Traveling has always been very important to Jeff and I, so early on in our twins’ lives we wanted to travel as much as we could with them to show them as much of the world as we can! So far our twins have been to more places in the first 3 years of their lives than Jeff and I did combined in the first 27 years of our lives.
We wanted to go somewhere in the early fall within driving distance and somewhere we had never been before. I’ve driven through Tennessee but never stopped long enough to enjoy it’s beauty. So I started my research. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to research areas before heading out on the trip! I love to know local favorites or off the beaten path places that always seem to stay in my memory for years to come.
The drive from Chicagoland area to Gatlinburg is 548 minutes or about 8.5 hours. BUT with a toddler currently in the middle of potty training turn that trip into about a 10+ hour drive :/
I started brainstorming – What could I bring the kids to keep them occupied for the time that they weren’t sleeping. It can be pretty stressful to have to keep the kids happy and I hate twisting back and forth in the car a million times.
I started by purchasing a double screen dvd player for the car. I don’t use these on a daily basis but for long roadtrips it’s a necessity to keep everyone sane. I found them super cheap at Menards and they worked perfectly!
***TIP*** Do not forget DVDs like we did. We had to stop after like an hour at target and ended up spending too much money on dvds when we had such great options at home.***
Seems like an easy, “Oh let’s stop here for lunch” kind of deal, but we love food and rarely eat fast food. If we are going to be in the car for 10 hours, I think stopping for an hour for lunch is reasonable. I get car sick easily so looking down at my phone is not a fun thing for me while in the passenger seat. So I always do my research before leaving. On our Roadtrip to Colorado in June, we stopped at a bunch of Diners Drive Ins and Dive restaurants and I’ll never forget it. Even if it’s not a DDD restaurant, still nice to have a few options so you don’t have to figure it out then.
***TIP*** Tennessee seems to LOVE them some waffle houses! Be sure to check one out. Super cheap, everywhere, and pretty good waffles!
~Homeaway.com & Westgate Resort~
I looked at Airbnb, but ended up finding the perfect condo at Homeaway.com at the Westgate resort in Gatlinburg. (I’m not sure but I think VRBO and Homeaway.com are sister companies or something of the sort?) https://www.homeaway.com
The condos were actually a lot bigger than I expected and if we could have found another couple to travel with us it would have been perfect! The condo we rented was actually two one bedroom condos. One was really large with a dining table, kitchen, huge bathroom, huge bedroom, and large living room. The other was like a hotel room but had a separate bedroom and the bathroom was large. The smaller one also had a little kitchenette in it. So basically because our twins were just 2, we set up their pack n plays in our room with us and all slept in the same room together. It was perfect!
***TIP*** When you find a place you like, if it is in a resort check to make sure someone isn’t offering the same place or better for cheaper. Our place was normally renting $300 a night for a studio, we rented two – one bedroom condos for like $150 a night. What a deal! (I don’t think our owners were normal homeaway.com renters so I think we got a deal because they didn’t know the going rate.)***
This resort was perfect for our family and looked amazing with the log cabins and green roofs. Reminded me of Lincoln logs! There was an indoor waterpark which was included with our rental. The cost to get in was pricey so I was happy to have that included! There were so many activities every day but we ended up exploring the town and laying low a lot which was nice with two energetic twins! We went in October of 2016 so I know that the resort had some damage after the tramatic fire that spread through the area.
View from our room
But with restaurants and close proximity to the Smokies and Dollywood it was perfect!
Main Lobby and Restaurant
Here is the link to the resort, but like I said check out homeaway.com before you book to see if you can save some money. https://www.westgateresorts.com/hotels/tennessee/gatlinburg/westgate-smoky-mountain-resort/
I really underestimated Dollywood. I was thinking a small amusement park with some carnival games etc. This place is insane and nothing like what I thought it would be. There are roller coasters and restaurants, not hot dog stands and carnival games. Even though I’m pretty sure they have both somewhere in the park. I will warn you that it’s expensive. I thought Jeff was kidding when he told me how much the tickets were. Our favorite part was the train ride which gives you the history of Dolly Parton which I thought was really cool and my kids love trains. It is wasn’t 96 degrees out it would have been perfect! But unfortunately, it was a super hot day in October.
~Smokey Mountain National Park~
We just did a drive through the Smokey Mountain National Park. There were a million other cars doing the same thing. We did not see any wildlife at all unfortunately. We didn’t even see a bird on the whole drive :/ I’m sure there is much more to do here but with our 2.5 year old twins they fell asleep and it was nice to have a nice quiet drive around while they slept. I did see people pulling over right around the picture I took below and they had brought lunches which I thought was nice. There are a bunch of old buildings that you could park at and look around, but again with our littles, the beautiful drive through the park was perfect.
~Ski Lift – Downtown Gatlinburg~
I was very very very nervous to take up this ski lift up to the top of this mountain area with our twins. However, once up there I was happy to experience it. I don’t know if I would ever do it again though. Our twins were 2 1/2 at the time and these ski lifts were pretty basic, meaning you sat down and little bar came over in front of you, no latches or anything. The ride up was pretty sketchy as far as it moving. I would 100% go back up there if it were just Jeff and I, but maybe not again with the kids until they are older. I was a nervous wreck! But super cool if you can experience it!
Stay tuned for my next post in a few days about some other cool things to do in Gatlinburg!
Happy Travels Friends!