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Must-See Family Friendly Attractions in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This post is honestly long overdue, but I figured better late than never. We visited Pigeon Forge, TN this summer and, of course, we're always on the look out for kid friendly activities because we have the boys in tow. These are my personal recommendations, including bonus accommodations and restaurant reviews.

1. Dollywood - I think it's pretty hard to put together a Pigeon Forge area attraction list without listing Dollywood what with the area having billed itself as the "Home of Dollywood" for many years. The Harris Sisters scoped this amusement park out at our 2013 Girls' Weekend, and whilst I was there, I noticed that nearly all of the rides in the park were ones that the boys could ride (they are tall for their age). So, that's a definite bonus with the rising cost of amusement park tickets - make sure to check that out for yourself.

When we went last year, we were able to score coupons from a local McDonald's, but they didn't run the same promotion this year. If you can't find coupons, I would recommend that you take advantage of their enter the park after 3:00 PM, get into the park the next day for "free" offer. 

We opted to go this route, and by doing this, we not only got a few extra hours of park time, but we figured out that the lines to the rides are very short toward the end of the day. We were able to ride Jaxon's favorite ride, the Tennessee Tornado a grand total of 13 times with virtually no wait time at all. 

And we got to see a fireworks show both nights.

2. During the daytime in Dollywood (especially if it's really hot or if the lines for rides are very long), make sure that you go to the Gazillion Bubbles show. It is free to attend (with paid park admission) and it is in an air conditioned building. 

But BEST of all, it is an awesome 40-minute show on par with the same Gazillion Bubbles NYC Show (where ticket prices start at $55 per person) AND it is performed by the same Guinness World Record Winning Yang family! You really don't want to miss the opportunity to see this show for FREE.

3. Parrot Mountain and Garden of Eden - Located in very close proximity to Dollywood, this bird sanctuary is not to be missed! If your kids are animal lovers, then they'll surely enjoy visiting the exotic birds here. Many can be petted, held, and fed. And your family can be photographed with a group of birds for an additional fee. The admission to Parrot Mountain is not as much as some of the other area attractions, and they also offer a coupon on their website.

4. Titanic Museum - I don't think I can stress enough that the "one of these things is not like the other" rule applies here. This is an ACTUAL museum. And yet it is on the strip with all the lights and sounds, and miniature golf, and every other attraction you can imagine. And it looks like a half of a cruise ship. You could easily drive right by it assuming that it is crazy mess nonsense, but it isn't. 

Before you "board," you're given a "boarding pass" that represents one of an actual passenger on the Titanic. You tour more than $4.5 million worth of actual Titanic artifacts, walk an exact replica of the grand staircase, meet with the "captain" (an actor who is the spitting image of the actual captain and spins quite the yarn about the ship, his job, and his life), and find out the fate of your passenger. 

Because this is an actual museum, photography is not allowed inside the attraction.

5. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - While technically this attraction is a quick jaunt over to Gatlinburg, TN, I've listed it here because we chose to buy combo package tickets for Titanic and the Aquarium (using the Titanic link above). Aquariums are always popular with our boys, and this one didn't disappoint. They had penguins, a HUGE bonus for me (so much fluffier and cuter than fish). Also popular were the giant turtle that swam around their glass tunnel and the mermaid show, which is back by popular demand this year.

They also had one special exhibit room that they used to periodically change out exhibits. When we attended, they featured their Slime! exhibit and the boys got to pet jellyfish.

6. Hollywood Wax Museum - This one is totally going to depend on your kids. If you've got a ham on your hands, then this is for you. If your kid is more straight-laced, you might want to skip it. Turns out, I've got one of both. But we still had fun. The tickets are not expensive compared to other area attractions and if you buy them online in advance, you save a buck per ticket.

They had some "characters" that are definitely recognizable to kids - Jaxon was in heaven when he saw his hero Indiana Jones!

And they had some "characters" that are more recognizable to adults and give you an opportunity to take a photo of yourself in your traveling shirt!

7. Old Mill - The Old Mill of Pigeon Forge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Products are still ground at the Old Mill and are used in many of the Old Mill Restaurant's menu items. Grains are also used for the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille's bread. The Mill even furnished electricity for Pigeon Forge until 1935. 

In addition to two restaurants, the area features an ice cream shop, a pottery shop, a general store, a candy store, and a toy shop. We dined al fresco at the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille for lunch one day and the food was excellent! Put this on your list of restaurants to try in Pigeon Forge! Here's the boys finishing up their sides of fruit at that restaurant. :-)

8. Apple Barn Cider Mill & General Store - The Apple Barn really is a barn; it was built in 1910 and was part of the farm that two families bought in 1972. They planted the first apple trees in 1976, and they plant more every year. The orchard now numbers more than 4,000 trees. Here are some of the apples on property:

The site has a cider pressing room, an apple pie kitchen, a winery, a general store, and a Christmas shop. And much like the Old Mill, they have two restaurants, a candy store, and an ice cream store.

***********************Bonus Reviews***********************

Best Place to Stay on Your Pigeon Forge Vacation

Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge - We stayed here for the duration of our trip and could not have been happier. The accommodations were pristine, and for $197.10 per night, we stayed in a two bedroom, two bathroom deluxe condo with full kitchen, dining room, living room, washer/dryer, and access to THREE on-site water parks. 

Now, while this is not the super, el cheapo grande accommodations (a la "we'll leave the light on for you"), I'd like to compare this to the Great Wolf Lodge water park. The cheapest room that they have available for a family of four is currently $209.99 per night, which includes access to one water park. It does not include a separate room or bathroom for the kids or a full kitchen.

Here are some photos of the our own personal suite at the Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge.

Full dining room:


 Living Room:

Master Bedroom:

Master Bathroom:

Another view of Master Bedroom/Bathroom:

Second Bedroom:

 Second Bathroom:

Washer/Dryer Unit:

And why have I included this in my list of family friendly attractions? Because of the water parks! Not only were the accommodations top-notch, but the on-site water parks were stellar and kept the boys entertained any time we were not at any of the above mentioned attractions:

Best Places to Eat on Your Pigeon Forge Vacation

And finally, I'm going to leave you with a few restaurant reviews. We primarily used the kitchen at the hotel for breakfast each morning we were there and for quick snacks. We ate out for lunches and dinners. We opted to eat where the locals eat. These are the places we'd recommend:

  1. Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille - quite honestly, we opted for this restaurant over the other Old Mill Restaurant because it seemed to have a few more traditional lunch items (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.), but we also found that it was far less crowded than the other restaurant, so maybe keep that in mind.
  2. Big Daddy's Pizzeria - locally owned with locations in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, these folks know how to make pizza. Perhaps the most fun part of the experience was that they let the boys "play" with pizza dough and shape it into whatever they wanted. Then, they took it, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and served the boys the desserts that they had "made" at the end of dinner.
  3. Wild Plum Tea Room - Remember that quick trip over to Gatlinburg? Well you're going to need somewhere to eat and THIS is it! It's a quaint cabin on the side of a mountain that serves a unique and delicious menu. We dined on the covered porch among the trees (in a rainstorm no less!) and it was one of the most memorable experiences of the whole trip. If you're traveling with pets, they're welcome on the porch with you! Cannot say enough nice things about this restaurant. Food, service, and atmosphere were all tops.
  4. Thai Palace - one of the "hole in the wall" restaurants we visited, and the food was truly delicious. More often than not, that's how it works. I had the Pad Thai, and I recommend that dish.
  5. Log Cabin Pancake House - for sure, one thing that this area does not lack in is Pancake and Waffle Houses. However, keep driving until you get to this one. It is run by nice old ladies and in addition, the food was quite tasty! Another "hole in the wall" but it will be worth it.
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