It’s been a few years since we took our annual family summer vacation. By the time August 19th rolled around, our getaway was long overdue. We all felt it. My husband started the official countdown one week before. We both needed a break from work and just day-to-day activities.
Although I looked forward to the break, a part of me wasn’t sure how I felt about the trip, the main reason being it would be our first family vacation without mom. Just like the holidays and other milestones, our trip was another reminder that she was no longer with us. Our trip last summer to go to Orlando never happened, as her health declined rapidly in July, so we all agreed to do something fun this year in a location other than Myrtle Beach – our usual spot.
I knew my sister put a lot of effort into planning the weeklong trip in the Great Smoky Mountains for all of us to enjoy (shout out to her for the planning!), so we all decided to make the best of it no matter what. And I always look forward to spending time with my dad and the rest of my family.
Here’s a snapshot of my favorite moments.
I loved our roomy and cozy cabin in Gatlinburg, TN. When we arrived, they had an entire list of tips on bear safety. I’m glad we didn’t see any roaming around in our resort area. I really didn’t want any bears coming for me or my snacks.
First up: Escape from Pharaoh
I’ve always wanted to participate in an Escape Room adventure, and since we don’t have many in Illinois, I was excited about visiting the Tomb Egyptian Adventure, especially since I’ve always been fascinated by all things related to Ancient Egypt. It was our first attraction, and we had a great time. Every room presented a mystery to solve and we had to discover clues before we could move on. The production and special effects were top notch, and some rooms were more complicated than others. The funniest part happened at the end after we solved the last mystery. As a statue of Pharaoh floated down from the ceiling, our guide, Hunter, suggested we lift our hands up. My hubby laughed and told him “Hunter, you got yourself a group of believers here. We don’t worship false idols.” Everyone, including our instructor, fell out laughing. The trip was off to a good start.
The Preaching Magician
Yes, you read that right. Terry Evanswood got the audience all the way together with a mini sermon about life during his "The Wonders of Magic" show in the Wonderworks. Who knew??
About halfway through the show he made a comment about purpose and how even bad things work together for the good. My eyebrow went up slightly. Interesting...I thought. As the show continued he took a moment to thank the “one person he put his trust in...” God. He said he wasn’t ashamed to stand in front of a room of people he didn’t know and announce his belief and gratitude for his blessings. He pointed out that there were people in the world right now who don’t have what we have—loving people to spend time with, money to even spend on food, much less a magic show, and good health, because there were sick people in the hospital who would trade places with us in an instant.
He also pointed out that we were more blessed than most people in the world today. It was deep and true. If anyone came in with a chip on their shoulder that night, Mr. Evanswood sure gave them a reality check. And then he pretended to pass around a basket to collect a church offering. Lol! I loved it! His show overall was amazing! And he was hilarious.
To the Mountaintop
I had a chance to marvel at God’s beauty and creation during our visit to Ober Gatlinburg, an amusement park and ski area in the Smoky mountains. We took the 10-minute ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram and enjoyed the amazing view as we traveled up the mountain (it’s the 2nd longest aerial tramway in the U.S.), and from there we decided to take the scenic chairlift to the top of Mount Harrison. To describe the view at the top as beautiful is an understatement. There was also a bluegrass band playing music (my hubby and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to break into a square dance even though no one else did...lol!). I’m so glad we decided not to skip this activity. We would’ve missed out for sure. It was an incredible experience.
Thrills and Chills
I’m all for riding rollercoasters at an amusement park (the faster, the better!), and Dollywood didn’t disappoint. Even though I ended up with a headache by the end of the day (it’s always those wooden rollercoasters that get me), we still had a lot of fun. The bonus: it was the first time I didn’t have to wait in line for more than five minutes to get on a ride. Out of the seven rollercoasters I hopped on, I really enjoyed Mystery Mine (some of it took place indoors in the dark so you never knew what to expect) and the brand new Lightning Rod roller coaster (over 70 mph).
And because we apparently enjoy thrills, we managed to get through two popular haunted houses in town (we went through one of the houses twice). I had a blast in both of them, and the actors made it so much fun. The Mystery Mansion (shown below) was multi-level. Although we never had to fumble around in the dark like the Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, some of the rooms/hallways led to a dead end, so we had to figure out how to move through the house without running around in circles (and I do mean running literally...we completely ignored the “no running” rule).
Blast from the past
We visited the Titanic museum during our final night in town. I love going to museums and looked forward to learning more about the Titanic (I’m one of the few people who’ve never seen the movie). We pretty much had the entire museum to ourselves, and the exhibits were interesting. We toured the first-class suites and third-class cabins, read (and listened) to the backstory about the passengers, captain and the crew, and we even dipped our hands in 28-degree water – the same temperature passengers experienced. We each received a card at the beginning with the name of an actual passenger onboard, and at the end of the tour we visited the Survivor’s Wall to learn if our person survived (mine was a 22-year-old woman who actually made it!).
Two thumbs down
If I could name one thing I regretted visiting, the award would go to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. The only thing I couldn’t believe is that we paid $16 per person to get up in there. The best part was the ending...they had an empty room with music near the exit door and we paused there to dance for about 10 minutes. So not the point of the room, but hey...we had to get our money’s worth somehow.
Although I'm not 100 percent about that country life, there is something about the country that makes you slow down and just sit still. It’s carefree living. It made me realize how much we’d been going nonstop without taking a break. It felt good to take a moment to breathe, and we had many of those moments, whether it was during a family dinner, game of pool, reading, binge-watching Netflix or enjoying a girl’s day out shopping while the guys did their thing on the golf course.
I think we all left the cabin refreshed and restored. Even though I wrote down a writing goal for the trip – a certain number of posts I wanted to complete during our getaway – I didn’t get close to reaching it. And that was okay. Sometimes, we have to step away from it all, pause and rest before we can get our head back in the game. We even extended our trip and ended up staying a few extra days in Charlotte (thanks to my dad for making that happen!). After our trip, I returned home with more focus and clarity.
Of course there were numerous times something reminded us of mom or we said “mom would’ve liked this” or “I wish she was here for XYZ”. No vacation will ever be the same and adjusting to the “new normal” isn’t easy, especially when you’d rather have the “old” normal, but we managed. Our family getaway in the new normal turned out better than I expected. And I'm grateful we all had fun as we created new memories together.