In 2004 I had the bright idea to go to Dollywood in December for my first visit to the park. Since it was open and they run the coasters in the winter, I wanted to go try out Thunderhead. I wasn’t aware until last year just how close the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area was to where I lived. And Thunderhead was screaming at me to come and ride. So I brought it up to a few people and we planned an informal event on a Saturday in December. Ten of us, and we all had lots of fun. After coming back and talking about it for some time several other friends and acquaintances decided that they would like to come as well if we did it again. Well in 2005 we did it again. With seven more people than the previous year.
So, months of planning went into this weekend. Of course, I took it upon myself to plan. And one thing the group (or most of them anyways) learned was not to trust Clint with money. More importantly, I should say, don’t trust Clint with Math. Ever. Ever ever, in fact. I did a good job with planning the meal, though. So after literally almost a year of planning, we had a group of 19 going. Then Josh and Brandi had to back out. So we were down two people, but since they weren’t going to eat at the buffet and they didn’t have to pay to get in with their season passes it wasn’t hard to adjust.
The week finally arrived. I was driving from Southern West Virginia to Pigeon Forge by myself. I was off for the week prior to the trip, so I was able to adjust my sleeping as I was a day sleeper during that time. So on Friday December 16 I woke up early and headed south. The drive from home to the Pigeon Forge area is about 4 hours, but all interstate once I reach Bluefield, Va. which is about an hour from home. Since my Xterra drinks gas like a fish drinks water, not to mention I’m in need of new tires (c’mon income tax refund), I borrowed my parent’s Honda Element for the weekend. I got my ginger pills, bufferin rip off, XM Radio, and CD case from my car and off I went. Thank goodness for XM Radio.
I arrived in Sevierville around 1pm. Beth, who had picked up Kris Allen and Danny Perkins were heading to Louisville to pick up Mike Case and Matt Scott as their flights landed…or so she thought. Unfortunately, when Matt arrived in Cincinnati, they canceled his flight to KY, so he was on a bus that took far longer than they had anticipated. I arrived to Pigeon Forge after Tina and Ed so I met up with Ed as Tina waited at the NASCAR Speed Park for Nicole. Half of the power was out in Pigeon Forge, and none of the traffic lights worked. The coaster at NASCAR Speed Park was closed for the weekend as well.
Ed was at Best Western, so we headed towards Gatlinburg, stopping for me to pick up some stuff on the way. We stopped to look at Hillbilly Golf, which never opened, and then we rode thru Gatlinburg for my first time. Tina called and she and Nicole decided to meet us back at the parking lot by Hillbilly Golf. Since we weren’t far away, we drove around downtown Gatlinburg a bit. While down there, I had seen a Ferris Wheel and a Yo-Yo and something else I couldn’t make out up on a hill. We drove up a road to see if we could get closer to investigate, and found a park that had to have been closed for quite some time, as everything was needing to be painted, de-rusted, and what not. It was abandoned. It only had a couple of rides in it, but it looked quaint. I couldn’t figure out how to turn around, but the gate to the park was open, and that was the only place the road let to turn around, so I turned around by the Yo-Yo and headed back down. I’d never driven thru an amusement park before, and I didn’t really mean to this time.
So we picked up the girls at the parking lot and headed to park in Gatlinburg. We went to the far end, paid, and left the Element in a covered car park. Then we headed out into Gatlinburg, as none of us had ever really been there. We were going to go thru the Ripley’s Haunted House, but I wasn’t paying $14 for it. That was far too expensive for something I’ve done elsewhere, and while good, it wasn’t amazing. So we walked more, found a candy shop where I had a wonderful green apple dipped in caramel and chocolate, and then we walked down to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys around 4pm. Mike Bartlett was just arriving in the area and was going to meet us here in a while. So we paid and went on in.
The Aquarium was wonderful! I had been thru the Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach and loved it, so I knew I would like this one. It was very similar, but also different; though that could be more because it has been a few years since I had been thru the one at Myrtle. We wandered around looking at fish and what not until we arrived at the tunnel going under the shark and fish tanks. We all really enjoyed standing on the moving walkway as sharks, sawfish, eels, turtles and more swam around us. We liked it so much that we wanted to do it again.
Then I realized something. Mike may have been trying to call…but you don’t get a signal when you’re under thousands of gallons of water on your cell. So we went to call him, but actually saw Mike standing on the balcony above us. We went up to meet him, and got a chance to do the first half of the aquarium all over again, which was fine, as we really kind of wanted to anyhow. This place really was great.
We spent quite a lot of time at the aquarium, saw some feedings taking place, and petted the stingrays and lots of other stuff. Then the crew picked up a few things at the gift shop before we headed out. It was getting dark by this time. Walking down main street Gatlinburg, someone saw a shop down one of the offshoot alleyways. I mentioned how we had plenty of time, so we could go and look. We did. After coming around to the back of the shops, we walked down by the hotels and what not on the other street. Then I saw something I had read about and was interested in, Mystery Mansion. This was a haunted attraction in Gatlinburg that I’ve heard good things about, so since everyone wanted to go, we headed towards the Tiki Torches. Tina was happy about that…
We arrived to the almost glowing white house to see nobody else around. The attraction was open, but it was still early, and no one was there but us. So we paid our way and headed in. This was by far one of the best haunted houses I’ve done in a while. This was a rather large attraction. They have live actors that can not touch you, nor can you touch them. It was really well done. And it was an entire building filled up with haunted house offerings. I was spooked a couple times, after complaining to the actors that they weren’t doing their job by scaring me. They made up for it after that.
One thing that was fun was standing on one of the balconies that were outside on the front of the ‘mansion’. Mike B. made the comment that it would be funny if it dropped. We laughed. A few minutes later, we were in an ancient Egyptian Tomb themed area, and I went onto another balcony. And it DID drop. It also made me scream. Good job, scared me. The actors got better. We were the only ones getting the attention, after all. Oh, and I have to say that the room with the doors was a nice touch. As well as the first room, which was very much like a generic version of the first room on Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure? Well, except that you don’t get Rod Searling talking to you, and you have to find your way ‘behind the fireplace’.
So we walked back to the main street and picked up my car after checking out Ober-Gatlinburg. We took the girls back to their car after checking on Mike’s, which was by the Aquarium. We were to meet the rest of our group at the Hard Rock Café at 8pm, but I wanted to get there around 7:30 to make sure they knew we had quite a few coming. I parked, the girls parked, and the five of us went on in to the Hard Rock to meet Brian, Alicia, and his good friend Brad.
We all got a table and waited. Beth and company were supposed to be there soon. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Beth and Co. were not having a good trip. They did finally arrive at the hard rock around 9:20. We had eaten by that point and had a very nice time getting to know one another in person. Hard Rock was standard, but there were far more Mohawks & kilts working there than at other Hard Rock Cafés I’ve been to.
When the BethBus did arrive, we walked down to Wendy’s for them to eat as Hard Rock was getting crowded. We all sat there for quite a while, and eventually went our separate ways. Beth had rented a cabin, so Matt, Danny, and I rode in my ride for the weekend up to the cabin. We got turned around a couple times, but found it. It was really quaint, even without the Foosball table and the fact that their hot tub didn’t work that nite. Oh well. Sleep came fast for me when I eventually made it to my bed. Would tomorrow cooperate?