Bonnie and Bill Neely


The city of Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand (now renamed the continent of Zealandia) is still recovering nearly seven years after the big 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011 which damaged or destroyed so many buildings. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and the city center had already been damaged by an earthquake in 2010. The church is still undergoing reconstruction and the surrounding area is blocked off in many places, but the park in front of it is open and many gather for all kinds of events. We enjoyed the Canterbury History Museum nearby, but we did not have enough time to thoroughly see all the wonderful and well-displayed exhibits about the rich cultural and natural history of the area because we arrived only an hour before 5 PM closing time. The museum is free and you should allow several more hours to peruse all the exhibits and learn about the fascinating history of New Zealand.

Hagley Park, the main recreation area for Christchurch, is a huge 406 acres of beautiful grass and trees, walkways with lovely flower beds. In 1850 when the city was formed this huge land plot was set aside for the enjoyment of the citizens by the city founding fathers. It was named Hagley Park, the same name as the country estate of Lord Lyttelton, who became chairman of the Canterbury Association in March 1850.

Today the prime feature is the Botanical Gardens, a beautifully designed glass house of tropical plants, a Peace Bell, restaurant, and bathroom facilities. Several other older buildings are part of the tranquil place you can spend a day or many more. This is the center for outdoor fun, individual and organized, for locals and visitors. At all times there are people running on the pathway, fishing, watching ducks on the little stream, pushing baby strollers, playing games, and just enjoying being outdoors in a safe and beautiful environment free to all citizens and also to visitors. What a far-reaching gift of the founders of Christchurch, which will continue to be enjoyed and treasured for generations.

We had to alter our planned route back to Picton where we would board our ferry to North Island because the Highway 1 North of Christchurch had been severely damaged in an earthquake at Kirakera just North of Christchurch a week earlier than our arrival in this area.  Instead we took an alternate route, the highway through the center of the island and stopped for the night in Hanmer Springs.  Because this is a favorite holiday place for New Zealanders, we were lucky to find a very nice motel on short.   All vehicles have been re-routed this way due to the earthquake, so the sleeping accommodations were nearly at capacity.

This drive was a picturesque detour we would normally have missed. The yellow hay fields were backed by tall mountains, which were forested with dark green evergreen trees.  Rows of giant “Christmas trees” served as fence lines outlining the pastures.  They must grow very fast!  Thousands of sheep dot the fields like pebbles on the beach. We stopped for the gorgeous Overlook View of a river in the peaceful valley far below us as we entered Hanmer Springs. This pretty and welcoming little mountain town has one long street of shops, eateries, entertainment for tourists, many little motels, and one grand hotel. Hanmer Springs has long been a choice holiday place because of the beauty of the mountains and the healing qualities of the natural hot springs here. There are also many thermal pools, but they have been commercialized and kept sanitary with chlorine, so the entrance fee seemed a bit high. This little town is a popular destination year-round with snow skiing in winter and many other fun things to do 365 days a year.

Scarborough Luxury Lodge was a great find with a lovely, large, private apartment for about $100 US. We had a full kitchen, patio, and a large jetted spa bathtub, and a shower.  The manager, Philippa, is an excellent massage therapist and owns Luxury Massage and Spa Parlor, which is part of the motel.  She got us in good shape for our very longest auto drive the following day.  Be sure to book your treatments when you reserve the motel because she is frequently completely booked by locals as well as tourists. We highly recommend this motel and Hanmer Springs.


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We love going often to Gatlinburg, TN, where Appalachian Mountain heritage is preserved and demonstrated in such fun ways. We like to make various crafts and on the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts 8 Mile Loop we can see over 100 workshops, watch artists at work, and shop for gifts and special treasures to keep. We also find especially fun and helpful the Dollywood Craftsman’s Valley.  Sometimes you can even participate in workshops in the area to gain certain skills for practical creations, which the mountain people in past generations had to learn in order to make life’s necessities.  We are so happy to see these skills are preserved and have developed into useful modern artistry as well.  These are among your first Must-Sees at Gatlinburg.

Ripley’s is famous for the Believe It Or Not Museums in many tourist centers and here in Gatlinburg area you can choose among eight different Ripley’s attractions: Believe It Or Not, Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Records, The Moving Theatre, Mirror Maze, Old McDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf, Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, and Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies. We highly recommend purchasing the all-inclusive combo ticket so you can spend a day or more visiting all of them. Thank goodness, this ticket is good for a year because we were so fascinated with the wonderful aquarium that we spent a half day there and ran out of time on this visit to do any others. So be sure to keep your tickets to reuse.  Although we have written about many larger aquaria in various places in the world with other kinds of displays, our family found this to be our favorite Aquarium because the species and tanks were so very well labeled that we could easily know what we were seeing in each tank and learn some of the life habits of each species.

One of the favorites of children and adults is the Penguin Habitat. The great, fun thing is little people can go through a small, clear tunnel and emerge up inside the Habitat next to the penguins, only separated by the clear tunnel encasement. The penguins come right up to the awe-struck faces while parents can stand at the big window and take pictures!

Next our route led us to the walkway everyone loves. It appeared that we were walking through the waters of the enormous ocean tank, when actually we were protected by clear sides and ceiling of our tubelike pathway, so that the fish, huge sharks, and even REAL MERMAIDS swam over and around us! How amazing it feels to think you are in a real undersea environment. And we found it incredible that you can even arrange to have a birthday overnight party in here. How cool is that!!

Speaking of nights at Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, there are many nightly events to give you thrilling entertainment. Dolly Parton’s Stampede and her Smoky Mountain Adventure Dinner Theaters are a very good choice.

Instead of dinner theater if you prefer to attend a show after you dine at one of the numerous restaurants in Gatlinburg, choose the Country Tonite Theater, which in 2017 celebrated 20 years and has been voted the Best Show In the Smokies year after year. Whether you attend the afternoon or evening performances you will marvel at the enormous talent of singers and dancers. We simply couldn’t believe they could keep up the flawless, high energy dancing and never miss a step, a lift, or a swing! Their feet seemed to fly fast across the floor! We were so impressed, as we watched their faces, that all performers kept exuberant smiles and appeared to love what they were doing, and the entire audience simply loved it too!  Much acclaim goes to the wonderful talent of 16 year old Miss Willow Osborne on her banjo (which she has played since she was four!) and 12 year old Shelton Tyson who sings and dances and presents himself winningly on stage with the confidence of a professional.  These two are destined to be famous for their enormous talent for years to come.  Sometimes comedy acts on a stage seem lame, but the comedy acts by Memaw in Country Tonite are hilarious!  This fast-paced fun show with toe-tapping music is filled with your favorite country, gospel, and patriotic hits.  The many changes of beautiful costumes reflect the colors and words of the songs…fantastic!  Do not miss it!  And once a month April through November the Country Tonite Theater presents a Celebrity Concert with big-name performers you have always wanted to see in a live show.  Check the dates to see if you can book Celebrity tickets during your vacation time.




Just an hour out of Greenville, SC, is the Dupont State Recreational Forest of North Carolina, a wonderful place to spend time relaxing in nature and getting some moderate exercise. If you are well prepared you could spend from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. enjoying the beautiful mountain atmosphere and re-creating your mind and body. The 82 miles of trails are mostly multi-use for hikers, cylers, and some are for equestrians. No motor vehicles are allowed on trails, but there is ample parking in several places.

We chose to do the waterfalls hikes and had several tempting choices. The easy walk to Hooker Falls is only a quarter mile and is a popular swimming hole below the cascades (but no life guard, so take care.) This mountain water is always delightfully chilly.

We took the High Falls trail through the forest with our lunch to the covered picnic shelter, where those of us who did not want to venture down the fairly steep trail could see this tallest of the Little River falls from the tables. The High Falls cascade down 120 feet over solid granite and are spectacular in many viewpoints. Several of us made the trek and found many lovely picture points with the waterfalls coming together and then separating into many varied flows. Triple Falls has three distinct components which also total about 120 feet of vertical drop.  Scenes from several movies were filmed here including Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans.

The waterfalls are not the only thing that makes the day there wonderful. The forest vegetation is rich and varied, and when we wanted to identify something we let Google tell us, so it was a learning experience also. There are five lakes in Dupont State Recreational Forest: Lake Dense, Lake Imaging, Lake Alford, Fawn Lake, and the largest (99 acres) Lake Julia.  For equestrian pathways park your vehicle at Lake Imaging or Guion Farm, the latter of which has flatter trails.  Bike trailheads are at these two places and also at Corn Mill Shoals. If you have a NC fishing license you may catch panfish or largemouth bass in the lakes or trout in Little River. Hunting is allowed on the Gamelands with a 3-day permit issued by NC Wildlife Resource Commission Gamelands program, but take caution and scout the area to be sure no other tourists are in the area of danger.

Rest rooms are available at the Visitor Center, where you will receive a map. Everyone is responsible to bring his or her own trash out to keep this beautiful park clean. No camping is allowed. Dupont Forest is located between Hendersonville and Brevard, NC. Navigate to 1400 Staton Road, Cedar Mountain, NC 28718. You can enjoy your time there 365 days a year for free. For information call 828 877 6527.

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The Greatest Showman, now playing in many theaters around the world is a marvelous tribute to an era gone by, since the 146 years of the thrill of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus tours ended in 2017 with the final performance in May in Uniondale, New York at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The elephant performances had ended because training them was considered inhumane to many who protested for decades. Although around 10 million people went to a Ringling circus each year, it was not enough to make the traveling show profitable.

Carson and Barnes Circus in Hugo, OK, is the last of the touring big tent, three-ring circuses left.  The show winters in Hugo, OK, its home for nearly four decades. Kristin Para is Circus Manager with Jan 25th this year’s special opening day and she encourages fans to watch Facebook for all the information about the show schedules for 2018. Going on the road to take the show around the country is not an easy task, which requires a large cookhouse trailer fully equipped to serve the many performers and their families. School children must be tutored for part of the tour, and families usually travel in RV’s. To see the many vehicles in route along a highway is quite fascinating.  There are specially built vehicles to transport the animals, and traveling behind them on the highway is a bit slow-going.

But who is not captivated by a circus, anywhere in the world! Although we love to travel in our RV we cannot imagine going on the road with such a large and mixed group for months at a time. And I tried to imagine how emergencies and accidents are handled when the show must move on to keep deadlines. I tried to reach the management for an interview but they were too busy to respond, so my imagination and yours can run the gamut.

Since we lived not far away, we once visited the elephant barn where the Circus vet, a friend of ours, was about to deliver a baby elephant. The elephants seemed to be well treated and content in their large farm environment, and successful breeding in captivity was a rare event for these enormous animals. The vet had carefully nurtured the mother for the nearly two-year gestation period.

Performers train and practice their acts, creating new ones, all winter in this small town in which the circus people are a welcome part of the community and when the show goes on the road for half a year they are really missed. In Paris Texas families always enjoy the Grand opening days of the circus in March, often during Spring Break with many free and discounted tickets available. And one of the most popular things for groups to see is the erecting of the Big Top tent and setting up of the Circus, with animals in their traveling coaches outside the Paris, Texas, fairgrounds. It takes many experienced people to set the ropes just right and pull to make the red and white striped tent arise into place and each rope and wire must be safely secured and expertly checked. Often unpredictable weather including high winds occur in Paris, TX, in spring, so the tent must be extra strong and well-grounded for safety.


There are other areas when the final setup is complete and these include many fun midway type games and the well-loved circus snacks of soft drinks, popcorn, peanuts, candy, and cotton candy. Children beg for the balloons and other trinkets to show their friends after they return from the exciting day at the Circus. It makes us all sad to think that because of the thrills and constant entertainment today’s populations have so plentifully in video games, TV, and other live performances, the circus could possibly end altogether. So go out to enjoy your time under the Big Top this year when you find it is near you. Take your family to the unforgettable experience of a lifetime.

If you are in this area of Northeast Texas or Southeast Oklahoma, be sure to visit the Circus Cemetery in Hugo. It is worth an hour to walk through and see the fascinating circus tombstones. Many have a picture and tribute to the performer buried there. And when the circus is not traveling, you can enjoy driving by their farm headquarters just outside Hugo, where you can see the large barns, many animal food supplies, trainers practicing and caring for their animals and other daily activities necessary to keep the circus the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

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For many of us New Year’s Day begins with the tradition of watching the beautiful Tournament of Roses Parade preceding the Rose Bowl Football Game in Pasadena, California. Each year we have marveled at the enormous figures on the floats with intricate designs and wondered how on earth they were covered entirely with real flowers and other plant material in time for the parade. In late December 2016 we got to watch the creating of the floats for the 100th anniversary of this famous parade, begun in 1917.  What a thrill! Admission is charged for viewing the floats at the various sites outside or near the Pasadena Rose Bowl Stadium. The four float decorating places are Rose Palace, Rosemont Pavilion, Brookside Pavilion, and the Rose Float Plaza South, in the City of Irwindale, California.

In huge warehouses we watched the hundreds of workers who volunteer to make these impressive and colorful floats. Professional designers and committees are ready with the basic forms of the huge floats set up and waiting for the volunteers who show up from all over the USA and from some other countries to have the enjoyment of saying with pride, “I helped create that one!” to their friends and family as the floats go by on Colorado Avenue, Pasadena, or on TV sets all over the world on New Year’s Day.

There were many different work stations set up in each of the barns: glue stations, brush cleaning places, tables of dried flowers, bark, seeds, herbs, spices, grasses, and any other part of nature which could be applied during the two weeks before the big day. Fresh flowers, which complete each of the floats are applied in the last 48 hours before the parade. To decorate one float about 60 volunteers work 10 hours a day for 10 days. The group cooperation looks like fun, but the positions they must stay in for some of the decorating looked painful and very tiring! But volunteers ranged from 13 years old to senior citizens and all were happily industrious in applying all their artistic energies to their particular assigned part of the huge floats.

In the final decorating hours when the thousands of fresh flowers are applied in small vials as quickly and securely as possible, it takes an amazing 20 daisies, 30 roses or 36 marigolds to cover one square foot of a float area! And approximately a half million roses are used in the parade. Growers from all over the world are necessary to fill and deliver the orders on time. What a fete!

It is produced by the nonprofit Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. I asked how the floats were made in the early days a century ago when planes did not fly flowers in from all over the world. In the early days the Tournament of Roses Parade flowers were locally grown in the Fanny Morrison Horticultural Center to decorate horse-drawn carriages.  Today professionally designed floats are required to be covered with plant material. Three civic and floral industry leaders judge the floats and award prizes in 24 categories. Awards are announced at 6 A.M. on parade day. Length of parade is 5.5 miles (8.9 km), about 2.25 hours long at 2.5 miles (4.0 km) per hour pace.

You can volunteer too! Plans for next year’s floats will begin a few weeks after this year’s glory has been dismantled! And designers and architects start their work and by February the theme for the following year is announced. So begin to plan now to join the volunteer fun which extends from the day after Christmas until the last of December.


The Showcase of Floats begins at Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevard in Pasadena. Parking is free, but limited. Last year there is a free shuttle location at Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; and the Rose Bowl Stadium Lot B. Well before the parade as each float is completed it is moved from the warehouse facility to line up on Orange Grove Boulevard, Pasadena.




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New Zealand, which has recently been officially declared the eighth continent and named Zealandia, is a Wonderful place to visit. With a population of about four million, half of whom live in the capital city of Auckland, the countryside drives and villages and towns throughout North and South Islands are like none in other countries because the roads are well paved and maintained but most of the way are narrow two-lanes, with one “S” curve after another, and no shoulder. The most memorable highways are banked on one side by a cliff towering above you and on the other side by the ocean below you! Other highways are through beautiful pastoral scenes of grassy rolling hills dotted with thousands and thousands of sheep.  We saw beautiful small farms with people plowing, planting, and harvesting various crops. The air is so pure and crystalline clear that the colors in all your surroundings appear more beautifully brilliant and true.  Lakes and rivers abound in this bottom of the world continent and the water is as pure as the air, not yet contaminated by huge populations.

Yet the country is modern with all the Twenty-First Century conveniences you could want, but also it maintains its rich cultural history of the Maori tribes. A majority of the streets and towns are named in the native tribal language. School children are taught both languages and many tourist places demonstrate the original customs, ways of life, food and dance.  You will never lack for things to do and unduplicated vistas of nature to witness. The land is still in its creation infancy and volcanoes and earthquakes are not unexpected, but this adds to the adventure of the unusual landscape. We drove over 3,000 miles to see and do as much as we possibly could in three weeks of January, which is during their summer season below the equator.  It was all beautiful and wonderful, welcoming and fun, with super clean hotels and B&B’s, good cars to rent, excellent food and very friendly, welcoming people. However, with the necessity to import many of modern life’s necessities, food and gasoline are expensive.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of our trip was with the The Helicopter Line New Zealand when we flew by helicopter to land on a glacier! We were journeying through the South Island with the number one choice of things to do was a heli ride.  We first tried to fly from the village of Franz Joseph, but the weather did not cooperate. Helicopter Line New Zealand service takes NO CHANCES of danger. They can only confirm trips a half hour before boarding time because the winds and rain during this season are fickle.  These ‘copters do fly under dangerous conditions. The company’s helicopters go out in pairs, and each one has well-trained and highly experienced pilots, emergency equipment, and good phone/radio communications with each other and with the control tower below.

Our tickets would be good at the next location of this excellent Heli service which for us was Fox Glacier. Again this late spring/early summer weather in the Southern Hemisphere prevented our take-off. We enjoyed hiking to see the glacier from a distance and then journeyed on and stopped at Wanaka to enjoy many fun things to do by the lake.

On our third chance for the glacier trip we were treated with a sunny day and little wind. We were elated! At first Bonnie (whose motto is be prepared) packed food, first aid, a change of warm clothes (in case of emergency encampment in a frozen atmosphere thousands of feet above sea level,) binoculars, camera, and who knows what all in her heavy backpack. We didn’t dream we had to weigh-in about an hour before boarding while we were awaiting the final verdict about the weather, which changes almost instantly in the region around glaciers.  She was shocked to learn her 20 pound backpack had to be left behind, but also was assured that the pilot already had on board all the items she had thought to bring. Her worries were useless as the pilot even had extra heavy coats for anyone who had arrived in summer clothes. The only items we needed besides proper clothing and shoes were sunglasses and camera.

People from many countries were awaiting previously booked ‘copter rides and we piled in with five young people from Korea and our excellent pilot Peter, who makes this helicopter trip about 14 times each day when weather permits. Everyone was so excited and cameras and cell phones began clicking as we took off with the thrilling whir of the propeller above us. Each passenger was given a head-set of ear phones and microphone to communicate with the pilot. As we ascended quickly above the   The Remarkables, mountains which are the backdrop of the lovely city, we were so glad our trip actualized in the city of Queenstown because these knife-edged mountains from above appeared to have jabbed through the earth with a rugged rock surface at the back and beautiful lush vegetation on the side facing the city. To fly over these was our first treat. Soon we were over an enormous valley with a large river winding through it, so beautiful from above.  We flew over many mountains of the Southern Alps, each with a different landscape and of varying huge size.  The scenery changed from green spring/summer lushness to jagged rocky cliffs,  then snowy peaks, and then many glaciers appeared!

In many of the highest crags and valleys of these enormously high peaks there were vast accumulations of snow which had never melted in centuries and had become compacted into glaciers…so many in one vast area within our 360 degree view. Peter and the other pilot landed one after the other on the glacier, which was larger than a football field and just as flat. As soon as the propeller stood still we were allowed to emerge onto the glacier to walk around and take pictures for 10 minutes.  We had not known to expect soft new snow on the surface of the ancient frozen plateau of ice.  We each stared in wonder, directing our video cameras in the complete circle of wondrous, indescribably pure beauty of pristine white’.  We had sunny vividly blue sky all around us to the horizon at our feet, only interrupted by mountain peaks in various places. It was BEAUTIFUL!!!!  For a few minutes no one could utter a word…Speechless was our true description as we gasped in joy at the simplicity of unspoiled nature.  The time in this PEAK experience of our lives was over far too quickly and we piled reluctantly back into the helicopter and were lifted away between mountains with new scenery below. Because we were the second helicopter we could look at the other and see what ours looked like, a tiny speck by comparison to every enormous mountain top around and below us.

Our return landing at the little heliport was smooth. We thanked Peter and The Helicopter Line of New Zealand for the most incredible experience of our lives, which went by far too quickly but will be at the front of our joyful memories for the rest of our lives. Summer down below in this beautiful country is approaching, so we urge you to make your reservations now and head there for a wonderful holiday. There are many other helicopter locations for this company to fly you to Mount Cook or Milford Sound and more.

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of all in the United States. It is unquestionably beautiful with thick forests of evergreens and many different species of deciduous trees, so it is beautiful year around, and especially with fall color. The understory is a myriad of different plants, which bloom at various times of year, even in deep shade.

One of our favorite places to enjoy the beautiful Smokies is in Gatlinburg, TN, where we always choose to take a hike with A Walk In The Woods Nature Guide Service, and it is always the highlight of our mountain exploration! You will always remember your wonderful experience with these companionable and friendly experts!

Jamie Matzko was our guide this summer. A native of this area of Tennessee, she has loved out-of-doors all her life and is skilled in so many things that made our hike filled with fun and very educational. We learned so much about the trees, vines and bushes, birds, and other wild life around us. She stopped at many plants and told how they could be used medicinally or for food, and she pointed out some which are harmful or poisonous.

She guided us along a fairly unknown path, which is not part of the National Park’s developed trails, but it was narrow and clear and a moderate to easy hike along a creek with many varied waterfalls, which were not spectacularly high or rushing, but gentle, beautiful, and melodic. Birdsongs enhanced our walk and Jaimie could identify the winged friends even though some were hidden from view.

In 2018 A Walk In The Woods will celebrate two decades of helping people enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The numbers they have safely served is approaching 100,000 people. The owners, Vesna and Erik Plakanis have shared their expert knowledge and love of all nature and most especially this wondrous National Park and the thriving undisturbed environment which abounds here in the Gatlinburg area of the Smoky Mountains. A Walk In The Woods helps individuals or groups enjoy expert interpretive nature walks, guided hikes, birding and salamander treks, hiker shuttle service in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Appalachian Trail support and climbing Mt. LeConte, trip planning, camping and backpacking equipment rental, guided backpacking trips, classes and seminars. The company was awarded the coveted REI TOP GUIDE Award and many Certificates of Excellence from Trip Advisor.

Each of the guides at A Walk in the Woods has various advanced special training as naturalists, scientists, history, Search and Rescue, environmental studies, and much more. They have each had years and hundreds of miles of experience as hikers and trail guides and mountaineering. You can read their impressive expertise and experience in links below. You can select from many focused opportunities to learn about your special interest in the mountains you explore with them, whether it is learning about birds, bears, mushrooms, history, edible plants, geology, plants, animals, waterfalls, insects, protecting the environment, hazards in nature, and so much more. Just ask and they will tailor your hikes to your preferences.  A Walk In The Woods deserves its Top and Best guide service reputation and you will always treasure the memory of your time in their care!


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A Walk in the Woods*

4413 Scenic Drive East

Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Phone :         (865) 436-8283

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Dollywood is an amazing theme park where people of all ages and all physical capabilities can have a wonderful, unforgettable time. We recommend the excellent bargain tickets for three-day two parks pass package because there is no way you can do it all in one day. The Theme Park has forty fun rides, many with themes pertaining to Dolly’s beloved Smoky Mountains, such as the Mystery Mine where your ride feels as if you are lost in a haunted mine with twists and turns and you are wondering if you will find light at the end of the tunnel.  The Smoky River Rampage feels like you are rafting through exciting river rapids of the Pigeon River. Many of these rides are unusual roller coasters of varying heights and themes including Dare Devil Falls where you will get splashed; Blazing Fury where you seem to be next to a building on fire; Wild Eagle simulates the feeling of an eagle soaring with dips and turns which give vast views of the mountains surrounding you and the highest one Tennessee Tornado. There are many fun rides for younger children and for families. The wonderful Swinger-Off Ride which is a carousel with seated and harnessed and parents going around and swinging out as centrifugal force sets in and the swings rise up along the carousel. Of course, are many down to earth rides and thrills and the beloved Merry-Go-Round and Ferris Wheel type rides.

But 40 different rides are only part of the GREAT things to enjoy at Dollywood. There are fifteen incredible shows to give you a rest between excitements. The shows vary with times of year and always provide fun for everyone, and a break from inclement weather. Make no mistake, as I almost did, the Gazillion Bubbles Show is NOT just for children, and it is Magical!!! There is Gospel Music and several other music performances; Heartsong which is multi-sensory film of the beautiful mountains you are in; Live Birds of Prey show, and many more shows planned to entertain and thrill all ages.

In summer, the nights are long and stars come out around the mountains as the sky darkens and then your evening is not complete until you stay for Dolly’s Nights of Many Colors and the spectacular fireworks display. And throughout the year there are many different specially themed festivals which always have Dolly’s signature perfectly planned wholesome entertainment and unforgettable experiences for the whole family.

Craftsman’s Valley is my favorite place since I am a Senior who cherishes old time arts and crafts. I loved seeing  Blacksmith, glass-blowers, wood carvers, leather crafters, candle makers and many more demonstrations and shops containing handmade items typical of talents which have been vital to living and survival throughout the history of the United States and are still pertinent to the mountain lifestyle today. These artists at Dollywood are not only showing visitors how the items are made but also are friendly in explaining why they have been and still are necessary skills  for life. At some of the venues you can even try your hand at participating in making an item to treasure. And your upper grade kids can even drive the fabulous cars of past years!

In summer you MUST include Dolly’s Splash Country Waterpark in your itinerary! What a WONDERFUL place to stay cool and bond as a family and have wet and wild (or tame) thrills to laugh through together! Even though this is not in your cold-weather stays, you will find many more things to enjoy at Dollywood which change according to each season. Dollywood should be your Number 1 place to visit to create lasting family memories.

Dolly Parton is not just a great country music singer; she is also known throughout Tennessee and now the world over for her generosity. She Dreams of something, and she does it, as her book Dream More tells. She sees a need and she does her best to fill it. She set up funds to give $1,000 each month for six months to each family who lost their home in the 2016 Gatlinburg fire so that they could get necessities until insurance and rebuilding were in place. She also is celebrating her 20th year of her Imagination Library in which she provides the opportunity for any child anywhere to love learning through books. From birth to school age she sends one book each month to each child who is signed up in the program, which she started for Tennessee kids and has now expanded to any child the world over who is registered. She knows that education is the way out of poverty and narrow thinking.  She is an amazing woman to be admired.


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When Bonnie was a child her family drove from South Carolina every autumn to Gatlinburg, their favorite place to stay in a mountain cabin, see the crimson and gold leaves, and enjoy the fresh cool mountain air. Back then Gatlinburg was just a little village in the Smokies with rustic cabins and a few shops along the winding highway through town. This was a place for artists and craftsmen and hobbyists to whittle away the days and nights creatively and have roadside stands for their items for sale.  Bonnie and her family loved the crafts and that was part of what drew them there.  However, no one dreamed this beautiful area of three little mountain villages, including Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, would grow into the enormous travelers’ mecca it is today, where the three places have grown together with no apparent borders of separation.  Today there is SO MUCH TO SEE AND DO that even the TRAFFIC GALORE is not a preventative for tourists.

Thank goodness the beautiful mountain scenery and trails, woodlands, and streams have been preserved in their natural glory by our wonderful BEST United States investment and value: the National Park System. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which surrounds this area of Southern Appalachia, is the most visited National Park in the U.S., over 11 million recreational visitors in 2016. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by Congress in 1934 and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The development of most of the roads, fire towers, park buildings, bridges and other infrastructure was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, men and women employed by the government during the Great Depression to prevent their families from starvation.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is designated as a World Heritage Site internationally and the mountains are some of the oldest on the planet.  To enjoy these beautiful mountains fully be sure to go with a professional guide from the outfitters A Walk In The Woods. It will be the highlight of your trip to the mountains. Thankfully, many of the early structures are still in good condition and homes of original settlers can be seen in various places, as well as tourist cabins which are replicas of the historic ones.  And the tri-town area has done much to preserve the heritage of the mountain people and many re-enactment shows are educational as well as fun. Dolly Parton has developed many of these including Dollywood and several dinner theaters: Dixie Stampede, and Smoky Mountain Adventure, which are fun ways to learn the culture and see the crafts, dances, and music of her beloved mountains. In 2016 a raging fire destroyed many mountain homes and businesses above Gatlinburg, but with the generosity of Dolly’s charities and others the town is rebuilding rapidly.

At Dollywood Craftsman’s Valley is a great place to see today’s artisans working in yesteryear’s ways to create beautiful and useful items, using skills and tools their grandparents and great grandparents taught them. The skills were necessary for survival in early days and now are fascinating preservation of history.  These crafts people create beautiful and useful ornaments and often visitors can learn how and create their own to take home.

Gatlinburg also features one of the most popular places to visit on the 8 mile Loop of its Arts and Crafts Community. In Gatlinburg the traffic lights are numbered, (a brilliant idea!) and on East Parkway you turn at traffic light #3 onto Highway 321 and follow the signs for the Arts and Crafts Loop. It is well worth a day to visit each of the more than 100 homes and studio/shops along the Loop to chat with artists of all kinds and watch them at work creating such lovely items for souvenirs and gifts. The works are treasures you will keep always with the happy memory of seeing them being made. These include glass blowing, ceramics, baking, weaving, stitchery, wood crafts, clock works, floral arrangements, candle making, painting, photography, metal works and so much more!

When Bonnie was a child her family always ate pancakes for breakfast at a small restaurant. This happy memory of delightful smells and tastes goes with the mountain atmosphere and today you will find one or more pancake restaurants all along the highway through the three towns.  But the number one choice of most tourists is Crockett’s Breakfast Camp in Gatlinburg.  We were SO HAPPY it was recommended to us and we enjoyed one of our top breakfasts of all time there.  The large griddle cakes are different from any we had ever had and were light and delicious!  They offer choices innumerable of eggs prepared in so many ways and served with delicious smoky bacon or sausage, and as if we needed dessert!  We could not leave without sampling the other item they are famous for: their amazing cinnamon rolls, which are HUGE and to die for!

You will find a very interesting menu in the fashion of an historic newspaper from Davy Crockett’s time, and the numerous choices for breakfast will make your eyes spin! The atmosphere in the really large log cabin is so fascinating in the décor from century ago with wagons, huge fireplace, hunting items, portraits on the walls and so much more. You will wish you could eat every meal here, but alas, they only serve breakfast, the most memorable and delectable you have ever experienced! And be sure to take in the excellent Country Tonite Show with music, song, dance, and comedy that will keep you toe tapping and smiling. For More Information:,,,,,,,,