Planning a vacation with 21 people – and with kids ages 8 months to 17 years – can be quite tricky. How do you find something that everyone can enjoy?
We gave it a try this summer when we traveled to Tennessee with our parents, siblings and families.
Our parents rented a cabin in Sevierville for the week near Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
I’m really not a fan of touristy places like Gatlinburg … too many people, too much traffic, too much money spent on stuff. So my focus was on my nieces and nephews and creating lasting memories with them.
So how can you do Gatlinburg in ONE day with kids of ALL ages? (And by all ages, I mean 8 months, 2, 2, 2 1/2, almost 4, 5 1/2, 8 1/2, 9, 15, 17 and 19). And obviously the 8-month-old isn’t doing anything but being loved by all of his cousins, aunts and uncles and Gramps and Granny 😍
Here’s what we did …
In doing my planning, I discovered that Gatlinburg has been called the pancake capital of the world. And my dad LOVES pancakes. There’s no shortages of pancake houses to choose from, so I picked the first one built in Tennessee, the Pancake Pantry, which opened in 1960.
With its history and awesome food, we were not surprised that it was super busy. And also tricky to find seating for 21 of us. So we ended up at four different tables, but somewhat near each other.
I think most everyone enjoyed what they ordered. I went with the sweet potato pancakes with cinnamon syrup. So good. My husband chose the very traditional Smoky Mountain Buckwheat Cakes. They offer a kids menu with fun options like Bears in the Snow. And there’s also a lunch menu with burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads.
The Pancake Pantry sits right on the edge of The Village. I’ll share more of that later.
Gatlin’s Fun Center
After feasting on pancakes, we headed just up the road to Gatlin’s Fun Center for a variety of games. Like the pancake houses, there are plenty of fun places to play in Gatlinburg.
We chose Gatlin’s because of the close proximity to The Village and the group discount they offered.
There was mini golf, blacklight golf, laser tag, bumper cars, laser maze and atomic rush as well as escape games and a ropes course which none of us did.
It is definitely hard finding attractions for the littlest ones who aren’t very tall nor very old. But they enjoyed the blacklight golf which was an escape from the sun and heat, and the guy working the counter (who was really quite amazing) allowed a few of us adults to do the atomic rush with a few of the youngest kids at no extra cost. They loved running around trying to push the right buttons.
After that, some of the family went back to the cabin for naps (for probably both kids and parents) and the rest of the kids enjoyed a variety of the other attractions at Gatlin’s.
Guinness World Records Adventure*
From there, we split up into smaller groups. The teens wanted to go off on their own to go shopping. And others thought the Guinness World Records Adventure looked fun, *although we just looked at the attractions they had outside and didn’t actually pay to go in.
If you’d like to see a hilarious video of Gramps as the “heaviest man,” check it out on my Facebook page.
We did a little exploring at some shops on that side of the Parkway (jerky and candy … plenty of those everywhere, too) before heading back across the street.
The Village was founded in 1969 and offers “27 unique boutiques, eateries, galleries and clothiers set in a quaint, European-themed village atmosphere.”
From my planning, and using the Gatlinburg app from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, I knew the first place I wanted to stop was The Donut Friar.
Oh. My. Delicious.
It’s a little pricey but the Friar’s Special did not disappoint. In addition to donuts, they also offer cinnamon bread, pastries, cappuccinos, lattes and espressos.
Another fun shop was Pepper Palace which says they carry “everything for the spicy food lover.” And they have FREE SAMPLES! We picked up a smoky chipotle salsa for our super nachos we made for dinner that night and it was delicious. They also sell hot sauce, BBQ sauce, marinades, spices, rubs, seasonings, wing sauce and more.
The teen girls LOVED shopping at The Sock Shop. With several thousand styles of fun, crazy and cool socks, my daughter chose a bananas pair and a cactus pair.
You can check out what other shops there are by visiting The Village Shops.
With that, we decided to call it a day and head back to the cabin so we could make dinner, enjoy the hot tub (and view!) and head to bed early to get ready for our day at Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
What did we miss? What do you recommend seeing/doing/eating in Gatlinburg? We’d love to hear from you!