So let’s take a moment to discuss the bane of the big guy: Travel. There are a myriad of ways that travel is stacked against the big guy. The airlines have it in for us. Crowds are a nightmare of tiny people waiting to be trampled under our big feet. What’s with all the walking?
So I’m taking it upon myself to write a Big Guy’s Guide to Travel, and I’m starting with Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Partly because it’s in my back yard, and partly because there are some big-guy friendly experiences to be had, but mostly because this fun little town got its face punched in by some wildfires last year.
I can assure you, they’ve not only recovered, but Gatlinburg is thriving. Here are some big guy tips to get the most out of your stay:
Rent a Convertible
Or do like I did, and buy one. Gatlinburg sits in the navel of the magnificent Smokey Mountains National Forest, and just getting to the town and traveling around in it will open your eyes to majestic vistas. As a photographer, I have found ample opportunities for beautiful shots during all four seasons.
Obviously, the fall color season is the best pick, though it comes with the pitfall of being a little overly popular. Spring, in my opinion, is the worst time to go simply because budding trees aren’t as beautiful as you’d think. My favorite time to go, however, is during a nice, frigid winter. Snow is bad because it will shut down some mountain byways, but if it’s cold enough to freeze the streams and waterfalls, you can see some truly fascinating sights.
Plus, winter is probably the slowest season for Gatlinburg, which means fewer tourists, cheaper hotel rooms, and easy parking next to your preferred attractions. Reducing the amount of walking I have to do will be a common theme.
Sure, you’re not going to pop the top when it’s 10 degrees, and you’re cruising the mountain trails, but for the rest of the year, a convertible is totally the way to go.
Listen, I have yet to meet a big guy who doesn’t love pancakes. Unfortunately, Gatlinburg offers NINE pancake-centric eateries for you to choose from. Take this t-shirt for example:
They are not joking around when it comes to pancakes. Will you go wrong by going to any given pancake house? No, of course not. Pancakes are delicious. However, this big guy votes for Crockett’s Breakfast Camp if you don’t mind a wait, or Log Cabin if you just need pancakes right now.
Blue Grass by the Moonshine
What better way to travel than to get hooched up on some moonshine and sit in a rocking chair? The Ole Smokey Mountain Moonshine Holler is the only geographic location I’ve ever visited that can temporarily change my taste in music.
Do a quick flyby of some of the more tourist-friendly distilleries, and then proceed into the tourist-trap tasting area. Eleven to thirteen communion glass shots of moonshine later (one for each flavor and intensity), and suddenly you’ll welcome the embrace of the rustic rocking chairs just a few steps away. Chairs, I might add, that are pointed at a stage featuring live bluegrass music.
Be sure to rile up the Ole Smokey staff as you’re tasting by asking about the rival Sugarland brand hooch sold just down the road. They’ll be happy to explain exactly why you’ve come to the right place. If you can walk after this pitstop, go on down to Sugarland, and try the same gambit in reverse. It’s a lot of fun.
This might be a tough sale, considering what it is, but you really should take a few minutes to drop into the Arcadia. Hypothetically, the space needle is the attraction, but for me, it’s the arcade. It’s an actual, honest to goodness token arcade. It’s like spotting a white rhino at J.C. Penney. There’s just not that many left in the world.
Believe It.. or Not!
The Ripley’s brand has set up shop in Gatlinburg in a big way. So long as you can suspend your cynicism, there’s a lot of fun to be had. They do involve quite a bit of walking, however, so be prepared for that. At the same time, if you’re like me, and you just carbo-loaded on pancakes, maybe a walk through a spinning hallway past the photo of a man with a world-record number of piercings is what’s in order.
The aquarium is actually world class, but can be quite crowded, whereas the oddity museum can be taken at a much slower pace. You can stop and gawk, and no one gets upset because that’s the whole point!
Where to Stay?
So, here’s where I’m going to shill for a megacorporation, which I rarely do (besides my awesome Amazon links, of course). Growing up, we would travel to Gatlinburg every Spring to perform in the All-East Tennesssee Orchestra at the Park Vista Hotel. Needless to say, I have some very fond memories of the place.
I was quite saddened when I saw photos of the wildfires immolating the property. Luckily, the hotel quickly bounced back, and reopened within 22 days. A DoubleTree property, the hotel is your best bet for seeing a stunning vista outside your window. Be sure to wake up right before sunrise so you can see just why they’re called the Smokey Mountains.