Summer 2020 Road Trip - Plan E...The One Where We Wore Masks and Distanced

HouCuseChickie

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July 18th continued-









This waterfall area created serious issues for K's fears. You had to walk across a rock bridge to cross the area and it was comprised of two rocks with a gap in the middle. Glad to say she made it.


The koi here were huge!




Even random boulders i the water are pretty.


We hit a part where you could really see the lake. The music from the people out on their boats partying was the only thing that negatively impacted the experience.




While Kendall was having a "whine" and cheese experience with the gardens, Sam must have been enjoying it, because she tood a lot of pictures.


I don't think they realized that I ran away...LOL


Thankfully, not much of a crowd here, so shots like this empty bridge were pretty easy.


There was a lot more to explore, but everyone was feeling pretty warm. I want to say it was 96 degrees and with all of the lakes, the humidity was pretty high. So, we ventured out of the second of paths we were on into a well manicured clearing.

 

HouCuseChickie

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July 18th continued-







We ended up finding some tables in the shade to rest for a little bit, and Sam kept taking pics.



We were seated right next to a neat train display. Not as picturesque as Epcot's, but still gave me a bit of that Germany vibe.



This cardinal also kept hanging around.



Extra points if you can find the hummingbirds in these two pics. The second pic has two!



Oh...and just so nobody worried about that peacock I showed before being lonely...here is his lady friend. She had hopped up to the door and was "asking" to go inside.


Everyone was pretty beat, but there was one more part of the park we wanted to see, so we walked down a different series of paths...



Anthony Chapel...this was what I wanted to see...and it's CLOSED!?!?!?!?


At least I could still see it.



At least there was another cool structure we could explore.
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 18th continued-







After that, we made the long walk to the car. I got a great spot up front, near the entrance, but the chapel and this other structure were in the back. Oh well, after a few wrong turns, we made it back to the hotel.


We rested for a bit, cleaned up, and then started talking about dinner. We said we'd stick to outdoor dining as long as there were options available to us. We went back and forth quite a bit on where to eat, but settled on a Cajun place...probably in anticipation of ending in NOLA.

It was a bit of a drive from the hotel, but when we got there and parked, we were across from a field full of geese. Little did we know this was just a fraction of them.



They put our name on the list and while we had the option of waiting out in the car, we chose to wait inside, tucked away in this little alcove. I can't remember if the restaurant was mandating it (since it wasn't state required at that point), but we were in our masks. I also spotted Spuds and a Budweiser frog while we waited.


When our names were called, they took our temps before leading us outside to the deck. I'm really not sure why K looks so shocked.


I do love it when decks are built around nice old trees.


As you can see, we're also on the water, and there are a bunch of geese to go with the ones up by my vehicle.


David started with some gumbo. Side note...any time someone orders gumbo, Sam quotes kid Tiana and proclaims, "I made Gum-Bo!" It looked good, but he said the roux was burned a little and the rice undercooked.


I had boudin to start.


I cut off Sam's mozzarella sticks. LOL

Kendall was being dramatic and wanted to order 3x the normal amount of food, so I think she stuck to just an entree, but shared some of Sam's sticks. I also wound up with a side of vinegar based coleslaw.


Sam had a side of gator bites for her dinner. These were oddly small, but I think they tasted ok.


My entree was red beans and rice. My rice was also undercooked and the beans were ridiculously salty, but the red beans portion was tasty.


David got Cajun shrimp and crawfish boil potatoes. The shrimp were supposedly good, but we'd have to wait on getting to NOLA for the good potatoes.


And this was K's shrimp...which was PLENTY of food for her.
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 18th continued-

After dinner, we looked into a couple of mini golf spots, but they were packed. One spot was so crowded, there were lines for spots in the lot. So, we headed to Kroger (love having my regular supermarket chain when I travel...even they aren't like the signature stores we have near us) for some dessert and soda, topped off the gas tank, and went back to the hotel. We had an early start planned for the next day and these two were being crazy.



Coming up...history in Memphis, the hometown of Casey Jones, and our first night in Opryland.
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 19th Continued-

This Cascades place was one of only two options that we could find that were open inside the Gaylord where we could get a full meal. The other place was Italian/pizza and with the distancing table markers, there was no place to sit. So, this was it if we wanted to eat here.

It had a neat little aquarium at the entry.


It's hard to tell from the pic, but tables were pretty well spaced out. We never felt like we were on top of our neighbors.


It's also in a big open air section, so hopefully that made it lower risk as well.


Wasabi's was closed, but part of their menu was still an option, so everyone had chopsticks.


We also had some nice rock features above us. I didn't get a pic of it, but there was a running stream and falls nearby, so we had pleasant water sounds all meal.



This kid was also all pouty over missing softball...day 2. She was still following them on Game Changer. The tournamment went into Sunday...team came in second. She missed out on getting another big jewel encrusted ring. Think Super Bowl or World Series style rings, but for kids...with no precious metals or gems. LOL


It's blurry, but I started with a pear martini. I don't always love fruty martinis, but this was divine! Really fragrant too!


This was David's drink. I know it involved whiskey, but I can't recall what it was.


We started out with some sushi, so good thing we had the chopsticks.
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David and Sam aren't sushi fans (just wait until we get to NOLA!), so they shared some meatballs to start.


My next drink sounded more tropical, but it was really more basic fruty. Not bad, but not as coconutty as I was expecting.


Of course it focused on the bread, but David's main dish was chicken salad. He was surprised with how good this was.


Sam was boring and got a burger. I believe K got the same.


I wanted something a bit lighter and opted for a salad.


It was kind of pretty in there as the sun went down and the lighting changed. Eventually, the interior lights made it look like stars on the glass.



Dinner was good and the service was excellent. On the way out, I also got a slightly better pic of one of the eels in the tank up front.


I had promised everyone ice cream from the spot closer to our room, plus we needed to be ready for the next fountain show at 9pm. Thankfully, both were in the same area. It was cool to return to that area and see all of the lights on.


Growing up in NJ, one of my favorite treats was Carvel. I was excited to see it making its way into the south. The kids have never had it, so that was the treat for the night. Side note, I can still hear the voice of Tom Carvel and the old Carvel commercials in my mind! Too bad I can no longer eat their cakes. They have the BEST crunchies.
 

HouCuseChickie

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The kids got decent portions, as evidenced by Sam's treat.




As you can see from David's treat, he got a lot less. He was ticked off.


Mine was also pretty sad.


A bit blurry, but the kids had to go up to the next level of this French Quarter style area to look down on me.



It was almost 9, so we headed over to find seating for the fountain. I was worried, but everyone was really good about leaving all kinds of space between families and nearly everyone was masked up. I took a ton of pics and even a few vids, but I'll try not to spam you with too many that look the same. There was an international celebration theme to the show so the music and lights were coordinated to match. I also played with my camera settings through the show, so lots changed.










 

HouCuseChickie

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I took some night pics on our way back to the room, but they are all a blur because I didn't have time to stop. David was also the only one with a decent sense of where everything was and I knew I'd get lost if left behind. Still, here's some of the blurry stuff...




Coming up...July 20th- our day at Soundwaves, dinner in Germany, and a little Greece to end the night. It kind of sounds Epcot-ish, but it's really not. 🤣
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 20th-

You'd think we were going to Disney with how excited the kids were for today. I know kids love pools, and slides and waterparks, but they were ridiculously giddy. I booked for the Gaylord for their indoor/outdoor waterpark called Soundwaves. While it's normally packed, I'd read that they've been begging locals to come stay and play, so I didn't think it would be too bad.

They gave us these stretching fabric wristbands with RFID chips, so entry was easy. We just headed down, checked on a few things and went through the subway style entry points. I'd read about how lounges, chairs and umbrellas can be tough to come by during normal times and I didn't love the idea of other guests right next to us. So, I took a cue from @TheMouseFan 's recent Universal Trip report (which I really need to go back and finish reading) and rented a private cabana. It wasn't exactly cheap, but it made for a much more enjoyable day. While it provided us much needed shade (with a ceiling fan) and kept us at a more comfortable distance a lot of the time, it also came with a server for food and drinks, a stocked with water and soft drinks, our own towel supply, and a safe. Oh yea, and a tv that we never used.





I had no desire for an inside one (would have saved me some $ and toasty feet), I made sure to book the closest one to the door since I was certain the pavement would be crazy hot later in the day. We also had a nice view of the wave pool.



I'm not sure why I didn't take a pic of the outdoor slides. They had quad racing slides and two where the floor dropped out...one being a twister and the other more of a free fall straight down style. These are the slides that all have indoor start and end points as well as part of the outdoor kiddie section.


I was still getting settled when David and the kids ran off to get in their first sliding of the day. So, I sat by the pool for a little bit...when I remembered how bored I get just sitting out in the sun.


I'd eventually join them at the racing slide. I lost...came in last. I got stuck at the start. We then headed inside to try out a couple of the side, the family rafting flume, the lazy river and the rapids. David and I were over it for a bit, so we headed back to the cabana.


If you see the log outside the cabana, I actually lugged that thing out there...thinking it would be as light as the little white table we moved out next to the other lounge. WRONG! That thing was HEAVY!

David and I also decided it was time to start enjoying a few drinks. Bloody Mary for me!


After some drinks, David and I went back in for a while to check on the kids and enjoy some of the water. We got onto these dueling slides. We read the descriptions, but had no idea what it was trying to convey. Turns out, they were the same slide, but one was pitch black and the other had LED lights. We both sucked in a lot of water on that ride, so we retreated to the lazy river (and later swam the rapids for a few rounds) for a while while the kids rode some other slides on repeat. I will say this...distancing in the rapids and river is tough. They were really good about keeping everyone spaced out in lines, but the currents push people together. That's when you hope that all of the chlorine in the water and air has some benefit.

David and I went back out to dry off and talk about lunch. I also was mesmerized by this effect with the wave pool.


We got a menu and as luck would have it, the kids came to us to tell us they were hungry. I love when I don't have to hunt them down.



The kids shared a pizza, David got a chili dog (and forgot to ask about beans in the chili), and I got pulled pork nachos.




After lunch, we did like most parents and made the kids wait before going back in the water. The way Sam looks here, you'd think it was the end of the world.


As time went on, they started playing the "how much longer" game. As you can see, they are now getting irritated with us. It's our job.



We eventually let them go, and we ordered more drinks. This frozen thing was not what I expected, but I appreciate that our server gave me the basic cup and assumed I didn't want to pay extra for the souvenir one noted on the menu.
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 20th cont-

And once again, it got too hot and boring out there, so I went back into the cabana. See, there really are pics of me in this TR!


Seeing bits of red in my hair glowing in the sun reminded me of the sort of humiliating part of this day for me. I'm cheap and usually use home dye kits on my hair. Before the trip, I went red. I'd washed it a couple of times before this day, but the dye was coming off on my towels. I got up and the kids freaked out about the big red spot where the back of my head had been. You could even see some red dripping down my back at times. Of course, the more I got in the water, the less the dye seemed to be an issue.

Speaking of water, while I never brought my phone with me, I enjoyed sitting in the shallow section of the wave pool. The kids would periodically come out, but as you can see from the vid and pic below, things got a bit too congested in the deeper water for my liking as the day went on. So, we started limiting this or changing where we were in the pool.


I think this was the kids' last time in there. I later found them in the lazy river and I guess that was no the popular place to be at the time.



The river was pretty neat. It had some darker sections with waterfalls and laser lights...more starry night sort of things vs. disco.

The kids eventually came back out again and proclaimed that they're starving. They shared tenders and fries.


I want to say it was around 5:30pm when we decided to call it a day. I think they were open until 8pm, but we'd been there since 10am and this wave rider thing below was the only thing the kids didn't get to do. The line was just always insane.



We got cleaned up and started talking dinner. Nobody was in the mood for anything, but everyone was hungry. Many of the restaurants I looked at on Yelp and TripAdvisor were closed on Mondays. I also was having a hard time finding outdoor dining options. In hindsight, especially with what we wound up doing, we should have considered that it was Monday and crowds everywhere would be light and distancing/waits should be easy.

I wound up pushing for a German place that was in the adjacent mall. I got a lot of push back, but I'm glad I pushed. Chuy's was the other main option and while we love Chuy's, Chuy's started as a Texas thing. We have one about 10 minutes from home and I really try to avoid things we can get at home while traveling. We opted to drive around the Opryland mall first to check out all of the options as well as see the Grand Ole Opry. Kendall was taking pics, but she did her best.






After our scenic drive around the lot, we decided on the German place...and everyone got all excited about the geese in the lot by the far trees...

...well, until more of their friends flew in. The geese were taking over!


And here we are!


The place was pretty neat, so I just took a ton of pics when we went in.



 

HouCuseChickie

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While it doesn't look too bad in this pic, there were storms with a lot of lightning in the area and they were producing quite a bit of wind. The place was very quiet inside, as you can see from the blurry pic below, so we chose to eat indoors.



We ordered some appetizers and she brought us some extra utensils.


David also got a beer.


Kendall started out with the pretzel and cheese plate.


I got some Bavarian onion soup, without thinking about the potential crouton (aka pretzel bit) factor. I wound up picking out all of the pretzels and gave them to K, and hoped what was left in the soup wouldn't be too hard on my tummy. Kendall ended up eating all of the soup soaked pretzels and saved the dry bites for the car ride the next day.


It's blurry, but I had rouladen with German potato salad and cucumber salad for my meal. I had the rouladen without gravy. It was already a bit overcooked, so the lack of gravy made it really dry. I've also had much better rouladen, so I was a bit sad. My paternal grandmother made the most ridiculously incredible German potato salad. I could eat an entire batch of the stuff. This salad wasn't even close. The cucumber salad was the bright spot.


Sam was boring and got a burger.


Kendall got some kind of schnitzel.


I think David got a bratwurst. I wound up eating his sauerkraut because I love the stuff.


This would probably be a fun place in more normal times. Looks like live music is probably a regular thing.


She's back to checking on her team.


We wound up closing down the place. It was empty when we left.


We managed to avoid the storms, but never got any great sunset shots from it.


After dinner, we decided to drive into the city and see the Parthenon at night. We had plans to pop by the next morning, but we thought it would be cool to see it lit up. It's been a couple years since I found out about it, but as soon as I learned Nashville had a full replica of the structure, I knew I had to see it. The drive was a bit of a mess and the lot leading to it is in a park that's extremely dark at night, but here we are...


 

HouCuseChickie

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After the Parthenon, some of us decided we wanted some sweet treats. I tried to find the Kroger closest to the resort...which ended up being a pretty creepy store. The kids were being super indecisive and David was hitting his annoyed with everything kind of mood, so I picked some Dove ice cream minis and we headed back to the room to pack up and hit the road again.

Coming up...The Parthenon in the daylight and we head east to the Smokies.
 

TheMouseFan

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I can't believe how grown up the girls look! Glad you found a way to get your vacation this summer! I'm so glad we took ours when we did! The water park looks fun, and I'm glad you enjoyed the cabana. We were definitely spoiled by the one at Volcano Bay and I feel like we'll never be able to go back without renting one again!! Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!
 

HouCuseChickie

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I can't believe how grown up the girls look! Glad you found a way to get your vacation this summer! I'm so glad we took ours when we did! The water park looks fun, and I'm glad you enjoyed the cabana. We were definitely spoiled by the one at Volcano Bay and I feel like we'll never be able to go back without renting one again!! Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!

I know! It feels like just yesterday when I was posting about their first Disney trip...which was nearly 10 years ago 😯 I need to get back to your TR and a few others in the Disney/Uni TR section. We've just been so busy with work and sports. I've slacked on so much of late. I'm so glad you posted that, because the cabana really made the day. It spoiled us as well and I see more cabana rentals in our future! 🤣
 

HouCuseChickie

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July 21-
We woke up relatively early, as it was a driving day and we had morning plans ahead of our drive to Gatlinburg. Checkout at the Gaylord was super easy. Everything was by phone and I kept the card keys (as instructed) to get out of the lot.

We needed to see the Parthenon by day. We took a slightly different route as there were no accidents blocking our way this morning. We got a good laugh after exiting the highway because the kids saw their first brick and mortar White Castle. This would be the only driving pic of this leg...because we were stopped at a red light and my phone was handy.


The kids thought White Castle was just a freezer section burger. They had no idea it came from an actual restaurant chain. I grew up with them and it was always a treat if my mom would drive us all the way to White Castle. In hindsight, it really wasn't horribly far, but not as convenient as things in our town.

After driving through a nice little area and by Vanderbilt University, we arrived at the Parthenon. They're doing some construction on it, but it is open.



Even as we were approaching, I had to start taking detail pictures of the metropes.


By the time we got to the front, we found this lovely bench and discussed for a bit if we should go in or not.



On one hand, we both really wanted to see the sculpture of Athena that's inside, and I'd be able to take pictures in that section. On the other, you're really paying to see the art gallery. We didn't have time for that and I wouldn't be allowed any photos in that section. Entry would have been around $40, so we opted to skip it...feeling that we wouldn't get much value out of a quick visit.

So, we just walked around and explored.


I had to take 2 years of art history in college. While I found the early sections on ancient Greece and Rome to be a bit dry, it's pretty cool to see the frieze fully replicated. Still not as cool as seeing the real things...and while controversial, we have seen some real pieces taken from Greece that are in the British Museum, but this is still very cool...











It is pretty incredible to also see it with the colors. We're all so used to seeing the original in Greece with the washed out appearance, but it originally was highly colored...which faded over time. I guess you kind of expect that with something that was completed in 432 BC.

And at least one kid was willing to pose with dad and the Parthenon.


We took a little walk around the park while there...


 

HouCuseChickie

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And a couple of parting shots before hitting the road...



I had to laugh that our drive out of Nashville took us right back to the Opryland area, but we were soon heading east towards our next destination and the part of the trip I was anticipating the most. We love the national parks and considering Great Smoky Mountains National Park is billed as the most visited, we had high expectations. It also didn't help that friends who have visited this area painted a picture that was pretty different in my mind compared to how the area is in real life.

If you've followed my past trips, you know we've stayed in or visited a lot of little towns just outside of the national parks. It didn't occur to me until after the fact that the friends I'd spoken with have never been to these other places we've traveled and it was a lot of blind comparisons. I recall chatting with one friend and she made Pigeon Forge sound a lot like Jackson Hole, WY. Another said Gatlinburg is just like Pigeon Forge, but smaller, so I started thinking it might be like Estes Park, CO or Keystone, SD. In person, Pigeon Forge felt like Branson, MO. Please don't take that the wrong way. I have many dear friends and family who love Branson. We went to Branson back in 2014 and while the Ozarks are very pretty, Branson itself is not our cup of tea. I also don't think Gatlinburg is just like Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg still has some of that in your face touristy stuff, but it feels much more like a mountain/ski town.

So, I say all of this because I got the kids to take pics as we entered the area. I know they started in Sevierville and went through much of Pigeon Forge. So, here's a sample of what they took...















(Still don't understand the whole Goats on the Roof thing)

 
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HouCuseChickie

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And if someone could confirm that the tons and tons of pancake places are related to the lumberjack history in the region? We lost count of how many we passed.


This is just a sample of it...there's more, but this was driving through Pigeon Forge. Again, I know some people love this, but it's not our thing. Now, I also don't know how busy Pigeon Forge normally is (I've heard it can be pretty packed) and how it is outside of a pandemic, but it felt really crowded. Of course, a lot of the little towns neighboring parks have experienced massive amounts of tourists. I recall reading an article in April about Jackson Hole business owners worrying tourists wouldn't come. A follow up article was recently published and now they're scared with the massive amount of people who have come. Still, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are built up a heck of a lot more than Jackson Hole, implying that they normally see big crowds. Most of the attraction type places we passed looked packed with people and there was a ton of traffic on the roads. The kids started taking notes of which ones looked a little less packed, but by dinner (which was insane), we confirmed that none of them looked quiet enough for us to consider it safe.

The pictures get a little blurry at this point, but as we headed into the trees, I had a feeling we were leaving Pigeon Forge and almost at Gatlinburg. We also started seeing park signage. All of this made me happier.

 

HouCuseChickie

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Kendall really tried, but lots of blurry pics. She did get another pancake spot. LOL


After missing the turn to our hotel, we decided to stop and get gas...figuring we'd hit the park after checking in. I really wasn't sure what to expect with the lodging. Reviews on several sites were good and I was able to see a few YouTube videos. It appears to be an older property that has gone through a recent refurbishment. Not the best pic, but this is some of the room interior.


But this is why I chose it...


I still have no idea why I took this video from inside the room. It would have been much better with the river sounds.

A few funny things...
⦁ When I checked in, they told me about the elevator, but I didn't see it. I assumed they were referring to the multi floor ramp. So we used that to get up all of our luggage...which was as far away from the ramp as it could possibly be. One of the guys cleaning the outdoor flooring tried telling me, but I was so clueless.
⦁ The guy cleaning the flooring as well as a girl doing room housekeeping were trying to clean the rooms around us. We kept getting in their way and after discovering the elevator (OK David found it), I felt bad...but they were sooooooooooo nice!
⦁ David noticed that the connecting door in our room didn't lock. Not sure why I didn't call the front desk about it, but I walked down there. By the time I got back up to the room (remember, I'm still taking the ramp), the maintenance guy was already there. I felt like I was in a TV show...like he magically appeared.
⦁ This will also teach me to pay attention. I hit one of the columns outside of the room and scraped up my arm. It doesn't look bad now, but it got all nasty and scabbed up. At least I had some alcohol wipes handy to clean it.


What I forgot to mention...at some point, before we passed through Knoxville, I stopped to get drive thru food for David and the kids. I can't eat Zaxby's and it was the best option at the exit, so I went hungry. I also didn't have breakfast. I probably should have had David get me a snack when we stopped for gas, but I didn't. The hunger was starting to hit me, but I figured we'd hit the park first and see if there was anything in the visitor center gift shop.

Looks like we're here!





We were supposed to be here for 2 nights, and while I did some research before travel and knew Cades Cove Loop was a must, I missed where it said that it's closed to vehicles on Wednesdays. It was currently Tuesday, we needed to hit the road really early on Thursday, and the closure meant my plan to hit the loop bright and early on Wednesday would not be happening. So, we realized Cades Cove had to happen today.

They were very good about controlling access and numbers in the visitor center, but it wasn't long before we were let inside.



I was shocked that the only thing edible I saw in the store section were some special candy bars. They were around $5 and really thin, so I passed on it hoping we might be able to find something else, especially if we could make it to another visitor center. I know shocked may sound a bit extreme, but pretty much all of the other parks we've visited offer a number of goodies somehow tied to the area...like the huckleberry candy bars, popcorn, gummies, jelly beans, cookies, etc. in Yellowstone.

So, I was driving and Kendall was really the only one interested in photography. It was nice driving through all of the trees and by the river to get to the loop, but I also knew that kind of dense tree cover meant very low odds of animal spotting while driving. The bird was one of the only things we saw. Of course, we weren't at the loop yet, so I was still optimistic.


I'd heard about bad traffic in the park, especially the loop we were about to do, but it really wasn't bad. I mean, there were vehicles, but we've been in much worse (and much better LOL). Upon entering the loop, we had some horses off to our left that were running free. And by running free, I mean I'm guessing they've been stuck doing visitor rides and were suddenly let loose like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby.




That white one was sort of leader of the pack.
 
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HouCuseChickie

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Looks like they were meeting their friends!


I guess this is for people who need to exit early.


Kendall took the bulk of the pics as we drove. She was taking pics through the car window, so they're a bit dark. Still, some are very pretty.








Kendall also took pics of a lot of open spaces in hopes that maybe we'd double back in the pics and see something in there...


...but there was nothing.

So, she just kept taking pics of anything pretty.


We also drove past the various historic structures on the loop, but nobody was really interested in getting out.



And more pretty...





A bird...hey, it's something.


Back to mountains...
 

HouCuseChickie

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And back to historic structures...



Some point right after this, we came to a full stop and were stopped for a few minutes. We were beyond all of the structures, so I have to assume it was an animal. Unfortunately, we were back into a densely wooded area and if there was anything, it was well hidden in the trees by the time we passed.

I know this park has lots of animals and I know late afternoon in July isn't exactly the best time to try and see them. Still, we were limited with options and were skunked, and because of the dense forestation of this park and limited clearings/valleys...at least from what we'd seen...our odds of seeing anything during our short stay would likely be limited. Still, it was just bizarre how we saw practically nothing. The number of birds we saw could be counted on one hand and I found it bizarre that we didn't even see anything more common like squirrels. David saw one groundhog just outside of the park, if that counts. What we'd seen so far was very pretty, but also not that dissimilar to what I saw a lot around where I grew up. I could tell from the kids that there's also a certain bit of being jaded with going to the Rockies and parks out west. It's by no means the park's fault, but we were disappointed. Yes, maybe we would have seen more had we gotten out and hiked, but David has been having some foot issues, so I'd rather him take it easy.

David thought he'd found me a quicker and easier way out of the park, but I think it was actually longer. This must have been when we passed a bunch of rafting spots, because Kendall took this pic...but this is it.


At this point, we were trying to figure out dinner...especially since I still hadn't eaten. If I had some food in my stomach, Clingmans Dome at sunset would have been nice, but it was just going to have to wait for morning. The one other visitor center on that loop in the park was closed by the time we went by (after 5pm)...so, no food. So, it was now close to 6:30pm and I'd had nothing. Cell phone signal went in and out. I expected it in the mountains, but not in town. I've since learned that TMobile customers often experience no service in Pigeon Forge. So, the apps we were relying on to point us to dining couldn't be accessed and GPS couldn't connect. We drove to several places that looked interesting that might have outdoor dining, but they were mobbed with people. We drove back into Gatlinburg, even paid to park, and still got skunked. I put myself on the waiting list of one spot in Gatlinburg and ate the cost of parking to drive to it...but it was a wall to wall sea of people outside waiting to get in. No thanks.

We pretty much gave up at this point. I had service in Gatlinburg and programmed it to Publix in Pigeon Forge. We were almost there when David noticed a certain chain restaurant that had no people and outdoor seating. It's not a place we normally like, but we figured we'd try. In hindsight, we should have walked out and gone to Publix, but I was no longer thinking straight.
1. They refused to seat anyone outside. I know it's hot, but this would be the first and only place I've seen during the pandemic refusing to offer the outside seating area that they already have.
2. They refused to distance tables. They sat us away from most other diners and said the table next to us was paying their check and leaving soon. The tone of the hostess/manager who seated us was borderline obnoxious...like we were being ridiculous for wanting to distance.
3. Not the pandemic's fault, but the food was awful and unlike what they serve at other locations.

The only bright spot of dinner, aside from being seated immediately, was that we had a great server. With our disappointment with the park, the crowds, the disregard for masks we'd seen in the crowds, and this restaurant's unwillingness to take precautions...we decided that it would be safer and more enjoyable to cut our visit to this area short. So, we decided to eat the cost of the second night at the hotel, hit Clingmans Dome for Kendall first thing in the morning, and extend our stay in NOLA by one day. It was probably an omen because the NOLA hotel had dropped their prices. I was able to cancel my original booking that night for no penalty and get 2 nights for the price of 1 that I'd previously booked.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to stop at a candy shop. They thankfully were enforcing masks, numbers, and distancing. I believe this was where we stopped (taken on the drive in).



David and Sam went to the ice cream counter for treats, Kendall got a huge bag of taffy, and I got truffles.


The truffles were so pretty and weren't bad, but it was the passion fruit taffy that Kendall put in her assortment that I really liked.

On the way back to Gatlinburg, while driving through the forested areas, we were treated to trees full of fireflies...or lightning bugs, as we like to call them. We didn't see any by the hotel, but it was still cool driving through them like that. I can't say I've ever seen so many. So that was a nice treat. I can only imagine what it's like during synchronous firefly viewing in early June.

We got back to the hotel (used the elevator this time) and were hoping to enjoy our view for the one night we'd be there, but Sam went out and quickly ran back in, saying that the balcony was full of spiders. I had seen a couple out there in the daylight, but didn't think it would be too bad. I opened the balcony door to check and one dropped down right in front of my face from the top of the frame. I'm terrified of spiders, so I slammed the door and appreciated the view from inside.


It's too bad since I'd read several reviews talking about bears being spotted in the river, but there was no way I was playing with spiders.

Coming up...early morning in Gatlinburg, Clingmans Dome, and 6 states in one day.
 

MinnieM123

Well-Known Member
Enjoying your vacation photos and thoughts. One thing I really like is that you not only share your planned vacation locations/attractions, etc., but also, all the various little towns, etc., along the way. Sometimes, the journey itself is as interesting as the actual destinations! :)
 
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