“I want to get away, I wanna fly away….” Lenny Kravitz
As much as I love my home, sometimes I just want to get away! Luckily, one of our favorite frugal travel spots is only two and a half hours away. That magical place, that allows me to clear my head, explore nature, and just flat out have a good time on a dime is the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area.
If you are looking for an action packed trip, and don’t mind splurging, the area has a lot of shows and attractions (e.g. Dollywood, Dollywood Splash Country, Dixie Stampede, and The Alabama Theater, just to name a few); great shopping centers (Tanger Outlet Center, Belz Factory Outlet Mall, and The Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall ); and outstanding restaurants ( my faves: The Old Mill, Applewood Farmhouse, Bennett’s Pit BBQ, Smoky Mountain Brewery, and Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin – great breakfast.)
However, on this particular trip we were on a tight budget, and were more interested in relaxing. Our budget was $275.00, and we wanted to go for 3 days/2 nights. First, I used my fuel points earned at a local grocery store to save .30/gallon on gas. We were able to fill up the suv for $42.00 (one tank was plenty to get us through the entire trip, and back home.) Second, we traveled during the week in September, and we were able to get a standard/non-smoking room, with a fridge and microwave for 50/night + tax. The hotel had an Excellent rating on Hotels.com with 4.3/5 star.
Our check-in was 3:00 p.m.; however, we arrived in town around 1:30 p.m., and went to the hotel. Since we weren’t traveling during peak season, we were able to go ahead and check into our room. After we got settled in, we headed to the indoor pool/spa area for a couple hours. That evening we drove into Pigeon Forge to a new restaurant/shopping/entertainment area called The Island. Parking for the center was free, and shuttle buses ran to and from the parking lot. The Island has several restaurants and snack shacks, but we decided to have dinner at Mellow Mushroom, which is a pizza place, located near The Island’s main entertainment draw The Giant Wheel (which is a huge enclosed cabin/ferris wheel that lights up the area.) The restaurant had an outdoor patio area, which was a nice place to people watch and take in the sights and sounds. We ordered a 1/2 cheese, 1/2 pepperoni pizza and an appetizer (I had signed up for their eclub and received a coupon for a free appetizer). Our total meal including tip was about $25.00, and we had some left overs.
After dinner, our next stop was the arcade. We loaded $10.00 onto a prepaid card, and headed to the skee ball area. We love skee ball, and it’s one of the few arcade games that stretches your dollars. So we were able to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the arcade without breaking the bank.
My favorite part of the evening was heading over to the dancing fountains and relaxing in one of the many wooden rocking chairs that lined the area. The fountains were lit up, and danced in sync to music. Fyi, I’m a real sucker for dancing fountains and Christmas trees. You should be too!
We kicked off our second day by heading to one of our favorite breakfast places in the area. Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin. There are a few around between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but our favorite is the one on the left when you first start getting into Gatlinburg. We spent around $35.00/including tip.
After breakfast, we went back to the room and relaxed for a bit. Then, we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stopped at the visitor’s center, and watched a video presentation about the park, in their theater. It was very informative, and set a nice tone for our journey through the park. We then headed out by car into the park. A little ways in, we pulled off to go explore one of the trails. The park has numerous hiking trails, ranked low impact to strenuous. We picked a low impact trail, in the Chimney area. The trail ran along the river, and there were plenty of areas to stop and relax by the water. After we finished our hike, we hopped back in the car and headed on into the Smokies. We drove to the top lookout area, and pulled off there into a large parking area. They had restrooms, picnic areas, etc. We had brought lunch items, snacks, and drinks with us from home, so we stopped and had a picnic and explored the different scenic views. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Late that afternoon, we returned back to the room for a bit, then we headed into downtown Gatlinburg. Even during the off-season, the streets were hopping with tourists. There were lots of different shops and attractions to explore. There were also musicians playing in different areas. Most were playing country or bluegrass music, and there were rocking chairs here and there to stop and sit a spell.
Once again, we headed into an arcade dropped another $10.00 on some skee ball, then we grabbed a late dinner at a Wendy’s on the strip. We all ate off the value menu, and Dinner ran about $15.00. After dinner, we walked through some shops and got some treats from a local candy/popcorn shop, another $10.00.
We got back to our room about 9:00 p.m. and headed to the pool for about an hour, then we crashed. It had been a busy two days.
Our hotel had a free continental breakfast, and it was actually pretty good. They had the usual waffles, cereal, pastries, and fruit, but they also had gravy and biscuits. After breakfast we relaxed at the room, enjoying the view before check-out, then we headed home, and still had money to stop for lunch on the way home.
Fun but frugal family vacations can be a reality, it just takes some planning, and setting and sticking to a budget.