Thursday, July 7, 2011

Family Vacation & Reunion | Gatlinburg, TN

WARNING -- This is one long long long post...SORRY!!  But maybe it will make up for my terrible slacker job of keeping this blog updated.  I promise I'm trying to get back into my routine!!  :-)

We recently returned from a nice week-long vacation with Mark's family (immediate and extended) to Gatlinburg, TN.  I brought my camera, but it didn't see the light of day...it was pretty much there just so I knew it was okay :-)  SO...since I was truly on "vacation" even from my much-loved job (photography), you can enjoy a few glimpses into our vacation fun through Mark's camera and {mostly} Mark's pictures...I think he did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself :-)

We arrived late Saturday evening, in time to eat dinner with the fam at Corky's BBQ...YUM, and have a little walking/shopping time in Pigeon Forge.  Sunday, we didn't have "specific" plans, so we at brunch at The Apple Barn and then walked around downtown Gatlinburg for a bit of shopping.  The kids were pretty tired, so we let them nap and then spent a little time at Nana and Pawpaw's cabin before calling it a night.  Monday began the fun...we met up at Dollywood at 3pm (because if you get your tickets at 3 or later, you get the next day free).  So we all played and road rides from 3-8 (closing)...the kids crashed HARD that night!  Then we started out early at Dollywood on Tuesday and stayed/played there all day/night (from about 9:30a-7:30p) -- no nap time...no breaks...just loads of walking, laughing, riding, and FUN!


 
The first "rides" the kids wanted to try out were the cars...and they both got to drive us around!  That was a nice change ;-) 



And, of course, we had to ride the 'horses' many times during our time here... 

The kids also got to see "The Little Engine That Could" (one of their favorite books) in the little theater there...super super cute show!  :-)


Surprisingly enough, Katie was able to ride most of the rides.  THIS (below) was one of her favorites - her first "adult" roller coaster (she said the little Veggie Tale roller coaster that she rode with Austin did not count).  I was nervous about this one, but she LOVED it!  The second (or third, I forget) time, she took me...front row...on this coaster!


The kids were SO thankful to be with Nana and Pawpaw!  Other than sleeping, they didn't do much without being with or talking about them.  It was a great vacation with Mark's family!



Wednesday was our "reunion" day, where we had family from all over join us at Teresa and Greg's cabin for a great lunch and fellowship.  I think we had around 50 people there total!  It was lots of fun getting to see family (and meet family I hadn't met before).  Unfortunately, Katie ended the reunion with a terrible boo-boo.  She and the kids were running around the wrap-around porch when apparently a loose board or nail tore open her heal pretty badly.  She was a tough girl for sure...no tears were shed...but it did greatly limit her walking/running ability thereafter.  She learned to walk and run by limping on her hurt foot.  I told her she was going to have one massive calf muscle when this trip was over!

Thursday, most of the group met up early to go white water rafting.  Obviously, I couldn't go with the kids, so we stayed around our place...watching movies, tv, making crafts (provided by our resort), and playing at Chick-Fil-A.  My original plan for us was much different and involved water parks, but Katie would not let any water of any kind touch her hurt foot (and I didn't blame her), so our plans changed.  The kids didn't mind at all!  They knew that they were going to enjoy the Dixie Stampede that evening for dinner, so that made it all good.  

We have no digital pictures of our trip to the Dixie Stampede (we did purchase the souvenir set), but the kids LOVED it!  I was a little concerned about how well Austin would do (his attention span is often very short), but both kids ate LOTS of their crazy big meals, including their "whole chickens", which they found hilarious, and they cheered for the SOUTH the entire show!  Katie and Austin were both amazed with the horses, riders, and all of their stunts.  I was so glad we decided to take them...and even more thankful that we had a large group, as it saved us all a lot of money!

On Friday, our final "full" day of vacation, we took a trip to the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies -- another hit with the kids (and adults, too)!  

I've been to this aquarium before, but this was the first time I'd seen their new penguin exhibit...very neat!!  We all got to watch them feed the penguins, and they had little tunnels that kids could go through that took them underneath the penguin habitat...giving them a first hand look at them!  


I just loved the jellyfish and how the glowed, even with no flash on the camera!  Don't the intrigue you?  These were some of the VERY few pictures I took...but I could have stood there taking hundreds of these pictures!  And believe it or not, these two were completely UNEDITED.  It was just that colorful/bright!  Amazing...
 


The kids had a great time in their "hands on" area, too!  I love this aquarium for it's kid-friendliness!! :-)

 

The oh-so-popular shark tank ;-)



Katie really liked the sea dragons, and I just love this picture Mark captured of her looking at them.  You can just see the intrigue showing through her look.


After the aquarium, we walked around downtown Gatlinburg for a while, and then headed back to Pigeon Forge for one last adventure...one that both kids had begged to do since day 1...the Dinosuar Boat Ride.  Austin and I sat together in the front of the boat (not sure that the front was the best idea for us, as Austin was not certain about the darkness and not knowing what was going to pop out at him).  We got about 3 minutes into the ride, and our boat stopped!  So, we had to walk through the "jungle" to get out a side exit while they tried to fix the boat.  Katie thought it was funny...Austin just kept saying "that's not fair!"  So, we waited around while they worked on the boat and were finally allowed to re-try the ride about 20 minutes later.  Katie LOVED the ride....I could hear her laughing and talking all through the ride.  Austin, I wasn't so sure about.  He held my hand the whole time...sometimes tighter than others ;-), but he was completely silent through it all.  I kept asking him "are you ok, are you ok?" simply because I had no idea how he was reacting.  At the end, however, he immediately said he wanted to ride that again!  They both said it was a favorite part of the vacation (funny, seeing it was probably the shortest and least expensive!).  But either way, we all had a great time...especially being able to see the kids enjoy themselves so much!  

It was far from a "relaxing" vacation...I think I'm still trying to recuperate from all of our long, tiring days/nights there...but it was loads of fun!  It made me even more excited about getting to take the kids to Disney World hopefully next year!!  :-)
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