Top 6 bizarrely out-of-place attractions in the Smokies 

Alcatraz East in Pigeon Forge, TN (photo by Alaina O'Neal)
Alcatraz East in Pigeon Forge, TN (photo by Alaina O'Neal)

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It was the Great Smoky Mountains that turned Sevier County into a tourist mecca. But, the locals found out early on that tourists needed more than motels, restaurants and the great outdoors.

As it turns out, there’s only so much nature one Midwestern family can absorb before they need a different level of stimuli.

In the early days, much of that stimulation came in forms native to the area. They trafficked in bear related knickknacks and the (often stereotypical) traditions of the Mountain people. Let’s call it the Hee Haw effect. If the people paying the bills wanted cornpone and banjo music, by God that’s what the good people of Sevier County were gonna give them.

But the ultimate arbiter of what exactly Pigeon Forge and the area will be is what the tourism dollars will support.

Over the years, that means a wider variety –branching away from outlet malls, go-cart tracks and mini-golf. It has led to some decidedly non-East Tennessee attractions deep in the heart of the Smoky Mountains.

Here are some bizarrely out of place attractions that have made their way to Sevier County:

Photo Courtesy of Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge
Photo Courtesy of Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge

6. Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge

First of all, out of place, doesn’t mean bad. The Titanic is actually a very cool attraction – much higher on my must-see list than many of the more “traditional” tourist spots in town.

But the view coming up the curve in the parkway where the – I don’t know what you call it, is it the bow? – of the mighty ship towers over traffic with fountains simulating the ship slicing through the Atlantic and scraping a giant fake iceberg remains one of the most incongruous sights of my life.

Sure, a visit to Titanic is an excellent chance to interact with some diverting history and make very wonderful dad jokes about Rose scooting over and making some room for Jack on the damn door, but honestly I’m too busy marveling at the improbable nature of life, the universe and everything and cursing myself for not having the genius-level foresight to come up with the damn thing myself.

Somewhere, someone said, “Hey people really, really liked that movie. We should invest millions into a multiple of maritime-themed museums and place them hundreds of miles inland. This is a Bubba-Gump-Shrimp-level hustle and I respect it.

Visit the Titanic website

Margaritaville at The Island in Pigeon Forge (photo by Morgan Overholt/
Margaritaville at The Island in Pigeon Forge (Photo by Morgan Overholt/

5. Margaritaville Resort

First of all, mad love to the troubadour who penned a fantastic little song about giving up on life, getting drunk every day and transcending to a plane of existence in which “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” is a love song.

Jimmy Buffett – who hasn’t written a hit since “Cheeseburger in Paradise” created an empire so powerful, a brand so strong that someone thought it would be a good idea to stick a resort with a Caribbean-beach ethos smack on the shores of the mighty Little Pigeon River. 

Just when everyone else thought they had the answers and made their hotels varying levels of mountain-themes, Jimmy Buffett’s people changed the questions and blew everybody’s mind.

And if that’s not enough, there’s one in Pigeon Forge, too. That’s right. Sevier County has two Margaritaville themed resorts. God has a sense of humor, y’all. Never doubt it.

Visit the Margaritaville website

A cutout of Paula Deen at Paula Deen's Family Kitchen at The Island (photo by Alaina O'Neal)
A cutout of Paula Deen at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at The Island (Photo by Alaina O’Neal)

4. Paula Deen’s Family Restaurant

The Deen brand isn’t as strong as Buffet’s – mostly thanks to revelations about Deen’s affinity for parties with questionably-themed cosplay – but even generously setting  that past aside, Paula Deen having a restaurant in the heart of Dolly Parton Country is an affront of both good taste and geography.

Paula Deen is a native of Savannah, Georgia – a community with its own rich food culture and booming tourist business. Though non-southerners tend to think of Virginia to North Florida over to Arkansas as one big swath of homogeny, the truth is Deen is no more Appalachian than Wolfgang Puck.

And until Dolly Parton sees fit to invade Savannah and open a theme-park, I think it’s impolite for Deen to come up here with her sugar-don’t-melt-in-her-mouth accent and get her South Georgian ways into our good mountain-folk business.

Visit the Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen website

The Melting Pot
Your table is set at The Melting Pot. Photo by Stephen H King @renegade44shk

3. The Melting Pot

I love the Melting Pot. Love it. Love fondue. Love dipping various food stuffs in melted cheese. Love paying a lot of money to cook for myself at the table.

My fondest dream is to go to a hibachi place, push the guy out of the way and start serving up fried rice and teriyaki chicken with a side of rice puns and an onion volcano.

The Melting Pot is the closest any restaurant will ever come to letting me do that. But it is pricey and kinda of French and on the surface those are two of the least East Tennessee concepts ever. 

Though, if we’re being real, the Melting Pot is far more East Tennessee than anyone in the corporate office would like to admit.

Open bars are cool, but in East Tennessee the absolute pinnacle of wedding couture is a chocolate fountain.

Honest to God, the only person more taken with cascading liquid chocolate than an East Tennessean is Willy Wonka.

Quick side note: One Black Friday, Macy’s was selling fondue pot chocolate fountain things online and I ordered one with visions of becoming a fondue God. I was pricing heavy turtleneck sweaters and vintage hi-fi turntables on which I could play jazz records. Then, it arrived and I hooked that sucker up. You may be asking yourself if it worked out the way I had imagined. Reader, it did not.

Visit the Melting Pot’s website

Alcatraz East (photo by Alaina O'Neal)
Alcatraz East (Photo by Alaina O’Neal)

2. Alcatraz East Crime Museum

I don’t know about you but when I think about Pigeon Forge I think about Al Capone, the White Ford Bronco from the OJ chase and Ted Bundy’s trial dental mold.

Here is a sentence from the Alcatraz East website presented without further comment. “The Alcatraz East design incorporates the ornate features of the Tennessee State Prison, as well as guard towers inspired by the Alcatraz lighthouse and modern day watch towers.” 

Like Titanic, if you can ultimately get past the existential crisis created by stepping into an Alcatraz Museum roughly 17,000 miles from Alcatraz, then there is a morbid curiosity to be satisfied at the museum.

Would you like to see the car in which Bonnie and Clyde met their bloody end and learn how buying a knock-off purse on your last trip to New York is part of an international counterfeit network that includes medication and electronics? Then Pigeon Forge is the place to be. 

Visit the Alcatraz website 

Parrot Mountain

1. Parrot Mountain and Garden, Pigeon Forge

There is, located in the mountains of East Tennessee not far from Dollywood, an avian oasis, a paradise for Pollys. There is, my friends, a Parrot Mountain and Garden of Eden. 

Parrot Mountain has hundreds and hundreds of exotic birds from all over the world. The birds are housed exactly as you’d expect in English style cottages where they can “enjoy sun, rain and fresh air as in their natural habitat.” 

Honestly, the animal exhibits in the Smokies don’t have the greatest history – I’m looking at you – See Live Bears. But Parrot Mountain is an eco-tourist bird park in which the birds are well cared for and healthy.

Visitors can feed parrots and have a picture taken holding a bird in the garden. Or, in the walk-in aviary Australian Lorikeets, drink nectar from a cup in your hand.

You can visit the nursery and see the newly hatched babies.

Some of the birds are even for sale, but if I may offer a word of advice, that’s not an impulse buy kind of thing. You think getting a puppy at Christmas is bad? Try bringing a macaw with a 50-year life span home from a Smoky Mountain vacation.   

Visit the Parrot Mountain website

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.


  1. I absolutely hate what Gatlinburg has become. We always went one or two times a year. We’ve been there during all four seasons of the year. Our kids and grandkids always loved going there. We had the most romantic times there each Fall. A few of those actually saved our marriage. We went 2 years ago and I all but cried over the change. What was once one of the most special, serene, beautiful, romantic and soul lifting places in the country is now one big loud, trashy and overrun towns in the state. It broke my heart. I could see it coming over the years but never dreamed it would be so bad. Shame on the Gatlinburg government for not fighting to preserve its specialness. It’s gone and will never return. It’s a shame the almighty dollar once again ruined such a special place.

  2. I ate at Paula Deen’s in Panama City. The service was terrible and the food was just ok. Some of the serving sizes were ridiculously small and they had no butter(!?). Way too expensive for the meal and service we got.

  3. Gatlinburg has done a much better job with tourists than Pigeon Forge, which looks like Myrtle Beach in the mountains…in talking with locals, they rejoice in this growth.

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