By Alyssa Massaro/Wendy Manning
Booking this year’s vacation spot in Pigeon Forge, TN made for an incredible family getaway and a much-needed break from our hectic lives. My husband and I did some research beforehand to find an affordable, family-friendly place to stay that was situated right in the heart of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. We decided on the RiverStone Resort & Spa as our choice of stay because of its ideal location and unique features for both children and adults. As we hoped, it turned out to be the perfect rustic vacation spot for a tranquil, family-friendly vacation.
We pulled up to RiverStone and were warmly greeted by a majestic view of acres of rolling hills and the hazy contour of the Smoky Mountains. A landscape of green enraptured my senses and I could hear the trickling waters of the nearby Little Pigeon Forge River. The experience was very relaxing from the start, and I was especially eager to check out RiverStone’s luxurious spa.
Nature is healing and is sometimes just what we need to distress and regain our sense of inner harmony and peace. My first impression of the lobby space was a warm and inviting atmosphere with its grand stone fireplace and vibrant, earthy colors. My family and I opted for a 3-bedroom condominium with three plush king-sized beds and two bathrooms…one with a 6ft Jacuzzi tub, with full amenities including a washer and dryer, a widescreen flat panel TV, sleeper sofa and gas fireplace. It was such a delight reading in the morning while peeking over the horizon from our private balcony. The fully equipped kitchen with its granite countertop bar area and stainless steel appliances was perfect after a fun-filled day when we wanted to cook a meal and enjoy a restful night in with the kids. The interior design scheme was also very refreshing and elegant with ambient lighting to provide a comfortable living space for the week. The condo turned out to be the perfect home away from home for my family, but RiverStone’s log cabin rentals are also worth mentioning for those wanting a cozy cabin space nestled in the heart of the Smokies. The wooden, ranch-style cabin is situated right along the river and offers a spacious wrap-around porch, lofted space, and stone gas log fireplace. The online photos depict a charming, woodsy bungalow sited behind a log fence and shaded by beautiful maple trees.
Another major highlight of my stay at RiverStone was its full service day spa! My husband and I treated ourselves to the couples Signature Massage with hot stone and Swedish massage techniques, aromatherapy, and detoxifying herbal mud treatments for the ultimate relaxation experience. Our massage therapists, Jason and Jami, were extremely friendly and left us both feeling rejuvenated and refreshed in body and mind. RiverStone also offers a variety of services that are sure to satisfy your desires. I was really impressed to find that RiverStone offers spa options for children as well, and they did a fantastic job pampering my daughter with their Princess Manicure. I think my daughter felt really special and enjoyed feeling like a fairytale princess while we enjoyed quality mommy-daughter time together. While we were getting pampered, my husband and son enjoyed a round of golf at the nearby Gatlinburg Golf Course.
Another great feature of the RiverStone was its huge indoor pool. While the kids splashed in the pool, my husband and I enjoyed a dip in the steamy Jacuzzi hot tub. My teenage son especially loved the on-site game room with its fully loaded arcade, including pinball, air hockey, and pool table. It was a shame the lazy river was closed for cold weather because my kids would have had a blast coasting past the overhead waterfalls and winding curves on tubes. The lazy river is conveniently situated alongside the patio area so it would have been very easy to keep an eye on the kids from one of the lounge chairs. We will definitely be taking advantage of that on our next visit, as well as the playground and picnic/grilling area they offer. RiverStone’s extensive Fitness Center was equally impressive. Needless to say, I was very pleased with the full range of activities and balance of indoor/outdoor spaces at RiverStone.
While in Pigeon Forge, we headed over for great food and entertainment with a Southern twist to the Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede dinner show. It was a treat for all of us and left us reeling in laughter as we munched “with our fingers – no utensils needed” on a good-ole-fashioned four course Southern feast of rotisserie chicken, pork loin, potato, corn, biscuit and the best creamy vegetable soup you ever tasted. Dessert too! Vegetarian options are also available and kids under three eat free when sitting in a parents lap and eating from their plate! My kids loved seeing the open-air stables with show horses inside as we walked up and the surprise meet-and-greet with the stars of the show while we picked up our tickets heading into the lobby. We thoroughly enjoyed the world famous saloon with hilarious entertainment put on by some wonderful banjo players with a sense of humor to boot. After the opening show, fully costumed Belles lead us into Dixie’s grand arena where we enjoyed thrilling horse stunts, comedy acts, and an incredible Bluegrass-style musical production. While my kids loved the special effects and rings of fire, I especially enjoyed the twangy banjo and guitar sounds of the Bluegrass and Country band, Mountain Rukus, in the opening act and the barrel races. We all could hardly stop laughing at Skeeter doing his chicken dance and other comical antics. My kids were energized the whole show and learned about Northern-Southern rivalry first hand as the performers sparred in competitive fun. Overall, I thought the meal and show was perfectly choreographed for an easy flow throughout the evening and I would definitely recommend Dixie Stampede for a fun-filled dinner adventure.
The Lumberjack Feud was another great dinner show we visited and offered a little more action and excitement. Lumberjack stepped things up a notch featuring the rough competition of flannel-clad lumberjacks over ten different logging events. The seating is split up into two sections, the McGraws and the Dawsons sides. We were proud to be a Dawson! My kids were on edge the whole time as we watched this rough and wild bunch compete in chainsaw carving, tree climbing, log rolling, and axe-swinging among other fierce events. This was no ordinary theatre show! We really were caught up in the action between the booing and cheering of this enthusiastic crowd. My daughter even won a “cookie,” or piece of wood stamped with the Lumberjack Feud logo (which was later signed by cast members) for cheering loudly. Lumberjack kept to a family-friendly atmosphere by showcasing a variety of different events. It was really neat to watch the Timber Dogs fly through the air to retrieve objects and watch these world athletes climb their way up vertical timber posts. The show came with a flavor-blasting meal to boot. My family enjoyed chowing down on slow-roasted pork loin, green beans, old-fashioned cornbread dressing, and creamy baked mac-n-cheese. The homemade Smoky Mountain Berry Cobbler was an equally delicious dessert! Beneath all the action, the show told an exciting and unique story as we enjoyed a great meal. I think we all left satisfied and with a new appreciation for the American legend of the lumberjacks.
For a special dinner with the family, you might want to check out the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille, located in the heart of Pigeon Forge’s charming Old Mill Square. This was a favorite spot on our trip with its delicious family-style meal and Old World character. My husband is a meat-lover and greatly enjoyed the delicious hand-cut Black Angus ribeye steak and I was raving over the Praline Grilled pork chops. Gazing over the menu, there were a lot of options including hearty soups, southern catfish and fresh seafood, signature sandwiches, and quality steaks. This venue epitomized Southern charm and comfort, offering homemade cakes, brownies, cheesecake, and other delicious desert options. We felt right at home eating from handcrafted dinnerware, which was beautifully crafted by artisans next door at Pigeon River Pottery. The kids menu for kids 12 & under was also fantastic and offered yummy choices of a drink, chicken tenders, mac-n-cheese or a hamburger, along with fries or a fresh fruit cup. Afterwards, my family enjoyed a pleasurable stroll through the Old Mill Square. It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle and tour this traditional place.
I’d say our stay in Pigeon Forge was a major success with unforgettable memories. There’s such a diverse range of activities and places to visit here, which was nice because I think everyone in my family took away something special. It was refreshing to have some down time alongside our lively dinner shows at night. I would highly recommend visiting this scenic spot if you’re planning your next vacation getaway! Our trip turned out to be a fun-filled adventure that my family will always remember.