Both my kids are big into water parks. They've been begging to go to Great Wolf Lodge for years. I'm way too stingy to pay full price for a place like that though so my wife started watching groupon, Expedia etc. for a deal. Eventually she found one- at the Great Wolf in Williamsburg, VA. No no no no... But it really was a steal. Then she found a groupon at Busch Gardens, right down the road. Throw in the educational value of nearby Colonial Williamsburg... How could I say no?
At some point, she said something about Tennessee... wasn't paying close attention but I must have agreed. By the time my wife emailed our itinerary, there were two baseball games, something called The Dixie Stampede and, shudder, Dollywood tickets. My roller coaster-obsessed older son got pretty excited about this because Dolly just opened the fastest wooden coaster in the world.
The trip started with an early start on our six plus hour drive down to Williamsburg (I 95 sucks but traffic only added about 45 minutes or so). The Great Wolf deal was only a two-day mid-week thing so we checked into a hotel and headed straight to Busch Gardens. Me and the coaster-geek hit the big rides together. We decided the ski-themed Alpingeist was the best coaster there if you could get the front row but Griffon was Pretty crazy also. My younger boy's favorite attraction was a water ride called Pompei.
Day two found us at Colonial Williamsburg, a big deal for Mrs Brownski 'cause she has fond memories of visiting it as a child. We learned from the Colonial reenact-ors that, no matter what room you're in, the average eighteenth century family's house was much smaller. Also if you know anything about history, don't ask them questions. It only pisses people off. My sons learned about Colonial kids' favorite pre-x box pastime, the old "push your brother in the horse poop" game. Classic. We ended the day back at Busch Gardens- more fun.
Colonial Murphy bed
It's important to know where your big brother is at all times
On day three, after more thrills at Busch Gardens, we checked into Great Wolf Lodge. Whatever you think of water parks in general, there's no denying they are a great way to keep teenage and pre-teen boys off their I-pods. The upside is that all the wave-pool swimming, water basketball and climbing stairs to the tops of water slides was the most exercise I got all week. Also, on the way to the lodge, we discovered Pierce's BBQ pit. It was the best brisket I've ever tasted in my life- I absolutely cannot praise it enough! The chilli was great too; we went back again the next day. For that matter, the pulled pork sandwich I ate at Colonial Williamsburg blew me away too. I love BBQ- we have a place in Rockland county that I thought was pretty good. It's shit compared to what I ate in Virginia and Tennessee. I got pulled pork at a baseball stadium that was so good I could have eaten it dry. I added the sauce eventually just to see how that was- duh. It was awesome.
Day four was more water-sliding and a AA minor league baseball game; the Richmond Flying Squirrels V the Akron Rubber Ducks. Minor League baseball is always a great time. Our local team is in the Can-Am League, just one step up from college ball really. The AA guys play at a much higher level so it was a treat. The local brew, Chin Music Amber, tasted great.
Gotta love the promos... Always something fun
The next day, after a couple more hours in the water park, we hit the road again, bound for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Yeah, I know. Williamsburg, VA is nowhere near Pigeon Forge, TN. Things were getting a little Griswold-ian at this point. Seven hours later we pulled into Dollywood's Dream More resort. The place looked just the way it sounds. There are giant back-lit portraits of Dolly Parton everywhere- like she was Mao. But you know what, everybody was super nice, really really nice. So we spent another two days riding roller coasters and eating BBQ. Dollywood also has incredible, absolutely incredible, cinnamon bread. The big letdown of the trip was that the world's fastest wooden coaster, the brand new "Lightning Rod", was apparently going too fast on its debut runs and was shut down for some fine tuning while we were there.
I can't explain everything I saw at Dollywood
A blacksmith forge; the place had some educational value
We drove into Gatlinburg to look around. The place is a lot like Lake George village, very touristy with lots of gift shops and restaurants. Right in the middle of town there's the bottom station of an aerial tramway that brings you up a nearby mountain to Ober Gatlinburg, Tennessee's only ski resort. We were going to ride it up but the wait was over thirty minutes. Every trip was claustrophobically full; they really packed 'em in. Instead we jumped back in the car and drove up. Ober is at the top of a decent sized hill but only the top 500 feet of vert is the ski resort. It's about what you would expect, water slides, kiddie rides etc... We rode the mountain coaster.
Before we left, I had visited another minor league baseball game (Tennesee Smokies V the Mississippi Braves- another great game), visited a Titanic Museum (I don't know why it's in Pigeon Forge or why I went- don't ask) and had dinner at Dolly's Dixie Stampede, which turned out to be a lot of fun, a Wild West trick-riding show. Some of it's theming was a little muddled (day glow buckskins for the Native Americans for instance) but there was some genuinely funny stuff and they got the audience involved in various gags along the way. My kids enjoyed it.
The pre-show was some excellent blue grass music
It was Ghostbusters night at the Smokies
We also visited a place called Goats on the Roof, an old-fashioned roadside attraction with another mountain coaster where they sold ice cream, all kinds of goofy knick knacks, wooden toys and, yes, they had a bunch of goats living on the roof. Honestly, how can I skip something called Goats on the Roof? Me and junior got t-shirts.
Not sure what King Kong is doing in Pigeon Forge either but...
It was a crazy trip, a lot of time in the car, but we all had a great time. I was happy to be able to eat a Dairy Queen burger, haven't had one since I lived in Truckee for a winter in the nineties. My kids are now in love with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, don't know what to do about that. From Tennessee it was a marathon twelve hour, six state drive home. Beautiful country to drive through. Absolutely beautiful. We talked it over on the way back. Next year we're gonna recreate a road trip I took with my family as a kid, across Vermont, New Hampshire and up into Maine. And on the way home we're gonna stop off in Chicago to visit the Sears tower.
Consider the great wolf lodge in Niagara Falls Canada for next year (exchange rate is awesome). Add on the ultimate water ride the Niagara Jet Boats leaving from niagara-on-the-lake that go up the river. Toronto is very close and there are many, many other things to do in the area.
Did you get to drive the BRP at all? That was the only thing I really enjoyed about Gatlinburg when I visited. That area has some great roads to drive on through the mountains including but absolutely not limited to the BRP which is at its best near its southernmost end.
Staying in Asheville again (for more than just a day next time) and spending more time exploring that area is definitely on my to do list eventually. Gatlinburg and that strip to its west is pure tourist hell, but I certainly appreciated what was on the other side of that mountain ridge.
I wouldn't mind checking out Dollywood again, I haven't been there in like two dozen years. Busch Gardens still makes me sad that they removed the Big Bad Wolf. Last time I was there way back when, I spent an evening doing reruns on Drachen Fire during its short existence. Apparently I was one of the few people that actually enjoyed it (or bothered walking to it, lol).