Pigeon Forge, TN (and our last 13th birthday trip!)


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Five years flew by in a little more than a heartbeat and we now have three teenagers in our home. My youngest son Nate turned 13 this year, which meant it was time for our family’s last “teen birthday trip.”

Sean and I have taken each of our boys on a special trip with just the three of us for their 13th birthdays. We visited San Francisco with our oldest son, Sam, and visited Denver with our middle son, Ben.

This time our destination was Pigeon Forge, TN and it did not disappoint. We found a great cabin to rent in Sevierville (complete with video game tables, air hockey, and a hot tub) and Nate declared it the best rental house ever.

We very much enjoyed exploring the area and thanks to your awesome suggestions via my newsletter request, we found a few unexpected things to do too. Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg was such a big win, we’d have gone back for another round if we’d had the time.

We stopped at the Tennessee visitor center as we crossed the state line and Nate picked up a bunch of brochures there for activities that caught his eye.

First on his list was Smoky Mountain Knife Works (yeah… that one wasn’t on my must-do list at all, but it was his trip and his call) and it wound up being one of his favorite places.

More than just a knife store, it’s marketed as the world’s largest knife showplace and it is. The showroom is mind-boggling in size, I got turned around a couple of times and had to wander a while to get my bearings.

He and Sean had a great time checking out endless knives, tools, flashlights, and other truly bizarre weaponry. The Viking helmets and cosplay gear were good for a lot of laughs along the way too.

Then we were off to the Hollywood Star Cars Museum where we spent quite a while checking out everything from the original Batmobile to General Lee, the DeLorean to Herbie, and so many more.

I giggled at Granny’s rocking chair strapped on top of the Oldsmobile from The Beverly Hillbillies tv show, and my guys gawked a while at the Harley from Terminator and the chopper from Ghost Rider.

The collection of cars from the Fast and the Furious movies was impressive and seeing Nicholas Cage’s “Eleanor” from Gone in 60 Seconds was pretty awesome too. I’m not much of a car geek these days, but the museum was fun for all of us.

The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster was on the side of the mountain near our cabin, and Nate couldn’t resist the chance to try it. Sean and I happily let him do that one on his own and he loved it.

This is the longest downhill ride in the US, with over a mile of track. The riders are in control of the speed (up to 25-30 mph) with braking controls too, making it a cool hands-on experience.

I love an interactive museum and the Titanic Museum is one of the best I’ve seen. The audio guide was excellent and luckily, Nate and I discovered that the children’s audio was far more fun than the adults.

I loved the voices and the interesting extra bits of real life that were included. When you enter the museum, you’re given a ticket with a passenger’s name on it and information about their life.

At the end of the tour, you find out if you survived the journey and if so, how the remainder of your life was lived. It made things very real and sparked a lot of conversation throughout the rest of the trip too.

It isn’t a vacation for our family if there isn’t a science museum on the list. Wonder Works turned out to be very cool, albeit crowded and loud the afternoon we were there.

I didn’t plan well and I wore flip-flops the day we were there, so unfortunately I was unable to participate in any of the climbing activities. (Note to future visitors, wear tennis shoes for the museum!)

Although, after watching him on the ropes 4 stories high, I wasn’t quite as sad to be firmly planted on the ground. I do wish I’d been able to do that one with him though.

Are you even allowed to visit Pigeon Forge and not attend a dinner show? Nate chose Pirate’s Voyage for our night out and I booked the tickets. I’ll admit that I booked them a little warily, as I wasn’t sure exactly what we were in for with the show.

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised. We were all impressed by the talent of the acrobatics, the diving, and the gymnastics. There were several times when a genuine “wow” was warranted.

The food was good, though not particularly memorable. All in all, it made for a really fun night out.

Nate is a child after my own heart and requested “all the Asian food and sushi” that we could find. While Tennessee might not be a big destination for that, we lucked into a few good places along the way.

Roll On In creates awesome hibachi bowls, along with sushi burritos and tacos. It’s Asian fusion in a casual, friendly restaurant and we all enjoyed it. The wonton tacos were a favorite.

We had dinner one night at Little Tokyo, where Nate got to experience Hibachi cooking for the first time. He loved the whole show that our chef put on for him.

We had breakfast at the Sunliner Diner and it was a trip back in time to the 1950s. Nate got a kick out of sitting in one of the booths made from a classic car and later browsing the vintage gift ship.

On our last night in Tennessee, Sean and I both were craving some vegetables (yes, sometimes that does happen) and Nate wanted a burger. We decided to try Local Goat and boy, was that an excellent decision.

We all commented that we wished we’d tried it earlier because we would’ve gone back for sure. Our steak salads were some of the best restaurant salads I’ve ever tasted and every other plate I saw delivered to a table near us looked mouthwateringly delicious.

It’s hard to believe that our teen birthday trips are complete. But who knows? Maybe we’ll be taking our grandkids on a birthday trip someday. What a thought.

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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  1. Shirley Carroll says

    Bless you and your wonderful family of MEN 😃

    This trip is something your 13 year old will always remember , the whole family will. Remember.
    Families that not only PRAY together. BUT PLAY together will STAY together.