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What's New in Sevierville, Tennessee

Exceeding sky-high expectations on a down-to-earth family vacation.

By Katie Jackson

It hadn’t just been two years since our last family vacation, it had been two whole years, and our four kids reminded us constantly. Between camps, sports, dance lessons and demanding work schedules, our family wasn’t able to get away last year. Naturally, at least according to our kids, we had to make up for it this year. With such high expectations to meet, essentially my husband and I were challenged with getting two vacations’ worth of fun into one. We knew our choice of destination would be especially critical. That’s why we chose Sevierville.

Exploring the sights
“I won!” shouted my 11-year-old, Jeremy, victoriously. Ever the fierce competitor, his eyes had been locked with a kinkajou’s, and apparently the curious monkey-like mammal with the adorable mini bear face had blinked first. Our first stop in Sevierville was the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo—home to hundreds of exotic animals; however, small enough we could see everything on our list without rushing. By proclaiming that the zoo’s new Aussie Walkabout was 10 times cooler than the petting barn at our town’s fair, Ashley, our youngest at 5, assured us our amazing “make-up” vacation was off to a great start.

While the kids and I could watch animals play all day, my husband is fascinated by all things aviation. It was his vacation, too, so we pulled up to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation later that afternoon. I had never seen him more excited. He and Jessie, our 14-year-old daughter, were chattering about what we’d see like two little kids speculating over Christmas gifts. Twenty seconds into the jaw-dropping flight demonstrations, their enthusiasm had rubbed off on the rest of us. We lucked out—while flight demos aren’t uncommon, they aren’t an everyday occurrence. The museum literally had to kick us out at closing time because we were so absorbed in admiring the impressive collection of restored Airworthy Warbirds.

“When was the last time we ate?” asked my always-hungry 7-year-old, Austin, as we left the museum. We had been having so much fun that we forgot to have our customary afternoon snack. Lunch, wood-fired brick-oven pizza from Big Daddy’s, seemed like ages ago and we were anxious to see what other dining experiences Sevierville had to offer. After reading that it served the best smoked meat in the Smokies, we settled on Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ for dinner. The food was outstanding, but the highlight of the night was hearing our kids discuss how they wanted to plan a return trip to Sevierville with their cousins. “Slow down,” I laughed, “We only just got here and we need to finish our family vacation first!”

The next morning, we hopped in the rental car for the short ride down to Dollywood, the amusement park, only seven miles south of Sevierville. The three younger kids had no idea who Dolly Parton was until Jessie informed them that their music icon, Katy Perry had recently tweeted about the country music legend who grew up in Sevierville. The mix of the park’s attractions—Mystery Mine, Dizzy Disk, FireChaser Express, Demolition Derby and the Amazing Flying Elephants—was more than enough to satisfy our family’s varied and ever-changing interests and adrenaline levels.

Sweet keepsakes
Trying to keep everyone connected and having a good time is one of the toughest parts of planning a family vacation. We quickly realized that when you pick a good destination that keeps everyone’s interests in mind, it’s actually not too hard. I like to think that my kids had given us such a hard time for the lack of leisure last year because they missed it so much. As my husband and I held hands and watched our kids smile and laugh throughout our vacation, we agreed that getaways should always be a priority—no way that we were going to let two years pass before the next one.

One of the reasons we were so smitten with Sevierville was the authentic southern hospitality that welcomed us everywhere we went. It almost seemed as though everyone in the area was aware that our family had not taken a family vacation last year and they were personally tasked with seeing that this year’s vacation made up for it. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Apple Barn Cider Mill, a Sevierville must-see.

I watched my husband sample fried apples and my kids share a bag of green-apple gummy bears—there was apple cider to sample too, of course. Our last day of vacation was winding down, but we couldn’t leave town without picking up a few special goodies for our friends and family at home. As our kids shopped for their grandparents in the Cider Mill’s general store, Austin picked up a mason jar and implored, “How else will Nana and Papa know how awesome this place is?”

Smiling, I told him that a pint of local apple butter wouldn’t do Sevierville justice, but it was a good start, and without hesitation, I added it to our cart.

Discover how Sevierville can exceed your expectations on your next family getaway!