Today, we’re kicking things off with none other than Megan, our Frugal Travel Mama! She’s a wife and mama to two kiddos, ages 4 and 6. And, her two favorite things are, you guessed it, traveling and saving money! She’s always looking for ways to have amazing family experiences, while not breaking the bank. We hope you enjoy reading about her Great Smoky Mountains getaway!
The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee – Not Just Your Grandparents’ Vacation Spot
by Megan Whaley, Tripbound’s Frugal Travel Mama
April 19, 2019
When you think about the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, it’s difficult not to think, “Isn’t that where my grandparents would go on vacation?” To be honest, before I took my family to explore this destination, I would’ve easily thought there would be nothing for my kids to do there.
What I found out, however, was this area is fantastic for both kids and families. I was pleasantly surprised as it definitely serves up the perfect getaway. A fun tourist town with spectacular mountain views and beautiful weather—how could you go wrong?!
So, to help you soak up all this area has to offer, I’m giving you the full scoop—from getting there to where to stay, what to do, and even how much we spent. You ready? Let’s dive on in!
- Getting There
My husband and I both agree that our kids travel best in the early morning hours. You know the drill—when we can pull them out of their beds in their PJs, and load them into a dark car for hopefully more peaceful sleeping. And, that’s just what we did for this road trip!
We plugged our destination into Google Maps, and we were pleasantly surprised as it appeared to be a reasonable 6.5-hour drive. Honestly, the trip from Williamsburg to the Great Smoky Mountains is easy in comparison to most travel destinations in this area. Reason being, there are no crazy busy cities to avoid, random toll booths, or even construction traffic.
But, you know things always come up unexpectedly! We encountered unavoidable traffic due to an overturned tractor-trailer. Cue crazy bored kids. This little (and by little, I mean two hours of traffic at a standstill) hiccup was nothing a quick stop into a Target off the interstate for a new DVD for the drive and Starbucks coffee to refuel mom and dad wouldn’t cure. Aside from this, the ride was a breeze.
Tourist Tip: There are plenty of rest areas along the interstate for those toddlers who just can’t hold it any longer!
- Where To Stay
There are plenty of lodging options available for travel lovers visiting the Great Smoky Mountains area—hotels, timeshares, resorts, cabins, and full house rentals just to name a few!
My family enjoyed a fabulous stay at the Wyndham Vacation Resorts Great Smokies Lodge. This resort, in particular, gives you the best of both worlds as you have all the comforts of home (think a full kitchen, separate rooms, and a living room), along with the fun of staying at a Great Wolf Lodge-style resort.
Best of all, this particular resort is part of the Wilderness Resort line of water parks. So, by staying at Wyndham Vacation Resorts Great Smokies Lodge, you have free access to the on-site indoor and outdoor water parks, indoor playground, and fabulous game room.
As Williamsburg residents, our kids are always asking to go to the Great Wolf Lodge. Therefore, staying here made us feel like parents of the year by giving them this opportunity to stay at a water park resort without the hefty price tag!
- What To Do
Again, coming from Williamsburg, we were skeptical about exploring a different theme park because, let’s face it, we all love Busch Gardens. In fact, I consider myself a Busch Gardens expert as I practically grew up there.
Nonetheless, the billboards for Dollywood caught our attention, and we thought we’d give it a go. At the time of our trip, it was the first weekend of the park’s version of “Christmas Town,” ironically called “A Country Christmas.” And, let me tell y’all that I was blown away!
I LOVED Dollywood—everything about it. My kids and husband did too. They have amazing rides for all ages, fantastic shows, a nightly parade, and the food is the BEST theme park food I’ve EVER had. Most importantly, they sell freshly made cinnamon bread—hot out of the oven. I’m not sure it gets much better than that. Plus, the “Country Christmas” decorations were fantastic. Every inch of the park was decorated and purely magical. All that said, a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains wouldn’t be complete without Dollywood.
In addition to this hot spot, we loved the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I know what you might be thinking, however: “An aquarium in the mountains?!” Personally, I did not think it was possible. But, it was terrific.
It had an indoor play structure for the kids, hands-on exhibits, and so much more. We spent hours here exploring and watching. I’m actually not sure who had a harder time leaving the aquarium—my kids or my husband!
- How Much We Spent
Did you know that if you plan your travel dates right, you can take advantage of HUGE lodging discounts by avoiding the weekends? We stayed for four nights, Monday through Friday at Wyndham Vacation Resorts Great Smokies Lodge, and spent $414 TOTAL for our two-bedroom suite accommodations.
Our kids were thrilled to each have their own bed and not share a sleeper sofa or hotel bed. Plus, we saved a lot of money on activities by staying at this particular resort, which was packed full of free amenities. Plus, the on-site water park, which is worth mentioning again and again, kept them entertained for HOURS!
When we arrived, we hit the nearby ALDI, and stocked up on breakfast items, lunches, and a few items for dinner. In total, we spent about $50 on groceries for our stay. And, because we saved so much by cooking breakfast and packing lunches during our trip, we splurged at delicious restaurants throughout the week. The Applewood Farmhouse, and Margaritaville Restaurant were a few of our favorites.
Our most significant expense was our splurge on Dollywood tickets at $75 a piece, plus parking and theme park food. We did take full advantage of the ticket benefits of arriving after 6 p.m. and getting the next day free. The second most significant activity expense was Ripley’s Aquarium at $32 for each adult ticket and $17.99 for kids. We saved $2 off each ticket, however, by purchasing online ahead of time!
In total, we budgeted $1,200 for this memorable family vacation. Between the lodging, Dollywood tickets, groceries, and food and gas, we ended up spending around $1,000 on our four-day adventure to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was money well spent, and my kids keep asking to go again and again!
Ultimately, the Great Smoky Mountains was a drivable, frugal-friendly trip that allowed us to savor a family getaway. Don’t get me wrong, however. You can quickly drop a lot of your hard-earned money here as there are “tourist traps” all over—from silly museums, high-priced putt-putt, overpriced restaurants, insane dinner shows, and more.
Therefore, all frugal-friendly vacations come with great planning ahead of time. Find coupons (online or in those vacation coupon books—trust me, every tourist town has them), do your research, and find amazing local insider websites (like WilliamsburgFamilies!) wherever you plan to travel.
Whatever you do, just don’t let the fear of spending too much on vacation keep you from experiencing one of life’s greatest adventures with the people you call family.
We are excited to bring you articles written for us from Frugal Travel Mama at Tripbound, and her local travel-loving mama friends! Unfortunately, Tripbound was forced to close its doors as a result of COVID-19’s effects. We hope their legacy will continue through your travel adventures, they wrote many articles for us here at WilliamsburgFamilies.com to help you plan memorable family getaways!