Pigeon Forge, TN: Where to eat, What to do.

When we decided to go to Dollywood, we drove close to four hours from the piedmont of North Carolina to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  It was a nice (curvy) ride.  The view was spectacular as the mountain range appears in front of you.  

We stayed at the Willow Brook Lodge in Pigeon Forge.  The room was clean, the beds were comfortable, and they have an indoor and outdoor pool.  Our daughter loved this place since we were able to use the pool and the jacuzzi at night, before bed. They also have complimentary continental breakfast every morning, which was nice.  

On our way there, we passed the town of Gatlinburg, about ten minutes outside Pigeon Forge. The main road looks like a typical beach strip...but in the mountains. You see bargain souvenir stores and lots of mini-golf places everywhere. There are numerous restaurants, shops, arcades, and family friendly places. MagiQuest ads and Dixie Stampede billboards are everywhere luring people to get tickets. The atmosphere is relaxed and safe.  

RELATED: Dollywood, fun for the whole family

We chose to play "putt putt" at Hillbilly golf.  

This mini-golf course is arranged down a huge hill, and you are transported to the top by riding a rail cart 300 feet up. Once at the top, you descend the hill playing 18 holes through all sorts of machinery, and mountaineer equipment. The course is one of the most unusual mini-golfs I've seen. It was lots of fun for us, especially when I made three holes-in-one and hubby only got one. (insert smiley-mischievous face here ). 

At dinner time, we were recommended to go to the Old Mill Restaurant and eat some good old-fashion southern cooking.

This place was very neat. The restaurant looked like an old cabin on stilts from the outside, overlooking a creek. There was a wait for dinner, but it was worth our while. They bring you corn frites, with a sweet butter with a maple-ish flavor. We ordered the corn chowder, fried chicken (which came with mash potatoes and green beans), and hubby ordered the chicken and dumplings which were exquisite. The dessert was my favorite part. Blackberry cobbler with homemade vanilla icecream.  I honestly have no words to describe it, since it was so fresh and so overwhelmingly delicious. Everything was included in the price; appetizer, main course, and dessert. You can't beat all that food for a very reasonable amount.  

Needless to say, we came back the next day for breakfast.  Again, the price included eggs, a stack of pancakes, bacon, corn grits, and potatoes. They provide you with fresh orange juice and your choice of an alternative drink.  I got coffee, of course, which was perfectly brewed.  

The Old Mill area included a few shops around the restaurant. Their own general store, a pottery store, farmhouse kitchen store, a creamery, and a candy store (where I got lots of candy). This was a great place to spend a few hours browsing around, eating and admiring the beautiful landscape.

Overall, Pigeon Forge as well as Gatlinburg, are very family oriented places to spend a good ol' weekend; even if you don't end up going to Dollywood park, you can still find a million things to do around town.  

For more pictures of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood check out our Pics tab.

Always,

Mia.

***** Read about our other adventures here****

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Dollywood, fun for the whole family!

My daughter’s 6th birthday came up quick this year.  One afternoon, about a month before her favorite day of the year, hubby told her how much fun he used to have at Dollywood as a kid.  “Dollywood? What is that?” she asked, and there, we started pulling up pictures online, attempting to recreate a good visual representation.

RELATED: What to pack when traveling with kids

Goggled pictures are not enough to satisfy our (whole family’s) need for exploring and experiencing new places. So we packed our bags, bought tickets online, and jumped in the car towards the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. 

We drove through the amazing panoramic route of the Smoky range passing the town of Gatlinburg, TN and towards Pigeon Forge.  There’s plenty to do in just these two towns; from mini-golf in every corner, to racing carts, MagiQuest, and hundreds of restaurants for all tastes. 

RELATED: Pigeon Forge, TN Where to eat, what to do

We found our way into Dollywood easily, as there were signs and posters about it all around town.  The park opens sharp at 10 am, so we made sure to arrive by 930 am, to beat the big crowds. Well, there was already a huge crowd of people parked in the very ample parking lot, but we got a good spot.  (NOTE: if you want to save your $12 parking fee, look into taking the free trolley from Patriot’s Park in Pigeon Forge).  As soon as we stepped out of our car, there was a multi wagon tram waiting for us. The conductor was kind enough to remind everyone boarding of remembering their parking lot letter “Cotton Candy –C”.   I noticed how the other lots were also named after cutesy things like Butterfly Lot for B, and Apple Jack lot for A.  One thing is for sure, their transportation for guests is superb. They are incredibly efficient at picking up/dropping off guests in their respective lots in a timely manner.

We went inside the park with no problem.  You could see how, even though it was still early, the crowds were getting bigger and the lines longer.  We had the opportunity to ride a couple of roller coasters with basically no wait, but as the day progressed, our wait increased to about one hour per ride…even for the little kid’s rides.  Believe me, waiting in line for over one hour with a six year old is no fun.  We didn’t do this, but I highly recommend to get the fast pass and skip the wait!

The park is old, but very beautifully decorated.  It gives you the feeling that you are walking through an old western town.  The rides are OK.  Nothing too out of the ordinary… roller coasters, water rides (splash), bumper carts, and other old country themed rides which were nice.  If you’ve been to Disney, or other major parks (Six Flags, Carowinds) then you might find this park rating just below on a technological scale, but in a way competitive if we talk about décor and ambiance. 

They play only Country music throughout the park, which goes with the theme.  There’s a bald Eagle exhibit inside the park, which I thought was odd.  Well, it was cool to see a bald eagle so close(but all animals in captivity make me sad, so I didn’t really care for this section).

We ate in a little sit-down restaurant in the park. The food was good, of course, a little pricey; but that was expected. There are plenty of places to eat (the hot dogs smelled soooo good!); from little stands, to food trucks and snack areas.  

We had plans to watch one of the many shows offered around the park, but the weather didn’t want to cooperate with us. It poured, and poured for a while. 

We sought refuge in a little souvenir shop, where we bought rain ponchos (they were selling those by the hundreds…literally!).  When the rain subsided some, we ventured to the misty, now empty streets of Dollywood.  What looked like a constant parade in town, now looked like a ghost town from a movie. 

Everyone had disappeared into the stores, restaurants, and shops seeking a dry refuge from the rain. As we were walking trying to decide what to do next, it started pouring again. Our ponchos came in handy, but we resolved to leave as we realized there was not going to be much to do while it rained.

We were exhausted, wet, and hungry.  Time to go eat some good ole southern cooking.   

*** Want to travel with us? read our stories here***

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International Travel with Kids 2: COLOMBIA

Cocora valley

Cocora valley

After traveling all around the coffee triangle region of Colombia (and enjoying their world renowned coffee every chance we got) we found it was easier to transport everyone by renting a small bus vs. individual taxis or vans. The kids enjoyed it because it felt like a school field trip every time we rode our bus (the littlest one having never ridden a school bus for a field trip was particularly thrilled by the experience). I’m grateful all our kids were well behaved, and of course, I’m grateful that they all listened to my safety warnings and followed them to a T.

When traveling with kids, especially on long trips, I find it very important to make each child feel comfortable in order to get their best behavior.  As an example, I always make sure to pack my daughter’s precious blanket. We don’t leave home (overnight) without it. I also made sure to pack her favorite drinking cup, one toy, and her favorite, weather-appropriate, outfits. These small details made her feel secure and it made the environment a little less scary for her.  Also, please always make sure they have comfortable shoes for long walks, that way you don’t have to deal with foot blisters and other issues that can potentially ruin a good time.

RELATED: INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL WITH KIDS PART 1: COLOMBIA

giant man

giant man

I always carry a cross body bag, big enough for my personal belongings, a few snacks, and a bottle of water. Refillable bottles that have a snap-hook that you can attach to your bag are very convenient. I like to be hands-free and carry everything on my cross body bag. I also carry a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer, tissue, and band-aids (believe me; you’ll thank me should you need these).

We laughed a lot in this trip. Hubby is 6’5” and needless to say, he looked like a giant compared to most locals. This was pretty hilarious especially when he realized that he his feet hung out of the South American standard beds, and he had to watch his head through many door frames and other structures.

somebody didnt fit through the door of the bathrooms

somebody didnt fit through the door of the bathrooms

We had a scary moment when we thought one of us lost their wallet with all personal information and identifications (it is always a good idea to have a photocopy of yours and your child’s documents stored in a safe place while you travel).

But don’t worry… we found it!

One of my favorite places was Salento, Quindio.  We climbed the Alto de la Cruz and all of its 250 steps.  We were exhausted once we got to the top, but it was totally worth it.  The views of the town and the mountains were breathtaking.  I also thought it was very curious to see so many stray dogs walking around, and none of them looked malnourished (although some were thirsty).  We noticed that the locals, and hundreds of tourist, feed and pet these very friendly dogs all the time. So, living on the streets might not be too bad for them after all.  They get sheltered by local vendors when needed, and the town is their playground.  

brother giving a stray dog some water.

brother giving a stray dog some water.

We also had some small injuries and scrapes.  Kid #4 got a splinter (a very small splinter) and cried bloody murder for a good twenty minutes while uncle and dad tried to remove it. Picture this: Lunch time; the water park's restaurant area packed with people trying to eat; a four year old screaming but moved to the grassy area just outside the restaurant to minimize a spectacle (that didn’t make it better btw).  Dad is holding her so she doesn’t move, uncle is performing an improvised cutaneous amateur surgery, well, that’s the way it seems from a distance judging by the screams and kicks... and suddenly it stops. The splinter is out and magically she feels nothing anymore. The rest of the crew recovered their original color as their faces go back to normal from the bright tomato red they had turned with embarrassment. Immediately, Kid #3 starts to cry. She also has a splinter that was conveniently painless until she saw it. Repeat. Buy everyone ice-cream after the ordeal.

flying back home

flying back home

Despite the minor incidents everything went well until our way back home. We had another eight hour layover in Panama. By that time we knew the airport like pros. We knew exactly where the AC area was, and what restaurants were good. About an hour before boarding hubby started to feel queasy. He looked pale and clammy and I knew that something wasn’t right. “Maybe it was something he ate?” I thought, but we all ate the same thing and we were feeling alright so that couldn’t be it. Then I saw hubby pacing back and forth. He was holding his right side. The flank area of his body, he said, was throbbing. The pain made him so sick that he was vomiting. I knew he was not going to be able to make it on a plane for 4 hours in that condition. I knew he was passing a kidney stone (he suffers from this often). Even if he wanted to board the plane, the airline clerk saw his pale face and asked me what was wrong. I told her I suspected a big kidney stone. Well, apparently they don’t let you board a plane (at least not in Panama) if you are or look sick. He looked terrible. Even my five year old daughter knew something wasn’t right. So our group gets split in two and we stayed in Panama while the rest flew back home. Luckily, the medic at the airport clinic was incredibly nice and gave hubby something for the pain. He was able to stabilize him and after a couple of hours his pain was bearable. The airline was also (to my surprise) very cooperative. They placed us on the last plane back to the States that night, and although we missed our connecting flight, we were glad to be home.  

Read about: tips on what to pack when traveling with kids

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International Travel with Kids part 1... It is Possible!: COLOMBIA edition

We love to travel abroad.  Last summer we packed our bags and took a plane to Colombia. This beautiful, diverse South American country had so many things to offer, we should’ve planned for more than the two glorious weeks we took.

Always have a"fun-kit" on hand for long layovers

Always have a"fun-kit" on hand for long layovers

We traveled with four kids, ages ranging from 8 to 4. Let me tell you, yes I was nervous at first because for three of the kids, it was their very first time on a plane. We spent the weeks before the trip preparing them for any possible scenario. Fortunately, although they are little, they are smart kids. We went over safety rules, different foods, how to behave on a plane, cultural differences, language differences, and safety rules one more time. I was satisfied that they had learned at least a little after my constant (almost obsessive) repetition. By the way, we budgeted our finances in order to travel with the whole family.  It takes effort, but it's totally worth it! (click here for how to budget to travel).

The day came. Five adults, four kids, lots of bags…. Well, not really, we tried to travel light.  We knew we had an eight hour layover in Panama, so we were prepared. (See What to pack TIPS when traveling with kids ). We had activity books, portable DVD player, cards and little games for them to play…and snacks; plenty of plane-friendly snacks. BUT, we didn’t count on the almost infernal heat at the non-air conditioned airport. Neither one of us had ever traveled through that airport before, so we didn’t know what to expect. Apparently the airport was under construction and only a very small part of it was air conditioned. Well, needless to say, we spent 7 of the 8 hours in the AC area. The kids were comfortable enough and really tired by the time we got in the last plane to Colombia. They all fell asleep.

When we finally arrived to the city of Pereira, one of the main cities in the heart of the“Coffee Triangle”, we realized that hubby’s bag was missing!. The airline in Panama failed to transfer it to the next airplane. After the aggravation of setting up a lost-bag claim, we were greeted by some of our family that lives there. They had also rented a bus to fit us all and transport us around. 

We had to accommodate all of us in a small three bedroom apartment. It was tight, but it wasn’t terrible. It was hot thought (thank God for fans and micro-fiber cooling towels). We toured the city the first day with no problems. We also had to shop for hubby’s clothes since he had nothing to change into.  Note to self:  sizes in other countries are slightly different from the US.  Large there is NOT like a large here. 

We quickly learned the lesson in apparel shopping, but not before we had already purchased some items.  That didn’t stop us from having fun. 

Hotsprings waterfall in the background

Hotsprings waterfall in the background

Our first destination was a natural hot-springs pool park of Termales of Santa Rosa, up in the central mountain range, about one hour from where we were staying. It was hot in Pereira, but this place was cool and comfortable, although it got a little cold at night fall. The hot-spring in this area was a natural volcanic spring that flows from an impressive waterfall at 158° and reaches the pool area at 104°.  Once the water enters the pool it is combined with cold water to make it comfortable and soothing. You can even smell the volcanic residue in the air. It was amazing and the kids loved it. 

DESTINATION #2

After this day experience, we went to a sports/waterpark complex called Confamiliar Risaralda- Parque Consota, and stayed in a beautiful cabin while enjoying a semi-private pool and all the amenities of the park. Fresh coffee was served each morning by their friendly staff dressed in typical- coffee region attire.  In the meantime, hubby’s luggage was still in limbo.

DESTINATION #3

Way into day four, we were able to recover the luggage, along with the comfortably fitting clothes of a 6’5” man.  He was happy, and we moved on to the next destination; a country house outside the Pereira.  We relaxed for two days laying in hammocks and cooking out in the outdoor kitchen.   The kids had a wonderful fenced space to play around and breathe in the fresh air and also fishing.

DESTINATION #4 was a Coffee-themed amusement park.  We all enjoyed this place tremendously.  Filled with roller-coasters, water rides, theater, music, and eco-friendly walks, this coffee-themed park was both informative and fun.

Back in the bus to:

DESTINATION #5

Kids are singing, and we are all admiring the view.  We arrive to “Salento” and first on our list is horse-riding in the Cocora Valley, part of the central Andes Mountains.  Horse-riding in the Andes was, in my opinion, what the kids (and the adults) enjoyed the most.  The gorgeous views of the mountains, and the small colonial town of Salento, Quindio, with its multicolor colonial architecture were breathtaking.  Salento also had dozens of small stores full of handcrafts and souvenirs for tourist.  The locals are friendly and the food is fantastic. (Read our blog about the local food!).

We spent the rest of the days in between walking around the city, shopping, and eating local food.  The kids behaved great and we felt safe and confident to even go out at night (we got a sitter for that ).

Night view of the city

Night view of the city

Read about the interesting encounters (with pictures), and the adventure back home… which includes a complication, in Part 2.

Also stay tuned for a complete list of what to pack when traveling with kids.  See more pictures in our gallery (Pics & Art) tab.

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