By author Joseph J. O’Donnell and photographer Joseph O’Donnell
We decided to set our sites to the South and explore a gem of an area hidden in the Great Smokey Mountains . As avid hikers my son, Joe (our magazine’s photographer), and I have traveled extensively in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. A neighbor, and good friend, had told us that he had vacationed often in the Great Smokey Mountains just to our south, in Tennessee. So we decided to travel there to see what the area offered.
We drove the distance from Northern Virginia to this fantastic location in a drive time of seven and a half hours, taking turns at the wheel and stopping along the way for gas and meals. It wasn’t so bad as the majority of the driving took us along Interstate 81 giving us a mostly direct route with little traffic.
We arrived late in the afternoon at our hotel, La Quinta, in Pigeon Forge. The main road there was State Route 441, and what we stumbled upon after passing the town of Sevierville was an amazing site to behold. On either side of the roadway attractions such as the huge Titanic museum (with a display of the ship’s structure), The Hollywood Wax Museum (complete with King Kong hanging off the replica of the Empire State Building, and Beyond the Lens state of the art attraction was designed to look like a giant camera along with a full scale fallen building. Right then and there we knew that we made the right choice for a road trip.
We decided to head out to explore as soon as we settled into our hotel. Our first destination was the Hollywood Wax Museum which held a fantastic collection of full size wax replicas of many favorite movie and television personalities . Many of these you can pose next to and have your photograph snapped with. Next door to that is the Castle of Chaos Activity Center with the structure designed to look like the comic book castle by that name. This housed a glass maze and two action shows that are well worth the visit too. To save some money, buy tickets for both venues together at the Wax Museum.
As the hour was late we decided to stop for dinner at Harpoon Harry’s Crab House just across from our hotel. The service was great and the food was delicious and reasonably priced. There are many fine dining establishments in the area and we sampled them at our leisure.
The next day We traveled to a nearby attraction know as The Island. It contains many gift shops, the Margaretville hotel and eatery, Paula Dean’s eatery and gift shop, and an amusement area and rides, including a large Ferris Wheel for everyone to ride on. It’s a great family fun place to visit.
Nearby the restaurant, No Way Jose’s Cantina, also offered a venue of delicious food that was availed to us so we decided to dine there and found the costs reasonable. Another great little restaurant was The Local Goat where we had breakfast the next morning.
We then visited the Titanic museum, and as we already visited the original in Belfast Ireland five years before, we found that this attraction rivaled, if not surpassed it. That evening we attended the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud Show. It was a lot of fun and the food was quite bountiful. This attraction was right next door to the Titanic Museum so it was easy to find.
The following day we headed to Gatlinburg , just over six miles to the south of Pigeon Forge. This too was an amazing area and contained the Ripley’s Aquarium which I found to be better than the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. The town also boasted the Hollywood Star Cars exhibition along with many gift shops and eateries. The area also offered many mountain gravity coasters, cable cars and a convention center that rivaled many large city exhibition halls. At the time we attended a huge craft fair there that offered a great number of area artist and craft works. Parking lots and garages offer easy parking so that your visit is most enjoyable.
There was quite a lot of shopping and hotels at both locations and the area offered log cabin rentals, too. We were simply astounded about the development of this region, and it could easily be described as the Disneyland of the Mid-Atlantic. There was so much more for us to explore, such as Dollywood Amusement Park and several Magic Show theaters and the new Pirate’s Dinner Theater, but much additional time would be needed and a return trip is already planned for here in the near future.
Dolly Parton deserves a lot of credit for the area’s success . She is one of the most popular and enduring country singers in the last fifty years and a very astute business woman. It is my firm conviction that with a strong advertising program, this area will draw an immense international throng of tourists as well as a huge national attendance of visitors. I strongly urge all of our readers to visit this area soon, and often.
We also have provided our readership with photographs of the area along with this story for your viewing enjoyment.