I confess. The word ‘vacation’ strikes terror in my heart. It conjures memories of scary airports, sketchy countries, hours of driving, and the inevitable pretzel formation that was the ride home. Our family vacations always ended with my brother and I making room for the rocking chair or brass milk jugs that had to come home with us. As an Army family, we got to live in lots of states and travel to some really neat countries and my parents were really eager to make sure that we got to experiences the culture of the places we were and the countries or states around it.
As a mom I want those same things for my sons, expanding horizons, finding recreation in our region and exploring our geographic boundaries. We try to make sure that we have adventures and experiences, avoiding grueling drives, lines, and things that take the fun out of the recreation!
The southeast Tennessee region has been a hub since prehistoric days, many of our well-worn paths and highways originally traversed by ancient herds and people. Our central location allows the opportunity to plan a vacation, whether it’s a week or a weekend, that doesn’t break the bank and doesn’t take a whole day to get to. The combination of places to stay, things to do and experiences to have together can fill a scrapbook, of Facebook page, with fun memories.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Surfing, Sun, and Wilderness Fun in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Hang 10 and surf’s up were the most-heard phrases when we traveled to Pigeon Forge and visited the indoor waterpark at Wilderness at the Smokies. The combination of convenience, fun, and a great facility made this an amazing adventure for our family. Wilderness at the Smokies (www.wildernessattehsmokies.com) has everything to keep a family happy, without even leaving the property!
The Adventure Forest indoor dry park features a 3-story ropes course, a 25-foot spring ride, a laser maze, an interactive playhouse, birthday party rooms, a blacklight mini-golf, mini-bowling and an arcade room. This new area will have special rooms for birthday parties and special bundles and packages make more fun affordable.
The indoor waterpark is just amazing! As a parent, it was an absolute joy to watch my boys have so much fun. I love taking my sons to the beach but the open water always makes me a little nervous and that heightened state of alert doesn’t make for a relaxing time for me. The indoor waterpark at Wilderness at the Smokies had lifeguards, restaurants and a professional staff that made my experience as a parent enjoyable. The boys got to surf, loved the wave pool and were absolutely wild over the waterslide rides.
Needless to say, they all slept very well and the rooms accommodated our group comfortably. It was the first time my sons had seen a “Murphy Bed” and it and the couches that turned into beds made sleeping an adventure too. The kitchen had everything that I needed so that we could have snacks and simple meals in between other activities. We enjoyed the terrific restaurants on-site and I loved that they had so many “kids eat free” deals. The wireless internet worked throughout the facility and the fitness center was well appointed and very clean.
Between the free kid’s meal, the arcades and the indoor and outdoor waterparks it was hard to get my children to go home! The combination of family accommodations, convenience and flat out fun make Wilderness in the Smokies a terrific family adventure. Be sure to bring your sunscreen (even in the indoor park on an overcast winter day!), pack snacks (see our trail mix recipes in this issue) and be prepared to leave happy, smiling and tired.
The Lost Sea, its lessons and legends
The Lost Sea (www.thelostsea.com) is a terrific adventure for families. The caves, history, nature, and science of the experience are a perfect example of learning cloaked in entertainment. Proud children will regale you with facts about stalagmites, stalactites, columns, bats, mold, and other exciting science after this tour.
The guides are great, very knowledgeable, and happy to answer questions. Children learning about physical sciences and geology will find that the tour is the real-life of what they learned and students who are about to learn those lessons will carry them confidently to share with their teachers and peer students. The lessons of time, erosion, tectonic plates, the Civil War gunpowder production are tangible experiences in these caves.
The underwater lake and its inhabitants are an exciting mystery in nature that illustrates things children have (or will have) learned in class. The albino trout represent an animal changing because of its environmental influences, growing larger because of a lack of predators and losing pigment because of a lack of sunlight. Learning together is fun and providing a real-life experience that illustrates a school lesson reinforces learning while building family memories.
The Lost Sea is easily accessible from the highway. There is ample parking and lots of picnic benches so that you can bring lunch to have after your tour. Their gift shop is terrific and several art vendors are usually on site.
Ghosts, underwater adventure, and absolute luxury in Chattanooga, Tennessee
It’s hard to go wrong in Chattanooga because there is always something to do and something new to experience. Do you remember the old adage “when Mother is happy everyone is happy”? Choosing the Chattanoogan Hotel as your base of operations is going to make everyone happy, especially Mom.
When the Chattanoogan says that they are an AAA Four Diamond-rated property they really mean it. The beds are luxurious, the property is pristine and the restaurants on site are tasty treats. The Sunday brunch was so amazing I watched in delight as my boys put away plate after plate of healthy and delicious food. They were so excited by the beautiful presentation and savory smells they were adventurous in their selections and discovered that they liked foods I have been trying to get them to eat for years! Whether they were staff or visitors everyone there smiled and when a mom is traveling with three boys smiles are important!
The Chattanoogan Hotel (www.chattanooganhotel.com) has Spring Break special offers that include family passes to the Tennessee Aquarium and the location is so central that there is always something fun to do in walking distance or with a fun, free electric CARTA shuttle bus ride. The art tour on the property was fascinating and the historic forges provided interesting glimpses into what was happening on the same site over a hundred years ago. The pool was warm, inviting and relaxing with an amazing view of Lookout Mountain and was a perfect way to end a fun day of exploring.
Visiting the River Journey and Ocean Journey at the Tennessee Aquarium (www.tnaqua.org) is a wonderful way to explore with children. Tickets allow entrance over a 2-day period so that families can enjoy both sites and the electric CARTA buses provide for easy access to other adventures that will build memories.
River Gorge Explorer
The River Gorge Explorer (www.tnaqua.org) is a breathtaking adventure on a revolutionary wakeless watercraft. Traveling through the Grand Canyon of the South you and your family will see birds of prey, magnificent mountains, and a series of vistas that have drawn travelers and pioneers for hundreds of years. The IMAX experience beginning March is The Last Reef 3-D and is sure to be an inspiration to budding naturalists and future adventurers.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s spring break program, Keeper’s Kids, is a really neat way for children to experience the behind-the-scenes action, interacting with the staff and the wildlife while Mom and Dad explore other Chattanooga attractions. Restaurants abound in walking distance of the Chattanoogan Hotel and the electric CARTA buses are an adventure for everyone.
The Vaudeville Cafe (www.funnydinner.com) combines dinner with entertainment and is a neat opportunity to laugh with your kids as you join in the story with a delicious dinner.
Chattanooga Ghost Tours
Ghosts are hard for anyone to resist and when we scanned the opportunities for a vacation evening activity the Chattanooga Ghost Tours (www.chattanoogaghosttours.com) was an instant must-see. Chattanooga’s downtown is a great place for walking and the Chattanooga Ghost Tour was a huge success. Our guide was a wonderfully engaging storyteller, Hope Holloway, and she led us on an adventure through the ghosts, mysteries, and history that make Chattanooga such an engaging city to visit. From the Hunter Museum to the Sheraton Read House we were led on an exciting tour of Chattanooga’s past and present.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Hop a Chattanooga Choo-Choo for the afternoon at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a must-see trip for families. The TVRM (www.tvrail.com) is an important part of Chattanooga and its history. Chattanooga and Knoxville were strategic points on the railroad system during the Civil War and this museum preserves some of those lines and has an amazing stable of historic trains to ride on and explore.
There are a variety of seasonal specials, promotions, and events, please visit them at www.tvrail.com for schedules and pricing. The experience of riding the train, watching the engine spin around for the return journey and seeing the historic collection of cars and engines is thrilling for even the biggest kid!
Traveling with children can be daunting, exhausting and frustrating. It can also be relaxing, enjoyable and create lasting memories of bonding moments. We always recommend that you talk to your children about some of the options for your family adventures. Consider that sometimes a few days in town doing things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do together combined with an overnight or weekend adventure can make for a very affordable experience.