I’ve been going to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee since I was a kid. We vacationed there every summer. I have wonderful memories from dancing at Dollywood with my dance team, going to the Apple Barn, dinner shows at Dixie Stampede, river rafting down the Nantahala River and blueberry pancakes at the Log Cabin Pancake House. I am so grateful that I get to take my family now and so happy that they love it so much. I sure hope their memories will be as fond as mine!
We try to get to Gatlinburg 2-3 times a year. We got back last week and the weather was amazing….50 degrees and no humidity! We mostly enjoyed the outdoors this time (thanks to COVID), but below you’ll find all of our favorites before the pandemic hit and social distancing began.
June, July, October and Christmas/New Years are the busiest time of year in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Take patience and expect delays down the Parkway. It could take 20 minutes to drive 3 miles. Arrive early at the trailheads. Parking is limited and by 8am, it’s packed. We arrive around 6:45-7am and have the trail to ourselves and can actually hear and see nature.
Things to do:
- Gatlinburg Sky Lift (purchase tickets on line to save a little time)
- Hiking (use the AllTrails app for excellent reviews, pictures and information. Rainbow Falls is my favorite!)
- Cade’s Cove (a beautiful 11 mile scenic drive….and if you’re lucky, wild animals! Remember…Wednesdays are bikes only)
- Clingmans Dome (a steep 1/2 mile hike, but worth it if the sky is clear)
- Go Carts in Pigeon Forge
- Drive through the Smoky Mountains and play in the roadside creeks and stop for photo ops. Look for Elk coming into the park on the Cherokee side. They are always there on the right or left
- Dollywood (closed during the winter months0
- Museums in Pigeon Forge
- Comedy shows in Pigeon Forge
- White Water Rafting
- Fly Fishing Guide (Fly Fishing the Smokies)
- Mountain Coaster (there’s a few)
- Walk the strip in Gatlinburg (lots of shops, activities)
- Wine Tasting at Sugarland Cellars
- Ober Gatlinburg (better in the winter when you can ski or tube)
- Putt Putt Golf downtown Gatlinburg
- The Island in Pigeon Forge
- Tanger Outlets (they now have a Vineyard Vines!!)
Where to Stay
- Rental Cabins and Chalets Chalet Village 800-262-7684 https://www.chaletvillage.com/
Where to Eat
- The Park Grill (local trout is amazing)
- Peddler (the best steak in town)
- Calhoun’s (pork tacos)
- Pancake Pantry (arrive early or you’ll stand in a 2 block long line…the sweet potato pancakes are incredible)
- Ole Red (Blake Shelton’s restaurant and bar)
- Apple Barn in Sevierville (the BEST apple fritters and cider….and good wine too)
- The Local Goat in Pigeon Forge
- Dixie Stampede Dinner Show
- Pirate Voyage Dinner Show
- Big Daddy’s Pizzeria
- Paula Deen’s at The Island in Pigeon Forge (expect a 2 hour wait during prime time hours)
Feel free to email me for additional recommendations or questions about things you don’t see here!
What a treat to live within driving distance to the oldest city in the US. Here you will find some of my favorite hot spots! A perfect weekend road trip from Central Florida Florida or South Georgia.
Where to Stay:
- Airbnb List: St Augustine AirBnBs
- For an AirBnB discount (first time users only), use this: Discount Code
- Casa Monica Resort, a wonderful Marriott-Owned hotel in the historical district
- Hilton Historic Bayfront
- Bayfront Martin House Historic Inn
Where to Eat:
- The Floridian
- Al’s Pizza
- St Augustine Seafood Company
- Meehan’s Irish Pub
- Aunt Kate’s
- The Tiny Martini Bar
- Gas Full Service
- Prohibition Kitchen
- The Hyppo Ice Pops
- Peace Pie
- Colombia (chain, but always a tradition)
- The Spanish Bakery Cafe
- Rain Tree
- Walk across the Bridge of Lions
- St Augustine Distillery
- Old Town Trolley Tour
- St Augustine Lighthouse
- Castillo De San Marcos National Monument
- Flagler College
- Old Jail
- Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth
- Whetstone Chocolate Factory
- San Sabastian Winery
- Crescent Beach/Vilano Beach
- Old Wooden School House
- St George Street
- If you’re a runner, St Augustine hosts a great 1/2 marathon every November
I get asked about Nashville more than any other destination in the US. For me, it is a must-visit city at least 2-3 times a year. It has been so much fun watching it grow and grow and grow…. I have also enjoyed trying new restaurants as well as the ones that have been around for decades. I love visiting the touristy honkey tonks just as much as the local favorites. There are so many places to shop and so many things to do. Believe it or not, Nashville is also a family-friendly city and I have meet some wonderful people who I now call friends. Music City has become a place I would even love to live one day.
You’ll see a lot of entries on my blog about Nashville but, this one sums them all up!
**These are all my opinion only. None of these restaurants or companies paid me 😁
- Urban Grub (every thing and every meal there is wonderful)
- 5th and Taylor (probably my favorite! Bacon wrapped quail and biscuits!!)
- The Farm House
- Caviar & Bananas (super fun place)
- Frothy Monkey
- Five Daughters Bakery
- Biscuit Love (bonuts, fresh OJ and Pork Rinds & pimento cheese)
- Butcher & Bee
- Pancake Pantry
- Martin’s BBQ (the best in Nashville)
- Acme (streetcorn)
- Party Foul (excellent beer selection)
- Fin & Pearl
- HUSK (this a noteworthy “chain” that I love)
- Salt & Vine
- Nashville Biscuit House (oldie but goodie)
- The Row (get the Midtown Mule!!)
- E3 Chophouse (it’s new and AMAZING! Known for their steaks….the raspberry spritzer, filet, bacon wrapped dates were delicious)
- donut+dog (I was so excited about this because I’ve been following them on IG. I was disappointed that the Nashville location doesn’t serve a full breakfast yet. The donut was good, but Five Daughters is better) I’m looking forward to trying the full menu soon.
- Take a picnic lunch to Arrington Vineyards
- Centennial Park
- The Parthenon
- Walk around Hillsborough Village
- The Gulch
- Walk around 12 South (great restaurants and shops)
- Check out the capital building and surrounding blocks. They’re beautiful!
- Visit Cheekwood
- Country Music Hall of Fame
- Tour The Ryman
- See a show at the Grand Ole Opry
- See a show at Bluebird Cafe
- Find the popular murals (I’ll write another separate post about this) and take pics!
- Attend a Tennessee Titans football game
- Attend a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game
- Attend a Nashville Predators hockey game
- Run the Rock n Roll or Hot Chocolate 15k race series if you are a runner
- Drive down Music Row to see all of the recording studios
- Drive out to Leipers Fork
MY FAVORITE BROADWAY HONKEY TONKS
- The Stage (I just love this bar. The entertainers are always sooo good)
- FGL House (great food, too – their soft pretzel is fab!)
- Luke’s 32 Bridge (all levels. Check out the safe on the bottom level! This used to be a bank)
- Jason Aldean’s (Love the rooftop bar)
- Tootsies (the upstairs back bar is always wonderful)
- Honkey Tonk Central (all levels)
- Whiskey Row (rooftop bar on Saturday afternoons!!)
- Wild Horse Saloon (my kids love this one, they teach line dancing)
- Winners and Losers Bar
- Serendipity (12 South)
- Uncommon James (The Gulch)
- Tribe Kelley (Hillsborough Village)
- The NASH Collections (Broadway)
- Draper James (12 South)
- Kittenish (The Gulch)
- Imogene + Willie (12 South)
- Expect to find a “cheap weekend” to visit. Hotels are outrageous and every weekend there is an event. It’s less expensive during the week on occasion.
- Rule out booking an AirBnB. There are hundreds of these in the city, but book ahead! And read the reviews!
- Park downtown
- Wear nice shoes on Broadway (especially a night)
- Use Lyft or Uber. Parking downtown is outrageously expensive
- Rent a car if your AirBnB or hotel offers free parking. This will save you from having to spend money on an Uber/Lyft to/from the airport. Also, you can drive to other beautiful areas like Arrington Vineyards, Creekwood or even Franklin for a fraction of the price it cost for an Uber or Lyft. You can get a rental car for around $80 for a long weekend.
- Tip the entertainers!!! I usually take a bunch of $5 bills and when I leave a bar, I drop it in their bucket. Sometimes, they come around with a bucket too. Respect these aspiring singers and song writers!
- Try Southwest airlines for cheap(er) flights
- Rent a car only if the AirBnB or hotel offers free parking
- Buy tickets on line ahead of time for the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman, Bluebird Cafe and Grand Ole Opry. Some of these tend to sell out fast. You’ll also save by booking on line.
- Use an online dining app to make reservations (Resy, Open Table, Yelp)
- Kids are welcome in the Broadway Honkey Tonks until a certain time. Check with each one, because some are later than others. Typically, around 8-10pm (mine love Honkey Tonk Central and Wild Horse Saloon)
Happy to help book hotels in Nashville or use this link for $55 off your first time visit to any AirBnB!
Have fun in Music City!
My family just returned from a cruise to the Bahamas. We set sail out of Port Canaveral on The Mariner of the Seas. They offer 3 and 4 day cruises, which take you to Nassau and Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean’s Private Island) The newest port renovations now allow for larger ships and Mariner is currently the largest ship sailing from Port Canaveral. Mariner of the Seas also went through a major renovation in 2018 and added a wonderful area for kids, new restaurants, updated staterooms, a state of the art computer system and more. This is most definitely a family-friendly cruise unlike some of the other ships sailing from Tampa and Port Canaveral.
I highly recommend booking and traveling with a passport. You can still board (via cruise ship only) with an original birth certificate, but the lines are longer. **If traveling to the Bahamas by air, a passport is required** RC suggests using their app to get your set sail pass, register each guest, check in, book excursions, schedule your daily activities and print luggage tags. The app is essential for boarding. You will not receive your room key/card until your room is ready. So, the set sail pass on the app is what you will need until then.
For the kids, the ship has 2 large slides, a sky pad/virtual reality trampoline, ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, arcade, escape room, laser tag, teen club, kids club, movie on the pool deck, mini golf, basketball court, ping pong, ice skating rink and flow rider surf simulator. My kids, age 14 & 9 stayed busy and happy the entire time. They will not run out of things to do! The casino, sports bar, poolside bar, adult only pool area, spa, art gallery, comedy show, bingo and more will keep adults entertained as well.
Nassau is nothing fancy. Visiting the Atlantis was nice if you haven’t been, but my kids wanted to spend more time on the ship, so we spent a few hours at the Atlantis, had lunch at Margaritaville, then back on board to enjoy the ship’s amenities.
CocoCay was absolutely amazing. You have to pay for entry to the water park, excursions and alcohol, but food and beverage are included. The water park was well worth the $45 entry fee per person. We also booked a ‘Swimming with the Pigs’ (refer to the app) excursion that ended up being so much fun and a highlight of the vacation.
Royal Caribbean provided excellent service throughout the cruise. From the cleanliness of our stateroom to the service at dinner, everyone was great. As mentioned before, the app is a huge help and we used it daily.
Here are a few tips/recommendations:
- We are a family of 4 and even the ‘Spacious Ocean View Balcony Stateroom” was small for all 4 of us. One suitcase fit under a bed and 3 fit in the closet. Pack only necessities! (swimsuit/cover up during the day/something to wear to dinner at night and one night is formal)
- Buy lanyards for your room key/sail and sign card! These are especially helpful for the kids. We have these lanyards, but they are hard to use at the arcade. Waterproof, but hard to keep having to open/close when scanning the card at the arcade. Almost everything else can be scanned through the plastic.
- We also have these luggage tag holders and they were super helpful since you have to print them at home. They fit perfectly in these holders.
- Bring a thermos. You can carry this around with you and keep refilling with water. We chose not to buy the soda package (I don’t allow my kiddos to drink a lot of soda), so this was perfect! Tea and lemonade is free. Here’s information about RC’s Drink Packages
- Save room in your luggage and don’t bring a beach towel. The ship provides unlimited towels on the ship near the pool and one each in Coco Cay as well.
- If you want to purchase professional photos, BE SURE TO BUY THEM WHILE AT SEA. They will not allow you to purchase them while at port when you return. I tried and was sad to find out there was nothing they could do. You have until 11:30pm the evening before you disembark at Port Canaveral.
- Bring a small blanket to use in your stateroom, on the balcony and on the pool deck during the movie nights. It gets a little cool on balcony, and deck at night.
Always happy to book this cruise…..or any cruise for you! 863-581-1965