Mystery, Magic, Exploration and Entertainment in the Smokies

by Laura Holcomb from Memories & Moments Travel

A trip to the Smoky Mountains can offer your family many memories! There are things to do for those who want to relax, explore, dine, and even things for those who are extremely adventurous!

Personally, we enjoy hiking, taking in all that nature has to offer, and are not too much into touristy type of activities, but being the type of people who like to try new things, we ventured into the touristy world! Actually, our trip was peppered with many types of activities and dining. Here is a little glimpse!

For those that love nature, the Smokies are amazing! The view from our resort was wonderful. Waking up with the mountains greeting you every morning is a great way to start the day. One way to take in the National Park is to drive to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an open air museum, a type of resorted village. It is a fascinating peek into the past while you drive the 11 mile loop through it.

Cades Cove
Cades Cove

On the way there, make sure to stop at Laurel Falls. For those who like to hike, this 2.6 mile roundtrip hike is not a leisurely stroll, but the beauty at the top is worth the trip. Plus, we are now sure that you can go uphill both ways! It was a steep one!

Everywhere you turn there are rippling streams, hiking and riding trails, and opportunities for fishing and kayaking.

For those who love the more kitschy type of activities, the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville areas do not disappoint. There is something for everyone here.

Ripley’s Way-Out World

Ripley’s, a favorite for families for many years, is in abundance in this area. There are eight Ripley activities in this location. For mini golf fun, the Davey Crockett course and the Old MacDonald course by Ripley were a lot of fun despite my score. They are very interactive with little surprises around every corner.

The Haunted House looks great if you like that kind of thing. This particular traveler does not do well with haunted houses of any sort, and since they did not offer a children’s version for this chicken, we passed. If you like 3D movies, then you will love Ripley’s 5D movie ride! They offer two short movies that are completely different and you get to experience both. Hold on tight though because this experience will really make you feel like you are part of the movie. They will have you a movin’ and a shakin’!

Something that was totally new for me and something that I did not think I would like was a mirror maze! I was wrong…it was so much fun! Don’t ever be afraid to try new things like this – you might surprise yourself!

The Ripley’s World Records was fascinating if you like to see all of the weird and interesting things people will try. There are some hands on activities like brick breaking. Let’s just say breaking that world record is not in my future as after I hit the top of the bricks the screen in front of me asked if I had even hit the bricks!

The Ripley’s Odditorium was a blast from the past for me. As a child, I buried my head into the backs of my parents so that I didn’t have to see these strange things! As an adult I was more inquisitive, but there were still a few things that made me hide my eyes. It was very fascinating to see such a variety of oddities.

In my opinion, the BEST Ripley’s attraction is the aquarium. It is phenomenal! The shark tunnel is the best that I have ever seen. I could have sat there for hours just watching. It is not surprising to me that some people get married in it. It is beautiful! The aquarium offers a lot of fun interactive options. My favorite was getting to enter the observation bubbles to interact with the penguins and the fish. While it is not a large aquarium, it is very well done and worth the money.

Observation bubble

Observation bubble

Speaking of money, Ripley’s does offer a package where you can combine attractions to reduce cost. This package can be used throughout your vacation.



Ever wonder what is in those upside down houses in cities like Orlando and Myrtle Beach? For those who really like hands on activities, Wonderworks was amazing! Anything from science to illusions to physics and beyond – there is so much to see and do. When you go there, be sure to plan on being there a while. Not only are you playing, but you are learning. It is a great place for people of any age. Don’t leave without staying for the magic show. Terry Evenston is a Merlin Award winning magician with a great personality. He really gets the audience involved including this agent. With his sleight of hand during his card trick, I was totally amazed! He totally takes you away from the world of reality, which sometimes is a great escape, and for this person whose phone is always going off it is was nice to disappear from that world for a while and let imagination reign.

The Tomb and Magiquest

The Tomb

Enjoy mystery solving and interactive team participation? The Tomb and Magiquest contained all of that and more! At the Tomb, it was our job to find the answers to an unsolved mystery. Our amazing guide Jonathan played a key role in our success. Explore through the Egyptian tomb room by room to solve the mystery at hand. Personally, not knowing much about it ahead of time, I was not sure what to expect, but I left wanting to go back and do it again. What a hidden gem and truly a highlight of our week!

For those who appreciate the world of imagination, Magiquest immerses you in a variety of quests ranging from easy to very difficult. You have one hour with a magic wand and a course guide to solve as many quests as you can and gain as many runes as possible! Connected with Magiquest and available through a ticket package is The Vault, a laser course to maneuver, Pirate mini golf, complete with black light, and a mirror maze which was outstanding!

Hollywood Car Museum


The Hollywood Car Museum was much more fun than I was expecting. Though I am not normally a big car enthusiast, that changed the moment I stepped in and saw two favorites from my childhood: The Batmobile and Herbie. The history that we received from Tom was incredibly interesting. Cars from James Dean, Elvis, Paul McCartney and many more were there to view. These cars were actually in the movies or owned by Hollywood stars. It really is a must see when you are in the area!

The Island in Pigeon Forge is an up and coming entertainment complex complete with a Ferris wheel. These climate controlled cars took you high up for a nice view of the town and mountains.

Dining: Family to Fancy

While driving through this area, you will find chain dining as well as very unique venues. We had two favorites that were very, very different. For family style meals and reasonable prices, Mama’s Farmhouse was the perfect fit. Every night there is a set menu. And you get EVERYTHING on the menu! Served family style, dinner starts with soup or salad and then you better look out because your table will now be filled with a variety of meats, veggies and side dishes followed by dessert! Although it is all you can eat, it is served in small portions so that waste is minimalized. Something that I appreciate greatly! It was so good that even though there are many other restaurants, we had to return for breakfast a few days later! Breakfast was just as good as dinner. Megan and Linda were terrific servers that made you feel at home. A part of the Johnson Family of Restaurants, all unique dining venues in the area, I could not imagine going back to the Smokies and not stopping in for a great dinner.

Taking things to a complete opposite is the restaurant at the Lodge at Buckberry. Both of these locations have strong and solid family background in the area as well as wonderful reputations. The Lodge is the place to go for a slow, relaxing 5 star dining experience. We were fortunate enough to be there on a night where they offered a 5 course tasting menu. Preselected soup, salad and dessert were offered with two choices for an entrée. It compares only to Varanese in Louisville for the best meal of my life. Nadia provided excellent service as well! Fine dining at its best without being too stuffy.

Weddings and Retreats at Buckberry

Speaking of the Lodge at Buckberry, it is our new premier wedding location in the Smokies! Whether you are looking for a romantic weekend away or a destination wedding, this location has the perfect setting, beautifully decorated suites (including kitchens and jetted tubs), top notch service and did I mention the view? It is breathtaking! No picture can do it justice. With a pavilion settled in next to a rippling stream, it is the perfect setting for a reception.

The Lodge at Buckberry is also the perfect location for small corporate retreats. They offer packages that can include meals and activities. I cannot wait for my own weekend stay there…or even better yet…a full week! If you have a hankering to try fly fishing, hiking in the Smokies, or something more adventurous like overnighters in the national park or zip lining, the Lodge at Buckberry can arrange that for you. Choosing the right package can turn this into a unique all inclusive type getaway! I cannot speak highly enough of this property!

Smoky Mountain Westgate Resort

If you like more of a resort feel to your lodging, Smoky Mountain Westgate Resort is a great family friendly location with multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, some activities and a full waterpark attached. The employees are pleasant, restaurants are very good and prices are very reasonable. The views are beautiful and it is very close to most activities in the area. We are a fan of the Westgate resorts in general and they are a favorite for our families needing more room and full kitchens. The master bed rooms in the two bedroom suites offer a jetted tub, the beds are wonderful and sweet dreams are soon on their way once your head hits the pillow! Wild Bear Falls is a great waterpark, especially for younger children and for people like me who love quiet lazy rivers. We were there in February during their slow season so I was the only one floating in the river and it was wonderful!

An easy nine hour drive from Northeast Ohio, the Smoky Mountain area is a wonderful getaway for all and is one we will be returning to for sure as soon as we can!

Call Memories & Moments Travel and arrange your own summer vacation in the Smokey Mountains or other choice spot to receive the most vacation for your money!

(440) 298-1427

Geauga News
Author: Geauga News