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In the Center of it All

Article by Kathleen Walls
Photos by Martin and Kathleen Walls

When visitors come to Tennessee, the top two drawing cards are The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Dollywood. Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are great hubs for visiting both. Moreover, both cities have a lot of attractions in their own right. You could spend days in either without exhausting the supply of fun attractions to visit.

The Titanic Museum

On our recent visit, we tried to cover as many of these fun attraction as possible. Our top pick for museums in Pigeon Falls was the Titanic Museum (www.titanicpigeonforge.com).

This world's largest Titanic Museum Attraction just opened on April 8th, 2010. The $25 million, 30,000 square foot museum is well worth the money. You enter a half sized replica of the Titanic and are ushered to the ticket booth by one of the Titanic maids in her long black dress with a starched white apron and get your boarding pass/ticket from an accurately costumed crew member. Your boarding pass bearing the name of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member and later on you will find a listing all of the passengers and crew and their fate in the Memorial room at the end of the tour.

My pass was that of Sarah Roth, a third-class passenger. Sarah was a 26 year old tailor from London going to New York to be married to her fiancé, Daniel M. Iles. She was probably the happiest passenger on board when they steamed out of Southampton. She had lovingly made her dress. Her bridesmaid was to be Emily Badman, an 18 year old fellow passenger she met on the trip. When the ship sank her gown and all of her possessions went down with it. All she carried with her were the clothes on her back and a menu from the last night's third-class dinner. Sarah was rescued in Collapsible C. One week later, while recuperating in St. Vincent's Hospital, Sarah married Daniel with Emily, who also had been put on Collapsible C, in attendance.

Titanic Grand Staircase with our First Class Maid,
Jaynee Vanderburg, Image credit Titanic Musuem

The museum houses 20 galleries displaying nearly 400 authentic artifacts from the ship. Some were found floating after the ship sank. Others were carried into lifeboats by passengers and crew.

Detail is everything here. The centerpiece of the museum is a $1 million exact reproduction of the Titanic's Grand Staircase. The First-Class Suite you visit was also the cabin used in James Cameron's blockbuster movie, Titanic , as Rose's suite. Many of the exhibits are interactive like being able to actually put your hands into the 28 degree water where passengers not aboard lifeboats would have plunged. You can touch an iceberg, shovel coal into the ship's boiler and steer the ship while you talk to "Captain Smith."

This museum is naturally geared more towards adults but there is a special exhibit for children eight years and younger called TOT-Titanic Play and Learn Room.

While the Titanic Museum is a "must see" there are many other attractions you should not miss. A big part of Pigeon Forge is the music shows. They range from Country Tonite Theater (www.countrytonitetheater.com ), Memories Theatre (http://www.memoriestheatre.com/ ), Patty Waszak Show(http://www.pattywaszak.com/index.htm ), Smith Family Dinner Theater ( http://smithfamilytheater.com/ ), Tennessee Shindig ( http://www.tnshindig.com/ ), The Comedy Barn Theater (http://comedybarn.com/ ), The Miracle ( http://miracletheater.com/ ) Dixie Stampede ( http://www.dixiestampede.com/pigeonforge.php ), which also offers a dinner with the show, and others.

Country Tonight Theater

My pick for best theater was Country Tonite. The show was great. From the comedy of "Bubba The Redneck Ranger" who portrays a "wanabee" entertainer who appeals to the audience to help him get a spot on the show, to his "sister" Bubbina, who storms in after intermission and demands "her" seat, both played to perfection by Chan Mullinax. And the young talent! Skyler McAllister,12 years old, and
Kassadi Mace who is only 11. Hard to beat these kids. They are real professionals. They hold their own with the superb adult performers. These guys and gals are every bit as good as Nashville's finest. The show have been named North American Country Music Associations International's "Country Music Show of the Year" every year since 2004. They have won many other awards as well. If you like county music, you can't go wrong here.

How would you like to have this fellow from Dinosaur World chasing you?

Kids especially enjoy the Dinosaur Walk Museum (www.dinowalktn.com ). The giant reptiles are very lifelike. And for those still lost in the50s, the Elvis Musuem (www.elvismuseums.com/about.html) is a treat. Men especially appreciate the Smoky Mountain Car Museum and The Track (http://pigeonforgetrack.com/ ). The car museum was founded in 1956 and is filled with famous cars, classic cars, vintage cars, and antique cars.  Among them a James Bond ?007? Aston Martin from the movie Goldfinger, Elvis Presley's Mercedes CPE, an Evel Knievel jump bike, David "Stringbean" Akeman's Cadillac and the Silver Dollar Car of Hank Williams, Jr. 

A rare 1930 Duesenberg at the Smoky Mountain Car Museum

The Track includes everything from miniature golf and go-carts to bumper cars and bungee jumping if you are so inclined. The idea of trusting that little cable to hold you rweight and stop your fall at the last moment is a thrill I have to admit I am willing to pass up but to each his own. some people live dangerously. Miniature golf abounds. I counted three along the parkway. Bungee jumping isn't the only high end adventure you can indulge in. Try Flyaway Indoor Skydiving (http://flyawayindoorskydiving.com/pf.html ) for another high flying thrill.

Pottery Shop, one of many shops in the Old Mill District

Of course, you need a place to stay and food to sustain your energy as you sample everything there is to do here. Drift on over to the Old Mill Historic District. Not only will you find my pick for number one restaurant, The Old Mill Restaurant, (see this issue's Fork in the Road for details), you will find art, shops and the neat Patriot Park. This is the terminal for the trolley system which is a bargain at only fifty cents. Not only does it save you gas and time, it leaves you free to sightsee instead of watching out for traffic. Top things to do here , besides eating, include touring the authentic mill and watching a potter "throw" a bowl on his wheel.

Peace and tranquility are found along the Riverwalk

The parkway is crammed with all type of things to see and do here. It's a good idea to stay right on the Parkway. That way, you can park your car and ride the trolley. We stayed at Willow Brook Lodge (http://www.willowbrooklodge.com /) and were happy with the facility. The room was quiet and comfortable, They serve a great free breakfast and the staff was friendly and helpful. In addition they offer two swimming pools: a large outdoor pool area, including a 75 foot waterslide, rain tree fountain and spa, and a more intimate sparkling indoor pool and spa. Plus they had the added bonus of being close to Pigeon forge's best kept secret: the Riverwalk Greenway. By cutting across the back of the lodge grounds through Walgreen's parking lot, we could access the Riverwalk via the Jake Thomas Road entrance. You can stroll, run or bike along the Little Pigeon River. Ducks and other water birds are abundant. Squirrels scamper across your path. This is a wonderful green oasis stretching for two miles that you don't expect to find in a bustling tourist area.

Rainforest Adventure

You could spend days just sampling the attractions in Pigeon Forge but save some time for Sevierville. There is a lot to do there as well. Top pick there is Rainforest Adventure ( http://www.rfadventures.com ). If you like cute baby animals, this is the place. There are over 600 animals, representing over 130 species, snakes, birds and lots of lemurs.

Just inside, you are greeted by a 17 year-old Green-winged Macaw. This is the second largest macaw species. It is found in the forests and woodlands of northern and central South America. Sadly, habitat loss and the bird's flamboyant color combined with a gentle nature which encourages illegal capture for the pet market, is causing a decline in the population.

Baby chinchilla


 

We were captivated by a tiny baby chinchilla. The mother was nursing one while attendant Daniel Love tenderly escorted the other one around for visitors to "ohh" and "ahhh" over. They are so tiny and cute you just can't help falling in love with them. How could anyone wear a chinchilla coat if they ever saw these adorable babies?

 

A toddler feeds one of the pigmy goats at RA

The Aussie Walkabout also has a walk-in aviary, kangaroos, and emus. One of the fun things is feeding the pygmy goats. The brazen little critters practically demand it. It's almost as much fun watching the children feeding the goats as watching the goats themselves.

Then there is the tiny green gecko. At least this fellow doesn't talk with an Aussie accent or any other for that matter and he didn't try and sell anyone insurance. Thank goodness.

The serval is one of the smallest of the big cats but so beautiful. They resemble an cheetah, whose habitat that share, but are only about half the size of the larger cat. The pair here are beautiful.

A genet perches on a ledge in his habitat at RA.

Genet are interesting animals. These sleek fellows look like a mink crossed with a leopard. Since so much of this attraction is indoors, it is perfect if the weather turns rainy while you are visiting.

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Petting Zoo (www.deerfarmzoo.com ) offers a petting zoo where you can feed the animals. Along with the usual farmyard animals they have zebras, camels and reindeer, always a big hit with the little ones. The biggest attraction here is the horseback and pony rides.

Motorcycle Act at Cirque de Chine. Credit Sevierville CVB

The best of the theater in Sevierville is very good indeed. Cirque de Chine (http://www.cirquedechine.com /) is hailed as the best production the Smoky Mountain Palace has offered to date. It's a kaleidoscope of traditional acts such as the Chinese Yo-yo, acrobats who perform with split second timing and professional grace. The men hoop divers take it to the extreme by diving through hoops that are in motion. The motorcycle riders who race at breakneck spead inside of a small transparent globe and miraculasy don't crash into one another. Then there is the piece de resistance. An act that is rarely performed outside of China, the Face Off or Mask Changing. It is a form of Chinese expressionist theater that is documented to be at least 300 years old and even after seeing it , you can't explain how it is done. The face mask on the beautiful young lady changes from one mask to another, without being touched, almost instantaneously.

Jungjo Drums is their all girl ensemble back after spending last year participating in the Beijing Summer Olympics. Yes, they are that good. The precision and craftsmanship that these ladies exhibit in their performance is fantastic.

Floyd Garrett's Muscle Car Museum Credit Sevierville CVB

Sevierville also has something especially for the guy's. Floyd Garrett's Muscle Car Museum (www.musclecarmuseum.com ).This is a spectacular collection of 90 Muscle Cars collectively worth over eight million dollars. The kind most of us only see in movies. Muscle Car Review Magazine describes it as : "A spectacular landscape of wall-to-wall legends, the wildest, most outrageous American muscle cars ever to escape Detroit. And they shine like a new penny. each car could walk off with Best of Show Honors. All the great ones are here: Power Pack Tri-Year Chevys Early 60's, Lightweights Screaming Late 60's, Big-Blocks and a nice cross section of retired NASCAR warriors. Never have so many superb muscle cars been assembled under one roof!"

To top their raw power, you would have to get up in the air. and you can do just that at Scenic Helicopter Tours (http://www.flyscenic.com). They will take you for the ride of a lifetime over the Great Smokey National Park.

Forbidden Caverns Credit Sevierville CVB

All that is left to see is down under and that you experience at Forbidden Caverns (www.forbiddencavern.com ) Many centuries ago, Native Americans discovered this beautiful cave. The cave was used as a shelter in the winter and the cave river provided a constant supply of water. As a bonus, they found flint for their arrowheads, knives and scrapers. They also must have marveled at unique calcite formations that are still growing and largest wall of rare cave onyx or dripstones known to exist.

It was a natural hideout in the heyday of moonshiners. The constant water supply and the isolated location was perfect for making the illegal alcohol.


 

 

Tin Roof Cafe Credit Sevierville CVB

Naturally you need to eat and one hidden gem here is Tin Roof Café (http://thetinroof.blogspot.com/), a small out-of-the-way sandwich and salad spot. It's tucked in behind the Apple Barn (http://www.applebarncidermill.com/)?a great place to get fresh fruit and lots of other goodies to take home. Tin Roof Cafe is owned and operated by Summer Smith who has succeeded in creating a hidden gem. The café is located in a 1900's era home with a nice front and back porch to dine on and unique food to savor. The spring chicken salad on grilled croissant with fruit is so fresh and light. Paninis are a special here. Try the new Reubin-ish Panini. It's made with ham instead of corned beef and totally delish. Then there are the deserts; red velvet cake, key lime cupcakes, strawberry cupcakes and new ones added as the whim strikes her. Best of all for non-coffee drinkers like me, there is a great assortment of teas and hot chocolate along with the coffees of all kinds to wash the delightful delicacies down. Visit on Friday and you even get entertainment in the form of a movie on the lawn.

Here also, you will find a nice collection of putt-putt courses, zipline adventures, dining, shopping and countless other fun activities.

Oh, and while you are enjoying Pigeon Falls and Sevierville, do take some time out to visit the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and Dollywood.

For more info:

Sevierville http://www.visitsevierville.com/

Pigeon Forge http://www.mypigeonforge.com/

 

 



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