Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Gatlinburg/Georgia Trip 2018

Good morning, everyone!

I swear I just blinked my eyes and almost two months have passed since we took our family road trip down to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Lanier Islands, Georgia for a family wedding.  I promised you a recap, and this trip was just so good that I needed to document it.

I'm sure some people thought we were a little crazy for embarking on such a long drive with a toddler, and maybe we were, but I am happy to report that the drive went surprisingly well!

We left our house early Monday morning (Labor Day), around 6am.  We made a big fuss about the "car trip" aspect of the vacation ahead of time, which I highly recommend doing if you're driving with a toddler.  Teddy ate it up and was so excited to get going!

For the first leg of our trip, we planned to drive from the Chicago suburbs down to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in one day's time.  To break it up, we were going to stop at the Indianapolis Children's Museum to let Teddy run off some energy before his afternoon nap.

We stopped for bagels and coffee near home, then hit the road!

Teddy did great on the way to Indianapolis.  He was awake the whole time, but did not get cranky at all at that point.  We didn't even have to bring out the iPad for movies that morning.  Instead, he loved playing with his Melissa & Doug Water Wow books in the car.  {Note to the rookies like me...make sure to fill the pens up with water before you leave the house to avoid having to do so while on the road!}.

I have so many fond memories of going to the Indianapolis Children's Museum with my parents growing up, and our trip there with Teddy did not disappoint! He was in HEAVEN the whole time.  That stop was a huge highlight of our trip and a lifesaver as far as making it through the drive down to Tennessee in one day.

From dinosaurs, to trains, to fast cars, this place was IDEAL for a two-year-old little boy!

We left the Children's Museum after about two hours and just in time for Teddy's afternoon nap.  He was wiped out and slept well into Kentucky. 

When we got into Kentucky, we decided to stop to eat at a Zaxby's.  Maybe this place isn't new to everyone, but I've never been! I must say I was pretty impressed with how clean it was and how good our chicken was.  

This was the point of the trip where I realized that every single stop was going to be exciting for Teddy, as he thought it was all just part of the "car trip" adventure. 

{By the way...those Water Wow books and sticker books were a lifesaver while we waited for food at restaurants on this trip!}

We finished our drive around 7:30pm and pulled into a grocery store in Gatlinburg to get some food for our cabin.  By that point, Teddy was super cranky and the grocery trip was not so great.  

But...we powered through. 

In Gatlinburg, we two-bed/two-bath cabin on VRBO and it was perfect for us. This place was so beautiful! The view was more than I could have imagined and the price was a steal. 

One thing I am glad I did was to bring a special toy for Teddy to play with at the cabin.  Teddy gets up SUPER early (think 5:30am to 6:00am) and I thought the toy would occupy him for a while in the mornings before I felt human.

I love all of the Little People sets and found this Camping Playset on Amazon.  The trick is... DO NOT let your kiddo see the toy before you leave your house! Teddy caught some glimpses, but we were able to save face and make the set mostly a surprise when we got down there. 

Some favorite memories from nights at the cabin, other than gorgeous sunsets, were Teddy enjoying a huge jacuzzi tub that was in our room for his bath time and then following that up with watching Paw Patrol in his very own gigantic bed with 10,000 pillows.   We aren't at the point where he is sleeping in a big bed like that, so we brought his pack-n-play, but he splent plenty of time snuggling up and enjoying his "shows" while resting. 

We did coffee on the deck and made eggs and bacon at the cabin in the mornings.  Justin loved taking dips in the hot tub on the deck in the morning, and Teddy got a kick out of watching him.  I am pregnant, so I didn't get to enjoy the hot tub this time...bummer. 

We were in Gatlinburg for Monday night - Thursday morning and the plan was to set up on big activity for each day, follow that up with a late lunch, and then head back to the cabin for naptime and to have dinner and relax back there.  

There were SO MANY night time activities that would have been fun for families, but in the interest of saving money and savoring some truly restful time, we decided to have the evenings be quiet and it was totally fine for us this time.  

For dinners, we made these HOBO Foil Dinners and they were SOOOOO good.  Don't wait for a camping trip to make them, you can put them on the grill and they are amazing! 

If you are looking for night time family activities, I heard that Dixie Stampede is fantastic. I also thought about taking Teddy to Hillbilly Golf. 

After our breakfast on Tuesday, we headed to the much anticipated Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.  I was surprised to hear this is one of the top aquariums in the country, and it was a must see for our shark loving toddler.  

This aquarium has a "shark tunnel" that is a football-field long. The way you get through the tunnel is on a moving conveyor belt. I am still undecided on how I felt about the conveyor belt, but I suppose it makes sense to keep people moving along.  Seeing so many sharks like that was incredible. 

I would say the other highlight of the aquarium was a giant, multiple floor high, jungle gym.  Teddy had a blast playing in that thing. Thankfully, between the two of us, we were able to keep a close eye on him and he could enjoy it.  I also really appreciated some of the older kids who helped him get up to the slides when he was having trouble.  Lord knows I was not crawling up there with my pregnant belly! 

After the aquarium, we headed across the street for lunch at No Way Joses. This was your typical mexican fare, but it was super reasonably priced and they were VERY accomodating of kids.  Teddy enjoyed his kids taco and I loved my chicken quesadilla.  I believe Justin also got some tacos, which he loved as usual. 

We ended our day back at the cabin relaxing and making those HOBO dinners on the grill. After Teddy went down, I would make smores in the microwave and Justin & I watched the new season of Ozark on Netflix. 

Wednesday we drove over to Pigeon Forge to head to The Track to ride go carts.  We were a little early, so we stopped in a couple of cheesy gift stores, which were a hit because of the huge shark/bear entrances. 

After some looking around at the stores, we headed over to The Track right when it opened. We had the park all to ourselves, which worked out perfectly with a two-year-old who hasn't quite grasped the concept of waiting in a line.

I was so impressed by this place! It was very clean and well maintained.  The workers were so positive and friendly, and they really made it a fun experience for Teddy even though the place was totally empty that day.  There were plenty of rides that Teddy could enjoy, and Justin loved that he could ride on some of the go carts with him.  If your kiddo is at least three feet tall, they can do almost everything at this park.  I also thought we got a great value.  We bought 55 tickets for $50, which was plenty of tickets for us to do everything as far as the rides and play some games inside the arcade.  {Pro Tip: Stop at Food City in town and you can get a brochure with a $10 off $50 coupon!}. 

That day, we went to Smoky Mountain Brewery for lunch.  This place was also great for kids, but beware, the pizza does take a while to cook.  We decided to get Teddy some chicken fingers and french fries instead of making him wait for the pizza, and I'm glad we did. Those came right away.  Justin said the beers were good, and they had some generic root beer, which was fine for me.  I was kind of hoping they would have a local root beer, since I obviously can't drink beer right now, but I get that not everyone is into root beer.  Once the pizza did come, it was worth the wait! 

We came back for naps, did leftover HOBO dinners, Teddy had his bath and shows, and we ended our night with some more Ozarks. 

The next day we woke up and it was sadly time to go! I can't forget to tell the story about Teddy and me seeing a black bear.  We had read in the reviews for the VRBO that many of the guests had seen black bears off the balcony.  We had been looking for bears the whole time we were there, but no luck.  We even had Teddy in on the hunt.

Right before we left, I was taking Teddy out to the car to put him in his car seat.  Justin was back up in the cabin doing a last check to make sure we got everything.  I turned around to take this picture of Teddy in front of the cabin...

And when I turned back around, there was a black bear right by our car! AHHH! I was so excited, but also terrified.  I quietly dropped my bag, grabbed Teddy, and went back inside to see if we could see the bear from the balcony out back.  Unfortunately, he had moved on.

But thankfully, he was not inside of our car.  That's right...we realized once we were back inside that our car doors were open, with all of our snacks inside.

I was positive for about five minutes that the bear was in our car. We sacrificed Justin to go make sure the coast was clear (HA! Well, he was the one who left the doors open!).  No bear, so we were on our way!

Here was the little review that we left in the book at the VRBO cabin, if you are interested!

On the way out of town, we stopped at the Log Pancake House for breakfast.  Teddy was super cranky for some reason at this meal, but he did eat all of his pancakes, so I guess that's a win.

After breakfast, we were on our way to Georgia for a family wedding! The drive from Gatlinburg to Georgia was unforgettable.  Unbeknownst to us, we drove straight out of town and up into a mountain.  It took us about 45 minutes to get up, and about 45 minutes to get down.  While it was such a cool experience and gorgeous, I would be lying if I said I didn't have anxiety the whole time because our gas tank was almost on EMPTY and we had no idea when we would run into the next gas station.  So...word to the wise, always gas up before you leave town! :)  I was convinced we were going to end up on the side of the road calling AAA, but we made it to a small town at the bottom of the mountain in time. was onto Lanier Islands for the wedding weekend! We enjoyed our stay in Georgia too.  I would compare this resort property to the Sea Pines resort in Hilton Head if you've ever stayed there.  We stayed at the lodge, which I think was the best idea with a little one.

Teddy loved playing at the pool with everyone and we even got to go on a pony ride.  That was a nail-biter for me, as I had to lead the horse and trust him to hold on tight and also trust the horse not to freak out and kick me!

The wedding itself was HOT HOT HOT, which was difficult for me as I have not handled the heat as well this pregnancy.  The bride was absolutely gorgeous and Teddy had a ball dancing, he just did not want the dance party to be over!

We pretty much left carrying him surfboard style mid-tantrum out of there at about 9pm.  That's what you get with an over-tired, hot toddler.

We headed back home Sunday and stayed overnight somewhere random in Southern Indiana.

I will say the last leg of the drive (on Monday) was challenging, because I think Teddy was just plain ready to be done with the car at that point.  It was good to get home and have an afternoon to re-organize and re-set before starting that work week.

This trip was SO GOOD for my soul and it was so special to have time just the three of us before this new baby arrives. I felt like I was really able to unplug and relax, while getting to share a ton of fun new experiences with Teddy.

We will definitely make a trip back down to the Smoky Mountains with our new addition.

Next time, I want to go a little further into the Fall to see the leaves changing...I'm sure it is GORGEOUS!

If you're thinking about going to Gatlinburg or Lanier Islands, feel free to send me an email or post a comment below and I will be happy to give you some more suggestions!