Saturday, April 02, 2011

Spring Break to Tennessee 2011

Spring Break. Time for rest and relaxation away from school. Except with 4 kids - vacation is never about rest and relaxation. You don't realize this until you have kids of your own that you have to take with you on these "vacations". This year I wanted to go to the beach. We haven't been to the beach since Lydia was a newborn... 5 years ago. Well, we did take a quick trip to Charleston 3 falls ago, but it wasn't a beach trip as we were unable to play due to cold and sandstorms! There are a few token pictures so we can TELL the kids they were at the beach. But it wasn't a beach trip! Well, since spring break is in March... Curtis vetoed the idea of spending cool days on the beach. Sigh! So, we've come back to Tennessee. This time it's Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg. We haven't been here in a while... probably 3 years as well. The little girls don't remember it at all. Bennett only remembers the go-carts that he was too short to drive alone. That's ALL he wants to do. Drive Go-carts! When are we going? When? When? Too bad it's a rainy weekend and he has to wait, wait, wait!~

Our trip north started on Saturday morning... we took our time, packed the van during the lighter moments of the downpours and finally hit the road about 11:30. The kids could hardly stand those few hours of waiting. Constantly underfoot and asking "how much longer". They just never seem to understand that being underfoot causes more delays. One day! :) I told Ruth a very generous 3 o'clock as an arrival time thinking, surely, we'll be there by then! 12:30 - she asks "are we in Tennessee yet?" No, Ruth. 
We drove in a little rain - off and on, ate Chick-fil-A in the van so as not to have to unload and track wetness all over the stuff, and made it to Cherokee in decent time. We stopped for a potty break at the local DQ (do not recommend this particular location), got some ice cream to hold us til dinner and headed into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Such a BEAUTIFUL day despite the rain. The clouds were thick, but the green was so green. The moss on the rocks alongside the road were that amazing shade of spring. The trees are thinking about budding forth in color and the bright, non-sunshiny clouds allowed us to see all the greens without dulling the colors with rays of sunshine. Some of the fields were wet with the rain, but green with new growth. No wildlife was seen on this trip. I'm not sure the bears are out of hibernation yet!
Then we got to the top of the state line... NC/TN...  Newfound Gap.... elevation 5046 ft. Today was visibility of about 20 feet. Maybe 21! The cloud cover was thick! And it made it a little more exciting not being able to see off the sides of the mountains and just imagining how far down, or out you could jump, fly, run, or see. Bennett said "let's open the windows and fill the van with clouds"... so we did.  We took some pictures and walked up the sidewalk to the Appalachian Trail sign. Saw some "through hikers".
Bennett climbing the wall - 'cause he can.

Maggie climbing the wall - 'cause Bennett did.
Lydia and Ruth on their "tower" 'cause they can!
Climbed up a "tower" to take pictures from the top. We could sort of see the road (and Daddy left of Bennett) below. It was a good time for leg stretching and expending of energy! Time to go... time to go... let's goooooo!
On our way out of the parking area we passed some more hikers who were looking for a ride into town for the night. I had my window down and said "sorry, we're full of kids" and they smiled and nodded. I turned around to the kids to explain what they wanted and why we didn't pick them up and realized... we are NOT full of kids. So, Curtis pulled over a few hundred yards up the road and Bennett climbed in the back. We told the hikers they could pile in next to Lydia and we would take them to Gatlinburg, wherever they needed to go. They were grateful. Jake and Meghan... from Iowa City, Iowa. They started hiking at Springer Mountain, GA 2 weeks ago and were planning on completing the AT by August. They look like they could do it. Young. Motivated. Dirty. The kids in the backseat said they smelled like the dump... I guess because their backpacks were piled behind them in the back. I thought they just smelled like wet mud. They said they would send us an email when they get to the end... I hope they do! The kids really enjoyed being silly and making noises while Curtis and I were trying to engage them in conversation. She cooks. He bakes. For a living! What a delicious combination. They have enjoyed their time together so far, but 6 months is a LONG time to hike. Whew! They said they had met up with some really nice folks who are also hiking through, as well as some really cool groups who set up along the AT with hot cocoa, snacks, drinks, etc. If you want to set up a station to help the hikers... have Snickers and Honeybuns. The hiker's planning guide did not give Gatlinburg credit for all that is there. It said "restaurants - 70+, Shoneys". Amazed! The streets were pretty crowded for a post-rainy day. Tons of people. We were looking for a specific motel that was also in their guidebook... and not knowing exactly where it is we drove through the strip and back before we spotted it. We snapped a quick photo for this blog, our memories. They obliged. Meghan's face reminded me of Susan Pell. Jake reminded Curtis of Josiah Borg's. I guess that's what prompted me to first say yes to bringing them with us. Her face. Good memories for the kids, I hope!
As we were driving them around looking for their motel we also spotted Mrs. Kelli - Ruth's teacher, unloading at her hotel. We laughed and I texted her "I see you" just to see what she would say. My phone rang promptly, "what??". So, we said hello and left them for their special couple weekend. Now, that's a rest and relaxation kind of vacation!

Our hotel is the same hotel we've stayed at before. Nice people. Nice rooms. Nice pool. That's what is most important! The pool!!  They actually have an outdoor area with a lazy river, hot tub, shower mushroom thing, and pool. Inside (where it's warm) is a pool and hot tub. We tend to always come when it's too cold to actually enjoy the outside part. They keep trying to get in the lazy river, but it's freezing!! They haven't turned on their heater yet. Burrrrr!

Sunday morning the kids swam for a couple hours while I blogged and Curtis got lunch. It is still pretty cool and rainy so we can't go ride go-carts yet. Not a good day for hiking either. We drove around Pigeon Forge just looking around and spotting all the punch buggies. Lydia is very sad because she never spots them first. Come on guys, give her a break. Nope! In it to win it Mom! We sat in a Books-a-million for a while to pass the time and because Bennett likes to look at books but didn't understand why we agreed to stop and look if we weren't going to buy all the books he kept asking us to buy. Hmmmm, I wonder. We did get Lydia's Bible to save for her birthday. Don't tell! :) She'll be ready for it in a couple months and sometimes this particular one is hard to find. So, it wasn't a pointless stop after all.
Since it had been mostly dry all afternoon Curtis thought it would be fun to take a quick hike in the Park before dinner. We drove through Gatlinburg and it got foggier and mist-ier as we drove deeper into the Park. There was a brief moment when we thought about not hiking... but I figured, it's just mist and we're here. Let's do this! He had found an easy, paved path to a waterfall the kids could handle... surely! It was 4:30 - here's half a granola bar to get you through.
Drinking fresh water from the rocks.

We hiked. It was paved. It was foggy. It was misty. It was all uphill. We told them it was almost like doing a 5K... 2.6 total miles. No problem. It was steep. It was slippery. It was dangerous. Straight down... if you got too close to the edge... the end for you! At least that's what we told the kids. Stay close. Walk carefully. It really was an enjoyable hike all the way to the falls. Coming back was quick - all downhill. Curtis and the big kids scooted on down.

Being crazy silly at the falls for Ruth's picture taking.
Ruth and Lydia found walking downhill was a bit more challenging and painful than uphill. "My legs hurt. I'm tired" So we sang all the songs we could think of singing as we hopped, slipped and limped down the path. Eventually, I had to give Lydia a brief piggyback ride until we could see the cars again. We were all a bit lacking in the glucose storage. It was dinnertime for sure.  If it weren't so foggy, I'm sure there would have been breathtaking views from the top of the path. Quite an elevation change. It ended up taking about 1 1/2 hours to do the whole thing with all our photo stops.
After hiking, we pigged out on some cheap pizza and headed back to the hotel for more swimming before bedtime. Times like these I really wish we had access to a pool. The little girls need some work on their confidence in their flotation abilities. Tomorrow - we move to the waterpark resort. Very excited little people.
At the falls
Looking straight down off the path at the river below the falls.
Fun times in the hotel.

So, Monday brought about the move... from our "suite" to our "sweet" room. Well, not exactly... but try to follow my thought here. At the weekend hotel (cheaper rate) we have a kitchen and eating area which makes the room bigger and the space more appropriate for eating cheaply with 4 kids. We buy sandwich stuff, chips, cookies and eat meals in our hotel room while enjoying the pool and hot tub. The kids would stay there and never leave the hotel if it were up to them. Plus, it was cold and rainy - so why bother? But Monday was our move day. The Wilderness at the Smokies has an indoor waterpark and the biggest reason for the trip to this area. Only their weekend rates are crazy high compared to weekday rates right now and their rooms are just enough to get by. We certainly didn't have room for food stuff, or for eating, or storage. We loaded up all our stuff and spent some time at the local outlet stores while we waited for official check-in time. The girls "need" spring Sunday shoes in the correct sizes and this was as good a day as any to find some. We had planned to meet our friends David and Kelli for lunch, as they were in the same area for their spring break as well. We sat and talked over homemade salsa for 2 hours.... well into the check-in time. The girls love Ms. Kelli (she teaches their 1st grade year) and successfully and continually said "Ms Kelli... look, Ms Kelli... play, Ms Kelli... guess what" as she tried to enjoy her taco. Thankfully, Ms Kelli shows lots of patience! We finally parted ways and headed out to the Wilderness. Checked into our room. Changed into swimwear and FINALLY stepped into the water. It was cold to me... but little people have much different thermostats. They took off! There is a little people area just for Lydia. A "learn to surf" wave area. A big wave pool that spits huge waves every 15 minutes. 4 BIG slides that require tubes to sit in... the first set of slides is 72 steps, the 2nd set is 90!! And a hot tub big enough for all our friends... it's like 8-10 tubs all connected, half inside and half outside. It's very salty and even has some sand in the bottom to make it feel more like the ocean.
Lydia is the first to wear out - as expected, plus it was dinner time. I brought her and Ruth back to the room and fixed sandwiches and got ready for bed. We waited for Daddy and the big kids to get back... for their "30 more minutes" had long passed. We went out to the hotel lobby in our pjs to sit by a very nice warm fire and waited, read a book, and warmed up. Finally, we gave up and went back to our room... and they showed up 2 seconds later. Figures!
We snuggled in our room and watched a movie until we were all passed out... before 11 even! That water is good stuff.

Mommy & Ruth passing Bennett!
Tuesday was a pretty weather day. We opened our hotel window to see bright sunshine. We felt like we had been in a cave for days and the sun hurt our eyes, it was so bright. We talked about the miners who were trapped for weeks and how they might have felt coming out into the bright sunshine. It was a beautiful day.
Bennett... in his element!

Our first, most important, order of business was Go-Carts for Bennett. That's all he wanted to do. He has wanted to come back to Pigeon Forge since our last trip 4 years ago so he could drive his own cart. He needed to be taller. He needed to drive! So we shopped around for the best deal, track, and carts. And we ended up at the one we always end up at... Wild Woodys! They have early bird specials before noon and we planned it that way. The girls got to ride for free with the sacrificing, paying parents... at least 2 of them. Little Lydia was uninterested in the fast carts.
While we were riding the carts... Lydia was the acting photographer. She was instructed to stand by the fence and take pictures... an action that would keep her from wandering away from her spot where I could see her. She did a pretty good job at catching us in action.
She just wanted to ride the "ferris wheel" which was really the carousel. Teee Tiny little carousel. But it made her smile and wave. 
I LOVE this smile and wave. Every time she circled around where we were standing by the fence she would cock that little head and wave her little hand. She was the only one on the ride and she was royalty! It made perfect sense.We had credits for mini-golf and decided since the sun was shining and the air was warm, we could use those as well. Good thing Lydia was free... she was good for about 7 holes before she turned again to photographer. I played her spot... she took lots of action shots. Most of us had no head.

Maggie's Expert swing.

Bennett... sort of posing for Lydia... or swinging slowly. :)

The view of the water slides... Storm Chaser = orange!
Curtis gave lots of instructions for proper putt-putt technique. Ruth listened. Bennett ignored. Maggie cried. It was more enjoyable on the back 9...

Ruth's frustration level increasing....

So Daddy gives help

better swing... :)

Finishing out Lydia's holes so she can take pictures.

Quality photography by Lydia!

The Family Shot by Lydia... she posed us too. 

Photo by Daddy

Ruth and Maggie at the end of a slide
We needed more swim time so we headed back to the waterpark to play until dinner. We stopped long enough to find food for dinner and headed back in for a night time swim. The "light" tunnels are no longer light when it's dark outside. They are much different rides when you can't see anything... also very different when you ride backwards... and very different when you're enjoying them with your littlest people.
They have a ride called Storm Chaser. It's the biggest, baddest ride they have. Lydia isn't big enough to ride so she had to sit in a chair and wait while we rode it. She did a great job being patient for the big kids (and parents). Ruth insisted she wasn't going to ride this ride. We (Maggie and me) finally talked her into giving it a try... and she did. Her face of fear at the beginning (she doesn't like thunder and lightening- the sound effects), the utter torture of dropping so far, so fast... then the awe in realizing she wasn't going to get hurt or die and enjoyed the speed of the ride. Her little giggle to try to cover up how scared she was... yet had a great time. I told Curtis I wished there was some way to capture that face in the middle of the ride. They need a camera mid-point - I would buy that picture!

The wave pool is on a 15 minute timer. There is a short alarm that sounds just before the waves start. There are lots of little screams (of excitement) when it sounds and people go running to the pool. Our kids included (minus Lydia). You can sit in tubes if you like... or brave the waves alone. Bennett and Maggie are confident in their height and swimming abilities to brave it tube-less. Ruth liked to stay close to the edge, with me. I never have liked the way waves make you feel.... helpless and out of control. Lydia doesn't like the waves either!
Ruth gives surfing a try
They also have a surfing spot... a constant, controlled wave. Curtis and the 3 big kids all gave it a go. Hard on the first try, but once you figure out what you have to do to control the board... they all did well. Bennett even tried standing up, like a pro. They made us sign a waiver first... probably because when you fall, you fall hard. He fell... and he got back on it... and fell again.
Bennett tried standing and did pretty well for his first time.
Maggie surfs... she actually got up on her knees too.
He went away rubbing his belly, so I know he knocked it hard... but he was smiling too big to make a deal out of it!
We closed the park down. 10pm... all 6 of us. Lydia had wanted to be done about 9:30 - but we sat in the hot tub a few minutes and she perked up. She likes being warm! We've also got some arcade credits we need to use up before we leave on Wednesday - so the big kids went to take care of that while Lydia and I got ready for bed. Almost time to head back to the real world of the working class.
Wednesday morning we spent a couple more hours sliding and surfing and floating and swimming. We found some friends from back home (a classmate of Maggie's) and their little Sierra enjoyed some girl time with Lydia and Ruth. Archer (Maggie's friend) enjoyed getting to ride the big rides without his parents! :) Did I say the slides had 72 and 90 steps just to get up to them? The parents were glad to let the kids ride together too. Our noon check-out came way too soon, but we had to dry off and clean up and get moving southbound. After we emptied the room we went back to the arcade to empty the game card they gave us and redeem all our tickets. We ended up with 1300 some odd tickets to pick out kid friendly junk. They pondered and thought and pondered some more until every last ticket had been redeemed. Bennett scored with a pack of shocking gum... you might get some offered to you if you come visit. The girls all got the usual trinket stuff. Maggie's favorite is the old school whoopie cushion - which she has used over and over again. Ruth got a pair of fuzzy dice for her favorite teacher (shhhhh, don't tell) and Lydia's favorite is the little Barbie imitation doll. I had to glue her shoes on because they just won't stay on by themselves. So frustrating for a 5 year old!
Curtis surf too... 

making lots of splashes

The little "town" outside the water park.

The outside of the Storm Chaser... lit up at night.

Lydia... totally beat!

Ruth didn't make it through the movie either.

Packing to head home. We like their individual suitcases!

Family photo inside.

In front of the kid section

The top section of the hotel... where we stayed.

Storm Chaser in the daytime... ready to head home.

10,000+ pound granite rock... spinning and floating on water.

Family photo in the Smokies... matches one from 4 years ago. I need to find it!

Silly girls

We had a casual drive home after eating a buffet lunch. Remember, do not go to the Wood Grill buffet. We tried it for you and it's not worth the time or money! We stopped for a family photo in the same spot as Thanksgiving 2006. We saw some elk as we were leaving the park so Bennett took a few photos. We tried to stop for some dairy fresh ice cream at the state line - but we were just a few minutes after they closed. Boo.
Home again, home again. This was one of our best trips! The kids are finally big enough to play without constant supervision. It gives me more freedom to enjoy the trip as well. It's nice when they can find their own snacks, make their own sandwiches, get their own drinks. Even at the buffet - they can fill their own plates and know what they want to eat. I saw a mom at the waterpark sitting enjoying a book and a coffee. Her kids are teenagers. One day I'll sit in a chair instead of pacing back and forth from slide to slide to wave pool. At least we all got to enjoy the fun of the slides together!
We highly recommend Wilderness at the Smokies for your family getaway! :)
Wilderness at the Smokies.

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