The time had finally come for us to make our way to the Smoky Mountains. June has always been our family Gatlinburg vacation time, and the sure sign that it has finally arrived is when school lets out for the summer. I won’t waste any more time setting this up, so let us get down to the business of what happened on our trip.
Our son insists we get up super early in the morning to start our journey. It’s what we usually have done, but recently we started leaving around lunch time. Well, this time we went back to the well–it is better doing this simply because we avoid Dayton and Cincinnati traffic in the morning. We were on the road by four in the morning, and we reached our destination–the Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge–just after 10 a.m.
We love all the shops at The Old Mill; we usually make this our only stop in Pigeon Forge, because it has a bit of everything all within a short walking distance. We always stop at the Pottery House Cafe, and of course, they served up some very tasty offerings once again.
We finished up at The Old Mill and made our way into Gatlinburg via the six-mile stretch named the Spur–where it began to start raining. We made our way downtown and gunned it the steep hill where Summit Manor Condos are located; this was not our accommodations, as we had reservations at the one building owned by Quality Inn Creekside. Our room, thankfully, was ready at just after two in the afternoon–and since it was raining, we didn’t want to venture out with our umbrellas yet.
After a brief respite at our third-floor mountain view room, we made the short walk down to the Elks Plaza–the location of our favorite pizza in town, Best Italian. We don’t care for a greasy pizza, so we opted for just extra cheese–the same one as last year–and we devoured as much of the New York style pizza as we could stomach. The funniest part of our meal was seeing a server bring out a monster calzone, which quite frankly looks like a baby dinosaur–I mean, it is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen brought out for one person at any restaurant. We were a bit disappointed with the service at the end of the meal–in which our server completely ignored us–but we will come back and hope for service that rivals the food.
We used the time after our meal to bypass the Parkway and head down River Road, where we showed our son some the damage inflicted by the fires. It was an eye-opener for him the same it was for us, and we talked about how close the fires came to force us to find a new favorite place to vacation and how much people’s livelihoods were affected.
I had talked about going back to Doc Collier’s Moonshine for several years, but I never made the time until this trip. I browsed their tiny shop which pales in comparison to their competition in town, but I soon found out that it could be considered a legitimate hidden gem. I did my first ever tasting with a small group of visitors, and I really liked their selection; plus, I approved of the way some of their ‘shine tasted in contrast to Ole Smoky and Sugarlands. With the exception of a few flavors, most of them tasted natural and not like candy; for example, the Blackberry didn’t taste like candy–it was more like taking a bite of a real blackberry. After sampling all 14 flavors, I was a bit warm and feeling pretty good, so I left thinking I might come back later in the trip to make a purchase.
With all that Moonshine flowing through me, I figured it would be a good time to soak some of it up with some food (and not alcohol) samples. My wife and son were with me and I told them I was ready for some ice cream, so we got some from our usual place, Chocolate Monkey, which actually advertises as the best in town–needless to say, we agree.
After making our way down the Parkway, we kept the legs burning by walking up the hill to our hotel. Our first day was a long one, but we were just getting started.
Day 2 was Monday, and it didn’t get off to a favorable start. The fog that was on the mountain gave way to rain showers again, and the forecast wasn’t keeping us very optimistic. Our original plan was to take Zac to Ober Gatlinburg for our first visit and spend the day there. We nixed that plan and decided to stay in town. That decision was finalized after Zac and I made our way to The Donut Friar–making the most delicious donuts in Gatlinburg since 1969. Zac had to get pictures of his two favorites–which are also my favorites–the Chocolate Chipper and Chocolate Cruller. I capped my breakfast with a quick stop in Coffee and Company, where I got my usual Shot in the Dark–because sometimes coffee needs a little something extra…espresso!
My wife ventured off to do her day’s worth of shopping while the kid and I did our fun-filled activities. First was Circus Golf, which is the cheapest mini-golf in town, but that doesn’t make it the worst. It is a bit dark inside–by design–but there is enough lighting to see what you’re doing. Obviously, there are circus-themed holes, some of which could scare the daylights out of you with their volume. Second was Fannie Farkles–famous for their foot long Ogle Corn Dogs but filled with fun arcade games. After some deliberating, we took the LONG walk to the beginning of the Parkway where our favorite, Davy Crockett’s Mini Golf, is located. At this time the skies were clearing up a bit, so that’s why we decided to make this hike. It was fun, but we only did the 18 holes because of the threat of rain. It actually started raining again about the time we reached the Aquarium, so, unfortunately, we couldn’t stay dry the entire day.
We made Bennett’s Pit BBQ a dinner meal this time; we had previously only eaten here for lunch. Zac and I ordered the Pulled Chicken Sandwich and even though it was a lot for him to handle on top of the sides, he did well. Somehow, Bennett’s just recently added this item to their menu, and it will be ordered again and again if it remains this delicious.
After dinner, we made our way into the Mountain Mall. Now this place is not a favorite of ours, to be honest, but there are a few stores inside worth visiting–one is Papaw’s Sweet Tooth, which can be satisfied by their broad selection of flavored popcorn. This place rivals Yukon’s Popcorn Emporium on the Parkway, and I think they stack up pretty well–if only they can attract visitors into the Mall.
My wife and Zac wanted to return to the room, but I wasn’t quite finished so I caught a live performance at Ole Smoky Moonshine where Midnight Run–a talented bluegrass band with a few local members–was playing at the Holler. From there I strolled over to a bustling Smoky Mountain Brewery to have a flight of beers I had not tried before. I was not impressed with one of them–I believe it was the unfiltered wheat–but I liked the rest. One of which was a surprising winner that I ended up bringing some home with me later, the IPA. I was never a fan of IPA’s until I had their version; it reminds me of biscuits and honey.
So far I’ve summed up our first two days, but stay tuned, there was much more to our trip. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stick around for Part 2 coming soon!