Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dollywood (Nashville Part 1)

Alright, after getting caught up with business stuff and some housework, I'm finally diving into my Nashville trip recap.  Here it goes... 

Friday, May 31st

Our trip to Tennessee adventure started on Friday, May 31st when Eliot and I flew from Portland to Nashville.  In the week leading up to our departure, we'd worked tirelessly to make sure we packed as much of Elissa's stuff as possible into our allotted 4 checked bags.  Thankfully, we were flying Southwest so we were able to take her comforter, pillows and other small things that we could fit into our giant LL Bean bags.

Our flights down were pretty uneventful after the drama of having to switch them around.  Apparently, our plane was damaged in a hail storm in Denver so Southwest cancelled our fight the day before we had to leave.  Once we got re-booked, the rest was smooth sailing.  Unfortunately, we had a longer layover in Baltimore than originally planned.  However, Eliot was thrilled to get both his pizza and Auntie Anne's pretzels.  I opted for cinnamon sticks and a fruit and yogurt parfait.

The plan was to fly down Friday night, get the rental car and to stay in a hotel near the airport.  Then, Eliot and I would get the keys early Saturday morning, drop off the extra bags and head back east 3 hours to go to the Dollywood theme parks.  Eliot's always wanted to go and I was easily persuaded since there was also a water park.  Elissa was not getting into Nashville until later Sunday, so we could spend a little bit of time playing before we had to move her in to her apartment.

Once we landed, we went to get our luggage at the carousel.  After Eliot grabbed all of the bags and put them in a pile next to me, the reality of dragging 4 giant bags, two carry-ons and our backpacks suddenly hit me.  No sooner did I look at Eliot and ask "is that a cart?  How are we going to get all of this over to the rental car" then a man in a teal San Jose Sharks shirt walked up to us.  It took me a few seconds to compute... 

It was Eliot's father Rick.

I didn't recognize him at first without his Captain Half-Beard look.  (He shaves half of his beard off for the Stanley Cup playoffs and then shaves it all once the Sharks are out of them.)  Eliot gave his father a huge hug and I stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds.  Apparently, Rick had seen us walk in and I looked right towards him, but since we weren't expecting him to be there, I hadn't even seen him.  After a good laugh at myself, we walked to the rental car with Rick helping with all of the bags.  

Rick had flown in on Tuesday and was careful not to post anything online that would give away his location.  He'd spent the past few days working remotely and starting to get a few things for Elissa's apartment.  Elissa was in on the surprise, and she knew that he'd be there when she arrived.  Thankfully for her, it wasn't hard to keep it a secret while she was in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands without cell phone reception.  Eliot's mother also knew about it, but Nori had a much harder time trying to keep us in the dark.  We had to keep asking her things about our rental car reservation and hotel for Friday night.  I didn't even notice that the "hotel confirmation" she sent me didn't have a confirmation number, only the prices like the step before you actually hit purchase.  It was definitely a surprise.

Since Rick was there, Eliot and I didn't have to stress about getting the apartment keys and then driving out to Dollywood.  Instead, we packed up all the luggage, jumped into the car and started driving east.  Rick was still somewhat on California time, so our midnight arrival didn't bother him.  We drove about an hour or so east before we arrived at our actual hotel, a Days Inn in Cookeville, TN.  After checking in, we all fell asleep so we could get up early the next morning to finish the drive to Pigeon Forge.

Saturday, June 1st

We got up the next morning, showered, had breakfast at the hotel continental and got back on the road.  We were making pretty good time to arrive at the park at 10 am as we planned... until we reached the Eastern Time Zone sign and realized that the park was back on Eastern time and that we were already an hour behind.  

To make matters worse, we got stuck in stand still traffic on the highway.  As we sat there, Eliot dozed while Rick and I watched as a helicopter landed probably a half mile or so ahead of where we were parked.  We assumed there was an accident, but this didn't look good.  After more than an hour, the helicopter finally took back off and traffic started to move.  The police were still there and the car was totally off the road almost 90 up against a tree.  I really hope whoever was in it was ok.  It definitely scared me.

We continued our trek east, stopping only to take a quick break at a McDonald's.  We drove through Knoxville and eventually made it to our exit.  As we got closer to Dollywood, we started to realize just how many attractions there were out there, or so we thought.  We eventually arrived, got parked at the water park parking lot and headed into Dollywood's Splash Country.

Once inside, Eliot and I changed into our bathing suits.  (Rick had decided to walk around while we were swimming for a few hours.)  After covering ourselves in sunscreen and putting everything in our locker, Eliot and I headed towards the water slides.  We were swiftly turned around when the life guard told us everything on that side of the park was closed because someone was sick.  That also explained why the lazy river was abruptly emptied a few minutes earlier.

With most of the rides closed that we wanted to go on, Eliot and I went into the quickly filling wave pool.  We ended up sitting in the shallow water for probably 20-30 minutes relaxing before all the rides slowly started to open again.

After that, we headed to the Wild River Falls tube water slides.  I went on them once and decided to watch Eliot as he went down two more times.  As much as I love water parks, all of the stairs and walking uphill hurts my bad knee so I take breaks while Eliot goes on them over and over.

Next, we went over to the Slick Rock Racer mat-slide.  Eliot loves the similar ride at Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach and he was so excited that they had one here.  I went on it with him the first time, and then I sat and watched as he went down on it over and over.  Unfortunately, the walk up to the ride was uphill and at that point, my knee wasn't too happy with me.  But I enjoyed the scenery as I sat there.  We've never been to a water park that was built into the terrain around it.  Finally, after about 7 more times, Eliot had gotten his fill.  We left that ride with him "undefeated" in his races.  

After grabbing a cold water at one of the concession stands, we headed into the lazy river.  It was packed at the entrance; Eliot had to wait about 10 minutes to get us a tube.  Finally, we got our tubes and headed in.  We relaxed and floated around the river twice before calling it a day.  Then, we met up with Rick, got changed and bought a few souvenirs at the gift shop before leaving and heading back out to the car.

It was about 5:30 as we rode back over to the Dollywood parking lot.  Once we saw how far back the front of the park was, we realized why we had to re-enter the parking lot from the front.  It was so far back from the main road!  As we got closer to the park, we also could see the mountains all around us.  The scenery was truly stunning.  We parked the car and headed into the park on the tram.

Once inside, we decided to stop for food at the first place we found with food all of us would like.  It ended up being a cute little country sit-down restaurant called the Front Porch Cafe.  I loved the biscuits they served before our meal came out.  They were so good!  For dinner, I had a turkey club sandwich and fries.  My lemonade was served in a mason jar cup.  After a long day of not eating too much, it was delicious.

After dinner, Eliot really wanted to go on a few rollercoasters.  (I don't know how he does it right after eating, but he was good to go!)  He headed towards Lightning Rod since it was near the front of the park and not far from where we ate.  Rick and I explored the area around it while he was in line and on the ride.

Next, Eliot wanted to head towards a few of the other coasters.  I enjoyed the theming of the park on the way over.  The terrain was gradually getting steeper as we climbed uphill so I decided that I'd find a nice bench at some point.  After we passed a cute little chapel, I found a little bench in the shade that was calling to me.

Little did I know about what that bench was right next to.

As I sat there, I listened to the brook flowing behind me.  Rick explored the shops around us in Craftsman's Valley.  I watched two squirrels running around right behind my bench.  Eventually, Rick sat on the bench next to me and we talked for a few minutes.  He said something about the bird calls we could hear and that they sounded like eagles.  Naturally, I just assumed that they were pumping sounds into the scene like Disney does with music and sounds in their parks.

I could not have been more wrong.

I decided to get up to read the sign that was a little ways from us.  It was about eagles... and there was a giant net behind it.  It slowly started to dawn on me that the sounds weren't over a speaker system; there were live eagles there!  It took me a few minutes, but I started to see movement behind the nets.  You had to look for them, but you could see their white heads in the greenery.  After a while, I'd found nine of them.

I stood mesmerized by their beauty.  Rick and I were pretty much the only people there- most of the other guests just walked by on their way out of the park.  A few of them stopped when they realized that we were looking at something.  The eagles moved around a few times and called out to each other occasionally.

Eagles are very significant in my Mom's family.  Nana and Papa's camp is near a wildlife sanctuary.  Every year, eagles come to nest in the special boxes that were built for them in the park.  Nana and Papa always loved watching them.  After we lost my Papa a few years ago, eagles took an extra special place in our hearts.  Every time I see one, I can't help but think that it's a sign from my Papa.

I spent what felt like forever watching them.  I almost forgot that the park was closing soon and we were still waiting for Eliot.  But no one bothered us.  Rick ended up finding another area that had two non-flighted bald eagles you could see close up.  I went over with him to watch them for a bit.  Then, I also went into the eagle gift shop for a few minutes and I talked with the nice lady at the register inside.

Eventually, Eliot came down the mountain from his rollercoasters.  I showed him the eagles and we watched them for a few minutes.  The park was closed at this point and the employees were making their way out.  The nice lady from the eagle store saw me and came over to say hello to Eliot.  She gave us a little more history on the eagles and how they release the babies back into the wild.  She also told us about the bird show the next morning when we said we'd be back the next day.

After that, we needed to start making our way out of the park since we were pretty much the only people in that section.  I took a few more pictures on the way out.  We spent a few minutes at the store before calling it a night.  At this point, were all totally exhausted from all the driving and going to both the water park and amusement park.

Nori had booked us a hotel nearby so we plugged it into the GPS and headed out of Dollywood.  What we didn't realize was how many hotels or attractions were in Pigeon Forge.  We found this road that was full of them.  We dubbed it "the Strip" as we rode past hotel, after hotel, after mini golf, after go karts, after hotel, after gift shop, after mini golf and so on.  Eliot and I decided that we definitely had to come back again.  We eventually made it to our hotel, the Americana Inn, and got settled in for the night.

Sunday, June 2nd

The following morning, we got up, got dressed and packed everything back up into the rental car.  After checking out of our room, we went to the hotel's continental breakfast to grab a bite to eat.  On the way back to the car, Eliot and I both picked up a stack of brochures for the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.  There was so much to do between "the Strip" and Gatlinburg nearby.  We wanted to check them out so we'd have some ideas of things to do when we come back to the area someday.

When we arrived at Dollywood, Rick and I headed towards the bird show area next to the bald eagle sanctuary.  Eliot ran up ahead of us so he could try to get a ride or two in while the park was still quiet.  The show didn't start until 11 and we were inside the park right at 10:30.  Rick and I browsed through a few of the stores in Craftsman's Valley.  I ended up buying my Mom a gift at one of the country stores.  By the time we were heading over to the bird show, Eliot was just coming down the hill to meet us.

We enjoyed watching the Wings of America Birds of Prey show where we learned all about raptors, aka birds of prey.  We got to see many of the birds up close as the handlers brought them into the audience.  My favorites were the little teeny owl and the bird that took donations and put them into the box at the conclusion of the show.

Once the show was over, Eliot and I went into the eagle merchandise store.  I had a few things that I wanted to purchase.  We made our selections and then purchased everything from the nice lady we'd talked to the previous day.

After, Eliot wanted to get in a few more rollercoasters before we left Dollywood.  We walked up the mountain so he could go on the Wild Eagle rollercoaster a few more times.  While he was doing that, Rick and I found a spot in the shade to enjoy the ice cold waters we'd got on the way up.  We sat in this little park area while a band was playing live blues music.

Once Eliot returned, we made our way down the mountain.  We were almost at the point where we needed to leave the park to go pick Elissa up from the airport, so we had to make a decision on what to do.  Eliot and I had worn our bathing suits under our clothes anticipating that we'd be going to the water park for a few minutes to cool off before leaving.  However, we also had talked about going on the train ride.

Eliot left it up to me since I don't usually do many rides at theme parks.  I still really wanted to do the train, and since we weren't really going to have much time to enjoy the waterpark to begin with, I made the choice to skip it.  I'd already had my fun there yesterday anyways.  I'm so glad I went with the train.

The ride on the Dollywood Express was gorgeous.  The steam engine took you on a five mile trip through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We got to see pastoral scenes with little country homes and how they would have looked back in time.  We also got to see the new Wildwood Grove section of the park which was the only section we didn't get to see in person.  It also looked like there was more land for Dollywood to build future additions on.

After the train, we walked back to the front of the park.  Eliot split off to go on Lightning Rod one last time while Rick and I went to the bakery to buy him a few music note sugar cookies.  Then, we headed to the gift shop where we agreed we'd meet up.  I gathered a few souvenirs and waited under the air conditioning register until Eliot arrived.  He helped me pick out a few flavors of fudge to purchase along with the souvenirs.  We took the tram to the parking lot and said goodbye to Dollywood and Pigeon Forge.  We'll definitely go back someday!

The three hour ride back to Nashville didn't seem as long as the ride out.  Eliot slept for a good portion of it.  I dozed here and there, but I did my best to stay awake to keep Rick company.  I did see when we passed the Eastern Time Zone to Central Time Zone sign this time.  Then, Rick and I watched as the car clock and my cell phone switched over.  I saw the log cabins that I'd fallen in love with on the ride out to Dollywood.  Thankfully, I was awake when we passed them on the way home so I could search for their website on my phone.  We only stopped once to take a quick stretch and potty break.  Ironically, it was at the McDonald's that was literally right in front of our Days Inn Hotel in Cookeville from the first night of our trip.

Before going to the airport, we made a quick stop at Elissa's new apartment.  Rick, Eliot and I quickly unloaded all of the extra luggage to make room for her bags.  I changed out of my bathing suit and put regular clothes on.  Then, we made our way over to the airport.  We're pretty sure we saw Elissa's flight land on our ride over.

Finally, we arrived at the airport, parked and met up with Elissa at her luggage carousel.  She had just returned from her week-long school trip to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.  Unfortunately, she had gotten pretty sick while there and by the time her flight landed, all of the walk-in clinics were closed.  On top of being sick, she was pretty sure she had pink eye, so we took her to the emergency room at the hospital near her apartment.  Rick, Eliot and I sat in the waiting room for about an hour while she was checked over by the doctor.  Thankfully, they were able to give her a few prescriptions and she'd be all set within a few days.

After that, we went to Walmart to pick up some food for dinner.  Then, Elissa finally got to see her new apartment.  We all had something to eat.  Rick and Eliot worked to set up the new television and Elissa showed me a few of the things she bought while on her trip.  We set up our air mattresses and got settled in for the night.  The weekend was a great start to our Tennessee trip, but we were definitely exhausted!  °o°

1 comment:

  1. I love the detail you put in your blogs, so much fun to read!!!