Sunday, December 22, 2013


After a great night at Frog Level Brewing Co. we had a bit of a slow start come Saturday morning.

It was also our first night sleeping in the van after so long many nights on nice comfy beds. We didn't get much sleep.

Plus - it was a grey morning.

Heading west out of Waynesville.

The #19 to Cherokee was very narrow, steep and winding. Hmmm - didn't notice that during my research.

Just north of Cherokee we entered the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Amazing to be here so far from home.

We pulled in to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to have breakfast and see what there was to see.

And look! A bear in the gift shop. We didn't make it out with empty hands. A magnet for us (our collection of choice) and a little fawn animal toy for Cassia.

They also had complimentary hot apple cider and cookies. Ya gotta like that.

The road into the park starts out easy enough. Just imagine how grand it would have been with the fall colours!

Fairly soon the road begins to climb….

and climb……

…….and climb. Up to the overlook which is at about 5,000 ft. We didn't stop because - well - there was nothing to see - right?! Darn - wish it had been a clear day. We were so high up the view must be amazing.

Neat trees.

Since we are the little train that could, we periodically had to pull over to let all the other cars by. This time I jumped out and took a few pictures. I really like the colour of the bark.

Now heading down the mountains - we are now in Tennessee. So, up there in the mountains when we crossed into Tennessee - either there was no sign welcoming us or I missed it in the fog. Either way - no entry sign into a new State - darn - I hate to miss them.

Although it was a fairly slow ride up and over the mountains, it wasn't long before the Great Smokey Mountain National Park was behind us and we were entering Gatlinburg Tennessee.

Saturday - Christmas holidays - what WERE we thinking?!

Complete mayhem here!

And …. we had to drive right through the downtown to get to the other side where the Aquarium of the Smokies is located. It gave us a good chance to see how packed it really was. Hmmmm.

Who planned this stop?

Waiting to cross the street. We are now on foot having found a parking spot just outside of the main downtown. That just shows that most people really don't like to walk far. The inner downtown parking lots were full. Ours was empty - which was what we needed - room to park. $5 to park for the day - the best deal around.

We went straight to the Aquarium - the main reason why we were here. It was just after 1:00pm.

Sadly, I only checked the online ticket prices. I couldn't find them anywhere for how much you pay at the door. Apparently, a lot more. Ouch! That $71 to get in really hurts. 

Note to selves: No more theme parks - at least not until Cassia is much older.

I had to take a lot of pictures really fast for the first bit - Cassia was happy to zip past 'fish' to get to the penguins clear across the other side.

A quick stop to look at the sea horses and the diver fixing things up. I could really get in to a job like that.

Sitting here I can't remember the name of this fish - but very very neat. How wonderous sea creatures are - right?!

Thank goodness the under water tunnel has a moving sidewalk with lots of people ahead of us. One way to slow Cassia down!

I got quite addicted to taking pictures of these guys - amazing - right!?

Nice that they have interactive areas for the kids.

I'm considering getting a job photographing jellyfish - definitely my favourite part of the aquarium.

Good for us - we thought - that the dinosaur exhibit was still here.

But because they were animated and roared Cassia was completely thrown off and pretty much ran through. Derek on the other had just stared up at his adversary.

Back to the see life.

Finally - the penguins!

A glass tunnel for the kids to crawl through.

The penguins are at the end of the line. Interestingly, to get out of the Aquarium you must exit through the gift shop. Yes, we caved and bought Cassia a set of her very own sea creatures - we did well at $4.

We decided to take on main street Gatlinburg. You could spend a ton of money here - and I bet most people do. There is also the Aerial Tramway  or ski lift - which would have been fun - and the Space Needle. But like it goes in a place like this - everything costs.

We ended up stopping in at the Ole' Smokey Moonshine Distillery. I LOVE the design of their logo and packaging with the mason jars - someone was really thinking.

Yup - free tasting - which I would have been up for except that it was crazy busy.

So, we walked around and looked at all the flavours instead. It was very tempting but in the end we decided to forgo a bottle to take home due to the $24.99 price tag. What if we didn't like it?

No Moonshine Cake either although now I'm wishing we had splurged on the Lemon.

After getting an expensive smokey and lemonade to tie us over, and walking among the crowds, we decided to head back to the aquarium.

To, you know - get our money's worth.

This was a very good decision on our parts because now Cassia was ok with going a little slower.

Here's a movie for you!

We even found a few things we missed the first time around. However, Cassia was not to thrilled at going up into the water.

But she sure liked dressing up as a dinosaur.

And of course - back to the penguins. How can you not love these guys?

We watched this guy rearranging his carpet for a few minutes. 

A happy kid.

Well, a crazy day - right?!

And expensive. 

Because Gatlinburg is such a tourist trap town - there was no place that we thought that we could get a way with staying for the night. So - we had to make some distance. 

We left at 4:30 pm and headed north to Pigeon Forge (no Dollywood this time) and then south on the 321. We arrived at the Home Depot in Maryville at about 6:00pm following another winding and narrow road. So done with this mountain driving - and I'm not even the driver. 

Glad we went to the Aquarium though - even with the steep price. At least the money goes to housing the sea creatures and allows kids to learn and appreciate sea life. 

We are just south of Nashville tonight……see you along the Natchez Trace!


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  1. Expensive!!! WOW---$71. for the 3 of you!! Gatlinburg is beautiful in the fall, and its always expensive!! I have been on that same road you were on, and seems like it was foggy (smoky?) even then!!

    Safe Travels.............

  2. I have not been to one of those hi-tech aquariums for years, I will have to treat myself. I love the tubes and such that let the kids get so close to the action! It was an expensive day but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet!

  3. If you have to drop some dough that looks to be worth every penny. I have such an attraction to penguins...was my mothers favorite animal. Your photos are outstanding. Yep, those TN hills are something else! Today will be a breeze and nice slowdown following the Natchez. Nice tree!

  4. If you have to drop some dough that looks to be worth every penny. I have such an attraction to penguins...was my mothers favorite animal. Your photos are outstanding. Yep, those TN hills are something else! Today will be a breeze and nice slowdown following the Natchez. Nice tree!

  5. Touristy traps can be fun and expensive, but we do that just for the kids right???
    Sounds like a busy fun day you had.


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