Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Road Trip To Tennessee

This summer I had high hopes of taking a big trip to somewhere fun. Somewhere we'd all enjoy, with things we could all do, affordable, and somewhere we'd never been. It took months of planning and researching, but we made our dream come true with a nine day adventure to the Smoky Mountains, with stops in Indiana, North Carolina, Louisville, and St. Louis. Needless to say, it was amazing and we took over 2,000 photos and videos during our trip. So as not to bombard you with too many photos, I'll be splitting our nine day trip up into several posts all week long. Hopefully this way I'll be able to re-account our trip in greater detail and be able to share all of the photos I want!

Leaving Day (otherwise known as Saturday July 2nd) was nothing short of crazy. A trip to the bank, packing up the car, cleaning the house before we left (this is a must for me!), getting the minis completely ready, and more packing up the minivan. It was an insane day, but it all came together. The minis and I got to have lunch at my parents house for my grandpa's birthday. Strawberry shortcake was a great way to kick off the vacation!

We picked up Hubs from work, stopped for gas and caffeine, and hit the road by 3:30 p.m. To split up the 13 hour drive to Gatlinburg, TN (the touristy resort town where our cabin was located), we drove about halfway to Indianapolis, IN to spend the night. 

This trip involved A LOT of driving (far more than I had imagined, but those curvy, narrow mountain roads took up a lot of time). The kids did a really great job with all of it. On the first leg of the trip (to Indianapolis) the kids kept themselves entertained with car games, music on their iPods, and the toys they brought in their kid sized suite cases. Once the sun went down, the kids snuggled with their pillows and went to sleep. It was a very easy drive. One of my "I wish we had done this..." moments was actually not driving further on that first night. The minis do a lot better traveling in the evenings and at night. We could have easily made it closer to Gatlinburg by stopping in Lexington, KY instead of Indy. 

We set the GoPro up to capture our time in the car. Priceless zit popping by me.

We stayed at Comfort Suites in Indy and again at the end of our trip in St. Louis and fell in love with the hotels! Not only were the rooms a good size, but there was a mini-fridge and microwave in the room, the hotels are on the small size (very few rooms), and served a decent breakfast in the morning. All for a bargain price of $99 per night. We will definitely be booking this hotel for future stays elsewhere.

The next day we got up and moving in good time. The drive from Indy to Gatlinburg took longer than expected due to rainfall/storms, traffic, and driving through the mountains. It's been too long since I've been to the mountains apparently because I forgot how much travel time to add when driving through! Regardless, it was a gorgeous drive as soon as we got into Kentucky. Hills, thick wooded areas, foothills, and then mountains. You can't beat those views!

We stopped at a Walmart on our way to Gatlinburg to buy our groceries for the week. Having a cabin with a full kitchen, dishwasher, and washer and dryer came in really handy and saved us a ton of money.

Max collected the maps of all of the states we visited and drove through. We decided to stop at this rest area/visitors center to get some maps of the area. The sky was really cloudy and as we pulled into the parking lot, a huge black cloud came over the mountain top, dumping tons of rain instantly. We got trapped in our minivan until the rain and lightening cleared out. This was the first of many mountain storms we saw throughout the week.

Finally, after 6+ hours in the van, we made it to our cabin! My cousin had been to Gatlinburg last summer and recommended the resort town to stay in (as opposed to some of the other towns nearby). I am sooo glad I took her advice! We loved the town and realized there wasn't a bad place to stay in the entire town. We went the cabin route to get the "full mountain experience." Our cabin was very secluded, on the side of a mountain, off of a steep road, and an even steeper driveway. We were actually worried that our van wouldn't be able to make it down, up and out of the driveway, but it did just fine (if you plan on taking this trip and have a smaller vehicle, I'd recommend staying in one of the resorts/condos/hotels in downtown Gatlinburg).

We booked our cabin "late" (6+ weeks in advance) and we were incredibly lucky to find this deal! We searched Google for cabins in the Smoky Mountains and came across this one a few times. If we had booked earlier in the year (late winter/early spring) we would have had an excellent choice of cabins and incredible rates ($80 per night for cabins that sleep 6). Since we didn't have a great variety of cabins to choose from, we booked our Mountain Magic cabin for around $140 per night. Our cabin had 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, a hot tub on the lower patio, a jacuzzi indoors, a washer and dryer, and a full kitchen including a dishwasher. It was so amazing and cozy! The minis LOVED the cabin and could have spent most of our time in the cabin. 

The cabin was a rental through a rental company (Mountain Rentals of Gatlinburg). We really liked this company's policies and how they ran things. The cabin had to be paid for in full a month in advance (we paid the full amount upon booking to keep things simple). A few days before our arrival, we received an email with a security code to our cabin (the code changes with each booking and you must set your own code once you arrive). Check in and out is simply calling a number on the cabin phone line to tell them you've arrived/are leaving. There was a clear set of instructions on how to leave things in the cabin upon check out and how we should find the cabin upon check in. We were so comfortable in the cabin and enjoyed it so much we could have easily stayed longer.


The crazy steep driveway. On the other side of the fence, looking straight down to the bottom of a mountain, a few thousand feet below.

First things first after arriving at the cabin, dinner and the hot tub.

We put the minis to bed "early" around 8 p.m. Not because they were tired (although they did go right to sleep) but because we woke them up at 10:30 to attend the midnight 4th of July parade in downtown Gatlinburg. We all needed a pick me up that late at night. Our first stop downtown was Starbucks for Strawberry Refreshers for the minis and iced coffees for the adults. Harrison fell back to sleep at our table!

Hubs gets all of the credit for finding this fun activity. After some research, he discovered this parade is actually the first 4th of July celebration in the U.S. (probably because they do it in the middle of the night!). The minis loved it and it was spectacular to see some of the yearly traditions in person: people running down the streets carrying American flags beginning at hour before the parade began. The crowd went crazy and cheered whenever someone would wave a flag. 

We never did find out exactly about this one, but 15 minutes before the start of the parade, people started throwing money in the street and the kids went out to collect it all. It went on until the start of the parade. It was crazy! There weren't just pennies being tossed into the street: 10's, 20's, 50's and more were thrown for the kids to scramble after. A kids in front of us collected $82 from the street! 

We didn't stay for all of the parade because it lasted until after 1 a.m. The minis and Hubs and I were exhausted from our long day. We got back to the cabin, the minis claimed to be starving and had a snack, and then we all went to bed for a few hours of shuteye before the BIG adventure began: a full day of hiking through Great Smokey Mountain National Park. 

We typically are not the parents to wake our kids up for a midnight parade but this vacation had no rules. Most night ended hours past their regular bedtimes and most days began lazily (and with a soak in the hot tub).

Stay tuned tomorrow evening for the next post!