Monday, October 31, 2011

We Went to Gatlinburg! And Took Pictures! Thursday/Friday Review

I have been dying for a family vacation for a long time and I finally got a chance to plan one over this year's fall break! I decided about six weeks ago that we would go to Gatlinburg. It seemed like the perfect trip for four days and a family like ours. I was right, with only a few exceptions. Here's a quick photo review of our trip.

We left town on Thursday morning. I was hoping to take off around 7 and we actually were on the road by 7:20, which really beat what I actually thought would happen. The kids did great on the ride down and so did the adults. :) We stopped for a quick breakfast/early lunch at Cracker Barrel. I decided it's a great place for me to have a Four Hour Body meal - tons of sides from which to chose. We hit the exit for Seiverville/Pigeon Forge off the main highway about 2-2:30PM which was right on time. The natives were getting restless and I assured them we were only about 15 minutes away. Boy, was I wrong! This is my one, albeit large, complaint about the area. The traffic is horrendous! It probably took another hour and a half to get to Gatlinburg! We got to the hotel, The Holiday Inn Vacation Club, around 4 or so and decided the girls and Tom would hit the pool while Jack and I unpacked and checked out the hotel. We loved the hotel! It was just the right amount of space for us. This is a pic from later, but you get the idea...

We then made a critical vacation mistake - going out to a late, sit-down dinner. Whoops. We went out in search of a barbeque joint and landed on Calhoun's. We got sucked in by the "Best Ribs in America!" on the sign. The ribs were good and the pulled pork was good too. The rest of the food was just OK. And, the service was really bad. I mentioned it was a late dinner for our family, but our server did not help the situation. Flaw #1 - did not come to our table, even to take drink orders, within the first 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long time with grumpy, hungry kids. Flaw #2 - did not bring straws when he brought the drinks, then took about another 10 minutes to get them. The food did come out relatively quickly once we ordered it, but we had to grab silverware off another table in order to eat it. (And, it's not really that type of place.) Flaw #3 - just wasn't friendly. I know that seems silly, but he seriously came to our table maybe three times and each time was rushed and didn't say welcome or thank you.

After a good night's rest, we decided to try another meal at the Log Cabin Pancake House. Tessa was kind of in one of her moods which didn't help. Jack was in typical style and didn't want to sit down. Tom and I decided this would be the last of our sit down meals. Food was OK but probably not worth returning. Here's a few pics we snapped that makes it look fun - I assure you it was not.

After breakfast, the real fun started! We got the car and headed to Ripley's Aquarium. I was a little concerned that the price was high for a "Ripley's" attraction. I was wrong. It was totally worth it! Tom and I had as much fun, if not more, than the kids did. We loved watching the kids interact with the exhibits, but also saw some new things ourselves. Here are some pics from the visit.

The entry had some cool floating skeletons. I think this is a sea turtle.
 Iguana - up close and personal!
 This is a poison dart frog - it was cool because Josie had just read about these in her new Frog book!
 The thing in the middle is an electric eel - I was surprised at how well camouflaged it was with the coral.
 I loved these pics - this is Tom and Tessa (notice the headband) in front of the jelly fish.
 These are "school fish." Tessa thinks she found the teacher. And, she wondered if this was a TV.
Tom and Tessa checking out the flounder. I took one picture of a flounder hiding below the sand. You seriously cannot see the fish! You could only see the eyes.
 I don't remember what these are, but they were cool. They stuck right out of the sand.
 Sea horse! These things also camouflaged nicely among the coral.
 These are probably the coolest things I saw that day. They're dragon fish. They didn't look real at all. So cool!
 More dragon fish...
These pics are from the shark lagoon. This was really, really neat. A moving walkway took you underneath the shark pit. Tessa freaked out and Josie was a little hesitant, but then wanted to go back through a second time. Here is a great pic of a saw fish.
 See the giant sea turtle? Not a great pic.
I think this was Tessa before she started to freak.
Big old shark!
Another shark!
We then came across stingray bay...
Saw some barracudas...
Mama and Jack!
Finally, we made it to the play area!!!!
I loved the viewing tubes for the kids. They could get surrounded by 360 degrees of fish!
 Jack checked out the diving gear.
And, then the vibrating fish. It was a favorite of our kids.
Not quite sure what to think, but I think he liked it!
Tom caught some shots of Nemo for the girls.
No idea what this is, but it's a pretty fish!
More jellies...
And, more stingrays!

 I love this pic!
Finally, we made it to the penguins. This was another viewing tube but this one put the kids right in the middle of the penguins. They loved it!

Pretty stream outside of the aquarium.
Josie posed with a few cute penguins.

Tessa just wanted to hang out in the cave.
This guy got up close to my camera. I took a few shots to make him happy.
Jack finally wore himself out!

All in all, we had a great trip to the aquarium. I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone traveling to the area. It was a nice bonus that it was rainy and yucky outside while we were warm and indoors.

We grabbed a quick lunch at a general store close to our hotel. Once again, it was just OK. (I won't even mention how horrible my "grilled chicken" salad was. I put it in quotes because there is no way it was actually grilled chicken. But, in their defense, I should have known better - the grilled cheese was apparently great.)

Despite the rain, we walked down to the NOC, an outdoor center for hiking, camping, etc. Tom bought a few things and the kids had a great time looking for "clues" (they did butterflies and animals around the store for kids to find) and playing on the suspended bridge upstairs. This was a great place to spend the afternoon!

After that, we hit another general store to pick up some adult beverages and snacks for the kids. They loved being able to pick out their own snacks. It's the small things you know. :)

Hit up the pool again and then ordered take out from Mellow Mushroom. Once again, the food was OK but nothing to write home about. We did all love that the restaurants around town all had soft pretzels on the menu. The kids thought that was cool!

In summary, the first full day of our Gatlinburg vacation was a great success!

Aquarium - awesome - not to be missed!
Hotel - We loved it! Clean, classy and a great indoor and outdoor pool.
Food - just OK - didn't find anything I could have lived without, but nothing really bad either.
Traffic - Blech! Really bad! Probably would have been better to just walk if the weather had been nice, but that wasn't really an option.

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