Anakeesta is one of the new jewels in downtown Gatlinburg.
It sits atop a mountain offering spectacular views of the village and the mountains, reportedly as far away as Kentucky. Sunsets can be breathtaking and the scenic ride down the enclosed chondola cabin at night is especially cool.
But, the more I talk to people about the Anakeesta attraction, the same question arises: Is Anakeesta worth it?
The answer is both simple and complicated.
Yes, it’s worth it. But also, it might not be. It all depends on your point of view.
Anakeesta, which bills itself as an award-winning theme park, is very much a work in progress.
How much does Anakeesta cost?
Your $33 ticket (prices vary for seniors or kids) to ride to the summit of Anakeesta buys you access to spectacular views.
And in addition, the newly added AnaVista Tower and the truly cool Treetop Skywalk, the longest tree-based skywalk bridge in North America. In addition, guests can experience the Vista Gardens retreat.
You can usually find discounted tickets on the Tripster page.
For the kids, a ticket includes access to the Treehouse Village Playground, the TreeVenture Challenge Course, an interactive treehouse designed to entertain children of all ages and the BearVenture Challenge Course, a black bear-themed challenge course designed with young children in mind.
Seasonal experiences can add value as well.
For Halloween, Anakeesta features a spectacular haunted walk around the park.
At Christmas, they decorate the place with lights that really add a little something to the value of your admission.
But after that? You’ll need to break out the wallet. Nearly everything else costs extra.
Which features cost extra at Anakeesta?
At the time of this writing, the Dueling Zipline adventure runs around $88 and the Mountain Coaster is around $13.
When guests buy a zipline ticket online, it does include the price of general admission, which makes the deal a little sweeter. Especially compared to other prices for ziplining in the Smokies.
But the tickets for the 25 mph Rail Runner Coaster are only available for purchase at the park.
The prices can start to add up since most kids do not expect to only ride a single ride and call it a day. However, you can always ride again for half off.
Anakeesta also offers great dining options from the sit-down options at Cliff Top, Smokehouse, Tap House or the Bar at the Top of the World, to quicker options at the Kephart Café, Pearl’s Pie in the Sky or the Snack Shack.
You can also relax by the firepit at Firefly Village.
The food, of course, adds an additional cost to your trip, but no theme park in the world offers dining options for free, so it seems ill-conceived to blame Anakeesta for that.
Same with Anakeesta’s quaint shopping, which is fine, but I can’t imagine anyone paying a $32.99 entrance fee just to shop at Black Bear Village.
And there lies the rub.
Anakeesta, in my opinion, is pretty great. But it suffers from a split personality complex.
What can you do at Anakeesta?
Anakeesta is a theme park that charges extra for the rides because many of its visitors aren’t coming for thrills.
It’s also a dining and shopping destination that charges an admission fee because many of its visitors don’t come to dine or shop.
It is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle and placed inside a conundrum but with spectacular views of mountain peaks and beautiful scenery.
Anakeesta’s operators have been very open from the beginning that the park is a work in progress.
I think it suffers a self-inflicted wound by billing itself as a theme park – just a few miles from one of the world’s truly great theme parks.
It’s an unfair comparison, but an inevitable one when you call yourself that.
To my mind, Anakeesta is a unique destination but it’s not a theme park. It’s all theme and very little park.
I think eventually, Anakeesta would be served by two-tiered pricing at the start. One level for those who don’t want to ride the zipline or the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster and another price for those that do.
Now, in fairness to Anakeesta, they seem to be doing very well without my input. Most nights I’ve been by, especially when the weather is pleasant, they’ve done very good business.
But is Anakeesta worth it?
But if you’re asking me is Anakeesta worth it? It depends on your point of view.
For my wife and I, we’d pay $33 each (or $25.99 on Tripster) to ride the chondola, soak up the mountain views, do a little shopping, and grab some dinner and some drinks. Yeah. Sure. Totally worth it.
The extra charge off the top hurts, but I figure those views and the atmosphere are worth it.
For my family, with three kids who will be bored of the views in 30 minutes? Who had their fill of the tree walk and the playgrounds in another hour?
Once you pay for admission, a zipline each and a couple of rides on the coaster, we could have gotten into Dollywood and had access to unlimited age-appropriate rides.
I like Anakeesta. I think it’s really cool. But if I want a $100 theme park experience around the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I’m going elsewhere.
Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments!
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