A great family vacay awaits within less than a four-hour drive. Pigeon Forge, Tenn., has a lot of rockin' fun for your family!
Your family doesn’t need to drive hours and hours away out of state to enjoy a few days of memorable fun. Just pack the car and head east to Pigeon Forge where a world of excitement awaits! Family-friendly attractions are bountiful there, and you certainly won’t hear your kids say they’re bored.
Hoorah for DOLLYWOOD!
Undoubtedly, Dollywood is the big player in Pigeon Forge (800-365-5996; dollywood.com). It’s a great theme park boasting thrill rides, entertaining live shows and fantastic food. What’s new this year? Extended operating hours during the park’s 28th season equals more time for family fun that includes fireworks at night. A brand-new line-up of Festival of Nations shows that showcase multicultural music, dance and art include My People — Dolly’s Letter Home (May 10 – Jan. 4, 2014), The Great American Country Show (May 11 – Oct. 26), The Great American Summer (June 22 – Aug. 4) as well as Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol (Nov. 9 – Jan. 4, 2014). Adjacent to the main theme park is Dollywood’s Splash Country. This fun water park heralds a new attraction opening Saturday, May 11 — RiverRush, Tennessee’s first water coaster that combines the twists and turns of a traditional land coaster racing four stories in the air before ending with a splash.
More Family Fun Awaits
There is a plethora of fun attractions along the Parkway in Pigeon Forge ranging from museums to go-kart tracks to arcades to shops to dinner theaters. Planning ahead will help you make the best of your trip. Here are a few of the things you want to be sure to experience:
Kids will love the massive Titanic museum (800-381-7670; titanicpigeonforge.com). It’s a grand experience just to see the exterior of the ship. The inside, self-guided tour takes families into the stories of the passengers aboard the “ship of dreams” and the unfortunate tragedy that took place during its maiden voyage. The well-crafted audio tour helps guide you through the story, and the children’s version of the tour tells the saga in kid-friendly terms. A new exhibit this year displays the 133 children aboard the ship. Children will enjoy taking a turn at the ship’s wheel in an interactive area to see if they can steer clear of the infamous iceberg, and nearby, experience the slanted decks at three different angles to get a grasp at the difficulty of staying afoot while the ship was sinking.
Next door to Titanic is the awesome WonderWorks museum (865-868-1800; wonderworksonline.com). More than 100 interactive exhibits await curious kids — and parents — of all ages. Think science center meets arcade meets indoor adventure park. Take a turn on the rock-climbing wall, lie on a bed of nails, test your agility on the new Spacewalk Challenge — a massive indoor ropes course that is quite a skill tester.
Feel like flying? WonderWorks’ newest attraction is a best bet for thrill seekers. Wonders of Flight is a tethered balloon ride that accommodates up to 30 passengers sending them 400 feet in the air. It offers breathtaking views of Pigeon Forge, but you might find yourself white-knuckling the hand rails if the wind blows enough to sway the balloon side to side. During my flight, a 29 mile per hour wind presented itself, providing quite a tummy tingle as we rocked back and forth. A fun thrill!
Do your kids a favor and book tickets for the Wonders of Magic show at WonderWorks. Merlin Award-winning magician Terry Evanswood presents an incredible show full of mesmerizing illusions, Houdini-style escapes and slight-of-hand, mind-blowing tricks. Evanswood blends in a great deal of comedy in his kid-friendly show. The prestige of his final act is jaw dropping.
Speaking of magic, head down the Parkway and have some adventurous fun at MagiQuest (865-686-586; magiquestpf.com). This interactive scavenger hunt puts a wand in your child’s hand before embarking on a live action game. The wand unlocks hidden items throughout the castle and earns power-ups along the way. After your family finishes the quest, test your skills in the Laser Challenge or grab a putter and see who among you wins at Pirate Golf.
The nearby Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center is just pure, silly fun (865-428-5228; hollywoodwaxentertainment.com). There are three attractions here, and if you purchase all three, you get a special elevator code to go to the observation deck on top of the massive building. The wax museum itself boasts celebrity replications of everyone imaginable from Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley to George Clooney and Michael Jackson. There’s even a special area dedicated to horror legends.
In the next building, best of luck getting through Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors! There are more than 280 twists and turns with hundreds of mirrored walls and corridors. Kids will love it, but be prepared for a dizzying effect of seeing infinite reflections in all directions. Once you’re done there, zip over to the Castle of Chaos. This multi-sensory thrill is part ride and part virtual reality experience. Climb aboard a seat on the giant turntable floor, don your 3D glasses and aim your laser gun. The seat structure spins guests around and there are lots of zombies and other creepers to fire away at during the journey. A scoring device keeps track of the best shooter, and be prepared for blasts of air and shots of water. Great fun!
Dinner and a Show
Pigeon Forge has a lot of dinner theater options, but two stand out. The Hazzard County Hoedown (865-429-8100; smithfamilytheater.com) is a joyous tribute to The Dukes of Hazzard, and the all-you-can-eat buffet is pretty snappy, too (the pulled pork barbecue is scrumptious). The show itself features a live band playing rousing tunes sung by favorite Dukes characters including Bo, Luke, Daisy, Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane — Flash is there, too! Enjoy interaction and trivia fun during dinner prior to the show.
The most fun I encountered was the awesome Lumberjack Feud Dinner & Show (865-428-8688; lumberjackfeud.com). One of the most entertaining, family-friendly shows around, guests are part of the experience. Depending on what side of the theater you are seated, you’ll either be part of the Dawson or McGraw clans. A storyline involves a feud between the families over Smoky Mountain land. Actual lumberjack athletes in both families go head-to-head in a variety of competitions including log sawing, log rolling, axe throwing, underhand chopping, speed climbing and more. Audience members get to participate in a few of the competitions as well, including small fries. Wee ones get to participate in the Timber Tot challenge chopping down crepe paper trees with foam axes as well as the Sling Shot challenge hurling plastic balls into canoes on the opposite side of the arena. As each challenge ends, the winning team gives a “cookie” (a big, round slice of wood) to a child on their side. It was fun to see excited kids screaming and clamoring for a piece of wood!
Where to Stay
The Inn on the River is an affordable, cozy place to stay (877-391-0311; myinnontheriver.com). Nestled in the heart of the Parkway, The Inn is close to all the major attractions. A hearty, free breakfast is available each morning that includes all the staples. Be sure to ask for a first floor room river side. Your kids will enjoy visiting with the friendly ducks that frequent the sidewalk. Whether you take your family for a weekend or a full week, there is plenty in Pigeon Forge to create magical memories.
Chad Young is managing editor of this publication.