***Stop #5 on the #MiLBRoundTripper: the Tennessee Smokies***
I fell in love with Sevierville, Tennessee – and it all started with the Tennessee Smokies affiliation with Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
As a born-and-raised Chicago Cubs fan, I was excited to see my favorite team’s Double-A affiliate in action.
The Smokies look like the Major League club on the diamond – sporting gleaming white uniforms with blue pinstripes and blue jersey numbers outlined in subtle Cubs’ red.
Off the field, the nearly 6-foot tall Chris Bryant bobble-head statue on the concourse behind home plate reminded me that the fans at Smokies Stadium saw the big league club’s rebirth on the horizon long before the city of Chicago celebrated the World Series title in 2016.
Yes, I fell in love quickly with the connection of the Tennessee Smokies to my beloved Chicago Cubs, but that wasn’t the only reason.
The view from left to right from behind the plate was like no other stadium I’ve been in.
Built into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the area beyond the ballpark’s outfield towered upward in tall, dark green pines.
As I told the voice of the Smokies, Mick Gillespie, “I’m waiting for a black bear to take stroll in deep center field.”
I could stare at the mountain-side beyond the outfield all day – but, my kids need more to hold their attention. Lucky for me, the ballpark’s celebration of 100 years of Moon Pie’s was up to the task tonight.
I’ve never eaten a Moon Pie, but my kids devoured them.
The combination of marshmallow filling sandwiched between two graham crackers pasted together with chocolate (or vanilla) icing made for a five kid sugar rush in the right field berm after the third inning.
Rest assured, though, at least for me, no Moon Pie was needed to be completely over-the-moon for the time we spent with the Tennessee Smokies.
A day with kids in the Smokies
Located just north of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Tennessee left my family wishing for a few more days to explore.
During our day in town, we experienced several area attractions.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park – Cades Cove
Our adventures began outdoors, with a forty-five minute drive south to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to see Cades Cove – an 11 mile one-way loop of natural beauty.
The Cove is well-known to locals for plentiful wildlife that includes black bear, deer, turkeys, river otter and coyote. Once a self-sustaining farming community, gorgeous fallow fields are flanked by towering, pine tree filled mountains in all directions.
Although the wildlife seemed a bit shy during our visit (we saw a dear, a turkey and a bear from about 150 yards), the scenery was well worth some time spent in the van together driving through the mountains.
Sevier Air Trampoline and Ninja Warrior Park
Next, we moved inside to Sevier Air Trampoline and Ninja Warrior Park – an experience that my kids have already requested to do again.
To characterize Sevier Air as a typical “bounce house place” is an insult – and an understatement. The park is over 56,000 square feet of action for all ages – and not only for the kids.
My two oldest boys played games of trampoline dodge ball while my 1-year old split time jumping and riding the small slide designed for little ones.
Everett and Vivi, my 4 and 8 year-olds, spent more than thirty minutes swinging Tarzan-style through the air on a rope before falling into the engulfing, inflated tarp below.
No one in the family could resist the crown jewel of Sevier Air – an exact replica of an American Ninja Warrior course – equipped with all of the obstacles as seen on TV and three different warped walls.
The hour my kids spent at Sevier Air left us sweaty, thirsty and laughing at each of my failed attempts to reach the top of the second tallest warped wall.
Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo
Our final expedition took us to the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo, an interactive animal attraction that offered a diversity of animal encounters.
“Jungle Jack”, the Zookeeper, held our attention for a forty-five minute show filled with magic, jokes and, of course, brushes with snakes, spiders, hedge hogs, and more.
After the show, we checked out the rest of the animals – all sorts of monkeys, noisy birds, snakes, rats, frogs, leopards and porcupines.
Our Rainforest Adventures trek ended in their outdoor petting zoo. The kids fed goats, emus, donkeys and sheep.
The hour spent at Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo was just what we needed – a low-key, indoor stop that allowed our kids to play with animals safely and up close.
As a tired party of seven, we shuffled into the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant for dinner – not expecting (or needing) much. From the country decor to the old-time dress adorned wait staff, we were pleasantly surprised at the down-home, family feel of our meal.
The food was great, the prices were reasonable, the kids menu was appropriate and, as a bonus, there was a gluten-free menu!
If only we’d had more energy (and one less tired 1 year-old), we would have certainly been able to see Applewood’s cider operation and winery in the adjacent buildings.
Our inability to see the entire Applewood campus summed up our time in picturesque Sevierville, Tennessee perfectly – we loved every jam-packed day but were left longing for, at least, a few more days to explore.
***The next stop on the #MiLBRoundTripper: the Lexington (KY) Legends***