Published: August 2nd 2008August 2nd 2008
My wife and I stayed three days in Pigeon Forge to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Pigeon Forge is just north of Gatlinburg which sits at the northern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This area is in north eastern Tennessee south of Interstate 40.
Overall: Enjoyable - I would love to visit again.
We rented a small cabin from Cabin Fever Vacations
. I mention this rental service by name as one thing you notice between I-40 and the National Park are about two dozen cabin rental services. There are several thriving businesses making log cabins in the area. These "cabins" are machine-built homes that are typical of vacation homes in many parts of the U.S. They are covered on the inside with wood panelling instead of white sheet rock. The "cabin" we rented was immaculate inside with satellite television and good high-speed Internet access.
Entertainment and Sightseeing
We saw the Black Bear Jamboree dinner show one evening and the Dixie Stampede dinner show another evening. I wrote about both of these shows in other posts. We spent half a day walking up a mountain in the national park (also described in another post).
There is plenty of other entertainment in the area as well. Dollywood is a theme park in Pigeon Forge. Created by country singing star Dolly Parton, this theme park has grown year-by-year and now has its own water park. There are several other theme parks and water parks in the "tri-cities" (Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg) area.
The strip (highway 441) has plenty of go-cart tracks and the like that are typical of tourist areas. There are also several helicopter ride services that provide a view of the area and national park.
Shopping is where Pigeon Forge got its start. It has been the home of several outlet shopping centers for at least 20 years. We spent one day at the Tanger outlet shopping center. This is one of the newer such centers in the area. If you have visited any one of the dozen Tanger centers in the U.S., you know what is here. Tanger is only one of a handful of such shopping places in the area.
This was a surprise. There are at least a dozen different pancake restaurants on "the strip." I have no idea why this is so. What is special about pancakes in this part of Tennessee?
We ate breakfast at Flapjacks Pancake Cabin. There are three or four of these in the area. It is a large restaurant built in the motif of - what else? - a log cabin. We saw two IHOPs (International House of Pancakes) and another eight or ten restaurants that had the word "pancakes" featured in their names.
Perhaps one day someone could visit all these pancake houses and write a comparison. Don't depend on me doing that.
My favorite part of the visit came on the evening of the third day. We had a half hour conversation with a lady who owned and operated a jewelry shop. She provided insight into what it is like to live in a "tourist town" like Pigeon Forge. Her and her retired husband live in a comfortable home seven miles east of the strip. They garden, run a jewelry store, and patronize some of the restaurants and shows in town.
We spoke at length about Russian workers. Our waitress at lunch that day spoke with a strong Slavic accent. The lady at the jewelry store confirmed the Russian part. Someone in Tennessee works with universities in Russia to find students who want to come to the U.S. and work (practice their English, see the world, and such). He imports the workers, finds them a job, and houses them. It seems that the pay is not as good as the Russians expect as most of them find a second and sometimes a third job.
It is unfortunate, but the local stores are wary when a Russian student walks in the door. The store owners know the students don't have any money.
The last stop of the evening was Smoky Mountain Guitars
. I like to play guitar and look at guitars. I was surprised when a Google search did not show many guitar stores in the area. This store came up and its web site intrigued me. It sells high-end, special acoustic guitars. It specializes in large (dreadnaught or dreadnought) guitars used by bluegrass musicians. These guitars provide relatively high volume without external amplifiers. The store carries Martin and custom-made Collings guitars.
I played one special Martin guitar made in 1958. It was a "half-size" guitar that was just a little larger than a ukulele. The sound, however, was much bigger than its physical size. Price tag: over $3,000.
The owner demonstrated a three-quarters size guitar he had on the wall. Its sound was also amazing given its size: Price tag: also over $3,000.
The visit to the little guitar store was educational and great fun for an engineer and wannabe musician.
We enjoyed our visit to Pigeon Forge. We had visited about ten years ago with our three sons. The area has grown significantly since then. There are more hotels, dinner theaters and shows, and bigger theme parks. The National Park is still there and seems to be weathering its popularity well.
I recommend the area for a family vacation. There are plenty of places to stay and things to do with a wide range to accommodate most budgets.