There are several ways to approach a visit to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, or really any vacation.
On one end of the spectrum is how my family approaches a trip to Disney World. It’s heavily planned to maximize the experience.
Weeks ahead of time I can tell you where we will be on a certain day at a certain time. Meals are scheduled. Character greetings are booked. Fast passes are plainly accounted for.
I am not regimented by nature, so there’s room to make some audibles, but by and large, we attack Disney with a well-thought-out game plan.
At the other end of the spectrum is our family at the beach. We plan little to nothing. We are open to flights of fancy and whatever mood may strike us. Is the restaurant we want to go to crowded? No problem, that place over there is probably pretty good.
But no matter how you approach it, a vacation is an endeavor of diminishing commodities. There are only so many dinners, so many afternoons and so many sunsets.
While it’s good to try new things and new experiences, a couple of duds in a single vacation can really dampen the whole trip.
So here we humbly offer some of our greatest misses so you can learn from our mistakes.
When you come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Sevier County, be sure to follow these tips on what not to do around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
6. Don’t partake in the same old, same old
I remain perplexed by people who travel large distances and wind up doing the same stuff they can do at home.
We have Pizza Hut at home, Martha. I don’t need to drive 500 miles to try the double stuffed crust buffalo chicken deep dish in a tourist destination.
Places like Shoney’s, Pizza Hut or McDonald’s are fine. Really, they’re fine.
But for the love of all that’s holy, live a little and try something you can’t get back home.
5. Don’t assume just because it’s regional food, it’s good
We live in an age of wonder. Nearly everything under the sun is reviewed online. Take two minutes and check whether Judy’s Country Buffet has killed anyone with botulism in the last six months.
Reviews can take some of the adventure out of a vacation, but as someone who once got food poisoning from a back alley Thai place on the way to the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, believe you me, sometimes adventure ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But John, you say, they’re serving a country breakfast, how hard can that be to cook up some eggs and salted ham, maybe a biscuit?
I don’t know, but I’ll give you one of my little rules. Any place that spells Country with a ‘K’ is immediately suspect.
You got that Jewel Dean? I don’t care how many pictures of happy little hogs you put on the place settings, your business is sus.
4. Don’t stop at every gift shop in Gatlinburg
What is it about vacation knick-knacks?
I don’t care where you go; it’s a universal problem – at the mountains, at the beach or in France.
You see shop after shop after shop selling the same things in basically the same price range. I don’t hate the hustle. If they do a good business, good for them.
But pick one or two curio shops and then move it along. There are only so many Big Johnson shirts a person needs, you know?
3. Don’t buy gifts from exotic-themed shops
Why would you come to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains to buy a jade dragon and some ninja stars?
I love Asian culture and Asian history … I might like to own a jade dragon one day. But I ain’t going to Gatlinburg to buy one.
If I am ever lucky enough to travel to China, I ain’t coming back with a corncob pipe and a quart of moonshine pickles, I can promise you that.
2. Don’t pass on the specialty
Don’t go to restaurants with a food in their name and not at least try the specialty.
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t go to Smoky Mountain Trout House and order the barbecue.
Or at least not on the first visit.
If you’ve been a couple of times, you have my permission to experiment.
But if you’re walking out of the restaurant and someone says “How’s the trout?” You darn well better be able to answer.
We live in a civilization, and there are responsibilities.
1. Don’t fall for freebies (if you don’t want a presentation)
Look, I understand the allure. A free room. Maybe a free meal. Maybe something else awesome? All in exchange for giving up two hours of your time to hear a timeshare pitch.
Know what you’re signing up for.
They don’t want to give you more time. They want you to share your time with them.
Sometimes, these aren’t time sharers, they’re time thieves. Remember, the clock starts ticking on your vacation the minute you leave the driveway. You only have so many hours left.
Try not to waste any of them being bombarded by carefully vetted buzzwords each meticulously selected to break down your better judgment.
Remember Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross?” The uber salesman, the “Always Be Closing” guy? That’s a timeshare salesman, and all he ever did was yell at Jack Lemmon and not let him have coffee.
You like coffee? Stay away from the timeshare people.
What are things YOU would recommend not to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee?
Let us know in the comments, and click here to view the web story version of this article.