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October 2015

5 Things That Are “Great” About Gatlinburg: Part 3

We continue with Part 3 in our Gatlinburg “Great” Things series with number three:

3. Downtown

As a visitor or a local, you can either bemoan the commercialization that the city has undergone the past few decades, or you can embrace it for what it is and see beyond the tacky Ripley’s Attractions; we have only given our money to the Aquarium by the way. There is much more going on than just overpriced attractions and cheap t-shirt shops that line the two mile stretch which beg for your attention, especially on a rainy day.

The first thing a visitor should note is the “Gatlinburg Goes Green” initiative which has turned the city into an environmentalist’s dream. In fact, Gatlinburg has diverted 70% of its municipal waste to a state of the art composting plant. Also, the Gatlinburg Winter Magic celebration has converted three million light displays from incandescent bulbs to LED lights. Future projects are in the works as well; the city is looking at a co-generation system that will produce enough electricity to power the waste water treatment plant. You can see a full list of projects past, present and future here.

I have already mentioned the abundance of restaurants downtown that are sure to satisfy, but they have snacking covered as well. There are at least a half dozen places that offer up not only fudge, but ice cream as well. Our favorite place for fudge is Chocolate Monkey, but Kilwin’s comes in at a close second. There are also arcades for the kids, and gift shops with knick-knacks for adults.

A notable attraction located at the northern edge of downtown is the Sweet Fanny Adams Theater. I don’t want to go into too much detail, since I want to write a separate post on this, but this is an absolute can’t-miss in town. This is live entertainment at its best, with plenty of laughs to go around. They’ve been in business doing yearly live shows since 1977 so check them out.

That is all for Part 3. Stay tuned for Part 4 coming up on Saturday. *fingers crossed*

5 Things That Are “Great” About Gatlinburg: Part 2

The following is part 2 of my series about the “Great” things about Gatlinburg. We continue with number four on my list.

4. Food

Good old southern cooking. The first thing you may think when you hear these very words are homemade recipes that Grandma would approve.

The vast majority of the restaurants located in Gatlinburg adhere to these basic principles of southern cooking. As a matter of fact, most of them excel at making people who aren’t southerners a taste of what true southern cooking is all about. There are well over 100 restaurants in Gatlinburg, and each one is different in how they interpret the taste of the south.

Pizza is a favorite no matter what part of the country you reside in and I don’t believe you can find better pizza in town than at Best Italian and surprisingly, Smoky Mountain Brewery. Best Italian offers up a New York style pizza with cheese and sauce that packs more flavor than I have ever tasted. Meanwhile, just a little up the road is the Smoky Mountain brewery, which has a cracker thin crust, but will overload your sense of taste and provide the foundation for a pizza you won’t soon forget.

Barbeque is a popular American tradition that flourishes on every corner of the south. Bennett’s Pit Barbeque is one such restaurant that offers up hickory smoked meats and an unbelievably sweet BBQ sauce that they bring out when your food is done. It is a place that is frequented by us every time we visit, and they fail to disappoint every time.

Breakfast is nothing short of spectacular. An old favorite is the Pancake Pantry and newcomer Crockett’s Breakfast Camp give the breakfast fan everything you can want in a hearty breakfast. I have reviewed both of these fine establishments on here already, so I don’t need to reiterate their greatness.

Gatlinburg also has a few notable seafood places that keep tourists’ options at the maximum including the popular Smoky Mountain Trout House, and the off the beaten path Greenbrier Restaurant. There are also steak restaurants in town (many of which I have mentioned in earlier posts) that serve seafood dishes on the menu.

Overall, there is a myriad of choices in Gatlinburg sure to satisfy your need for whatever you are hungry for in the moment. I don’t think you will ever have to worry about your food options in the Burg, unless you are one of the few that don’t appreciate a good southern meal. Stay tuned for part three coming soon.

5 Things That Are “Great” About Gatlinburg: Part 1

Alright, I know what your thinking. You’re going to tell me there’s only five things when you have an entire blog about Gatlinburg.

Hang on here. This is more of a general feel of what you can expect when you travel to the doorstep of the Smoky Mountains. It is so hard to just pick five things, but if I were more specific, I could come up with about a hundred things in less than an hour. We would not vacation here every year if we didn’t find this place as charming and wondrous as it is advertised, so my next five posts will highlight my favorite things. Cue The Sound of Music if you must.

Number 5: Good ‘ole Southern Hospitality

Before we even decided to take our vacation here, we were told how much friendlier the people down south are, when compared to fellow northerners. I would advise the skeptic to come see for themselves how much more polite and well-mannered are southern folks. There are a good number of different ethnic groups down here in Gatlinburg, but in my experience visiting, they are for the most part just as nice; it’s almost as if the southern hospitality has rubbed off on them too.

If you are ultra politically correct, you are hereby warned; if you find being called “honey,” “darlin,” “sweetheart,” or “baby,” offensive, then you may be uncomfortable in certain situations as a customer in a business here. It is just a common practice, and is no way meant to offend. It is just their way of making you feel welcome, because that is what they have been taught, since family and God provided the foundation of their upbringing.

That is all for this edition of “Great” things about Gatllinburg. I hope you will stay tuned for part two coming soon.

Pancake Pantry: A Gatlinburg Tradition

One thing is certain. By the time you’ve reached the outskirts of Gatlinburg, I’m sure most tourists have noted that they’re sure they have seen maybe a hundred pancake houses. Well, they have the Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg to thank for that.

The Pancake Pantry is the first specialty pancake house in Tennessee, opened by fellow vacationers Jim and June Gerding in 1960. It is now advertised as a Gatlinburg tradition for 55 years and counting, but it would be nothing without the hard work and outstanding quality of the food that’s delivered to hungry customers every day.

My wife and I skipped this place when we first visited town in 2011. When we tried the Pantry for the first time in 2012 before a hiking trip, we regretted not visiting the previous year. I guess we were turned off by the long lines, and we hadn’t planned on getting up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds (highly recommended by the way).

Yummy Caribbean Pancakes
Yummy Caribbean Pancakes

We have visited four times now, and I must say the best pancakes are the Sugar and Spice Pancakes (Our waitress last year said they are one of the top sellers). I can also check off the Wild Blueberry Pancakes, the Sweet Potato Pancakes, and the Caribbean Pancakes; the latter is shown in the picture.

The Aftermath
The Aftermath

The service has been somewhere between good and great, but like I said earlier, we arrived shortly after 7 when they open in the morning, so fair warning to those wanting breakfast here after 8; the lines are long and you are crammed inside.

I have not partaken in anything other than pancakes, so I cannot speak for their eggs, french toast, meats, nor crepes, which aren’t real pancakes in my opinion. The price for pancakes is reasonable, given that you are served five large, fluffy ones sprinkled with powdered sugar, and a mound of whipped butter globbed on top. Believe me when I say if you can finish these, you are good for awhile on food. They also have a lunch with sandwiches and soups that the locals rave about as well.

My only complaint is the glasses of milk and orange juice come in kid sized glasses, and you will be charged double for refills despite the small amount you receive. Your best bet is coffee, if that’s your morning routine. Your cup is rarely empty before they fill you up again, and it’s one price. My final word of caution is they are still a cash only establishment, which is a common complaint, but there is an ATM inside, and I’m sure their business has yet to be affected by this, given the daily long lines to eat here.

Take my opinion for what it is, but there is no finer place for pancakes than the Pancake Pantry. Anyone that does scratch-made pancakes this good, absolutely should have the word in their name.

Stress Reducing Tips For Your Trip

Let me just start by saying that people who travel to the Smoky Mountains every year have their own preference as to when they want to vacation here. There are those who are dead set on coming here during a particular event that is a favorite to them, and there are those who can only go when it is convenient to them. This post will favor the people in the latter of these two groups of travelers, as I believe it is this set of people who want the best possible experience without having to deal with large crowds.

Book Early

This a good rule of thumb regardless of when you plan on arriving in Gatlinburg. The more popular the rental, the quicker it will be before it is completely booked. We always try to book AT LEAST SIX MONTHS in advance of our stay. We learned the hard way last year when our condo was already booked and had to find an alternative. Once again, our main reference point is Trip Advisor when determining which place is the most popular with visitors.

Arrive Early in the Day

It just doesn’t matter what time of year your planning on coming; you’re still going to encounter the worst of the traffic during the afternoon and evening hours. The earlier you arrive in the morning, the less traffic you will have to endure.

Plan To Arrive During the Weekdays

Many people that work want to plan a spontaneous weekend trip, and that is perfectly fine, but there are fewer people in town during the week. We came on a Saturday once, and by the time Monday rolled around, it was clearly noticeable to us how much the crowds dwindled. If this is an option for your schedule or vacation time, I would highly suggest exploring it.

Call Ahead

Sometimes there are events that take place that aren’t listed in the Visitors Guide. It might be a good idea to call The Gatlinburg Visitors Center and find out if there is a car show or an event at the Convention Center that syncs up with your vacation, so plans can be made to change your accommodations at the last minute. Given how risky this can be, make sure it is justifiable to you to make this adjustment, depending how small or big the event.

In conclusion, I would like to add that the busiest time is in July, and the second busiest is the month of October when the leaves change color. Taking this into account, I feel that if you want to not deal with large crowds, I recommend you follow these tips to make your trip the best that it can be.

No Car, No Problem: Alternative Tips for Discovery

Do you want to drive more after you’ve just completed your six, or maybe sixteen hour drive to the Smoky Mountains? If the answer is no, and I know most of you feel that way, then here are a few ideas for wandering around town and beyond, sans car.

Gatlinburg Trolley

This is a great way to get around in town. The routes are all color coded, and each takes you on a specific route in Gatlinburg. There is also one that runs the Arts and Crafts Community, and one that takes you to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. It is conveniently located next to the Ripley’s Aquarium, but there are over 100 trolley stops located throughout Gatlinburg. Fare is just 50 cents for most routes, but you can purchase an all day pass for just two dollars apiece at the Welcome Center; maps are available there as well. I was skeptical at first, but it is a welcome mode of transport when the legs and feet start to fail from all the walking. For maps and additional info. visit www.gatlinburgtrolley.org.

Gatlinburg Trail

The avid hiker may shrug his shoulders at this trail, but you can’t ask for a better beginner trail for the novice. It is just a two mile trail that begins off River Road in town, and can be easily missed since it is off the Parkway, but it takes you all the way to Sugarlands Visitors Center just inside the National Park. On the way there, you will come across a bridge, some lovely scenery, and also a little cemetery. A major plus is that it is perfectly wheelchair accessable for those with walking difficulties. Highly recommended and still a peaceful walk, despite the highway being nearby in the first section.

Gatlinburg Tram

This method of transport is located on the Parkway and takes you up to the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort. Available for most of the day, seven days a week, you can board a cable car that takes you on a 2.1 mile ride high above the city for some spectacular views. Warning: The cable car can hold 120 passengers, but if you are a bit claustrophobic, this may not be your thing, because at times, people can be packed in like sardines. But for $12 for the adult and $9.50 for children, this is viable when heading to Ober Gatlinburg.

By all means, I welcome any comments or advice regarding Gatlinburg, so feel free to express your opinions on this particular posting.

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