GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WTHR) — Our trip across hundreds of miles was due to our desire to give Hoosiers a wonderful set of ideas on different ways to celebrate love, romance and family. Our Chuck's Lovely Adventure team of photojournalist Steve Rhodes, producer Megan Simpson and I traveled through five states to tell inspirational stories, see romantic getaways and give some loving alternatives on places to visit during Valentine's week.
Standing along the majesty of the Park, seeing the hustle and bustle of the touristy downtown and visiting talented craftsmen along the arts and crafts trail, we wondered aloud...”how does anything really stand out among the maze of artists, attractions tourist grabs and restaurants?” We found several places that wonderfully fit the bill.
Dollywood's DreamMore Resort
Our home base was Dollywood's DreamMore Resort. All three of us were surprised at what we saw when we arrived. Instead of a loud, in-your-face presentation, the resort is a tasteful, elegant but subtle homage to the life of Dolly Parton. Butterfly symbols (Dolly's favorite) are everywhere and the hotel is a quiet, wonderful anchor to the Dollywood complex. From the modern room furnishings to the restaurants featuring new twists on southern fare, we loved this place as our base of operation.
Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud
We couldn't go to Pigeon Forge without taking in a show, and our pick was the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud. Since the Dollywood/Herschend Family Entertainment group took over many of the area shows and theaters, there has been a real upgrade in these productions. This show featured all-you-can-eat chicken, music, dancing, diving dogs and family fun that we enjoyed. This was a total digital production including colorful sets, an in-stage swimming hole and a lot of audience participation.
Pink Jeep Tours
We also wanted to check out the newest players on the Gatlinburg scene...Pink Jeep Tours. Originally operating in Arizona, this company has come into the market with a bang...its pink colored vehicles standing out in the crowded streets and trails. Our guide Ronnie took us on a road course into the national park and on a VIP access road that led us to the newest attraction in town. The SkyBridge is the longest elevated pedestrian suspension bridge in North America and on a windy day, it took a little nerve, but we loved the panoramic view of the Smokies from the 680-foot long bridge.
Outdoor Gravity Park
The folks at Outdoor Gravity Park have found a way to really stand out among the crowd. It features the only Zorbing park in the USA. We rolled down a 1,000-foot hill in giant 11-foot balls resting in 90-degree water. It was a wild, wonderful experience with three different tracks to choose from. This is such a popular family destination, and kids as young as 5 can participate.
Imagine being in one of America's busiest tourist towns yearning for the beauty of the mountains without the traffic and t-shirt shops. On our last night in Gatlinburg, we made a stop at one of America's few remaining country inns — the Buckhorn Inn.
The story reads like something out of a Hallmark movie. We met Sharon Mellor, who along with her husband Jack, left their Chicago-area home to help his parents run the Buckhorn. Sharon ran a multi-million-dollar foundation but now is greeting guests as an innkeeper in this beautiful bit of paradise.
The Buckhorn features beautiful rooms perched near the Smoky Mountains with tasteful decorating and a wonderful four-course meal at 7 o’clock every night. The meal we enjoyed was a delicious salmon dish and rivaled any dinner at any restaurant. Facing south, a wall of windows gives you marvelous views of three peaks on Mount Le Conte. We loved this inn, and I want to go back — if just to have coffee and conversation with Sharon.
Museums, Arts and Crafts
No trip to Gatlinburg is complete without a walk into the strange museums and attractions, so we visited Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and the Hollywood Star Car Museum. It was quite the night, seeing everything from the cloven tongued tattooed man to cars from the Fast and Furious franchise. We say Harry Potter's world made from matchsticks and sat in the car from the Flintstones movie.
At the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, we learned the fascinating story about the relationship between shakers and the culture of the day. It was a fascinating visit to a unique museum founded by an archeologist. We also had a wonderful visit with Mike Fowler, who, in his pottery shop on the Arts and Crafts loop, teaches visitors how to make their own pottery as part of an interactive experience. Mike wanted us to say "hi" to his buddy who lives in Greenwood.