Today we're taking a bit of a break from Halloween stuff to bring you part two of RD's report from the Smoky Mountains as he and RD spent one of their days in tourist trap america.
Be sure to check out their day as they ride some Alpine Coasters, see some bears and have a ton of fun.
Written by R.D. Sussmann-Dewberry
Day 2: Investigating the mother of all tourist traps...
The morning again had us awake to Tennessee's finest weather it could provide - for a desert rat such as myself, the idea of highs in the low 80s was perfect, almost winter-like weather (OK, ok... I can hear the bitching now. We pay for our lovely desert winters by our 120 degree summers.) Today would be a day to investigate the other side of Pigeon Forge/Sevierville/Gatlinburg - the mecca of tourist traps. With our friend Catie along for the ride, lunch was the first order of the day, and Big Daddy's pizza did not disappoint. Though pricy, it was tasty - and certainly filling to start our adventures.
Pigeon Forge itself is only one of the three big areas that form Sevier County's tourist traps. Sevierville itself is the primary residential/bedroom community, with strip malls & tacky outlet malls a-plenty on all sides. If you can't find an outlet you like in Sevier County... you're just not trying hard enough.
Though we would be bypassing these enterprises, it is amusing to see the sheer number of these types of stores along the main drag of Pigeon Forge - the Parkway. Among the countless dinner theater adventures (Two of which are operated by Dolly's parent company itself - Herschend Entertainment) you can find anything you're looking for - from burly, hairy, bearded folks in Dolly's Lumberjack Adventure to ones featuring has-been entertainers, even ones that tell you the REAL & TRUE story of the Christian faith, complete with obscene ticket prices to match.
Being more secular (or unholy depending on who you ask) we continued past the innumerate fast food outlets, gas stations, motels, hotels, and other such operations a debacle the size of Pigeon Forge offers. Mind you, this provides the masses the entertainment they crave, and are in fact a huge part of what makes Pigeon Forge... well... Pigeon Forge. Even with this level of tackiness and commercialism it is still a wonder to behold - despite the obscene level of traffic that the area gets, especially on labor day weekend. And in fact, the crowds and masses came a plenty from all over. While stuck in traffic trying to enter Gatlinburg, we passed plates of cars from as far away as Nebraska, Missouri & Pennsylvania, all drawn to the region where Dolly is Queen - and rightly so.
The trip down to Gatlinburg - a rougly 25 mile drive - took a little over 90 minutes due to the endless miles of tourists & cars trying to get to the moonshine capital of Tennessee; in fact, one can (or COULD...) get completely wasted while visiting Gatlinburg without passing a single dollar.
[Author's note: This is too changing; in fact, many of the hooch houses in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge will soon have a 'tasting fee' in their operations.] Though the traffic was incredible, so was the scenery of the Great Smoky Mountains - which themselves are the primary driver of the tourist trade therein. You cannot find a level of natural beauty like this anywhere in the USA, let alone the world. If you've not visited this region, do so - you will have a greater appreciation of nature and it's own shows more than any theme park on earth.
Upon reaching Gatlinburg, we decided on visiting one of the oldest tourist sites therein - Ober Gatlinburg. During the winter, this facility doubles as a ski resort and facilities for both tourists and locals. Among their offerings are a sky-lift type cable car system between Gatlinburg proper and the Ober Gatlinburg 'base camp village.' As I suffer from a tremendous (and paralyzing) fear of heights, we chose to drive up the mountain road to Ober Gatlinburg's main facilities...
If Arrow had the foresight to develop a suspended coaster down this road, it would have been the best steel coaster ever developed by man. Numerous steep dips, tight turns, airtime bumps, tighter radius corners, and plenty of trees made sure it was a thrill ride in itself - and one that provided thrills for all. After depositing $5.00 for parking, we rolled into the lot to see the cable car outlet for the Ober Gatlinburg base camp.
Entering their facility, one gets the feeling of the true purpose for this building is to separate tourists from their money as quickly as possible. In fact, it does it well, offering indoor skating, an old arcade with many 80s classic video games in it, numerous overpriced food outlets and snack bars, and plenty of touristy-type shops to find that perfect something for everybody to enjoy. We walked through the facility in its entirety, and the design is definitely that of a base ski camp building - with ski school and snow shops interdispersed in the various wings.
However, this was not our intent - for us, it was their new Mountain Coaster.
The outdoor portion of the Ober Gatlinburg area features several ski lifts and snow fields, as well as a weird combination of waterslides, alpine slides, fairground rides & the new Mountain Coaster. An outdoor maze facility also provides entertainment for the summer crowds. Hiking up to the base of the Mountain Coaster, you enter the small building and deposit 15.00 per person per ride for the experience, followed by 5.00 for the locker (No personal items allowed on board.) Again, more stairs (No elevator either) to the loading dock, you are weighed before boarding your chariot to the top.
Admittedly, it's a fun ride - but SHORT. Most of the alpine coasters/mountain coasters have similar concepts - and layouts. It is fun, it is thrilling - it is... over? The majority of your time is actually spent on the lift hill (as is the case with any of these types of rides). Thrilling, fun... and overpriced really. But it is to be expected of Ober Gatliburg.
Exiting the ride, and recovering our possessions, we headed down to the grotto of various attractions and such. Several large waterslides are positioned underneath the cable car lift to the top of the mountain, as well as a larger slide in the middle of the snowfield. A handful of carnival rides and the alpine slides round out the experience that if you should choose to separate yourself from 35.00 plus tax you may enjoy as often as you like. Preferring not to leave 35.00 there, we headed back into the facility, wandering around before making our way down the thrill-ride road into Gatlinburg. Another 90 minutes, and we had crossed back into Sevierville.
Later that evening, my better half & I headed out for the Island at Pigeon Forge, and to the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster nearby there. For those unfamiliar with the Island, it too is a tourist trap of sorts, but one that exudes a bit more class & effort; a water fountain/light show provides some of the entertainment, as does a giant Ferris wheel and an over-ground ropes course.
Many different tourist-trade restaurants & bars ring the complex, along with small tourist-driven shops; the Jimmy Buffett run Margaritaville hotel & dive bar form one side of the outlet; Paula Deen & her Southern kitchen form another building; Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine even has an outpost there as well. A large centered fountain show regularly gives the thrashing mobs entertainment while waiting to experience liquid lightning in glass jars next door. Of course, you will also find some pretty major brand names of stuff along the way. In fact, we found the Build-A-Bear workshop, easily located next to the same said facility of hooch being handed out. Being two proud parents of Build-A-Bear, it was natural that we'd look for something interesting for our 'kids'; and again, success was at hand. In fact, many of the BAB workshops have merchandise that is only available in certain locations: Here is the result... a bear wearing a t-shirt with a bear on it. (Yes, you may take insulin now if you need it...)
One thing this area provides is plenty of color, locals & such. You find hen parties & stag parties abounding on the weekends, families out for dysfunctional family time throughout the area, couples either just getting started with their relationship...and a few that would soon be on the rocks. All propelled by the power of moonshine & endless light displays. Admittedly, it was a fun part of our evening - despite the parking problems and such getting into the Island. [Author's note: It's much better to experience the Island without the crowds & dense overpopulation of locals & semi-locals, though the colors of the various light shows, entertainment & plain ol' fashioned people watching make up for it at night]
We left the island, and began the short jaunt over to the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. I'd already experienced the thrill and fun of one of the longest Alpine Coasters in the USA. And for the price, you get a good value. The parking lot was mostly full - as was the ride queue - but as usual, their operations are top-notch.
And then... the ticket fairy was on my shoulder. Normally, rides are around 15.00 per person - but scoring a discount, the price for us was 8.00 each! Combine that with a $5.00 re-ride price meant two rides for LESS than the price of one normal ticket - WINNING! We entered the queue building (Now housed under a large light-show type structure, and within 30 minutes we were on our way up the mountain.
I have to say this: Of all the alpine coasters I've been on, this one is by far the best of the best of the best. They have invested to keep their Wiegand ride in tip-top shape, keeping up with the times and plussing it along the way, including adding the covered loading area (Smoky Mountain Alpine coaster operate in Snow, sleet, ice & rain). What is most impressive is the light package they've added throughout the course - including the lift hills & trackway to the top. It is over-the-top all the way down. And worth every single minute you wait for it. Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster hit it out of the park with the first installation in the Sevier county area, and it shows so brightly that they care about their operation. This is one of the few must-see attractions in the area, and is an experience that should NOT be missed.
As the temps began their plunge into the cool darkness of evening, we returned to our home for the stay, satisfied in the fun & experiences of the day. I can say that spending it with two awesome people made it that much more wonderful, and again memories were made for a lifetime.
And as we tucked in for the night, I thought of the adventures that were to unfold on the third and final day of our trip... as I also felt a rather disqueting rumble from within me....