All about our family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee!
Before we left for our joint family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I answered a lot of questions about why we were going there. Well, the answer is this: Pigeon Forge is a good place to meet in the middle (sort’ve in the middle) with our best friends who live in Columbus, Ohio, via car, stay in a cabin and have plenty of family friendly things to do. And yes, it fulfilled all of that.
We had originally wanted to do a beach trip with our besties, Grant and Bre, and their three kids, but we planned it too late and weren’t able to secure a big AirBnB/VRBO for us all to stay at any good beach spots. That’s why we chose Tennessee, and even though we didn’t know a ton about the Pigeon Forge area, it ended up being perfect for us.
Side note: We’re planning to book a beach vacation for next year very soon, now that we know that’s how people do it in the Carolinas. Lesson learned.
Our joint family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
We arrived on Sunday afternoon and left on Thursday morning, and we definitely could have stayed another day to fit in more.
The main drag of Pigeon Forge somewhat reminded me of International Drive in Orlando, and there are a million entertainment attractions for families and big chain restaurants. We kept it simple and did one big thing a day for our three full days there. And the rest of the time, we stayed at our cabin hanging out.
We made breakfast and dinner at home each day and ate our lunches out, which was a good plan, with four kids and four adults (and a dog, because of course, we brought Rudy). Dave was our resident breakfast chef and made pancakes for the kids three mornings in a row. I wanted something more substantial to hold me over, so I opted for peanut butter toast with scrambled eggs and blueberries, and I had this same breakfast all four mornings. Yum!
In the evenings, after the kiddos went to bed, the adults all hung out at the table sipping on beverages, chatting, and we even played Cards Against Humanity one night, which is always a good time. Even though we spent our mornings and evenings at the cabin, it never felt like we had all that much downtime, and we never got bored. Once again, it all worked out.
Our cabin had a room for everyone, and there was a basement with pool table, big TV and games, so the kids mostly hung out down there, while the adults stayed on the main floor.
Brady slept in his own big-boy bed in a little dark room in the basement, and we were worried he’d be scared being so far from us. But we brought his monitor and kept a watch on him, and he slept great and never even cried in the night, which he still sometimes does at home. It may have helped that he skipped his naps and had a ton of activity each day, and he also went to bed later than usual, so he was exhausted each night.
(TMI moment) The one bad thing about our cabin and this trip for me was the bugs. I got a ton of bug bites from being outside, and maybe from the cabin, but no one else really did. I had two huge bites that bothered me for a couple days, that I believe to be spider bites. I even had to go get some special antihistamine cream to put on them, but it didn’t help much. Yuck!
On a better note: While I normally don’t sleep great on vacation, we brought our own pillows, white noise and slumber masks, and I slept awesome each night. Yay for that!
We found our cabin on VRBO, and that was after Dave did a ton of research. To be totally honest, Dave planned our entire trip, down to every activity, and we are thankful for that. All the rest of us did was show up and get to enjoy it. He basically planned our last trip too, and this trip fell almost exactly a year after our adults-only getaway to Jamaica, also with Grant and Bre. We are lucky to have him!
Our Pigeon Forge trip had very few similarities to our relaxing Jamaica trip, and you can bet we laughed about that a lot, as we were rolling eight deep.
Let’s do a quick recap of our three big activities …
Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Okay, if Dave, Brady and I hadn’t been to the Georgia Aquarium just a few months earlier, I may have liked this a little bit more. But because the Georgia Aquarium is the best of the best, and it was fresh on our minds, so it made Ripley’s fall a bit short. We had fun and saw some good stuff, but it wasn’t amazing, and it was probably my least favorite activity we did.
I will say that the kids loved the aquarium and were fully satisfied with Ripley’s though. However, the adults thought it was overpriced for what you got, and it was very crowded. People were everywhere, and it was sometimes hard to get up to see the fish in the tanks from all the crowds — ick.
The Ripley’s Aquarium is all indoors, and it’s laid out in a squished and confusing way. But I will say they did have one cool element — a penguin parade. They played some music, cleared a path and two little penguins marched around the aquarium just feet from us. It was so cute, and it almost redeemed the entire aquarium experience for me. They were so tiny, and they looked like they were so proud of themselves while parading around. Loved it!
I probably wouldn’t go back to this spot, although I will say the kids had a blast and they thought it was great. The weather was a bit cloudy leading up to it, so that’s why we chose it. But on a nicer day, we probably would have fit in a hike in the nearby Smoky Mountains instead of this aquarium.
But it was cool to walk around downtown Gatlinburg, which is quite touristy. We ate lunch at Landshark Bar & Grill, right near the aquarium, and my salmon salad was tasty. We could have filled a lot more time walking around Gatlinburg, but once again, it was super crowded on this day, so a few hours was enough for us.
That night, we stopped by Publix to pick up some food, and Dave made us delicious wrapped burgers for dinner back at the cabin.
(And I made a video about our trip to the aquarium here.)
Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge
We had a great time at Dollywood, and I was so impressed that we made it six hours, because Brady’s only other theme park experience topped off at around four hours, when we took him to nearby Carowinds in Charlotte.
Well, Dollywood is a lot bigger than Carowinds, that’s for sure. Dollywood is not Disney quality, but it’s great, and we preferred it to Carowinds. There were some shows, lots of rides, plenty of places to eat, and mostly friendly people working. However, the signage was not amazing, and I felt like they could learn a thing or two from Disney on that point.
But overall, we had a blast at Dollywood, riding rides, hanging out and doing all the things you do at theme parks. Our first ride was a racetrack, and Brady thought it was the coolest. He wanted to go on everything a second time, but we kept pressing forward. We also did bumper cars, which I hadn’t done in forever, and I really liked them.
The wait for the smaller rides was about 10 minutes, but about 30 minutes to an hour for the biggest attractions. We did split up by family for a little bit so Grant and Bre could take their bigger kids on roller coasters and scarier rides. While, Dave, Brady and I hung in the little kid area. He was so darn cute on every ride, and we really were those parents waving every single time he came around near us. But speaking of scary, Brady did go on the log flume ride with the group (without really knowing there would be a big drop), and he was so proud of himself after the fact, and he was wet.
I don’t know how the six hours flew by so quickly, but they did. Brady did great riding rides, waiting in line and walking around. We carried him a little bit, but mostly he held his own. Oh, and did I mention we all wore matching t-shirts to the theme park? I thought it would be fun, so I ordered these from Etsy, and I’m very pleased. It helped us all find each other in the crowd too! I combined our last names, Pitt and Mooi, to make the Mooitts. 🙂
I have to say the big gift shop near the exit of Dollywood (which you have to walk through to leave) was the nicest theme park gift shop I’d ever been to. There were so many cute Dolly Parton items that I wanted. I settled on a “Peace, Love and Dolly” sweatshirt, but I could have bought quite a few more things. They really get you there.
Dollywood was a truly good time, and I’d definitely go back. The kids loved it, and so did the adults!
(Oh, and fun fact: They say you can’t bring in outside food and drink, but I had a bunch of snacks in my bag, and they never checked it. And I’m so glad I had those snacks. While we did eat lunch there and get some treats, we still appreciated having some extra food to get us through.)
That night, we ordered pizza from a little place near our cabin, and it was not good. But we were hungry so we didn’t care.
(And I made a video about our time at Dollywood here.)
Renting a pontoon boat on Douglas Lake in Dandridge
This was probably my favorite activity overall, and I think most of us would agree. Who doesn’t love a boat day?
But real talk: The first 30 minutes of our boating adventure were not good. It was madness. We had eight hungry people on a pontoon boat on a hot day, and before everyone had their lunch (which we brought with us — sandwiches for the adults and Lunchables for the kids), everyone was a little grumpy, and the kids were trying to do a million things at once, with fishing hooks flying through the air in a small space.
Literally, I told Dave that maybe this boat thing was a bad idea during those moments. But after we all ate, and we got some order, we took off cruising, put out the tube and the day literally transformed into a super-fun one. It was night and day.
We were out on Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tennessee for about four hours, and we totally could have stayed longer. We tubed, we swam, we jumped off the boat, we chilled, and it was an incredibly perfect summer trip activity for every single one of us.
I was so surprised that Brady went on the tube and that he was jumping off the boat into the water (always wearing his life vest, of course). I took a turn on the tube and did some jumping off the boat too, and the water was green, a little bit chilly and super calm.
Douglas Lake is totally beautiful, and there were hardly any other boats out there, so we felt very safe and relaxed. Also, the pontoon boat rental was so reasonably priced and even came with free pizza and ice cream. We used Douglas Lake Marina, by the way, if you ever want to repeat this activity.
That night, Grant made us all chicken tacos, and they were so good. Yes, the guys were the cooks on this trip, but they are the cooks in real life too. Bre and I just got to sit back and relax, which we didn’t mind at all.
(And I made a video about our boat trip here.)
Overall thoughts on our family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
I was pleasantly surprised with our trip. We loved it! I had expected it to feel a lot more stressful and chaotic with four kids and four adults (and a dog), but it didn’t feel that way at all (outside of the first 30 minutes on the pontoon boat, which were madness).
We had a great time and nearly everything worked out well. We had just enough planned, just enough down time, our weather was great, and we liked all our activities. I wish we had stayed one more day so we could fit in some hiking in the Smoky Mountains, but we’ll just have to go back and do that on another occasion.
I think the change of scenery, change of routine and chance to take a mental break were really good for me (and for all of us), and we definitely had that, with some fresh mountain air. It felt like a real break. And breaks are good. We left right before we felt ready to leave too, which was probably a good idea.
It’s not easy to travel with such a big group and not get annoyed with each other, but we mesh so well with our besties and their kiddos — and we had zero issues — so we’d take another big family trip with them again for sure. Brady and their kids all think they are related to each other too, which is very sweet. 🙂
(And I made one more video about our Pigeon Forge trip here.)
Overall, it was just what we needed. Family time. Friend time. Laughs. Exploration. Down time. And plenty of memories made.
And that’ll do it for today! Thanks for reading all about our family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Have a wonderful day and week, my friend!
Other posts you may like …
- What we loved about visiting Vancouver in the summer: Our Vancouver trip highlights
- Our Whistler trip highlights
- Highlights from our trip to Lake Tahoe
- All about our adults-only Jamaica beach trip
Questions of the day for YOU …
Have you ever been to Pigeon Forge?
Have you taken any trips this summer?
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this summer?