When someone says they just had the best vacation of their life, you can’t help but want to share all the details! I spent months researching and preparing for our HUGE family vacation that would bring together not just my side of the family, but my husband’s, too (including his divorced parents). The youngest family member Finnley is only 8 weeks old, and my Grandpa, confined to a wheelchair, is 78, so finding activities that everyone could be included on (and still have fun) was definitely tough. In the end, I got the sweetest text from my mother in law exclaiming “I am so lucky to have you as a daughter in law!” Here’s how I pulled it off…
Pick your Place:
Some of us had never been and others wanted to go back, so we picked Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which also happens to be a Family Vacation Hub.
Pick a Cabin:
I searched Jackson Mountain Homes site for a cabin that was cost efficient and could House the entire family. I found three options and posted a poll on our family vacation Facebook group. The group voted for Emory House, complete with playground and hot tub. We had a total of 15 adults coming and divided the cost.
To help save money and create a family dinner experience, I appointed a daily meal team. We never had to pay to go out for dinner. The meal team was in charge of choosing what to make and preparing it. It was cool to see everyone’s style of cooking, and there were enough leftovers for lunches throughout the week.
Pick your Events:
I posted another poll to see what people might be interested in. As the host, I made some executive decisions. Each day had one activity planned. Not everyone had to come, people could do as they wanted, but it was encouraged that we all go together. You must keep this in mind during a family vacation because some people might not have budgeted for the event, others physical disabilities might not allow for participation, or some people might be just too tired to join, and that’s okay! Communication is key in a family trip of this size, so I put together this itinerary to keep everyone informed.
Scavenger Hunt at The Island: with its variety of restaurants, rides, live music, and souvenir shops, this was a definite stop. We did this scavenger hunt on our first night as a sort of “icebreaker.” Points were given for getting a picture, bonus point for having a team member in a picture, and a bonus point for the team with the best picture. We did boys versus girls. The judges were my sister and her boyfriend because they did not participate in the scavenger hunt due to car issues. For what it’s worth, the girls won! 😜
River Rat Tubing: white water rafting was too far of a drive, so we opted for tubing. There were two courses: one an adrenaline pumping and the other more for kids. We opted for the kid friendly one and laughed the entire time. We jumped off cliffs, saw goats, and just when the kids got restless, the tubing trip was over.
Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair: they host a couple of fairs throughout the year and we were lucky enough to be in town during the July one. If you aren’t in town during the fair, make sure you still check out the Gatlinburg Craft District. The fair had super cute vendors and really put us in Mountain Culture. The best part was the live entertainment, the Dennis Lee Show. He came off stage and let my grandpa sing part of the “Hound Dog” song, brought Cambri on stage and sang “Happy Birthday,” he had our whole family stand up for recognition, and finally, he let my dad sign “Green, Green Grass of Home” in honor of my late grandmother. It was a beautiful moment for our entire family and my Grandpa’s favorite part of the whole trip.
After the fair, we walked around downtown Gatlinburg and did some shopping before getting on the SkyLine. MUST DO! This was so gorgeous.
Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, Deer Farm and Horse Riding Stables: for Cambri’s birthday, we wanted to take her the petting zoo. It was perfect that the horse riding stables were right in the same place. That was Bri’s favorite part of the trip. We rode for about 45 minutes in the mountains. Then we fed camels, emus, zebras and zonkeys! Even though it rained, it was still a great time. Staff even came around with umbrellas for everyone.
Cade’s Cove Scenic Bike Loop: this was my favorite part of the trip, so get ready for a mouthful! We arrived around 920 am to the campground store and had to wait on some bikes. They were all rented out by 720am. We only waited about 15 minutes and then we were able to get on the trail. The path was paved and had some uphills, but was relatively easy to bike. The trail was full of wildlife, old churches and homesteads, and hiking trails. We saw a bear, which is all I ever wanted from our trip. Like he came within feet of us! Then we saw two more bear and some deer. It was definitely annoying to have the cars driving by. The trail is closed to cars Wednesday and Saturdays before 10am, so I would definitely recommend getting there before that time. It was a bonus though, that people in our group who didn’t want to bike the path could drive through and see the same scenery as us. However, the did t see as much wildlife as we did. Cade’s Cove was a one hour commute from our cabin, but definitely a must do!
Dollywood: we split the group in two, half went to Dollywood and half went to Dollywood’s Splash Country. Dollywood was full of rides, cute shops and live bands, music groups and magicians. My favorite part was the museum that showed how Dolly truly came from nothing, but didn’t let that stop her. It was nothing short of inspiring.
Free Day: on vacation, your big family will have lots of ideas about what they want to do, and it’s probably not what you want to do. I highly encourage a “free day.” It let us get a breather from one another and do something we each wanted to do. Some went moonshine tasting, some went to Anakeesta, some wanted pedicures, some went shopping at the outlets, some went antiquing, some went Hillbilly Golfing, some went on the Alpine Coaster, etc. There was never a shortage of things to do.
Don’t forget the goodie bags!
Every family received a good bag. I printed itineraries and collected brochures for most of the events we planned to attend. I made samples of sunscreen, bug spray and hand sanitizer. For the guys, I included some fire color changers, but we didn’t end up having a fire pit. Each person got a glass bottle of Coca Cola and the adults got a little shot of Jack Daniels. Made in Tennessee, everyone got Moon Pies! However, the best part of the welcome bags was the Thank You cards. I personalized a card for everyone thanking them for taking time off work, joining us so our kids can have special memories with their family, and just for being them! Your family sets aside their time and finances to make this vacation a reality, and it’s nice to let them know you appreciate that.