By Hope S. Philbrick
Most any time of any year, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a small community in the Great Smoky Mountains nestled between Sevierville and Gatlinburg, is bustling with attractions, entertainment, dining options from well-known brands to one-of-a-kind eateries, shopping opportunities, world-class museums, and everything you could possibly need to get away from it all. But 2020 has, of course, been anything but business as usual. I visited Pigeon Forge in late February to experience some of the new 2020 season’s grand opening performances, but before I could write reviews the coronavirus pandemic hit and everything shut down. Things are now starting to open back up, with new safety precautions and procedures. If you’re itching to get out of your house and go somewhere, Pigeon Forge is ready.
What To Do…
The best-known attraction in Pigeon Forge is, of course, Dollywood. Don’t make the mistake of writing it off as a kids’ place: Dollywood is packed with so much grownup fun that you can easily spend a full day at the theme park. Dollywood is a must-go, and yet it’s not the only spot to include on your Pigeon Forge itinerary. Among the options…
Pink Jeep Tours, a company founded in 1960 that recently expanded into Tennessee, offers four different immersive tours through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ride around sitting sideways on benches in the back of an open-air pink Jeep (that’s zipped closed for cozy comfort in cold weather or rain). Tours can include some off-road adventure and access to spots in the park you might otherwise miss. The tour I chose offered an entertaining education on roads I thought I knew, a stop at Gatlinburg Skybridge—a swinging walkway over a gorge that offers breathtaking views of the city below—and another stop for a brief hike to a waterfall in the Park (a photo op especially treasured by my tour companion, who was visiting the National Park for her first time). Tour guides like Airika Actouka are knowledgeable and talk from the heart, not a script; Actouka’s infectious enthusiasm for a broad range of subjects including area history, ecology, and culture added valuable depth to our shared journey of exploration and discovery. Tours last 2.5 to 3 hours and cost $55-65 per adult. Call 800-873-3662 to learn more.
Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, which resumed operations on June 10, is an action-packed dinner show staged in, around, and above a 15-foot-deep pool “lagoon” where a pirate ship is docked inside the 21,000-square-foot arena. Mermaids, parrots, seals, aaaarrrrgggghhhh-ing pirates, and acrobatic sailors battle in an engaging series of competitions that include diving, dancing, jousting, climbing, twirling, and other eye-popping impressive feats of agility and endurance. The show is family-friendly, but many aspects (including cannon fire, skeletons that rise from the deep, a fierce “storm” of thunder and laser light bolts, and other surprises) certainly skew adult and could frighten youngsters. While daring feats often hold the spotlight, the show also features a rousing assortment of dance, comedy, and an original music score by Dolly Parton and Mark Brymer. During the show, dig into a feast of creamy vegetable soup, pan-fried chicken, sugar-cured ham, macaroni & cheese, sweet potato souffle, and flaky peach turnover. Arrive before the show begins to play games, grab drinks at the bar, pose for photos, and shop for treasure in the lobby. For more information and to make reservations, call 865-505-2469.
Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud is an action-packed variety show built around the central theme of rival families and forbidden love. The talented cast sings and shouts; picks banjo and strums guitar; dances, taps, and stomps; performs stunts and acrobatics; tells corny double-entendre jokes; and does as much as possible to inspire laughs as well as wows from the audience. For a portion of the show the floor opens to reveal a deep pool and that’s when elements of fire, daredevil dives, and ball-chasing dogs are introduced into the mix of skits. Throughout the show you can indulge in an all-you-can-eat feast of creamy soup, fried chicken, pulled pork barbecue, smashed potatoes, corn on the cob, hot bread, coleslaw, and pudding dessert. For more information and to make reservations, call 865-908-7469.
Dolly Parton’s Stampede, which resumes performances on July 3, is an action-packed dinner show that takes place in a giant arena where 32 horses and a cast of amazingly-talented humans perform impressive feats. The show is family friendly, but oftentimes more adults than kiddies fill the arena. While youngsters surely enjoy the bright lights and animals, grownups will appreciate the skill required to stand astride two racing horses, race around obstacles driving a wagon team, jump on horseback through a ring of fire, dance precise choreography, play a banjo while holding it overhead and spinning around, and the myriad of other impressive feats achieved by this cast. Stampede features 32 magnificent horses and world-class riders. While horse and riders thrill with daring feats of trick riding, the show also serves up music, dance, and comedy. All the while, you’ll be served a finger-licking-good feast: creamy vegetable soup, juicy rotisserie chicken, hickory-smoked barbecued pork loin, potato wedge, corn on the cob, biscuit, and flaky apple turnover. To learn more and make reservations, call 865-453-4400.
Smoky Mountain Opry will remain closed for now, but when it does open back up definitely catch a performance. The musical variety show is the largest and most attended in the Smokies, for good reason!
@21plusTravel Tip: Buy one or more dinner shows at regular price (Hatfield & McCoy, Pirates Voyage, and/or Dolly Parton’s Stampede), and you can add a non-dinner show (Smoky Mountain Opry or Comedy Barn) at a special price. Tickets must be purchased at the same time; ask for details when purchasing tickets at whichever venue you choose.
Where To Eat…
Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Café is an surprising twist on the ‘dinner & a show’ concept. Above the booths and tables roost over 100 animatronic chickens—the world’s largest such collection!—and about every 20 minutes they start singing. Their comic delivery and lyrical selections invite guests of all ages to shift focus from their plates to the action. (Typically, you’ll catch two performances during a meal.) Still, the main draw is the Southern-style menu offering hearty portions of mouthwatering dishes that are so good locals flock back to satisfy cravings for favorites. The current menu, which is somewhat limited to help the kitchen staff manage coronavirus-era requirements, serves up a range of options including pancakes, classic biscuits & sausage gravy, chicken & waffles, burgers, chipped ham sandwich, BLT, and more. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For more information or to schedule curbside delivery, call 865-774-7707.
Where To Stay…
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins offers comfortable privacy.
Book a “Summer Fun Cabin Package” and enjoy priority access to Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Mountain for the length of your cabin stay plus Dollywood TimeSaver Passes.
Dollywood Parks & Resorts adhere to strict safety guidelines.
– Photo Credits: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, Pink Jeep Tours, Dollywood, DreamMore, © HSP Media LLC. Click on individual images for specific details.
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.