From music to museums to rides, Pigeon Forge area has it all

From music to museums to rides, Pigeon Forge area has it all

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2008 9:06 pm
By: Donna Ryder Messenger Associate Editor

I was pleasantly surprised recently when my family traveled to Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains.

One of our many planned stops was to the Tennessee Shindig — a two-hour long show including country, patriotic, gospel, rock, Elvis and bluegrass music, as well as comedy. We were at the local T.G.I. Fridays when we found a pamphlet for the show and right on the cover with his guitar and in his black cowboy hat was Steven Whitson of Trimble (related photo Page 3).

We got to the show a little early and connected with the musician who has performed many shows in Obion County. One of the most recent was at the Obion County Fairgrounds, opening for Craig Morgan.

Steven was offered a co-host position at Tennessee Shindig and has since bought a home in that area. He said he tried it out for five months before signing a contract, which goes through early 2009. Three of those months the show put him up in a hotel. The other two months, when the hotel was booked, he slept in his truck.

All seems to be going well for the West Tennessee Idol winner and the other 14 entertainers, including Blake Hopper of Jackson.

Hopper, who is a banjo player, serves as the band director. He has performed with national banjo champion and Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider of Gleason. It was, hands down, the best performance we saw while in Pigeon Forge.

Several children, including our youngest, was invited on stage to dance to the music. Matthew really got into it and, during intermission, we were asked by one lady if he’d had clogging lessons, which he hasn’t, while a man asked us if he was actually a cast member placed in the audience as a “plant.” I was, needless to say, a very proud mother.

Our trip started out on a Monday when we attended the Black Bear Jamboree — a dinner show where the children eat free with a paying adult. The food was delicious and the show was good, too, though we didn’t have the full effect because a storm interfered with the animatronics. Like the Tennessee Shindig, there are lots of different kinds of music mixed with even more dancing. The adults’ meals consisted of barbecue ribs, chicken, herb potatoes, corn on the cob and green beans. There was also a creamed soup and chocolate mousse. The meat was substituted with chicken planks for the children’s plates.

The show is recorded and you get a free copy if you decide to purchase the photo taken of your group as you enter. To help persuade you, they get all the children on stage and perform to “Happy and You Know It.” Jonathan decided to sit this one out, but Matthew got on stage there, too. I have the video if anyone wants to see it.

Tuesday morning we drove into Gatlinburg to visit Ripley’s Aquarium. We absolutely loved it. You could step onto a conveyor belt and watch the more than 10,000 exotic animals, including large stingrays and sharks swim by. Or you could step off and admire them from one location. There was an education room, where children and adults could touch a stingray. My favorite area was the jellyfish exhibit because I loved the photographs I was able to get of them. They are really beautiful creatures. We spent about three hours at the aquarium and could have stayed another three or more, but we had to eat lunch and get to our next destination.

If you’ve been watching “Circus With the Stars,” then you’ve seen a small part of what can be enjoyed at the Cirque De Chine located at The Smoky Mountain Palace in Sevierville. Balancing acts, plate spinning, unicycles, performers flying through the air while holding onto silk ropes and acrobats leaping through hoops are among the fetes to be enjoyed. What amazed me the most was the motorcycles in the “globe of danger.” There weren’t just two riders or three, but five riding around the inside the globe at the same time.

A showing at Magic Beyond Belief, where award winning illusionist Terry Evanswood performs, rounded out our first full tates his assistant on streams of water and makes a tiger appear in a cage where he had just been locked inside. In addition to a message to just simply enjoy the illusions, Evanswood also brings in a religious tone to the show. My only suggestion for this event is to get there earlier than 30 minutes before the show. The parking lot entrance is shared with the Elvis theater next door and it can make for a wait to get a parking space.

We reserved Wednesday for our trip to Dollywood. We got there when the gates opened and the children rode one ride twice before I dragged them to the 11 a.m. performance by the Kingdom Heirs. There were only two showings that morning and I informed them I wasn’t going to miss the popular gospel group. The show lasted 45 minutes and, while on our way to the Country Fair section of the park, we stopped to watch the glassblower make a decorative pitcher. This was the one thing my husband, Jay, had requested to see. Once at the Country Fair, Jay and the boys rode the ferris wheel before riding the airplanes. A wait in line for the scrambler was cut short when an electrical storm was spotted on radar and everything was shut down. That was pretty much our day. The park officials shut everything down, including canceling the scheduled performances in the outdoor theaters. The only thing we were told that was left to do was shop or eat, that if we remained patient the storm would possibly pass. Later, about an hour before the park closed, we found Dreamland, which had a tree house the children were able to enjoy.

The storms had passed by Thursday. We started the day out with a game of miniature golf at Walden’s Landing Firehouse Golf. It’s set in the middle of a strip mall, so those who’d rather shop can enjoy their type of fun while others play a round.

On our way to WonderWorks, we stopped at Pigeon Forge’s newest attraction called the Zorb. Manager Winston Burbage said it started in New Zealand and is the only one of its kind in North America. It is the sport of rolling down a hill while inside a giant inflatable ball. Participants must be in good physical health and at least eight years old. He said the oldest participant so far in Pigeon Forge has been 69. Jay told me Jonathan was apprehensive on the ride in the van up the hill but, once the two of them climbed in the ball with a small amount of water, he was whooping it up all the way down. They couldn’t wait for a second ride. Jon’s first words I heard when he exited were “sweet” and “awesome.” Other riders agreed and, although some were reluctant at first, were glad they made it one of their stops in Pigeon Forge.

WonderWorks can’t be missed as you drive into Pigeon Forge. The building looks like a museum that has “survived” a tornado after being tossed on its roof. There’s a little something for everyone, with scientific puzzles, art, a climbing wall, a wind tunnel and an earthquake room, just to name a few. I even laid on a bed of nails, though I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. I was wearing a thin no-sleeved shirt and shorts. It’s the ultimate acupuncture.

We rounded out the vacation with a trip into the Smoky Mountains. Our initial plan was to stop at Laurel Falls and then head back “home,” but the plans changed when every last parking space at the head of the trail was taken. We stopped for a picnic lunch and decided instead to head up Cades Cove. Suggestion: Make sure you fill the tank up before heading in, and go to the restroom at the picnic area. The places along the way are interesting, but we cut the tour short and headed back in because I wasn’t sure we’d have enough fuel to get us to a gas station. A quicker way back to Pigeon Forge is by taking Little River Road. Be sure to find it on a map and don’t depend on your Garmin, which can’t always pick up a signal.

Now as far as a place to stay, I have to say we probably picked one of the better ones. We stayed at Main Stay Suites off the main drag in Pigeon Forge. Our room, which overlooked the swimming pools, had two queen size beds and a sleeper sofa. A refrigerator, stove and microwave saved us on dining out and the dish washer kept us from having to hand wash the dishes.

The children loved the pool area, which included a toddlers’ wading pool, swimming pool, hot tub and heated “lazy river” outside and a heated pool and another hot tub indoors. There was also a fitness room. I most enjoyed, besides the peacefulness, the breakfast. We had the choice of peaches or fruit cocktail, four cereals, yogurt, honey buns, toast, bagels, biscuits and gravy, sausage and make-your-own bear-shaped waffles. To drink, there was hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, orange juice and apple juice.

Also a favorite at the hotel was the creek which ran beside it and the ducks, which we fed on a daily basis.

If you decide to go to Pigeon Forge, I have one final recommendation for you — be nice, but tell the many salesmen of “time-share” vacation homes that you are absolutely not interested in a time share and then WALK OFF. If you don’t, they’ll eat up a majority of your vacation time on something you’re not interested in in the first place.

Associate Editor Donna Ryder can be contacted by e-mail at dryder@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 6.27.08

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