been open, and it has become our number one option for breakfast when we are on vacation in Gatlinburg. We love everything there is to offer at Crockett’s, and I’d like to explain why you should try them.

Ambiance

The restaurant exists as an homage to David C. “Crockett” Maples, a soldier and frontiersman, whose story can be found here. Inside the restaurant is a recreation of a mountain camp that he might have survived in during harsh winters in the nineteenth century Smoky Mountains. The seating inside is made of wooden benches with longer ones to accommodate larger groups of people. While inside, you can hear the sweet sounds of bluegrass music that further enhances the feeling of being in a mountain-style camp. I also can’t forget about something that is unique to Crockett’s in contrast to other traditional breakfast establishments–the menu. It is basically a newspaper that you can take with you that bears the name of what Gatlinburg used to be called: White Oak Flats Daily Post. It is dated Wednesday, November 24, 1886, and it features a few short articles of true Smokies stories of the past. These stories are on the front and back of the paper, while the menu is page 2 and 3 on the inside–pretty cool, right.

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Service

The service we have received has been nothing short of excellent each and every time we visit. We recognize a few of the servers as having been there on our very first visits, so that should tell you what they think about working there as well. We see it in their faces even when we usually arrive at shortly after 7, which is when they open their doors for business. The cooks are usually very fast, as our food never arrives much more than five minutes after we order. They even have a small area with retail items for sale, and they will help you decide which souvenir you want to buy if you’ve enjoyed everything as much as we have. I finally broke down and bought a handmade pottery mug for my morning coffee on our last trip. Last year I purchased a T-shirt from the shop that I proudly wear back here in Ohio.

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Food and Price

Now let me tell you, you better have an appetite when you visit Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, because it will more than likely keep you from eating anything else tempting you on the Parkway until dinner…or maybe even the entire day. I’ve talked in previous posts about Crockett’s only briefly, but I can’t emphasize how tasty everything is. You can have a giant Cathead Biscuit with your choice of meat, cheese, and egg with corn pone and a side of your choice for just $5.95–a steal if you ask anyone who’s been here. The skillets–one of which I had on our very first visit–have in them a meat entree, eggs, grits, biscuit, another side, and an Aretha Frankenstein Pancake, which is every bit as big as it sounds; it’s an inch thick and is made with cornmeal, so you’re basically eating a super-sized piece of cornbread.

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I’ve had a different menu item every time we’ve visited, and I can say they are very diverse in their selection. Last spring I enjoyed what could be described as more of a Mexican dish: Crockett’s Breakfast Quesadilla which is 3 scrambled eggs, cheddar and jack cheese, Pico de gallo and smoked bacon grilled in a flour tortilla; and it’s served with refried beans and Mexican rice. This meal filled me up more than any meal I’ve eaten here, and it was only $8.95. The skillets which I mentioned earlier vary from $11.95 at their cheapest to $14.95, and that’s only because your main entree is Rainbow Trout–more proof of how diversified they are with the menu.

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One of my favorite menu items is actually their waffles. I’ve had three of the five waffle offerings (that’s a mouthful–pun intended), and those are all in the $8-$9 range. Here is a list of all the toppings you can order on–or in–your waffle: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, pecans, bananas, bacon, Fuji apples and cinnamon candies–even Greek yogurt and granola; let’s even throw in a side of caramel sauce for good measure (once again, pun intended). So…are you hungry yet. Wait…I know you want me to mention their cinnamon rolls which you can hungrily gaze at them making in the window when you walk inside. That’s right, you won’t believe how good–and how huge they are. My wife and I believe we will never eat another cinnamon roll as good as Crockett’s makes…EVER!

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I can honestly say there is only one menu item I won’t order off the menu–and that is their eggs benedict. Yes, that’s right, they also make these ranging from $8-$10, and they include: White Oak Flats Eggs Benedict, Corned Beef Hash Benedict, and Florentine Benedict. I only like my eggs scrambled so if this sounds like something you might enjoy too, their menu is online here.

Final Thoughts

I believe if you look on any restaurant review site, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp is either number one–or one of the highest rated restaurant in the Pancake Heaven that is Gatlinburg. I actually think very highly of Pancake Pantry and Log Cabin Pancake House; however, if you want a one-of-a-kind experience that I believe is unmatched, then I recommend you try Crockett’s Breakfast Camp for an all-around fantastic breakfast.

Don’t be afraid to like my post if you enjoyed this review. I am on Facebook and Twitter as well as Instagram. Thanks for reading, and I will return with another post soon!

Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster Has Opened

There is a new mountain coaster in Gatlinburg, and so far, it has opened to the delight of thrill riders visiting the Smoky Mountains.

Unfortunately, we missed out on opening day, which was on June 9–the very morning that we left town. They are located on the Parkway next to Zoder’s Inn when coming into Gatlinburg on the left. They had an opening day that not only saw happy customers but also–from their posting on Facebook–featured a sighting of their namesake bear roaming around the property; a sign that maybe things are going to work out well for the owners.

Their gravity-propelled coaster itself is not the most unique element of this new business; it will also feature a mountain glider–slated to open in the Fall–that will take riders gliding through the treetops. This will actually be the first mountain glider of its kind in the world so you may want to come back later to check it out. More details on this should be found soon via their website, www.rowdybearmountain.com.

Prices for the mountain coaster seem pretty reasonable for the experience: $16 for a single rider, $27 for double riders, and a parent/child combo for $24. This also includes an additional ride on the same day at night for an entirely new and thrilling experience. They are open until 11 so you can have the opportunity for a nighttime ride, even in the summer when the sun sets later.

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So far the reviews have been extremely positive for Rowdy Bear Mountain. They even have souvenirs you can purchase to take with you along with the memories it creates for you and your family. Below are just a few of the raves customers have given for the newest coaster in Gatlinburg.

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I can’t wait to check out Rowdy Bear Mountain Coaster when we return to Gatlinburg, and I hope to be able to experience their glider when it opens as well. Keep checking in with me as I follow new and exciting attractions opening soon in Gatlinburg; next on the list will be Anakeesta, scheduled to open in August.

Thanks for reading, and I will keep you informed of the latest Gatlinburg news, reviews, and experiences all right here on this blog. See you soon!

 

Gatlinburg June Vacation: Part Three

I’d like to begin Part 3 by adding something I forgot to mention in my previous post. On Wednesday night my son and I went up on the Space Needle. He had visited this centerpiece attraction in Gatlinburg earlier in the day with my wife–but the tickets were still valid for another trip so we took advantage by going up the 407 feet before sundown. The top underwent a bit of a facelift since the last time we were here, and it looks bigger with the new flooring. The views are always amazing on the Space Needle; especially when the skies are blue and you can see for miles the beauty of The Smoky Mountains.

 

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Amazing views from The Space Needle

 

Thursday

Today was the day we went to Ober Gatlinburg; we switched days when Monday turned out to be a rainy one. I would love to go into greater detail about our very first time up to the year-round ski resort; however, I do have a post that is pending on MobileBrochure that details the adventures Zac and I enjoyed there. I will say that the very thing that kept us from going to Ober Gatlinburg–the tram that takes you up the mountain–was actually not so bad at all. I will say that we enjoyed the experience and look for it to be posted on MobileBrochure, as they have a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account that will keep you informed daily.

 

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A day of fun at Ober Gatlinburg

 

When we returned, Zac was exhausted–probably from all the early morning semi-rude awakenings–and he took a rare nap at the hotel. During this time, I chilled out by enjoying the nice weather and serenity on the balcony. It’s nice that we can also catch sight of the Ober Gatlinburg trams from our room, and we don’t have to be jittery anymore seeing them make the trip to and from the resort.

Our second pizza night was enjoyed by us at highly-rated Big Daddy’s in Gatlinburg. They serve up a wood-fired pizza, and they use fresh ingredients which justify their popularity on review sites. As an appetizer, we ordered their Dough Daddies, which are very doughy on the inside with a nice crunch on the outside. Even better was probably their house-made marinara sauce–a nice sweet sauce that definitely does not come from a can. The only problem we had with the pizza was it greasiness, but with the pepperoni, it is a hard thing to avoid. The crust is nice and crunchy with a nice flavor from the grill; it is thin but doesn’t feel like a true New York style, which is not a bad thing, because it stands on its own merits.

After a tasty dinner, we tied up some of our loose ends by buying some fudge from Chocolate Monkey that we bring home to devour and turned in some arcade points from Fannie Farkle’s. Zac decided to save his points from Arcadia for next time since he wants to get a nice prize from there; they have the better selection so this wasn’t a big surprise.

Friday

Sadly, today was the day our vacation came to an end. It’s always the day we all dread when we must face the realities of normal day-to-day routines. We are all thankful that we are able to make such a trip every year; we work hard every day to give ourselves this wonderful vacation every year.

We have to make one final trip to our favorite breakfast spots before we make the long drive home. First, we stopped at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, where I celebrated our tenth visit here by ordering the Pecan Waffle, while my son and wife ordered the Cheese Omelet and Cathead Stacker, respectively. My only critique on this visit would be the caramel sauce being a bit too sweet–but is that really a bad thing, though. Of course, we stopped at The Donut Friar, where we bought a half-dozen donuts for home. I think they had just raised the prices on their donuts, as I noticed a nickel increase on the iced cake donuts and a two cent increase on the plain or glazed ones; it’s safe to say this won’t be a deterrent to coming back.

 

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A delightful half dozen from The Donut Friar

 

 

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The near-perfect Pecan Waffles at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp

 

I hope you all enjoyed my three part series on our yearly June trip to Gatlinburg with the three of us. We don’t plan on altering our vacation as long as we reside here in Ohio. The Smoky Mountains are truly a mood altering and relaxing place for us, and if we are fortunate enough, we will make it our home someday. Thanks again, and I appreciate everyone who decided to make time to read my posts! See you all next time!

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