PIGEON FORGE / GATLINBURG
Tennessee / Smoky Mountains
A dedicated news page for all the Minor Attractions and
Resort Properties in the greater Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg /
Smoky Mountains area.
Note - For Dollywood news, see our dedicated park page here.
---- THE LATEST BUZZ ----
(6/12/17) James Manor Turning Into Margaritaville Island Inn (MORE...)
(6/10/17) Gatlinburg - Anakeesta Construction Update / Pigeon Forge - Margaritaville Expansion? / New Ride Coming To The Island (MORE...)
(4/20/17) Construction Updates - Rowdy Bear Mountain and Anakeesta (MORE...)
(3/8/17) Pigeon Forge - Dolly Parton To Open New New Dinner Theater Attraction This Spring (MORE...)
Read Screamscape’s Detailed Attraction, Show and Resort Reviews Here!
General Area News - (6/12/17) Screamscape sources have confirmed that the former James Manor just outside The Island at Pigeon Forge is being remodeled and repainted and will soon reopen as the Margaritaville Island Inn. Our sources claim it will likely reopen sometime between late July and mid August. A small Facebook preview page for the rebranded resort has also been launched.
In other news, I mentioned awhile back that another new Alpine Coaster was coming to Gatlinburg not far from the Hillbilly Golf attraction and we've got a website now for it. The attraction is called "The Rowdy Bear Mountain" and not only will it feature the new Gravity Coaster (alpine coaster), but also a wild zip-coaster style attraction called The Mountain Glider allowing you to soar through the treetops of Rowdy Bear Mountain. According to the project's Facebook page, they are planning to open sometime in May 2017. I "borrowed" a couple of images off their Facebook page to share with everyone (hope they don’t mind), but to see more visit them yourself as well. Menawhile, if anyone passes by, send in a couple of photos yourself from the ground level.
(6/10/17) An interesting article about how things are progressing at the Anakeesta construction site in Gatlinburg was posted to the site this week, where they talk with some of the people building the attractions about the unique challenges of working on the site, including random weather troubles, and curious bears traveling through the site, once of which even chose to climb into the back of a worker's truck one day. They say they are now hiring staff and are still on track to open sometime in mid-summer 2017.
In other news, remember back in January I mentioned that Margaritaville had quietly purchased the James Manor hotel in Pigeon Forge which sits right at the corner at the main entrance to The Island off the main strip? The rumor at the time was that they might remodel and re-brand it as some kind of Margaritaville themed expansion property. Well, it looks like the James Manor was quietly closed sometime in the past couple months, and while their website is still online, if you try to book a room, you will get a message saying that the hotel is not available and the property is listed as being “OFFLINE”. If anyone happens to be in the area, give the property a little peek for me. I’m curious if there are any signs of construction or remodeling taking place at this time.
Meanwhile a new ride is being set up at The Island, an SBF Wave Rider. Looks like it could be ready to open any day now, and you can see a picture of it posted to their Facebook page.
(4/20/17) I've been meaning to mention this for awhile, but there is an interesting new major development taking place in Gatlinburg right now called Anakeetsa. From the sound of things Anakeesta is a mixed use development project that will not only have a 2.1-acre street presence on the parkway, somewhere across the street from Ripley's Aquarium off traffic light #5, but also have a 70-acre development up the mountainside which guests can reach via a scenic gondola lift ride.
From what I've been led to understand the project broke ground earlier this year and will feature an interesting single-rail alpine coaster attraction, the previously mentioned 12-minute scenic lift ride that will be called the "Chondola" that will offer a mixture of open quad-chairlift style seating or enclosed 6-seat gondoals, plus other "tree top activities for guests of all ages".
At the top you will encounter the "shopping or dining at the tree house themed Firefly Village, walking the 20 bridge spans of the tree top canopy walk, exploring the birds of prey exhibit, riding a single rail mountain coaster, dual racing zip lines", or a treehouse themed adventure playground.
Look for Anakeesta to open Summer 2017 if all goes well and beyond that in Phase 2 they are planning to add tree-house themed rooms you can stay in as well as well as a wedding chapel.
(1/31/17) Screamscape sources tell us that Margaritaville has quietly purchased the James Manor hotel in Pigeon Forge, which is the one that sits right on the main drag that you pass by as you turn to enter The Island. It also has a parking lot behind it that some use to park in and walk to The Island. Could they be planning a dramatic remodel to relaunch it as a new second Margaritaville branded resort location? Possibly... anyone else know more?
(12/12/16) A benefit called Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund is slated to take place on December 13th that will be broadcast on GAC, AXS-TV, RFD and The Heartland Network. Performers already slated to take the stage for the benefit include Hank Williams Jr., Cyndi Lauper, Alabama, Don McLean, Ronnie Dunn, James Johnson and Lauren Alaina, while other celebrities will be on hand to answer phones for the telethon including Paula Deen and her sons, RaeLynn, Dailey & VIncent, Moonshiners' Mark & Digger, T.G. Sheppard, Jason Crabb, Larry Gatlin, Henry Cho, Tim Rushlow and many more.
“Every day I’m touched even more by the number of people who are joining us to help raise money for the people of the Smoky Mountains,” Parton said. “It is a special place and I’m honored that these people care so much about what we’re doing through the My People Fund to help those who have lost everything due to the wildfires.”
The nationally-broadcast telethon seeks to raise money for the Dollywood Foundation’s My People Fund, established by Parton, The Dollywood Company and Parton’s dinner theaters in the wake of last week’s wildfires in the entertainment icon’s home area of Sevier County, Tennessee.
Smoky Mountains Rise also will be simulcast across multiple radio chains, including iHeart Media's digital and select on-air platforms, Cumulus Media's NASH Nights LIVE,TuneIn's Country Roads channel, and several other platforms which are set to be announced shortly. All of the artists are donating their performances to help the effort. USAToday.com and USA Today National Networks will live stream the telethon on their affiliate newspaper websites, including all Tennessee newspaper sites Tennessean.com, Knoxnews.com, commercialappeal.com, jacksonsun.com, theleafchronicle.com,dnj.com, and others.
During the telethon, viewers will be asked to call 1-866-CARE MORE to donate to the My People Fund.
Anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the My People Fund may visit dollywoodfoundation.org. For those wishing to send donations via mail, those contributions should be sent to: My People Fund, c/o Dollywood Foundation, 111 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.
(12/10/16) Good news for Gatlinburg, as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies reports that they reopened for business on Friday. The Aquarium, like most of the downtown corridor attractions, survived the Gatlinburg fires unharmed, and now has been decorated and open for the Christmas season along with sister Ripley attractions nearby: Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, Guinness World Record Attractions, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf and Ripley’s Old MacDonald Farm Mini-Golf.
With Gatlinburg reopen to the public, Ryan DeSear (GM of the Ripley’s Aquarium) says, “If you came right now to downtown Gatlinburg, you wouldn’t know that anything happened. You can walk up and down the streets, and all your favorite places are still here and ready for business”.
“We need you to come back and show your love of Gatlinburg and be a visitor again. It's important for the people who live in this community to get everyone back to work. It gives them a sense of normalcy and pride in what they do.”
(11/30/16) It's been a crazy 24-hours for the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee as super high winds as high as 80mph blew into the area and quickly spread wildfires in the nearby mountains into populated areas, burning hundreds of homes and structures and causing mass panic as people attempted to evacuate to safety. Throughout the day there have been many reports of various attractions and resorts suffering damage, many of which have later been corrected as being undamaged after all.
As Gatlinburg was said to be off-limits to anyone not already there, information has been hard to come by but here is what we think to know so far. The Gatlinburg area suffered the most damage from the sound of things, with many homes and vacation cabins burned down to the foundations. Despite reports from major news outlets claiming that Ober Gatlinburg, the Park Vista Hotel, Hillbilly Golf, Mysterious Mansion and other attractions were turned to ash, later reports have come in claiming that the attractions are either unharmed or may have only received slight damage. Videos you can find online from those in the area also show that the main drag through downtown Gatlinburg also seems untouched by the flames.
Be warned however that as of the last report I saw Tuesday afternoon the 441 highway up through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that goes to Cherokee is closed, as fires still line the steep mountains up there. I believe highway 321 that runs from Gatlinburg to the East out towards I-40 is open, however this region is also where quite a bit of extensive fire damage took place.
I've seen very few reports of damage in Pigeon Forge along the main tourist corridor, however several of the Dollywood cabins did get burned by neabry flames across the mountains as the fire got very close to the park's property. According to a statement from Dollywood, the park and DreamMore Resort were left unharmed by the flames. Dollywood itself however will remain closed until Friday when it opens at 2pm to resume normal operations. The park will focus their efforts over the next two days to supporting the community.
"Dollywood hosts have joined in supporting the needs of their fellow hosts affected as well as assisting other area businesses in supplying personal care items to the shelter at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge and they continue to feed and house firefighters and first responders.
“I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken. I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort, Dixie Stampede and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared,” Dolly Parton said."
(10/17/16) I'm told that yet another Mountain Coaster is now planned to go up in Gatlinburg, not too far from where the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster sits. The local planning comission approved the plan to replace what was a small run-down hotel property, once known I believe at the Terrace Inn on the Water as well as on the mostly undeveloped property next door. (386 and 396 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN).
I've already been sent a report that the hotel was seen being torn down about a month ago, if you've visited the area you've probably seen the Hillbilly Golf attraction which will now sit almost perfectly right in the middle of these two mountain coaster attractions. No word on just how fast they are planning on building it, but as these attractions can go up quickly when they want to, I would suspect it could be up and running in time for mid to late 2017.
2017 - Dolly Parton’s New Dinner Theater Attraction - (3/8/17) When I visited Dolly's Parton's Lumberjack Adventure show in December to review the new Christmas edition of the show, I was lucky enough to be able to chat with some of the staff there, who told me that the show would be closing after the holiday season to make some new improvements to the show, as well as to the theater building itself in preparation for the 2017 season. They wouldn't go into more detail about what was coming, but I never expected what was just announced.
According to a press release just sent out by World Choice Investments, LLC (the company behind Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede and Pirate's Voyage Dinner & Show attractions) the Lumberjack Adventure theater will become something entirely new when it opens again in 2017.
After the success of Dolly Parton’s NBC movies about her childhood, Pigeon Forge’s newest dinner theatre attraction is telling a special story very close to her heart. After months of work, Parton and her production team are opening a new show shaped by the life and family of the Smoky Mountain songbird herself.
“This new story is very special to me,” Parton explained. That is why during my first visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this year I will open a new show that celebrates my family before I was born. With the success of my family stories Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors - Circle of Love over the last two years, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell and the theatre in Pigeon Forge near the Island is the perfect venue.”
They promise that more details will be released very soon about the new production that will open late this Spring.
2017 - Country Cascades Waterpark & Expansion - Confirmed - (7/13/16) A video was posted to Facebook by the Pigeon Forge Chamber of Commerce at the groundbreaking for the Country Cascades Resort's new Waterpark and expansion, part of a $10 million investment from the Collier family. The project will include a new hotel tower (Summit Tower with 98 family suites) as well as a 30,000 sq. ft. Cascades outdoor water park. Look for the expansion to be complete and open in Spring 2017.
2018 - Margaritaville Resort in the Smokies: Gatlinburg - Under Construction - (2/1/17) Would you believe yet ANOTHER Margaritaville Resort is coming to the area? I missed this announcement that was made back in December (probably due to all the fire news at the time) but it has been confirmed that a Margaritaville Resort and LandShark Restaurant will be coming to Gatlinburg in 2018.
Margaritaburg, LLC, a group of local investors associated with the owners of The Island in Pigeon Forge (and their Margaritaville Hotel) have purchased a five-acre island like piece of property surrounded by the Pigeon River, right in the heart of Gatlinburg next to the No Way Jose's restaurant and Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, where they will build a 7-story 174-room hotel with a 4,000 sqft outdoor pool and play area, a St. Somewhere Spa, other Margaritaville themed shops and amenities and will be connected to a LandShark restaurant across the river right on the Parkway where the former Hard Rock Cafe Gatlinburg used to be.
The $35 million "Margaritaville Resort in the Smokies" project is already under construction and the previously existing Best Western hotel that was on the site has already been torn down. Look for LandShark to open sometime in mid 2017 and the new resort expect to open as early as July 2018. Much like rooms in the Pigeon Forge resort, they claim all the rooms will feature fireplaces, wet bars and each stocked with an official Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker for your own use.
New 2016 Attractions Now Open in Pigeon Forge Area -
Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure - Dolly bought the old Lumberjack Feud dinner theater attraction and has remade it into an all new dinner show, located down next to The Island, featuring good entertainment, good food and great fun. Read our official review here.
Top Jump - A new attraction in Pigeon Forge has opened a few weeks ago called Top Jump, featuring the largest "Clip 'n Climb" installation in the USA. They also feature a Trampoline Park (complete with Dodgeball game) a candy store and an arcade. Look for it on the main drag just before Dollywood Lane when driving in from Gatlinburg.
New 2015 Attractions Now Open in Pigeon Forge Area -
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen / The Island at Pigeon Forge - The infamous Paula Deen has opened a Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen location in Pigeon Forge. Her new joint will be right in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, across from the new fountain display at The Island in Pigeon Forge. The food is good and the portion sizes are very large, but as you would expect the prices are a bit high as well. They do serve an interesting breakfast menu as well.
Ober Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster - Opened in August, the cost to ride will be $15 for one ride (age 3 and up) and $36 if you want to pre-purchase 3 rides (for the same rider only). However there is one more factor to consider if you want to ride this newest thriller. Walking into Ober Gatlinburg is a little difficult, as you first have to get yourself to the top of the mountain, with the primary way for most people being a $12 round-trip ride on the Aerial Tramway up from Gatlinburg proper. Note: If you can find your way, you can get directions to drive to the top of mountain and park directly at Ober Gatlinburg in the warmer months of the year, though you will have to pay $5 for parking. They claim a track length of aprox. 3750 feet (1000 feet up, 2750 feet down.
New 2014 Attractions Now Open in Pigeon Forge Area -
The Coaster at Goats On The Roof (aka: The Goat Coaster) - The Goat Coaster clocks in at 4,375 feet in length, so it's a little shorter than the nearby Smoky Mt Alpine Coaster down the road which is 5,400 feet, but it is also quite a bit longer than the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster which is just 3,280 feet. That said... I found the downhill portion of the new Goat Coaster to not only be much faster, but also a much more aggressive layout. The course weaves back and forth across the hillside, but frequently approaches the cliff-style edge of the mountain at high speed, which is a sure-fire clinch-up moment where you want to pull back on the throttle and ride the brake for a second or two... just in case.
Don't miss it! It's a blast!
Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster - The third new Alpine Coaster attraction to open in the area, but the first in Gatlinburg, located between the Davy Crocket Mini Golf and Hillbilly Mini Golf attractions.
New 2013 Attractions Now Open in Pigeon Forge Area -
Great Smoky Mountain Wheel / The Island at Pigeon Forge - It took a few years but the new retail / attraction development now known at The Island at Pigeon Forge has finally opened and looks fantastic. There are a few gift shops, the Timberwood Grill restaurant, a huge arcade and the highlight of course that you can see for miles is The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200 foot tall observation wheel giving you a unique view of the Pigeon Forge / Smoky Mountain landscape. The wheel features 42 climate controlled gondolas which will make three full revolutions during your ride experience which will take between 8-10 minutes. The huge attraction is covered with a 24,000 square-foot network of LEDS that will put on a spectacular lightshow seen all around Pigeon Forge after dark.
Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster - Opened in early August, built into the mountain terrain, it is about half a mile or so off the main drag down Wears Valley Road. This is probably the most exciting attraction built in the Pigeon Forge area outside of Dollywood in years so don’t miss it.
New 2012 Attractions Now Open in Pigeon Forge Area -
Castle of Chaos & Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors - Now open next to the Hollywood Wax Museum, featuring a large mirror maze attraction and the Castle of Chaos 5D Interactive shot ‘em up haunt style attraction. Admission ticket specials are available in combinations with the Hollywood Wax Museum.
Hollywood Wax Museum - (3/1/11) According to this article the company behind the former Hollywood Wax Museum in Gatlinburg will open a new wax museum attraction in Pigeon Forge at the site of the former Dinosaur Walk Museum. The new 30,000 sqft attraction will be the largest of its kind when it opens in 2012.
Lumberjack Feud - (3/29/11) An interesting new dinner show will be opening on Pigeon Forge this June called the Lumberjack Feud, which will feature a 1000-seat arena. The show “will follow the fictional story of two families that worked together in felling the trees of the Smokies until tragedy strikes and a wedge is driven between them. The climax of the show will be a contest between the two sides to determine who gets to stay on in the mountains and who must leave.” The show also has their own Facebook page.
The Smokey Mountain Opry Theater - The Smokey Mountain Opry Theater opens in March, replacing the former Miracle Theater. This new production comes from the same group behind the Hatfield & McCoy, Comedy Barn and Country Jamboree Breakfast shows.
Titanic Museum Update - The Titanic Museum will upgrade a few things this year to mark the passing of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15th, 2012. A new exhibit about the making of James Cameron’s Titanic film will be added.
The Tomb - A new themed interactive Egyptian tomb attraction at Walden’s Landing (home of Firehouse Golf). Getting in to the tomb is easy… getting out? Not so much… Looks to be a nice unique addition to the area that would be fun to experience with a group of friends.
Wonders of Flight - Wonders of Flight, a large tethered hot air balloon ride will be added to WonderWorks. The balloon will be from Aerophile, the same company Disney has used in Paris and Walt Disney World, and will be able to lift 30 passengers 400 feet into the air for a view of the Smokey Mountains. Details and ticket prices can be found here at the official site.
Screamscape Reviews - A collection of our most recent area attraction and resort reviews
Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure - Christmas Edition (2016)
Dixie Stampede (2016)
Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure (2016)
Margaritaville Island Hotel (2015)
The Comedy Barn (2015)
Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show (2015)
The Tomb (2014)
Wilderness at the Smokies (2014)
Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure: Christmas Edition – Review by Lance Hart
(12/10/16) Screamscape was invited back out to see the brand new Christmas version of the Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure dinner show last week as a follow-up to our review of the new regular show that just launched back in May. As you would expect from a Dolly attraction in Pigeon Forge, I was happy to see the already great looking exterior of the show building decorated to the hilt with fun Christmas lights and décor, making it really shine when you pass nearby.
As you would expect, the overall show itself is somewhat similar to the regular version of the show, with many of the same acts, but I have to say that the cast and crew have really tightened up and improved the already fun show elements I saw previously this year into an even better production. The transitions between acts are smoother, the performers well broken in to their routines, and everything nice an polished. Adding in the changes made to accommodate the Christmas show storyline, and to be honest I had to say that I actually enjoyed the Christmas version even more than the regular version of the show in terms of how the new storyline flowed and took advantage of the abilities of the theater’s set and special effects. Plus they entirely replaced the one old blacklight act that I felt was a bit out of place in the old show with a new blacklit act that fit in wonderfully with the holiday storyline.
So if you are going to the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area over this winter holiday season, dropping in to see this newest version of the show would be a perfect way for your family to celebrate the season together as well as fine way to support the area’s attractions, workers and their families by keeping tourism in strong in the area while it recovers from the Gatlinburg area fires that took place late last month.
It is also worth mentioning that the show will be closing down for a couple of months after New Year’s Eve to make even more new improvements to the show and to the theater itself as they prepare for the 2017 season. I tried to dig a little to find out just what exactly was in store, but they wouldn’t budge and give anything always, other than to say that they expected to be busier than ever for their next season.
Dixie Stampede - Review by Lance Hart
(9/25/16) While visiting Dollywood over the summer I had the chance to stop in a enjoy the latest version of Pigeon Forge's premier dinner show, Dixie Stampede. Over the years I've seen the show a couple of times... once or twice before in Pigeon Forge and I even got to see the Orlando version while it was open. The nice thing about the Dixie Stampede show is that it keeps evolving over the years, not only adding new acts to the show, but also great new technical additions to improve the overall show experience.
Case in point, the theater has added a great looking video-wall that acts as a huge virtual set / backdrop at the far end of the theater. This allows them to create some new and unique atmosphere options that were simply not possible before, which adds greatly to the show experience, without being so over the top that it takes your attention away from the performers.
In addition to incredible choreographed musical numbers, including both horse and riders, the show also features several fun musical acts, enjoyable competition elements to get the crowd cheering for their side, as well as some hairy looking stunt performances as well, including a rider who jumps through a ring of fire. On top of it all, there is the comedy elements that are just genuinely funny. In fact, it may be the comedy moments that stick with you the most, as these acts are usually headlined by the antics of "Skeeter", the lovable redneck who has just great timing with his punch lines.
As always the food is plentiful and oh so tasty, which just adds to the great value of the show itself. Plus it was great to watch my kids be enthralled by the show, the performers, animals, the music and more. Such a perfect way to end a long day in Pigeon Forge too.
Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure - Review by Lance Hart
(9/25/16) Not long ago I had the opportunity to see the new Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure dinner show in Pigeon Forge, located just outside The Island in Pigeon Forge. Dolly’s group had purchased the previous version of the show, The Lumberjack Feud, just the previous summer and announced they would be relaunch it as an all new Lumberjack themed show in 2017. As luck would have it I had the chance to see and review the original Lumberjack show in early 2016, which gave me a pretty clear view of all the changes that took place this year.
While I really enjoyed the old show, I have to say up front that you need to forgot everything you remember about the old show if you saw it before. The new Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure show is really more of an entertainment based show and much less of a lumberjack competition. While there are still “competition” elements in the new show, it quickly becomes clear that there are only maybe one or two members of the two family teams who actually have lumberjack skills. The rest of the performers are acrobats, dancers, aerialists and the like, which are needed to perform all the new entertainment / performance based acts in the show.
While the show features an all new storyline and characters, it does run through very different acts featuring different performances. About the only "old" acts that are still in the show would be the fun set of challenges with the dogs and the various lumberjack competitions segments that are spaces out throughout the show.
The new set is impressive, able to transform from a run-down old building at one point into something that looks new and functional the next. The food selection is much improved as well over the old Lumberjack Feud menu, adding on larger portion sizes and much better flavor than before.
As you might suspect, the menu is actually kind of similar to what you would get at sister show, Dixie Stampede, though different enough that you aren't eating a copy-cat meal if you see both shows.
If I had one complaint about the new show, it would have to be the rather silly 'boo-hag' blacklight segment of the show that just struck such a different vibe, it just seemed very out of place. It looked more like something from a bad kids TV show, because even my kids were looking at me in confusion while it was going on. Otherwise Dolly Parton's Lumberjack Adventure is still a really fun show, a good dinner and is well worth seeing.
Margaritaville Island Hotel - Review by Lance Hart
(3/23/15) Welcome to the fourth and final installment about the great and fairly new things to see and do in the Pigeon Forge, TN area this year. While the three previous chapters were all about your evening entertainment options, today Screamscape takes a look at a great new resort that just opened a few months ago… the Margaritaville Island Hotel built at the very heart of The Island in Pigeon Forge.
While most hotels in Pigeon Forge are just about what you would expect from a generic hotel stay, the Margaritaville Island Hotel strives to be different, offering a very high quality experience while bringing the relaxing and laid back Jimmy Buffet / Margaritaville attitude to the Smoky Mountains. This is presented to you right away as you pull your car up and are met by friendly staff in Hawaiian style shirts to help you unload your car. Walking down the path to the lobby you may catch glimpse of guests hanging out by the outdoor fire-pit… and keep in mind that they do offer S’mores kits in the lobby! Once inside you’ll find a relaxing room with big chairs to hang out in by a huge indoor fireplace, a great little coffee shop with bakery items to the left, and the pathway to the Latitudes bar just ahead, to the right of the front desk. Oh… and if you were wondering, the official Margaritaville restaurant is just across the driveway from the hotel, so you can’t miss it.
While the hotel does have free self-parking, it can be a bit of a walk, so I’d highly recommend using the $10 / night Valet Parking service. The staff is great, and you can call down from your room just before you walk out to have them bring your car up front anytime. Just tell them you want to use it when you check in and they’ll add it onto your account. Margaritaville Island Hotel has several different room options to choose from, which you can see from their official website, but to make the most sense of these options you’ll have to understand a bit more about The Island in Pigeon Forge itself.
While The Island in Pigeon Forge started out as a very different style project before stalling out during the economic downfall and changing owners and developers several times over the years, what they have now built and open is really far better than what was originally planned for the site. The entire property is visually anchored by The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, standing 200 feet tall and covered with a great lighting package that makes it visible throughout most of the Pigeon Forge tourist corridor, day or night. Surrounding the Wheel is a well landscaped entertainment zone that offers retail, dining and unique entertainment offerings.
In addition to a couple of smaller rides, The Island currently also offers Arcade City (a large and well run arcade), the Interactive 7D Adventure ride, as well as Island Mirror Maze (which also offers a Laser Maze and Atomic Rush). There are plenty of small shops to browse throughout The Island (with many more on the way) including stores for sweets, toys, puzzles and even a large Build-A-Bear. For the adults, The Island also offers a brand new location for Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine which can show you how “shine” is made on site, as well as give you an extensive taste test of the various fun flavors and variants they've come up with. It is worth mentioning that Ole Smoky has been cooking up some fun seasonal flavors that are good. During my visit they had a tasty Butterscotch flavor, an Orange creamsicle flavored version and the best of all was an incredible Pumpkin Pie flavored one. New flavors are always in the works, and I’ve heard about previous limited runs of Eggnog and Cinnamon flavors, so you never know what kind of treat you may be in for. (note: Ole Smoky also offers a pretty kick butt BBQ sauce that has become a favorite in my family… so keep your eyes open for that too.)
Restaurants is also a place where The Island shines bright, serving as the local site for popular eateries like Mellow Mushroom, Timberwood Grill, Dick’s Last Resort, Margaritaville (of course!) and coming very soon in 2015 is Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen.
Now picture the Margaritaville Island Hotel built in the heart of this complex with all the rooms built up on the second floor, either overlooking the shopping corridor of The Island, or with a River view to the rear, or a Fountain View on the front side, where your rooms overlook a small lake area full of colorful lit fountains that dance to music throughout the day and into the evening. The hotel also features a rooftop pool and jacuzzi area with rentable cabanas, and nearby there is also a large fitness center.
The rooms styles at the Margaritaville Island Hotel vary by layout as well as view options (see the official website to choose) but each comes with a unique feature I’ve never seen anywhere else… an official Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker in each room. For those who are chomping at the bit to make your own in-rooms Margaritas, I do have an important tip for you. Local laws don’t allow for the sale of hard alcohol in Pigeon Forge itself (other than special rules that allow the local Moonshine places to run as long as they make it on site) so you’ll probably either need to bring a bottle of your favorite tequila from home, or stop by one of the liquor stores in Gatlinburg. There was a card in the room about how you can make a Moonshine based beverage as well if you just want to walk over to Ole Smoky. Either way, you can sit out on the balcony and enjoy your beverage of choice from the comfort of your room… an experience made especially more cool if you have a Fountain View room to provide you with an awesome bit of scenery.
Other fantastic features of the rooms are the attractive stacked-stone fireplaces, comfortable beds and chairs, and perhaps my favorite thing of all was the dual-head rain showers. Seriously… I could have spent an hour in the shower alone. It is also worth mentioning that the complimentary bathroom items provided are also well known brand items and not just generic. Each of the rooms also come with free WiFI, a small wet bar with a fridge and microwave, a Keurig coffee maker, lighten mirrors, hair dryer, alarm clock/iPod dock and a 40” flat screen HDTV. The later has an assortment of plugs and inputs in the wall for if you want to stream content to the TV from your own laptop, tablet or smart-phone, so don’t forget to bring along a spare HDMI cable.
Whatever your needs are, trust me, you will be extremely comfortable at the Margaritaville Island Hotel. In fact, this brought to mind another great realization during my stay here… that there is so much to see and do nearby, you can actually just leave the car and walk to a great number of things. I’m not just talking about Margaritaville next door or the other features of The Island, but you are within easy walking distance of other great entertainment options like the Lumberjack Feud show, the Comedy Barn show, Happy Days Diner, Stages West western wear, TGI Fridays, Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, along with many other tourist shops and eateries. In the past I always found myself driving up and down the parkway, several times a day on most visits… but on this trip I found that I was perfectly fine relaxing either at the Margaritaville Island Hotel, at The Island, or taking a stroll over for a show in the evening at a nearby theater instead… completely car free.
The Comedy Barn - review by Lance Hart
(2/28/15) For the third part on my Pigeon Forge series I’m going to talk about an attraction that is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year… The Comedy Barn. If you’ve been to Pigeon Forge before you know you've seen it... either on the billboards or passing by the large red building in the middle of the parkway. While it sticks out, it also had an unfortunate effect to blend in with the other assorted mess of crazy shops, tourist traps and attractions. Truth be told, before my latest trip to Pigeon Forge, I had always wondered about The Comedy Barn, but I never had any serious intention to stop in and find out. I’m happy to report what a colossal mistake I had been making all these years, and one many of you are also probably guilty of.
The site itself has some history, as The Comedy Barn began with the purchase of the closed Archie Campbell’s Hee Haw Theater, which was already themed to look like a barn, so when the founders: David Fee and Jim Hedrick, bought it, they decided to run with it and renamed it The Comedy Barn Theater when it opened in 1995. A year later they had experienced almost nightly sellout shows and decided to build their own new theater in the middle of the parkway, and kept The Comedy Barn name and theme.
As the name implies, The Comedy Barn is an comedy show held in the evenings that will feature a little pre-show entertainment, some musical acts, an intermission and several different comedy acts that were all original and hysterical. There are also an assortment of comedians on staff at The Comedy Barn so who you see perform there one night may be entirely different from who you see on your next trip, which is great as it keeps things fresh for repeat visitors.
Another awesome feature of the Comedy Barn, no matter who is performing, is that the comedy is kept CLEAN. This is a family friendly show that you can feel entirely comfortable in bringing both young children and grandparents alike to come see.
Open year round, The Comedy Barn puts on one or two shows nightly and is offered at a great discount rate right how as part of a combo ticket offer for the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show, which was featured in last week’s review. One item of note... this is NOT a dinner theater. You can however buy food and snacks in the lobby before the show or during intermission. You can pull up the schedule and buy your tickets online in advance at the official website.
Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show - review by Lance Hart
(2/20/15) This second article in my series on visiting Pigeon Forge, TN will be all about another one of the area's famous dinner theaters, the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show. The Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show, located next to the Titanic Museum, is also one of the newer production in town, opening back in mid-2011. Unlike some of Pigeon Forge’s other dinner theaters the Hatfield and McCoy building is a highly themed masterpiece, with bright red and blue cartoon style colors that would look right at home within any theme park environment. The building is designed not only to stand-out, but also gives a great visual representation of the family feud story it is based on, with fun props outside as well as farm animals (Goats, pigs, chickens and big fat rabbits) on display. In addition to some fun photo spots outside with the animals, outhouses and funny signs, there is also a neat doorbell gag installed at each of the three entrances into the building, daring you to ring the bell.
Once inside, you can wander around a large gift shop area which actually has some great redneck / hillbilly themed gifts inside (beer or bacon scented soap anyone?), fun t-shirts and a very impressive fish aquarium that is themed to look like it was made from a gigantic old moonshine still. It is worth mentioning that the creation of this moonshine still themed aquarium was actually documented for a recent episode (Dec. 12, 2014) of the reality show, Tanked, which can be viewed here.
Arrive early, because you'll need to get your tickets from one of the windows and line up to go inside the theater, and it gets crowded rather quickly. Keep an eye out, because some of the characters from the show are actually wandering around in here as well, and fortunately Ma McCoy saw the confused look on my face and rushed over to welcome Kerry and I to the family reunion. After the brief welcome she took us to the right ticket window and made sure we would be sitting with the rest of her kin on the McCoy side of the theater. Apparently we were distant cousins and invited to take a quick photo for the McCoy family album (we were even given a moonshine jug and uncle Jeb’s rifle to hold) before being taken to our dinner table.
“Cousins!!” We were quickly welcomed at the table by Cousin Pee-Wee who asked what we wanted to drink and said he would be right back with some fresh Possum Soup. This was a great touch, as even the food service staff was in on the act, which only helped to make the experience even more immersive and fun. Before we knew it Cousin Pee-Wee was back with two bowls of the Southern Style Creamy Soup (minus the possum thank god!) and a basket of warm biscuits. Just as we finished the soup, he was back again with several small pots filled with awesome southern comfort food items like Corn on the Cob, Fried Chicken, BBQ Pulled Pork, Mashed Potatoes and Coleslaw. Seriously... this was a ton of food, all of it very good, and just when we were stuffed and couldn't take another bite of pulled pork, Pee-Wee was back with dessert, a chocolate Worms & Dirt style pudding, minus the worms. The food was great, the serving size was more than enough, and service was excellent! Your Tea and Soda are included with the meal but if you want something more you can flag down another one of your new cousins who are walking around with a cooler full of beer or a jar of Moonshine for an additional charge.
While all this was going on, we were entertained in the theater by some great music and small comedy bits for the pre-show, which lasts for the duration of the meal. Unlike the bigger "arena" style dinner theater shows like Dixie Stampede which need room for animals to run around, the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show is an more intimate experience with an assortment of big tables on the floor level right up next to the stage, a ring of tables around the main entry level promenade, proceeded by several levels of tiered seating beyond that. There isn't a bad seat in the house.
Once dinner is done, the show proper begins with the local Mayor hiring a new Sheriff assigned with keeping the peace in town as the local feuding families, the Hatfields and McCoys, are on their way down to a barn dance. As you can imagine, as soon as they see each other the nostrils flare, the fists begin to fly and weapons are soon brought to the ready as the hapless sheriff intervenes as best as he can.
I'm not going to give away any more of the story than that, but the rest of the show is full of action, comedy, singing, dancing, banjo dueling, the occasional bit of gunfire and a lot of laughter. The show's comedian talents are top notch at performing in front of a live audience, and the cast has a great assortment of talented musicians and dancers of all ages who all rocked the house. In short, I loved every minute of this show and would go back in a heart-beat, especially as I hear that they have a special "Christmas Disaster" show they put on for the holiday season as well that I can’t wait to see!
You can reserve your own night at the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater at the official website, which I recommend doing in advance as they can easily sell out a performance. They also have a great deal on their website right now allowing you to add on tickets to the group's four other sister shows for just $14.95 for adults, and free for kids which is a steal. Their other shows are the Smoky Mountain Opry, Blackwoods Morning Variety Show, Magic Beyond Belief and The Comedy Barn. (We opted for the Comedy Barn which will be the subject of our next article...)
So the next time you are in Pigeon Forge and looking for an evening of good laughs, great food and fantastic entertainment, then look no further than the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show. You wont regret it.
The Tomb - (10/8/14) An interesting article talks about the rise of “Escape the Room” style attractions where you are put in a small group and trapped within a a small environment or small room(s) and have to search through the contents within to solve riddles and puzzles in order to escape. According to the article, the attractions began appearing in Europe and Asia about a decade ago, but are now starting to appear in the US in limited form, and the article goes on to describe one in Miami Beach called Escape the Quest.
While I haven't seen that particular attraction, which is said to only have a 20% success rate, I did try a similar concept themed attraction in Pigeon Forge back in August called The Tomb. At The Tomb you are teamed up with a small group, and sent into a creepy Egyptian tomb themed experience, along with a guide, who also acts as a storyteller and aide just in case one of the puzzles is proving a little too solve.
Sections of the Tomb are dark… very dark, and you are even given flashlights to find your way in one room, all to help create a creepy, almost haunted house style atmosphere. The puzzles are not hard… but some do require a group effort while others are far more easier if a leader type is there to help direct the action, but the overall experience is quite fun and worth a try.