Archive for the ‘Vacations’ Category

National Park Visitor Center Gets Facelift

Great Smoky Mountains waterfall (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Great Smoky Mountains waterfall (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (April 2013) – At age 50, the Sugarlands Visitor Center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park has gotten a major facelift.

The Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies, two private sector organizations, funded the project.

Approximately 850,000 visitors a year come through the visitor center, which is on the Tennessee side of the 800-square-mile park that is split between Tennessee and North Carolina.

The work included new flooring, paint, lighting and a new entrance into a natural history museum. Park crews did most of the work during evening hours, permitting the visitor center to remain open throughout the project.

One of the special touches is a masonry wall that mirrors the original architecture of the building and invites visitors into the redesigned visitor contact area.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. (9,685,829 visitors in 2012). Park information is at

Where a Quilt Is for More than Warmth

Not all quilts at A Mountain Quiltfest look like the ones on Grandma's bed.

Not all quilts at A Mountain Quiltfest look like the ones on Grandma’s bed.

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (March 2013) – Handmade quilts can be many things in one – a source of warmth, works of art, family heirlooms and more.

Quilts in all their glory are the focus of A Mountain Quiltfest in Pigeon Forge from March 12-16.

Quilters and crafters from across the U.S. gather to enjoy a quilt show and the opportunity to choose from dozens of classes and seminars.

Whether you are a quilter or not, the displays are worth the trip to this Great Smoky Mountains resort town. This is the 19th year of A Mountain Quiltfest.

There are free-admission quilt shows at the Music Road Convention Center and the Smoky Mountain Convention Center, plus a vendor area for a variety of quilt- and craft-related items. Other Quiltfest activities include brunch and dinner lectures, show-and-tell events and quilt appraisals.

Detailed information is available at

A Mountain Quiltfest is produced by the city of Pigeon Forge and co-hosted by the Piecemakers and Sevier ValleyQuilters Guilds.

For more information about all Pigeon Forge events, call 800 251-9100 or visit

‘Saddle Up’ Brings Cowboy Fun to Pigeon Forge

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (February 2013) – Cowboy singers, cowboy poets and chuck wagon cooks are on the trail to Pigeon Forge for the 13th annual Saddle Up, Feb. 21-24, 2013.

The four-day event, a tip of the hat to the American West, features concerts, a chuck wagon cookoff and other activities designed to entertain the entire family.

Saddle Up helps wrap up Pigeon Forge Winterfest, a four-month season of activities that began last November.

Cobbler is part of every lunch at Saddle Up's chuck wagon cookoff.

Cobbler is part of every lunch at Saddle Up’s chuck wagon cookoff.

Performers for Saddle Up include cowboy poets Waddie Mitchell and Chris Isaacs, along with musicians Brenn Hill, the Quebe Sisters Band, Sourdough Slim, Dave Stamey, T. Scot Wilburn and the Shut Up -N- Playboys, and Wylie & the Wild West.

There are theater concerts on Feb. 22 and 23 ($15) and two Intimate Evening dinner shows ($50) on Feb. 21. Wylie & the Wild West will perform after a four-course meal at the Partridge & Pear Restaurant, and the Quebe Sisters Band will entertain at Mama’s Farmhouse Restaurant following a family-style meal prepared by the Red River Ranch chuck wagon team from Texas.

Stories & Strings ($15) is a special show on Feb. 22 at Smoky Mountain Guitars by a select group of Saddle Up musicians who will talk about personal musical influences and share favorite tunes and stories. Stories & Strings won a Pinnacle award from the International Festivals & Events Association.

A chuck wagon cookoff, sponsored by Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association, is Feb. 23 at Clabough’s Campground. Chuck wagon cooks prepare lunch for guests and evaluation by a panel of judges. Lunch begins at noon, and tickets are $10.

Learning to lasso is one activity at the Buckeroo Roundup.

Learning to lasso is one activity at the Buckeroo Roundup.

Buckeroo Roundup starts at 9 a.m. at the same location, offering a variety of free musical entertainment and cowboy-themed activities for family fun.

A Cowboy Dance ($5) is Feb. 23 at Spirit of the Smokies Condo Lodge Ballroom. Cowboy Church, a non-denominational service at Stages West, is Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. It is preceded by a chuck wagon breakfast that begins at 8:30. Breakfast is $5; Cowboy Church is free.

Saddle Up details are online at

Artists Wield Chainsaws at Titanic Ice Event

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Jan. 18, 2013) – It’s likely that the fanciest ice sculptures you ever created were the fish-shaped ice cubes that came out of that plastic ice tray you bought at IKEA.

To see what real ice artistry looks like, check out the third annual Titanic Pigeon Forge Professional Ice Carving Competition on Jan. 19 (Saturday).

A chainsaw becomes an artist's tool at the Titanic Pigeon Forge Professional Ice Carving Competition.

A chainsaw becomes an artist’s tool at the Titanic Pigeon Forge Professional Ice Carving Competition.

The parking lot in front of the Titanic Museum Attraction become an outdoor art studio as professional and amateur ice sculptors work their magic on 250-pound blocks of ice.

Chainsaws start roaring at 9 a.m. to make the first cuts, and hand tools come into play at the day progresses.

Winners celebrate at 3 p.m., and prizes – from $500 to $2,000 – are the awards. The cost to watch the ice artists at work is just right – it’s free.

2012 Was Very, Very Good for Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rose to 9,685,828 in 2012. That’s a 7.5 percent jump, making 2012 the biggest year since the 10.1 million visitors in 2000, which remains the record.

Park management credited mild weather last winter and spring as a big factor. Every month in 2012 had more visitors than the same month in 2011.

Clear, cool, tumbling water is a hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Clear, cool, tumbling water is a hallmark of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

December’s count was 480,527, up from 471,603. That was despite the closure of the Newfound Gap Road between the Sugarlands Visitors Center and Cherokee, N.C., for all or part of six days because of ice and snow. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays brought large numbers of visitors to the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with 800 square miles of natural beauty, is the most visited national park in the United States.

The national park is the primary focus of Wilderness Wildlife Week, a project of the City of Pigeon Forge. It offers eight days of free programming and activities about the park and numerous other outdoor topics.

Wilderness Wildlife Week takes place at the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center.

Look! Up in the Sky!

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (October 2012) – A gigantic blue and green helium balloon has people all over Pigeon Forge pointing to the sky and admiring the city’s newest attraction.

It is Wonders of Flight, an addition to the science- and fun-filled WonderWorks attraction on the Parkway.

The Wonders of Flight, a helium-filled balloon 72-feet in diameter, rises silently behind WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

The Wonders of Flight balloon is 72 feet in diameter, and the gondola it lifts can carry up to 30 people for spectacular views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding counties. It is tethered to a 400-foot-long cable.

The captain says that on an especially clear day, the famous Cumberland Gap is visible on the horizon. That’s where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together.

Aerophile, the world leader in tethered gas balloons, is the manufacturer. Its only other similar balloon in the Southeast is at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Other locations include China, France, Germany and Turkey.

“The ascents, by day or night, provide guests with an unmatched, 360-degree panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains,” said Jerome Giacomoni, Aerophile’s president. “In one single gaze, the entire breathtaking view can be seen from exceptional heights, including a unique opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the fall leaves.”

Wonders of Flight offers a spectacular view of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and great Smoky Mountains National Park at an elevation of 400 feet.

Giacomoni explains that the Wonders of Flight balloon is environmentally friendly and totally silent thanks to its permanently inflated helium envelope and a hydroelectric winch.



Dollywood Grabs Five Golden Ticket Awards

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (September 2012) – Dollywood received five 2012 Golden Ticket Awards, the top honor in the theme park industry.

The awards were first-time recognitions in three categories and repeats in two categories :

  • Best Food, beating out longtime winner Knoebels Amusement Resort
  • Friendliest park, upsetting 13-time winner Holiday World
  • Best New Ride for Wild Eagle, the country’s first wing-design coaster
  • Best Shows, Dollywood’s fourth consecutive win in this category
  • Best Christmas Event, Dollywood’s fifth consecutive win in this category

The awards are organized by Amusement Today magazine, and Dollywood was the host park for the ceremony this year.

Dolly Parton shows off Dollywood’s five Golden Ticket Awards for 2012

Dollywood namesake Dolly Parton attended the ceremony.

“I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed by the five Golden Ticket Awards that Dollywood won,” Parton said. “And to be there and accept all of the awards at Dollywood while we hosted the event just makes these wins even sweeter for me.”

Dollywood also ranked in five additional categories:

  • Best Park, third place
  • Best Waterpark for Dollywood’s Splash Country, fourth place;
  • Cleanest Park, second place
  • Best Water Ride for Dollywood’s Mountain Slidewinder; fourth place
  • Best Landscaping, fourth place

Golden Ticket Awards are the results of a detailed survey sent to a database of experienced and well-traveled amusement park fans around the world in balanced geographical regions.

Two Dollywood rides also were recognized during the awards event. The Wild Eagle coaster is the highest-placing new-for-2012 coaster on Amusement Today’s annual Best Steel Coaster list, while the park’s Thunderhead wooden coaster placed fourth on the Top 50 Best Wooden Coaster rankings.

National TV Puts Pigeon Forge in Spotlight

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (September 2012) – Pigeon Forge is getting a lot of love from three major broadcast networks.

ABC and NBC have put Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in the spotlight in recent weeks, and CBS will keep the string alive during the upcoming television season.

"Amazing Race" teammates Rob and Sheila Scheer

Pigeon Forge’s Rob and Sheila Scheer are ready for an around-the-world adventure on “The Amazing Race.”

ABC ‘s “Good Morning America” featured Dollywood’s new-design Wild Eagle roller coaster in a summer series of segments about thrill rides. Actor Cameron Mathison visited the popular theme park for a first-hand look and ride.

At $20 million, Wild Eagle is Dollywood’s biggest capital investment. It was the first winged coaster in the U.S., meaning that the passenger seats are on “wings” that stretch out from the coaster’s track rather than riding on top of it.

Over at NBC, a clogger from the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show in Pigeon Forge is part of a dance team that emerged from 75,000 auditioning acts to make it into the final rounds of “America’s Got Talent.”

Drake Elkin, who dances as part of the McCoy family, is part of an all-male clogging team called All That.

At CBS, a Pigeon Forge couple is about to compete on “The Amazing Race,” an around-the-world adventure that has won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Reality-Competition Program” eight of the last nine years.

Rob Scheer, president of the company that owns the Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud, and his wife, Sheila, are one of 11 two-member teams. Scheer is a champion timber sports athlete. The series begins Sept. 30.

Titanic Plans Huge November Fireworks Show

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (August 2012) – If you liked the July 4 fireworks during Pigeon Forge’s Patriot festival, hang on until Nov. 22.

That’s the date when the Titanic Museum Attraction will light up the night sky with a major fireworks show that marks the end of the centennial year of the Titanic’s sinking.

Attraction owners say the year has been a tribute to the 2,208 people aboard the ship in 1912 and that the fireworks show will celebrate the lives and legacies of the ship’s passengers, crew and rescuers.

“We wanted to end the Titanic centennial year on a note of celebration and hope,” said John Joslyn, expedition leader of the first private exploration dive to the Titanic and co-owner of the Titanic Museum Attraction.

“We knew a fireworks show such as the one that helped open the museum in 2010 was the perfect way to provide a celebration in honor of the passengers and crew rivaling anything they could have hoped for if they had arrived safely in New York a century ago.”

After the fireworks show, the museum/attraction will renew its tradition of a snowfall from the ship’s bow Thanksgiving weekend and continuing every Saturday in December. Father Christmas, dressed in a style most familiar to the children aboard the Titanic in 1912, will visit on snow days.

Veteran TV comedian Bob Nelson joins Comedy Barn cast

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (July 12, 2012) – Veteran stand-up comedian Bob Nelson, who has appeared on shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Regis Philbin and Merv Griffin, has a new performance home at the Comedy Barn in Pigeon Forge.

Nelson performs at 5 and 8 p.m. nightly except Mondays.

Nelson opened for Rodney Dangerfield for eight years and was featured in two of Dangerfield’s HBO showcases. He is also known for appearances on the “Bananas” comedy television show.

“He is one of the best comedians performing today, has great fans and is a very funny guy,” said David Fee, president and co-owner of the Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group.

Nelson was a theater major and did summer stock at Nassau Community College on Long Island, N.Y.

“I was always the class clown,” Nelson said. “I was always trying to make people laugh in different ways, and I did very physical Jerry Lewis-type of stuff. It was always in me – a gift from God.

“Right out of high school I was working as an amateur clown with circus acts doing juggling, trapeze and trampoline,” Nelson said. “I almost joined the circus but found I could make more money as an amateur clown.”

Red Skelton was Nelson’s mentor.

“I wanted to be a family comic and not do dirty material, and Red encouraged me at a time when the whole industry was tilted against conservatives. He told me, ‘You are a clown like me.’ He praised me for not cursing.”