Becoming a grandfather certainly can change a perspective on a short family vacation.
Recently I took my family to one of my favorite spots — Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tenn. — for a three-night, four-day getaway.
While we’ve always enjoyed visiting the area in early February because it is far less crowded than in the spring, summer or fall, I did wonder what it would be like having two grandchildren, ages 2 and 1, and their two sets of parents along with us.
We tried to look for kid-friendly things to do and came up with a plan for three outings — WonderWorks, Titanic Museum and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
I did worry that the historic Titanic attraction in Pigeon Forge might not be the best place for two youngsters, but my cousin — Dan White of Shelbyville — recently had visited there with his wife and strongly recommended we go.
As it turned out, the weather was a little cooler and wetter than normal for our winter visit, but our trip turned out well because of our outings.
Here’s a look at how the visit with the grandchildren went at each attraction and why it was easy to still have an enjoyable vacation in Feburary in the Smokies even with two small grandchildren in tow.
WonderWorks Pigeon Forge
Because we thought this might be the most entertaining for the kids, this was the first place we went.
One immediate plus for this attraction is the admission price allows you to leave and come back later without having to pay again. While it was not crowded during our visit, at peak season that would seem like a huge plus.
WonderWorks bills itself as Pigeon Forge’s No. 1 indoor interactive attraction, featuring more than 100 exhibits to test your creativity and imagination.
My children and their spouses found plenty to do, too, as there is an indoor ropes course where you can climb four stories into the air and maneuver around close to 50 obstacles. I volunteered to watch the grandkids. There’s also a rock wall to test your climbing skills for the more adventuresome.
But there was so much to do. My granddaughter enjoyed running on a piano keyboard and listening to the notes. She also liked the different spots where she could climb in and out of exhibits.
My grandson enjoyed throwing a ball that gauged your pitch velocity and looking at the mirrors that transformed your body into different shapes. Both were also fascinated with the many, many lights. We took one ride together that simulated what an earthquake might feel like and stood in another attraction that had hurricane-like winds.
They both liked climbing in the space shuttle and fighter jet, where they had a chance to work the various control knobs. Laying inside the Mercury space capsule was something we did over and over.
I’ll have to admit that laying on the bed of nails was something I really liked. There are more than 3,000 sharp nails in the bed, but you can lay pain-free. My 2-year-old grandson even took a turn on the bed even though he had a bit more trouble staying still.
We spent about two hours doing many, many different things and definitely will go back because there is so much to do for all ages.
Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge
None of the artifacts on display were taken from the actual Titanic wreck site. Instead, the relics on display were carried off the ship by passengers or crew members or retrieved from the sea during rescue operations after the Titanic sank.
The museum is ship-shaped and has 20 galleries/two decks full of exhibits and information. You can read many, many stories and facts about the fateful voyage and get a real feel for what the voyage was like.
But the grandchildren enjoyed it also. There were numerous hands-on experiences — including putting your hand in ice-cold water to know what those who made it off the ship into the Atlantic Ocean felt. You could also touch a wall of ice that portrayed the iceberg the ship hit. Both also liked seeing fire when they could simulate putting coal into a furnace.
You pace yourself on the self-guided tour that took us about 90 minutes to complete — and you could easily spend much, much more time because there is so much to see and read.
I loved the grand staircase between the two decks and seeing the re-creation and difference between a first class suite and third class cabin.
And the costumed crew members at the museum add to the experience and can answer just about any question you can throw at them about the Titanic or the 2,208 passengers that were on board when the ship went down.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Gatlinburg
This is the one attraction I was certain my grandchildren would like — and they certainly did. There are more than 10,000 sea creatures in the aquarium and many are so colorful that they easily attract your attention, no matter what your age.
I’ve always like Touch a Ray Bay, where you can actually reach and touch a stingray. I wasn’t sure if my grandchildren would like that, but they loved it and literally wanted to dive into the shallow water. I am always amazed by how smooth the stringray’s skin is, and also that touching them will not hurt you or them. Staff members are nearby to monitor everyone and make sure the stringrays are not touched in an improper manner. They can also answer any questions you might have.
You also can hold a horseshoe crab at the Sea-for-Yourself Discovery Center. Again, staff members make sure you hold the crabs properly, and again, both my grandchildren were more than willing to reach into the water to touch the slow-moving crabs.
Shark Lagoon was another favorite because there are thousands of fish — all moving — that are fascinating to both young and old eyes. We just stood and watched the fish, including the sharks, swim, and both grandchildren were fascinated.
There also were exhibits they could crawl into and/or around. They liked crawling through a tunnel to get a close look at the fish and loved having a chance to get close to the penguins. Of course, my daughter and daughter-in-law were just as avid fans — and maybe more avid — when it came to the penguins.