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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

SUMMER FUN: Kids Ride Free on this Scenic Bryson City Train Ride in the Great Smoky Mountains

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The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has an excellent summertime deal for taking a scenic train ride out of the historic depot in North Carolina’s Bryson City. Train lovers, this is your chance to take the little ones in your family on an adventure, for much cheaper. Kids ride free on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad out of downtown Bryson City, NC this summer! The depot is only about two hours from Greenville, SC and you can stay overnight in the North Carolina mountains or do a day trip.

Great Smoky Mountain Trail: Summer Kids Ride Free

I always thought there was something oh-so-romantic about riding an old steam locomotive train. Maybe it’s just because it’s not something we do often in today’s modern world or that the old photos of these trains often had women with beautiful, full dresses and lace umbrellas and boots – something I always thought was pretty cool.

While I don’t have a hoop skirt – and won’t anytime soon – luckily you don’t need one to ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This is the same Bryson City train that does the Polar Express during the Christmas season. We’ve got all the details on a pretty awesome deal they have for families over the summer though!

Kids Ride Free on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

During the summertime, they are offering a pretty amazing deal: they are offering a free child’s ticket (ages 2-12) with every Adult ticket purchased all summer on trains that run Monday – Friday. Coach tickets are only available for this promotion, so first-class cars will not be available for this deal. Tickets can be purchased by phone only.

Tickets are valid on one of the two scenic general excursions in Standard Coach – either the Diesel locomotive power on Tuckasegee River or Nantahala Gorge. The trains leave out of the depot in downtown Bryson City. Ticket purchases can be made to ride May 1, 2024- August 31, 2024. Tickets for Kids Ride Free can’t be combined with other discounts, are subject to blackout dates, and aren’t available for special event trains. However, you will be able to access the train museum with your ticket, which kids love! Also, ask about their boxed lunches deals as well when you call to book!

All discounts are only available by phone. Contact 800-872-4681 to complete your Kids Ride Free purchase.

The Bryson City Train Ride Through the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains rail has 53 miles of railroad to traverse, but not every excursion uses all of those miles. There are also two tunnels and 25 bridges. Train rides roll through the majestic mountains and river gorges in an unforgettable trip. Some of the more affordable tickets even have an open-air car for the scenic train ride, with options to upgrade to coach and first class available. These Bryson City train rides are certain to make lots of memories.

The Nantahala Gorge Excursion takes guests over 44 miles to the Nantahala Gorge and back. Scenic views are plenty on this trip. You’ll see the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers and travel across Fontana Lake surrounded by the mountains. This trip is 4.5 hours long and a Standard Coach Adult ticket starts at $58.

The Tuckasegee River Excursion is a little shorter at 32 miles round trip and four hours total. Guests will see vast meadows and old railroad towns as they travel along the Tuckasegee River. Plus, you’ll pass by the set of The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford during this train ride. A Standard Coach Adult ticket starts at $58.

To purchase your tickets, call 800.872.4681 to utilize the Kids Ride Free deal.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC 28713

Where to Stay Near the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Use the map below to find the perfect place to stay near the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

Through an affiliate relationship with Stay22, Kidding Around earns when you book through this map.

More places to stay

There are plenty of cool places to stay in the area but we recommend Sky Ridge Yurts, a beautiful little village of comfortable and spacious yurts about 20 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and on the edge of the Nantahala forest.

Sky Ridge Yurt interior pictures
Interior of Yurt at Sky Ridge Yurts

Or if you really want a memorable experience, stay in a renovated 1960s caboose at Buffalo Creek Vacations– on a bison farm! It sleeps five people and has a full bathroom, kitchen, and living area. Plus, it has bison that freely roam the property.

Caboose rentals in North Carolina
Caboose rentals at Buffalo Creek Vacations

Other Things to Do in Bryson City

In Bryson City, train culture is huge. But so is the great outdoors! Bryson City, NC is a beautiful spot with lots to do but during the summer, there is almost an endless number of things to do with your family.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is fantastic for families. You can go whitewater rafting down the Nantahala River there (kids need to be at least 7 years old and 60 pounds), which is quite the adventure and something the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for. But if you have smaller kids, you can also go tubing and enjoy the area. Next to the restaurant is a shallow area of the river perfect for wading as well. You can also pick up part of the Appalachian Trail there if you want to try it out.

Learn More in our KA Review of the
Nantahala Outdoor Center

Nantahalla outdoor center water fun

You can also go tubing at Deep Creek which is at the entrance on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. There are several outfitters that offer cheap options for tubing. Or you could bring your own tubes, drive into the park, and follow the crowd to where most people put their tubes. There aren’t really any rapids so it’s great for smaller kids but it’s really cold!

Tubing at Deep Creek

Tubing Down Deep Creek, NC
Everything You Need to Know!

Another great tubing spot is in nearby Cherokee, NC at Smoky Mountain Tube & Raft. Ages 5 and up are able to tube.

You can also hike the Deep Creek Loop at the same entrance to the park, a trail that has three waterfalls. It’s an easy hike about two miles long.

If you love animals, history, and natural beauty, you may get a glimpse of the elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, about a 30-minute drive from Bryson City. There is an interesting homestead you can tour there and be sure to do the Junior Ranger Program at the visitor’s center. Elk are there usually in the mornings and late afternoon.

Also in nearby Cherokee, NC, Mingo Falls is a beautiful waterfall to see. It’s a really short hike, just a third of a mile, but it does have a lot of steps. The falls are worth it!

Are you ready for your Bryson City train ride adventure?

20+ Things To Do In Knoxville, TN With Your Family

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Are you looking for things to do in Knoxville, TN with your family? We’ve got your list! Local mom, Jordan, shares her family’s favorite things to do in Knoxville, TN. So whether you’re a local looking for a fun new adventure, or you’re traveling to Knoxville with the kids, this list will give you some fabulous ideas for things to do in Knoxville, TN with kids!

The Sunsphere

Alexa, play Rocky Top! Sorry, we know you will be singing that song all day but we couldn’t help ourselves. 

If you’re traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Volunteers, the iconic Sunsphere, and a fun place to have fun with your family, we’ve got a list of 20 things for you to do in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Before you go on an adventure, here are a few tips: 

  • The sunshine has returned so make sure to pack sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and lots of water to stay hydrated. 
  • Don’t forget your snacks, strollers, and comfortable walking shoes.
  • Check the social media pages of each attraction to be aware of any unexpected closings. 
  • Have fun!
Tortoises at Zoo Knoxville

Zoo Knoxville

Zoo Knoxville is WILDly fun, as they say, and a perfect spot for family adventures. Our family loves to spend a whole day at the zoo during the Summer months because you can walk around and see the animals and then cool off at the splash pad at the end of your walk around the zoo. You can easily spend an entire day here as The zoo offers:

  • Several acres of animal habitats
  • An indoor and outdoor playground
  • A carousel and train you can ride
  • A splash pad (opens every year on Memorial Day)
  • Food vendors
  • Special events
  • Birthday parties 
  • And so much more
  • Zoo Knoxville is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. 

Address: 3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee 37914


  • Adult tickets:  $26.95 
  • Children ages 3-12: $21.95
  • Seniors ages 65+: $21.95
  • College student ticket ( must present student ID and buy ticket at gate): $21.95
  • Children 2 and under free
  • Active Military and Veterans: free

Follow Zoo Knoxville’s Facebook Page for more details. 

Zoo Knoxville in Knoxville, TN

Check out the Kidding Around Review of Zoo Knoxville! We have a full guide to help you plan your best trip.

Muse Knoxville 

Muse Knoxville is a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) children’s museum. My kids love the art exhibit where they can create any craft they can imagine and it works out for me because I don’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess! They offer: 

  • A Planetarium 
  • 14+ exhibits to explore
  • Outdoor play areas 
  • Gift shop 
  • Special events 
  • Birthday parties 
  • They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm

Address: 516 N. Beaman St, Knoxville, TN 37914


  • General admission (ages 1-64): $12
  • Reduced cost admission: $6 
  • Senior citizens (65+), Tennessee educators with valid ID, military & guests of military personnel with valid ID, members, and children under age 1: free 

Follow Muse Knoxville’s Facebook page for more details. 

Knoxville Children’s Theatre

The Knoxville Children’s Theatre is a great place to enjoy a show with your family. They perform a new show every month. You can purchase tickets on their website and select your preferred showtime. They sell refreshments at the front desk for their shows.

We had so much fun watching the Three Little Pigs at the Knoxville Children’s Theatre. If you want a seat close to the stage, make sure you get there early so you can grab your snacks, use the bathroom, and then enjoy the show!

Here are the plays showing by month for the remainder of 2024:

  • May 3rd-19th: Little Women
  • June 7th-23rd: Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • July 12th-28th: Cinderella 
  • August 7th-25th: Tom Sawyer
  • September 13th-29th: Magic Treehouse: Dinos Before Dark 
  • October 25th-November 10th: Beowulf: The First Avenger

Address: 109 E. Churchwell Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37917
Cost: Tickets are $12-$15 each and can be purchased online 

Follow Knoxville Children’s Theatre’s Facebook Page for more details.

Visit The Sunsphere 

When visiting Knoxville, you must visit the iconic Sunsphere that is located in World’s Fair Park. The Sunsphere was built back in 1982 for the World’s Fair. When you go inside the Sunsphere you can enjoy an amazing view of Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains. 

  • They are open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 5 pm
  • Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm 
  • Sundays 12 pm to 4 pm 
  • Your ticket is for a 30-minute visit 
  • NOTE: The Sunsphere observation deck is closed daily from 1:30 to 2:30 pm excluding Sundays.
  • World’s Fair Park does not have parking on-site. You must park in a parking garage. 
  • They are handicap accessible as the elevators can take you to the observation deck.
  • There is a gift shop.

Address: 810 Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, Tennessee 


  • Adults & Children 12+: $5
  • Children 12 and under: $1
  • You can purchase tickets online or at the base of the Sunsphere 

Follow The Sunsphere’s Facebook page for more details. 

Knoxville Museum of Art

Knoxville Museum of Art is located in World’s Fair Park and features contemporary and historical art pieces from the East Tennesee region. They host events often for the community to participate in.

  • They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm. Closed Mondays

Address: 1050 World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, Tennessee 37916
Cost: Admission is free 

Follow Knoxville Museum of Art on their Facebook page for more details. 

Explore Market Square 

Market Square is nestled in downtown Knoxville and a perfect spot to enjoy a meal, shop, enjoy dessert, splash in the splash pad, and enjoy the sounds of the city. There are several restaurants on Market Square including, Emilia, Not Watson’s Kitchen & Bar, Soccer Taco, Ruby Sunshine, and Tupelo Honey. There are also shops including Urban Outfitters, Tree of Life Salon & Spa, and Rocket Fizz. 

My favorite restaurant for date night is Emilia but if you want a great spot for your family to enjoy a meal, Myrtle’s Chicken & Beer is great!

After you eat dinner, you have to walk over to Gay Street and enjoy ice cream at Cruze Farm Dairy! They have so many fun ice cream cone options for kids and a really fun seating area.

  • Take a stroll after dinner through Krutch Park which is located in Market Square. 
  • Market Square is open Monday through Sunday 24 hours but shops are open according to their own individual hours. 
  • Local parking garages close to Market Square: Market Square Garage, Langley Garage, & Locust Street Garage. Parking is free on nights and weekends.
  • The Market Square Farmer’s Market is a seasonal open-air market that lines the street every Wednesday morning from 10 am to 1 pm starting on May 1st to November 20th, 2024 and they are open on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 1 pm starting on May 4th to November 23rd.

Address: Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Cost: Free
Visit Downtown Knoxville’s Website for more information. 

Cruze Farm Dairy 

Cruze Farm Dairy has several locations in East Tennessee. The downtown Knoxville location is located on Gay Street near the Tennessee Theatre. Their ice cream experience is unforgettable and its locally made at Cruze Dairy Farm. My kids love enjoying the chocolate ice cream cone dipped in rainbow sprinkles and sitting in the seating area to beat the summer heat.

  • They are open:
    • Monday through Wednesday from 12 pm to 9:30 pm 
    • Thursday through Sunday from 12 pm to 10 pm
  • They have inside dining at the downtown location. 
  • There is a parking garage directly in front of Cruze Farm’s downtown location. 
  • They sell merchandise and fresh milk for you to purchase.

Address: 445 S Gay St #3, Knoxville, TN 37902
Visit Cruze Farm’s Website for more details. 

Tennesse Theatre

After your ice cream break, catch a show in the iconic Tennessee Theatre located on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. The theatre offers many shows throughout the year. 

  • Box office is open Monday through Friday 10 am to 3 pm and closed on Saturdays and Sundays. 
  • You can tour the theatre by selecting a tour ticket on their website or request a private tour if you have 10+ participants. 
  • Shows and show times vary according to the schedule. 

Address: 604 South Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902
Visit The Tennessee Theatre’s website to book your show.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

When driving around Downtown Knoxville, you might notice a big basketball on the roof of a large building. That’s the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and it is the largest basketball in the world. You can take a tour of the facility, learn about famous women’s basketball players & coaches, and try your hand at basketball on one of the courts. 

  • They are open every Spring/Summer starting May 1st to August 31st from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. 
  • They are open in the Fall/Winter starting September 1st to April 30th from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. 

Address: 700 Hall of Fame Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee 37915

  • Adults: $7.95
  • Seniors (62+): $5.95
  • Youth (6-15): $5.95
  • Youth under 5: Free
  • Group discounts available 

Visit The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Website to plan your visit.

Neyland Stadium 

You can tour the iconic Neyland Stadium while visiting Knoxville. Home of the Tennessee Vols, Neyland is the 6th largest college football venue in the United States. They offer 60-minute tours of the facility. 

  • They are open Monday through Thursday ONLY.
  • Tours are only offered at 10 am and you must pre-book online.
  • No walk-ups are allowed as booking is limited. 
  • Tour check-in is at Gate-21 Plaza at Neyland.
  • Parking is available at Volunteer Hall Garage located at 1525 White Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37916 and the cost is $1 per 30 minutes. 

Address: 1235 Phillip Fulmer Way SW, Knoxville, TN, 37996

  • Adults are $20 
  • Children (13 and under) are $10
  • For large groups please call the office at 865-974-1205

Visit Neyland Stadium’s Website to book your experience. 

Knoxville Ice Bears Hockey Team 

If you’re visiting Knoxville in the fall, you can enjoy a Knoxville Ice Bears hockey game. Their season runs from fall to early spring each year. They offer an electric experience that is sure to keep your family entertained. The Ice Bears have a kids zone, concessions, merchandise to buy, and plenty of photo opportunities with their mascot Chilly Bear. 

My kids are particularly sensitive to loud noises but we didn’t have an issue at this hockey game. It is loud when the fun music plays but not overbearing. However, if you have little ones who are sensitive to noise, take headphones with you. Don’t forget to buy popcorn and enjoy the kids’ fun zone before the game ends!

  • They are open seasonally starting in the fall of 2024

Address: Knoxville Civic Coliseum, 500 Howard Baker Jr Drive, Knoxville, TN 37915
Cost: Tickets start at $15+
Visit the Knoxville Ice Bears website to learn more. 

Tennessee Smokies Baseball-MOVING To Knoxville Soon

If you love baseball, the Tennessee Smokies baseball team (a minor league team) is a quick drive outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. The stadium is currently located in Kodak, Tennessee but they are building a brand new stadium in Knoxville that is set to open in 2025. A Smokies game is fun for the family as they have activities for kids, food vendors, fun events, and more.

We love getting to the game right as the gate opens so we can take advantage of the kid’s activities and grab dinner at the Batter’s Box Bar & Grill. The cheeseburger and fries are amazing!

  • A game day schedule is available on their website. 
  • Get to the game early to get a good parking spot. 
  • Some of the stadium is shaded but take a hat and sunscreen just in case.
  • Batter’s Box Bar & Grill is a family favorite! Their burgers & fries are amazing!

Address: 3540 Line Drive, Kodak, TN 37764
Cost: General admission starts at $11 a ticket 
Visit The Tennessee Smokies’ Website to purchase tickets and learn about their promotions


Ijams Nature Center 

Ijams Nature Center is an urban nature park right outside of downtown Knoxville that features over 10 miles of trails perfect for hiking, walking, biking, and bird-watching. They also offer swimming, climbing, natural playgrounds, canoe rentals, and more. My kids especially love the natural playgrounds and looking at the indoor animal exhibit.

  • Grounds are open daily from 8 am to dusk. 
  • The visitor center is open Sunday through Friday from 10 am to 5 pm and Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • Bathrooms are located in the visitor center. 
  • Admission is free but donations are appreciated. 
  • Parking is $5 per car per day.
  • Ijams is dog-friendly but dogs must be on a leash and you must clean up after them. No dogs are allowed in the visitor center.
  • They have a gift shop, hallway art gallery, and an exhibit hall with some animals on display that you will find in the park.
  • Ijams offers many educational opportunities including field trips, homeschool opportunities, camps, nature preschool, and more.
  • You can rent their facility for birthday parties, weddings, meetings, retreats, and more.
  • Don’t forget bug spray, a towel if you plan to swim, comfortable tennis shoes or sandals as you will walk a lot, and water.

Address: 2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville, Tennessee 37920
Cost: Admission is free but donations are always welcome. Parking is $5 per car per day.
Follow Ijams Nature Center on their Facebook page for more details.

Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center

Located in Farragut, Tennessee, about 35 minutes from downtown Knoxville, is Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center. They have paintball, a splash zone, a mini-golf course, and golf carts. Sir Goony’s also offers birthday party packages. 

  • They are open year-round (weather permitting):
  •  Monday through Thursday 12 pm to 8 pm
  • Fridays from 12 pm to 9 pm
  • Saturdays 10 am to 9 pm
  • Sundays 12 pm to 8 pm
  • If you reserve the park for a party, they can open at any time for your event. 

Address: 10925 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37934
Cost: Each attraction in the park is priced separately depending on how long you stay.
Follow Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center on their website for pricing details.

Main Event

At Main Event Knoxville, you and your family can enjoy bowling, gravity ropes, laser tag, arcade games, billiards, and good food.

  • They are open: 
    • Mondays 11 am to 1 am
    • Tuesdays through Thursdays 11 am to 12 am
    • Friday 11 am to 2 am
    • Saturdays 9 am to 2 am
    • Sundays 11 am to 12 am 
  • You can book and purchase your activities online. 

Address: 9081 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37923
Cost: You can book your activities on their website.
Follow Main Event Knoxville on their website to book your activities. 

Bijou Theatre & The Bistro at the Bijou

Catch a performance and a meal at the famous Bijou Theatre in Downtown Knoxville. They have a wide variety of music and performance art showings each year.

  • They are a cashless venue
  • No large backpacks, purses, or duffel bags are allowed. Clear bags are not required but all bags are subject to be searched by security upon entry
  • They have a concession stand and on-site bistro 
  • Tickets and showtime are subject to the performance schedule 

Address: 803 South Gay Street, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Cost: Tickets start at $25 
Visit The Bijou Theatre’s Website for more details 

Navitat Knoxville 

At Navitat Knoxville you can enjoy one of their 6 adventure trails with your family. They offer zip-lining, swings, nets, climbing, bridges, and more. They are located in Ijams Nature Center near downtown Knoxville. 

  • They are open: 
    • Mondays, Wednesdays Thursdays, and Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm
    • Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 am to 10 pm
  • They have two ticket options (a daytime ticket and a nighttime ticket) that include all of the adventures in the park.
  • You must be 7+ years old and weigh between 30-265 pounds to participate.
  • An adult is required to attend with all children under the age of 17.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and closed-toed shoes.
  • Book in advance to be sure you get the date(s) you are visiting. 

Address: 2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville, Tennessee 37920

  • Tickets for the Treetop Adventure Park are $52 + tax per person
  • Tickets for the Navitat At Night are $65.95 + tax per person 
  • This admission price is the same for adults and children

Visit Navitat Knoxville’s Website to book your excursion.

The Star of Knoxville Tennessee Riverboat 

Take a ride along the Tennessee River in Downtown Knoxville on The Star of Knoxville Riverboat. You can enjoy a lunch, dinner, or sightseeing cruise depending on what you’re looking for. They have several cruise options that include a meal and some options that do not include a meal depending on the date you select. 

  • They are open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm
  • Make a reservation in advance. 
  • No dress code is required.
  • Parking is at Calhoun’s on The River on Neyland Drive.
  • Cruises are non-refundable. 

Address: 300 Neyland Drive, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
Cost: Tickets start at $25 for adults and $15 for children. Pricing depends on the date and type of cruise you select. 
Visit The Tennessee Riverboat’s Website to learn more and book your cruise. 

Maple Hall 

Maple Hall is a boutique bowling alley that offers 11 lanes of bowling, a cocktail lounge, life-sized board games, a full food and drink menu, and more. They are located in Downtown Knoxville. 

  • They are open: 
    • Monday through Thursday from 4 pm to 11 pm
    • Friday from 4 pm to 1:30 am
    • Saturday from 11 am to 1:30 pm
    • Sunday from 11 am to 11 pm
  • You must be 21+ after 9 pm on Friday and Saturday nights to attend.
  • They do not take reservations. 

Address: 414 South Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37902
Cost: Bowling rates are per lane per hour:

  • Monday through Thursday: $25 per lane per hour 
  • Fridays: $39 per lane per hour
  • Saturdays: 11 am to 4 pm: $25 per lane  per hour, 4 pm to 1:30 am: $39 per lane per hour 
  • Sundays: $25 per lane per hour

Visit Maple Hall’s Website to learn more.

Craft Axe Throwing Downtown Knoxville

Try your hand at axe throwing in Downtown Knoxville at Craft Axe Throwing. You can book your experience (or walk-ups welcome if availability allows), learn a few safety tips from the team, and then have fun throwing axes with friends. There are two locations in Knoxville. 

  • Downtown Knoxville Location Hours: 
    • Mondays through Thursdays from 5 pm to 10 pm 
    • Fridays from 2 pm to 11 pm
    • Saturdays from 1 pm to 11 pm 
    • Sundays from 2 pm to 7 pm 
  • West Knoxville Location Hours: 
    • Closed on Mondays
    • Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 pm to 9 pm
    • Fridays through Saturdays from 12 pm to 11 pm
    • Sundays from 2 pm to 8 pm
  • Both locations only allow those who are 16+ after 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays


  • Downtown Location: 119 W. 5th Avenue – Suite 150, Knoxville, TN 37917
  • West Knoxville Location: 320 N. Peters Road, Knoxville, TN 37922

Cost: Tickets start at $20 per person
Visit the Craft Axe Throwing website to book your experience

Stay in Knoxville, TN

Where can you stay near Downtown Knoxville? Use the map below to find great hotels, boutique hotels, and vacation rentals near attractions you want to visit.

Through an affiliate relationship with Stay22, Kidding Around earns when you book through this map.

What is your family’s favorite thing to do in Knoxville?

Travel Guide to Tennessee, with information for family friendly vacations.

Discover more adventures in the state of Tennessee!

Kidding Around Travel Guide to Tennessee

Plan Your Best Day at Zoo Knoxville: Things to Know

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If you’re looking for a day of fun in Knoxville, Tennessee, Zoo Knoxville is WILDly fun! You can spend a whole day here and not run out of things to do. In this guide to Knoxville, TN’s zoo, one local mom shares her favorite exhibits, plus tips and things to remember so you’ll have the best visit with your family. Use our guide to plan your trip to the zoo!

About Zoo Knoxville

The 53-acre zoo is in East Knoxville, about 13 minutes from Downtown Knoxville. There are around 1,200 animals to see and learn about throughout the zoo. When we moved to Knoxville, I took my kids to the zoo and was immediately sold on a membership simply because of how much there was to do. We visit several times a month and never tire of spending time here. 

Zoo Knoxville, TN

Stay Near Zoo Knoxville

Coming from out of town? Book a vacation rental or hotel near Zoo Knoxville. Use the map below with options nearby to find the perfect place to stay.

Through an affiliate relationship with Stay22 Kidding Around earns when you book through this map.

Zoo Knoxville Tips & Things to Know

Before you visit, here are a few tips from a frequent Zoo Knoxville visitor: 

Hours, Rules & Ticket Information: 

  • Zoo Knoxville Hours: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. 
  • Parking is $5 and free for members. Memberships pay off!
  • You can bring your own food & drinks to the zoo but glass containers and straws are not allowed. Or you can enjoy one of their 5 eateries if you don’t want to pack a lunch.
  • Ticket Pricing:
    • Members: Free
    • Adults: $26.95
    • Children (3-12): $21.95
    • Seniors ages 65+: $21.95
    • College Student with ID: $21.95
    • Children 2 and under: Free
    • Active Military & Veterans: Free
  • Firearms are not permitted on Zoo Knoxville grounds.
  • Zoo Knoxville is a vape and smoke-free campus.

Accesibility Feautures in the zoo:

  • Wheelchair, strollers, and scooter rentals start at $12+
  • Sensory bags are located at the front desk
  • Quiet Zones (Located at the Barn Loft & Painted Dog areas)
  • Headphone Zones (Located at the Kid’s Cove, Wee Play Adventure & Safari Splash)
  • There are bathrooms throughout the park with changing stations.

Things to See at the Knoxville Zoo

Now that we’ve covered hours, rules, accessibility, and parking, let’s jump into all the exhibits & fun things to do at Zoo Knoxville. 

What Animals are at Zoo Knoxville? 

Zoo Knoxville has 12 habitats you can enjoy across the zoo. Grab a map of the zoo when you purchase tickets and plan a route that works for you. 

Habitats include: 

The ARC (Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Campus): This newer building is so neat to explore as it features Joe the sloth, lots of turtles, gigantic snakes (even a Reticulated Python), crocodiles, and more! This exhibit is mostly indoors but you can view the turtles outside as well. 

Black Bear Falls: At Black Bear Falls, you can watch the North American Black Bears sleep, play, and interact. There is a large tunnel (resembling a bear cave) that will take you right up to their enclosure so you can get the best view of what they’re up to. This is an indoor/outdoor exhibit.

Boyd Family Asian Trek: Here you can laugh as beloved Georgie the Gibbons monkey swings in his enclosure, watch the Malayan Tigers take their afternoon nap, and admire the many Langurs swinging across their enclosure. 

Chimp Ridge: This habitat is solely for the beautiful & majestic Chimpanzees. This enclosure is large and contains several viewing areas depending on where the chimps are hanging out for the day. 

Clayton Family Kid’s Cove: This habitat contains many farm animals that you would find on a farm. The Kids Cove contains turkeys, raccoons, goats, beavers, guinea hogs, and more. This habitat also includes a small wading stream (best for toddlers), the Clayton Cabin playground, a large sandbox, and animal interactions. 

Clayton Otter Creek: This habitat might be my favorite. You can watch the North American River Otters splash and play in their large water habitat. They are very active and are a popular exhibit at Zoo Knoxville. 

Gorilla Valley: Gorilla Valley is another large habitat that houses beautiful Western Lowland Gorillas. They like to hang out in their indoor enclosure but often run through their large open-air enclosure.

Grasslands Africa: A safari in Knoxville? Yes! You can see elephants, giraffes, white rhinos, and zebras! This area is all open-air and the animals are usually easily visible. 

Pilot Flying J Wee Play Adventure: Here your preschool & elementary-aged kiddos can play on the indoor playground surrounded by a Komodo dragon, lizards, snakes, and more. This area features a sandbox, slide, and baby playspace. 

The Boyd Family Red Panda Village: This habitat features fuzzy and sleepy red pandas. They like to sleep high up in their nets in the trees so be sure to look up when you visit. 

Tiger Forest: This habitat is solely for the Malayan Tigers. Zoo Knoxville has a breeding facility for the endangered Malayan tigers.

Valley of The Kings: Here you can see the African Lions and Baboons. They are in two separate enclosures located near the Clayton Safari Splash Pad. 

Clayton Safari Splash Pad

During the spring & summer months, you can cool off after a long walk around the zoo at Clayton Safari Splash Pad. This is included in your admission ticket so no need to pay extra! They are opening on May 17th, 2024 this year and typically stay open until Labor Day each year. This area offers a gift shop, changing areas, and picnic tables to sit and watch your kids splash. 

More Things to Do At Zoo Knoxville

Additional Fun Activities: 

  • Take a ride on the carousel located near the Clayton Family Kid’s Cove. Rides are $4 for visitors and $2 for annual pass holders.
  • Zip through the trees on the Soaring Eagle Zipline. This is a tandem zip ride. Single rides start at $13 per rider.
  • Take a spin on the Zoo Choo Train. Rides are $4 per ride.
  • They offer animal encounters (find the schedule on the Zoo Knoxville website).
  • Adult & child zoo camps available 
Tortoises at Zoo Knoxville

New & Notable in 2024

Planet Predator: This new exhibit will be available starting on May 1st, 2024, and will run until October 31st, 2024. You can see several prehistoric predators including an animatronic snake, dinosaur, and more. This is included with your admission. 

You can find a calendar of events, ticket information, and more on Zoo Knoxville’s website

We hope you have fun at Zoo Knoxville and would love to know what you loved most about the zoo!

Zoo Knoxville
3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN 37914

Stay and Play at Upstate Zipline: Epic Family Fun

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Did you know you can stay in a cabin at Upstate Zipline? Set in a private and beautiful portion of Keowee-Toxaway State Park, Upstate Zipline operates cabins, tent sites, and even an event venue with options for families or groups. We got a chance to stay in a cabin and enjoy the site. WOW did our family have a blast. This is such a great place for families to enjoy some time exceptional quality time together. We’ll take you through our visit and tell you how you can plan your own stay at Upstate Zipline’s cabins.

Thanks to Upstate Zipline for inviting us to stay, zip and gem mine so we could bring this review to our readers!

Cabin at Upstate Zipline

Watch! Our Visit Was Epic, See For Yourself

Is it Glamping? Cabins at Upstate Zipline

I have to tell you a secret. I do not camp. Me in a tent, it’s happened like two nights in the last 20 years. It’s just not my thing. But I do love spending time by a nice campfire, listening to the birds, taking a break from the everyday hum drum, and watching my tweens and teenage kids remember that not all of life has to be complicated. It’s ok to kick back, be silly, and let the pressure of final exams and approaching SATs take the back seat for a while.

Cooking hot dogs at the cabin, Upstate Zipline

I’m not entirely sure about the definition of “glamping.” But if it involves peaceful, outdoor enjoyment, along with a comfy bed, hot shower, Keurig Machine, and a microwave in a spotless cabin, then we can definitely call our experience in our Upstate Zipline cabin a “glamping” trip.

The Cabins

In case you aren’t familiar, Upstate Zipline operates an amazing canopy zipline tour through a portion of Keowee-Toxaway State Park. The tour ends in a section of the park called Camp Cedar Creek, just a few minutes from their office location. Originally operated by the state park, Upstate Zipline has taken over managing this camp and they’ve done some awesome things for families!

Families can stay in one of two family cabins at Camp Cedar Creek that sleep 6 to 8 people. They are extremely clean and comfortable cabins, with air conditioning and a kitchenette. The cabin we stayed in had a king-size bed and two bunk beds with linens, a couch seating area, fluffy towels, a dining table that seats 6, and even a television.

And of course outside the cabin was a fireplace with a grill over the top that we could cook on, two picnic tables, and two rocking chairs on the porch. Honestly, we spent most of our time outside! We cooked over the fire both nights of our stay, hamburgers one night and hot dogs the other. And of course, there’s always room for s’mores.

If you’re not the cooking outdoors type, the cabin does have a microwave and a hot plate. There’s also a mini fridge with a freezer, a Keurig machine, plus basic utensils and dishes.

The bathrooms are located at a central bathhouse which is really only a few steps from the cabin. And what I love, love, love about this bathhouse is that each cabin is assigned a private, locking bathroom. It has a hot shower, mirror, toilet, sink, towel holders, bench, all the things you need in a bathroom. It’s clean and your family will be the only ones using it so you can leave your towels in there, toothbrush, shampoo, whatever!

You remember how I don’t camp? Normal bathhouses are part of that. This is NOT a normal bathhouse. So much better.

Bathroom at the cabin Upstate Zipline

The two family cabins and the group cabin, more on that in a minute, are all located together on a little dead-end circle in the park. My kids brought their skateboards and loved riding them around this area. The circle would be a perfect place for small kids to enjoy scooters or bikes, so make sure to bring them along!

Group Cabin

The third cabin is meant for groups and is furnished with bunk beds, sleeping 12. It also has a kitchenette and table, plus an outdoor fireplace and picnic tables. This cabin would be good for a large family, small youth group, scouts, or any small group.

More to Love at Camp Cedar Creek

The property is located on a private cove of Lake Keowee. “Beautiful” is not a strong enough word, “stunning” and “magnificent” get a little closer. From the cabins, there is a short trail down to a driveway that ends in another dead-end circle. Here you’ll find the lake and Upstate Zipline’s The Venue.

The Venue

The Venue, as the name implies, is an event venue that can be rented for events like weddings, family reunions, baby showers, birthdays, and even work retreats. With a full kitchen inside, it has a gorgeous view of the water, an outdoor stone fireplace, a fishing pier, a lake shore for relaxing, and lots of outdoor space. The Venue can accommodate groups of up to 100.

Upstate Zipline, Lake Keowee

The Lake

Sit on the shore and enjoy the view of a private Lake Keowee cove. The shoreline all around the cove is tree-lined and beautiful. We saw fish jumping, turtles, and even a goose family with goslings in the lake and wandering the shore.

My children did enjoy wading in the lake, however, we were told later that alligator snapping turtles had been seen in the cove. After that, we did not swim, and that’s definitely something you’ll want to watch out for. But, we did make use of the kayaks provided by Upstate Zipline.

If kayaking is something you’d like to enjoy, just ask about them when you book. They were left for us on the shore of the lake along with life jackets and paddles. It was so easy, and such a fun way to spend the sunny afternoon!

Kayaks at Lake Keowee

From the shore, you can see two ziplines crossing the lake. These are part of the zipline tour, which again, is awesome. But, my kids also really enjoyed paddling out in the kayaks to watch a group come through on the ziplines. If you’re lucky you might catch a group coming through from the shore or a kayak, too. Make sure to give them a wave.

Kayaks and zipliner over Lake Keowee

Why You’ll Want to Go

So, let’s recap. Comfy cabin, air conditioning, time spent outdoors, happy kids (and even teens!). What did we leave out?

Zipping! The cabins are just about a 5-minute drive to Upstate Zipline’s office where your family can start your zipline adventure, zip through the trees AND mine for gems! We have all the details on that in our story on Upstate Zipline.

You can zip and mine for gems without staying in the cabins, too. So, if you’re looking for a totally cool day trip, this would be fabulous.

Zipline over Lake Keowee at Upstate Zipline

My kids and I had never ziplined and we had the best time zipping through the trees and over the lake. It was such a great adventure to share together. The folks at Upstate Zipline are just about the kindest and most welcoming family ever. It was an absolute blast.

Fun ziplining at Upstate Zipline

And then we got to mine for gems at the sluice beside the office. My kids found amethyst, fossils, coral, and all kinds of treasures. They are still having fun identifying all their finds.

For a unique family adventure, we really can’t recommend Upstate Zipline enough. Book your cabin for a couple of nights, zip, mine for gems, enjoy the lake, kayak, and most of all enjoy your family sitting together beside that campfire making s’mores. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Book your stay or your event!

Head to Upstate Zipline’s website for The Venue. You’ll find all the cabin information and event information right there!

Upstate Zipline
138 Museum Circle, Sunset, SC (Main Office)

Tryon International Equestrian Center Saturday Night Lights: The Cheap Event You Should Not Miss

Up for a cheap new adventure only a short drive from Greenville, SC that the whole family will love? Tryon International Equestrian Center is only an hour or so from Greenville and a unique experience you will look forward to visiting again and again! We’ll fill you in on where this hidden secret is, what they offer and why you should visit!


Mom Review: Mirror Maze in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Have you been to Ripley’s Mirror Maze? Gatlinburg in the winter is a different sort of town than Gatlinburg in the summer, and one of the things you don’t want to miss is Ripley’s Mirror Maze.

Thank you to Ripley’s for providing tickets for this review.

Purchasing via this link allows a small amount of the proceeds to go to Kidding Around Greenville.

When we took our recent adventure to the mountain town, we found it sleepy and quiet and that’s exactly the way we liked it.  Traffic was minimal (except for the weekend) and the streets were not overcrowded and the restaurants had no wait time.  Again – that’s exactly what we love – especially when we are always a party of six (at least) and generally tables for six are not as readily available at peak times.

We had some great laughs and funny moments at several other stopping points along the Gatlinburg streets.

Find a place to stay in Gatlinburg, TN. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze

The first choice for us, after visiting the aquarium, was to walk down the street to Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze.  The Mirror Maze is right on Gatlinburg’s main street and it’s very easy to walk from anywhere you park in town.  (Lucky for us, we just left our car in the aquarium parking lot, which was convenient.)

Ripley's Mirror Maze Gatlinburg

The lobby of the mirror maze features two gigantic walls of candy so – you know – parents beware.  Your kids will definitely ask for candy.  You can say no, naturally.  I didn’t want to purchase pounds of sugar and food dye and banana-flavored everything, but I also remember what it was like as a kid to be looking at a WALL of dreamy candy so I offered a quick compromise to my band of kids.  “Everyone can pick two pieces of candy,” I told them.  Oddly enough, they were thrilled and quite satisfied.  So they each chose literally two single pieces of candy – and we were all content.  A little sugar versus begging and copious amounts of sugar.  Or, again – you can just say no.  Isn’t it funny, parents?  You really do get the choice.

We were kind of extra excited about the concept of a mirror maze because most of us have been reading the book series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and the kids in the novel series are always facing challenges and puzzles and this mirror maze felt like our own challenge and puzzle.

The employees told us to put on plastic gloves that they provided – gigantic, ill-fitting plastic gloves – so that we would be more hygienic as we touched the mirrors that every other guest has most assuredly been touching as well.  I tried to avert my thoughts from the finger touched mirrors and just tried to think of the fun of conquering a maze with my children.

We decided to all hold hands to add to our experience and because we genuinely thought we might face the possibility of getting lost from one another inside the maze.

That probably wouldn’t have happened.

The mirrors were everywhere – as they should be in a maze – and they certainly played tricks on your mind as to which direction to turn and which door to take and where to go next.

There was an “infinity” room that made me laugh a lot – mostly because of the song blaring – was it Journey? – and the lights flashing and the disco ball. All those quirky details, you know.

Our technique of making it through the maze was rather effective as we found the ending in record time.  But, because we liked the mirrors and we wanted more of a challenge, we decided to pretend we didn’t find the exit and kept trucking through the corners and the twists and the turns all over again just for fun.

Also, we discovered a fundamental truth concerning mirror mazes.  Fundamental, I tell you.  It is this: You should choose your outfit wisely and fix your hair carefully before entering said mirror maze.  Because you are going to be seeing yourself from every angle.  Every. Angle.  And you’re going to want to leave this mirror maze with some self-respect intact.  Every. Angle.

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There you go.  I’ve covered the walls of candy and the dress yourself correctly bits.  They were important.

As far as the maze itself goes, it really was lots of fun.  It was speedy, though.  And that’s a little hard to swallow to spend money to be in and out of an attraction in ten minutes or less.  When you buy the Mirror Maze as part of the an add-on ticket, it hurts a little less.

Ripley's Mirror Maze Gatlinburg

In Review

I’d say the key to all Gatlinburg attractions is the same, keep your expectations in line.  Recognize that this is not Disney.  This is Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  These are mirror mazes and world record museums and 5D moving theaters on a street in a mountain town.  A town that sells footlong corn dogs at place called Fannie Farkle’s for the same price that you can buy two kids’ meals at Chick-fil-A.

Be reasonable, guys.

If you are visiting Gatlinburg for the second (or thirtieth) time, you already know this.

And you’re okay with it.

You’re making these return trips to Pigeon Forge and to Gatlinburg, to the cabins and to the go cart rides, to the outlets and to the pancake houses, because it’s nostalgic, because you first came to Gatlinburg as a kid with your Memaw and your Pepaw, because you brought your toddlers here and you remember how big their eyes grew when they first ordered their silver dollar pancakes at the Pancake Pantry and rode their first roller coaster at Dollywood.

You like the idea of returning to the same quirky streets that seem like they never change, old time photo shops on every corner and a gem store and wooden guns and beanie babies.  That’s why you come to Gatlinburg.

So you stroll through the mirror maze and you let the kids buy a couple of pieces of candy and you stop in for the free fudge samples (always take the free fudge, people) and you admire the hand-crafted wooden knives and you buy the funnel cake and you stack up those memories and that nostalgia for all its worth.

Expectations, friends.  Most adventures fare better when you can manage your expectations.

Purchasing via this link allows a small amount of the proceeds to go to Kidding Around Greenville.

Are you traveling to Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge? See our other travel reviews:

Charleston, SC: Find Shark Teeth and Fossils at this Island with Coastal Expeditions

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Shark teeth and fossils are plentiful on Morris Island outside of Charleston, SC and Coastal Expeditions will make it the highlight of your trip! 

Thank you to Coastal Expeditions for inviting us to go on the Morris Island adventure with them. 

The South Carolina coastline is incredibly diverse with wildlife and ecosystems and because of ancient history (think Ice Age), there are some pretty amazing fossils to be found along the coastline. And you get the chance to do just that with the adventure out to Morris Island with Coastal Expeditions

Shark teeth on Morris Island
Shark teeth that we found

About Coastal Expeditions

If you’ve read some of our Charleston content or bucket list adventures, you’ve read about Coastal Expeditions. They took us out to Bulls Island where we got to experience an otherworldly place with lots of gators. It was amazing and we haven’t stopped recommending it ever since. 

Coastal Expeditions was started in 1992 to help people experience the beauty of the Lowcountry, not just see it. Their knowledge of the environment here is completely unmatched. Our naturalists on both trips blew me away with their extensive knowledge of the lands, people, history, and wildlife. More than that, their deep love of the area is evident and it’s because of that love that they want to share their knowledge in hopes that others will come to love and respect the amazing land that is the Lowcountry. 

Getting on the boat at Shem Creek
Boarding the boat

Coastal Expeditions has a wide range of offerings to help visitors explore Charleston’s wild side from kayak rentals in Shem Creek to the excursion to Bulls Island to guided kayak tours to fossil hunting on Morris Island. You can choose adventures that are more kid-friendly or more adventurous, depending on what you and your family would like to explore. They also offer summer camps and other kid-focused activities. This tour – and any of them -are perfect for homeschoolers.

Both excursions – Bulls Island and Morris Island were kid-friendly but Morris Island was a lot less walking! 

Heading Out to Morris Island 

Our big adventure to Morris Island began at the flagship of Coastal Expeditions at Shem Creek, which is a beautiful area full of restaurants and a park that borders the creek. It’s best known for its amazing sunsets and its local population of dolphins. 

There is parking at Coastal Expeditions but be sure to get there at least 15-20 minutes early if you need extra time to find parking during busier times and use the restroom as there is no bathroom on the boat or at Morris Island. 

Shem Creek
Shem Creek

The boat we had was nice and spacious and Captain Dolph did an excellent job getting us to and from the island. As we were leaving the dock and slowly making our way out of the creek and into the harbor, we got to see some dolphins. I love dolphins and always get super excited to see them.

We also learned a crazy cool fact: these dolphins that live in the estuaries and creeks along the South Carolina coast are actually smaller than Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins and genetically different, so much so that they have been declared a new species. True story. It happened during the summer of 2023 after a decade of research led by Ana Costa, Ph.D. Their name is Tamanend’s bottlenose dolphin

Our excellent naturalist, Jackie, told us that this is just incredible because dolphins are so well-studied and to have discovered a new species is essentially unheard of. Then she said some other names in Latin of wildlife that sounded really smart. Jackie was actually amazing, which I’ll get to in a bit when we explore Morris Island. 

One other thing that we learned when heading out to Morris Island was that The Coastal Expeditions Foundation was instrumental in renourishing Crab Bank, a seabird sanctuary for resting and nesting birds, that was washed away in 2017 by Hurricane Irma. Coastal Expeditions raised funds for this effort of conservation and you can only go to this island in wintertime when the birds aren’t nesting – and search for fossils!

Morris Island Lighthouse
Morris Island Lighthouse

I have come to really appreciate the mission of Coastal Expeditions because they practice what they preach. They are so enthralled and amazed by the beauty in the Lowcountry and use that love and knowledge to share with others in hopes of continuing to preserve it for future generations. 

On your way out to Morris Island, we passed right by Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. We also got incredible views of the Harbor and Ravenel Bridge. And we saw more dolphins – it was a great trip before we even got to the island. For you history buffs, you can read about the history of Morris Island on the Coastal Expeditions website.

Hunting for Fossils

Once we made it over to Morris Island, about a 30-minute boat ride from Shem Creek, we descended onto the sand and Jackie drew a map right on the sand of the island. She gave us her expert opinions of where to search for shark teeth and fossils. But the best part of her short presentation was when she showed us what she had found in the past on the island so we knew what to look for. 

She showed us a ton of cool stuff: shark teeth obviously but also vertebrae of sharks, fossilized clams, stingray teeth, and fossilized mammal bones. The tides and waves naturally erode the beach, dredging up fossils and teeth from thousands and thousands of years ago that are buried beneath the island. That’s how you can find some really neat things and why this place is so special. 

Looking for shark teeth on Morris Island
Where are you, shark teeth?

Once we got our instructions and tips from Jackie, we were off to find some treasures. You have three hours on the island, which may seem like a lot of time but it’s not a small island and you’ll want to walk slowly as you search for treasures. 

Within a few minutes, my kids had already found a couple of shark teeth, their very first ever. It took me um, a little longer. But I eventually found some and started looking more closely at anything that resembled a shiny triangle, which, it turns out, there are many of along this beach and they are not shark teeth. But I persevered!  

The island is very peaceful, clean, and beautiful. It is uninhabited and even if there are lots of other people, it won’t feel crowded. People just do their thing and look around or hang out on the beach and get some sun. 

We ran into Jackie a little over halfway through the time we had on the island and showed her some of our finds. We walked together for a little ways and she so kindly would draw circles in the sand where she saw shark teeth so my daughters could find more. Really, I should have looked in those circles because I was terrible at finding them but I thought it was really nice she did that to help them out. 

What We Found on Morris Island 

My kids found shark teeth a lot faster than I did. They had a good eye for them. But about 30 minutes into our walk along the shoreline, I hit the jackpot. I found a huge shark tooth and nearly jumped up and down at my find. It was just the coolest thing. Jackie, in all her knowledge, said it was from the predecessor to the Megalodon shark. That’s super old. 

Shark tooth and vertabrae
Shark tooth and vertebrae

Jackie has a cool book she carries around with her where you can match your shark tooth to a picture and it will tell you where it came from. She is a great naturalist though and was easily able to identify where most of our shark teeth came from, which mostly included bull sharks and reef sharks. My one daughter found a really old one that was older than the big one I found. 

One of the things I was really hoping to find was a vertebrae. I knew it looked like a really small version of a cut up tree trunk and to my great surprise, I found two. Jackie said they likely came from a shark. 

We also found a couple larger vertebrae and a fossilized clamshell plus some really gorgeous shells. I’m not sure exactly what we are supposed to do with all these shark teeth (I will tell you that we are heading to the Nature Exchange with some of them at the Roper Mountain Science Center!) but to have them is pretty neat and a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the Charleston area. 

One other neat thing about Morris Island is the lighthouse on the island. It’s very pretty but also too far to walk to and from in order to make it back to the boat. It’s no longer in operation but it was shown in the Netflix series, The Outer Banks. So if you’re a fan of show and love fossil hunting, you will love this tour. 

Comparing Finds on Morris Island

I really enjoyed the time we spent awaiting our boat to come back and get us since that’s when a bunch of us in our group got to compare finds and Jackie could help us identify things we didn’t know, which was pretty much everything. 

Some people in our group really brought in the haul and had lots of cool shark teeth, some of which were pretty big. One lady found a piece of post-colonial pottery, which she was legally able to keep. If it had been dated before that, she would have had to surrender it as it would have been considered an artifact. We were legit living our Indiana Jones dreams right here. 

Sea turtle on Morris Island
Remains of a sea turtle on the island

Jackie also had what she thought was a bone of a Leatherback Sea Turtle. She needed to consult her “bone guy” to get it properly identified though. Even so, it was neat. If the bone was from a Leatherback Sea Turtle, she guessed it came from the one that had washed up deceased on Morris Island a little over a month ago. She had shown it to us while we were walking along and it was enormous. It’s the largest kind of sea turtle in the world and was easily longer than myself. As sad as it was to see the turtle being delivered back to the Earth, from a scientific perspective, it was fascinating. 

Tips on Visiting Morris Island 

We learned a few things on our trip that may help you when you go: 

  • Wear shoes. Shells are sharp and you really don’t want to cut yourself or have your kid cut their foot. That will be most unpleasant. 
  • Bring water, sunscreen, and bug spray. We went in April and the temperatures were perfect but it was sunny and sunscreen and water were crucial. 
  • Bring a few snacks but don’t go crazy. I totally overpacked my bag and it was really heavy the whole trip. I had three water bottles, my camera, a lot of food, sunscreen, and bug spray. I really only needed the water and a couple snacks. If you have a small and comfortable hiking backpack, that would be a great option for this trip.
  • Keep the pups at home. Dogs are not allowed on public boat trips. For private boat trips, an exception may be made.
  • Bring a sunshirt or jacket. Weather on the coast can be very unpredictable. A light jacket or sun shirt would be useful to protect yourself from the sun on the island and if the boat ride gets a little chilly. 
  • Bring a plastic bag for your treasures. A gallon-sized ziplock bag is perfect for collecting and admiring your treasures. A fanny pack to attach it to would be excellent. 
  • You’ll be walking (very slowly) for most of the time if you want to search for fossils. We pretty much walked around 2.5 hours of the three hours on the island. I could have stayed there all day but just be prepared if you have smaller kids that may not want to do that kind of activity. You don’t need to go that far on the island to find treasures though – we just wanted to explore. You can certainly find a few spots to hang out at and look around. 
  • Towels are useful. Towels can be helpful if you get a little wet during the boat ride or just want to sit on the beach and relax. Towels can also be useful if you decide you want to swim in the ocean for a bit.
  • For those with accessibility needs, they are evaluated on a trip by trip basis. Coastal Expeditions suggests giving them a call to talk about mobility and what those needs are and see if they can be accommodated.

Booking Your Morris Island Trip 

The Morris Island excursion runs from March 16 – October 15 and in total is about four hours. You can book your tickets online.

Tickets are $65/adults and $40/kids. Gratuity is not included but very much appreciated if you really enjoyed your trip. The trip begins and ends at their Shem Creek flagship location. 

For other excursions and adventures run by Coastal Expeditions, check out the Coastal Expeditions website

If your family loves adventures, trying new things off the beaten path, and making amazing memories, this is the trip for you. My daughters and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and we learned so much in the process. This is the best kind of learning! And going with Coastal Expeditions – an established company with an impeccable reputation – you know you are going to have the best experience possible.

Coastal Expeditions
514 Mill Street, Mount Pleasant, SC
Coastal Expeditions Website | Facebook 

Travel Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

Looking to make a longer trip? Here’s our Charleston, SC Visitor Guide… things to do, where to eat, and where to stay.

What to Expect at Pirates Voyage in Myrtle Beach

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Ever heard of Pirates Voyage in Myrtle Beach? Recently, my family traveled to nearby Myrtle Beach in order to check it out for our Kidding Around community. We had a lot of adventures (you can read our full Myrtle Beach itinerary here) but one of the experiences that stands out for being truly amazing and beyond our expectations was the dinner & show, Pirates Voyage produced by the Dolly Parton Company. Here’s a review of our experience at Pirates Voyage plus some tips for your visit.

Thank you to the Myrtle Beach CVB and Pirates Voyage for inviting us to enjoy the show.

Pirate on stage spinning fire

Before the show

Don’t head in too quickly as you might spy a sea lion or parrot outside before the show.

The doors open at 50 minutes before the performance. The show is around 2 hours long so take that into consideration when you plan your arrival time. However, there is an entertaining pre-show in the Pirates Village with pirates singing and tricks to help pass the minutes before your meal begins. We were happy to see lots of seating in the waiting area and there was popcorn and drink available for purchase if you needed a snack.  Before the show, you can also pay to “Join the crew” which includes face painting, costume accessories, and flags. The face painting area was decorated very nicely with huge chairs for the kids to sit in and the face painting looked very elaborate. You should reserve your spot ahead of time if you want to add this to your package.

I was also pleased to find that the gift shop had a wide range of prices and types of items.  Our kids had brought some of their own spending money but it wasn’t much and both found a decent costume prop for $3 each in the gift store.

About the show

Be prepared to be entertained by pirates, tricks, animals, and even mermaids during the two-hour show. My family was impressed by the number of tricks and the many surprises. The show also included singing, dancing, and a fun story plot. Don’t worry if your kids are not into pirates, there are parrots, sea lions, mermaids, and lots of tricks and aerobatics. The show is fast-paced and kept my kids’ attention for the entire time.

You will also be assigned a pirate team to cheer for which adds a fun interactive element. It’s all lighthearted and while there is enough sword fighting and banter to keep the kids entertained, it’s not violent or scary.

At a couple of points in the show, members of the audience were given a chance to participate. I’m not sure how the members are chosen, but my kids were picked to chase ducks. They received a book from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and a medal for their participation.

It’s easy to see from any level of seating in the arena. We were seated in one of the higher sections and had no trouble seeing. In my opinion, it’s worth paying a couple extra dollars to be in the preferred section though in order to be in the middle of the room.

The food

Plates of food and a drink

Like most dinner & show venues, you will be served a set menu, though you can request a vegetarian meal or gluten free meal when you make your reservation. The beverages served are Coke, Diet Coke, tea, and water and you are served multiple refills during the meal. The food was hot and fresh and included chicken, shredded pork, corn on the cob, creamy vegetable soup, bread, basted potato, and an apple pie pastry. You can purchase additional beverages at the start of the show.

Last Tips

Be sure to bring a suitable cash tip as tips are not included in your ticket price. Our table had a small sign that suggested 15% for good service. The servers work very hard carrying large trays across the arena while in costume and they deserve a decent tip.

Have your kids use the restroom before the show as it’s a long show during which they will possibly be consuming a lot of beverages. We were really happy to find clean restrooms that were actually large enough to accommodate the crowds (in fact when we headed there after the show we didn’t even have to wait in line).

If you choose to skip the pre-show, be sure to still arrive early enough to allow time to go through the ticket lines and get your photo taken before the show.

You can purchase a bundled deal on the Pirates Voyage website when you purchase your tickets to save money on tickets to Ripley’s Aquarium or Wonderworks.

About Pirates Voyage

8907 N. Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
(843) 497-9700
Pirates Voyage website
Ticket prices: starting at $59.99/adults, $34.99/children

Have you ever been to Pirates Voyage? What did you think?

Be Charmed by the Miniature Paradise of Brookgreen Gardens: Myrtle Beach, SC

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While you’re visiting Myrtle Beach, SC, your itinerary must include Brookgreen Gardens! Myrtle Beach, being a busy coastal area, has a lot of natural places to explore, with Brookgreen Gardens being one of the area’s most beautiful places to visit. The 9 thousand acres of paradise tucked away in Murrells Inlet (about 45 minutes from Myrtle Beach) is a short drive from Myrtle Beach and is only a couple minutes from Huntington Beach State Park. Learn about some of our favorite things to do at this lovely garden, and why you should consider it during your next trip to the coast.

Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Thank you to the Visit Myrtle Beach and Brookgreen Gardens for inviting us to experience Brookgreen Gardens during our week stay at Myrtle Beach.

Travel Guide to Coastal SC: Myrtle Beach

Find out everything you need to know before your next family vacation in our Ultimate Travel Guide to Myrtle Beach, SC!

What’s there to do at Brookgreen Gardens: Myrtle Beach?

First, don’t allow the name to trick you into thinking that you will only experience a garden (though you will certainly stroll through plenty of beautiful gardens), this award-winning destination includes also a low country zoo, several children’s areas, a large sculpture collection, and more. Put on your walking shoes and sunscreen because you could easily spend the entire day exploring.

The Creek Excursion

The Creek Excursion at Brookgreen Gardens

We started our visit by heading to the Wall Lowcountry Center to purchase tickets for the Creek Excursion. This pontoon boat tour down the creek is not included in general admission but it’s priced very fairly. I’m so glad that we choose to go on the boat excursion because the tour guide shared a lot of interesting historical information about the rice plantations that were originally in the area and the various owners of the property.

We also saw several alligators and native birds. The pontoon boat is shaded too giving you a little break from the sun. Be sure you have your kids use the restroom before the boat ride as it is 45 minutes. Children old enough to enjoy the presentation or that don’t mind sitting quietly for longer periods of time will enjoy the ride best.

The Creek Excursions run from March through November each year.

Children’s Discovery Center

Children's Discovery Room at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

After we finished the boat ride, we headed back to the Wall Lowcountry Center where we discovered that the Children’s Discovery Center had opened for the day. This small room was stocked with fun activities for the kids including a dinosaur dig, a clay sculpture area, and an art station. It was also air-conditioned and had two rocking chairs. I imagine that in July, this is the most popular spot in the gardens for kids needing to cool off for a couple minutes.

Walk to the Lowcountry Zoo

You can either ride the trolley up to the Lowcountry Zoo or walk, but if it’s spring you should definitely choose to walk because you won’t want to miss the path framed by Azalea bushes and the many look out stations and trees that you will pass on the pathways.

There are complimentary strollers parked at the Wall Lowcountry Center if you have a little kid that tires quickly from walking. The strollers are quite large and our seven year old managed to cram herself in one.

Storybook Forest

Storybrook Forest at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Right before you reach the zoo, you will find the Storybook Forest which is a collection of play houses and structures painted and themed around fairy tale characters. There isn’t a lot of shade (despite it being a “forest”) but the kids didn’t seem to mind at all.

Lowcountry Zoo

Alligator exiting the water at the Brookgreen Gardens Zoo

The Lowcountry Zoo is not large but it’s perhaps one of the most relaxing zoos I’ve ever been in. The pathways were shaded and beautifully landscaped with plenty of shade and the animal exhibits mostly blended in very well with the native surroundings.

Inside the zoo, we walked close to herons, watched otters play, and saw an alligator. All of the animals in the zoo are native to the area and the raptor area is all rehabilitated birds that can not live in the wild. The zoo does offer free tours and activities depending on what time and day you visit. We also saw a butterfly house but it was not open during our visit.


Statue of a man wrestling an alligator.

Of course, you cannot visit Brookgreen Gardens without seeing the famous gardens. They are quite large and varied. The azaleas were in bloom when we visited in early April and were absolutely beautiful. In the gardens, you will find not just flowers and fountains but also a large collection of around 2,000 pieces of art, mostly sculptures.

Tips for Visiting Brookgreen Gardens

We learned a couple things during our visit that I’m sure you will want to know:

  • The gardens are considered a National Historic Landmark, and has won countless awards because of the delightful combination of art, history, and nature.
  • There are plenty of bathrooms, but if you go on the Creek excursion like we did, make sure your kid goes to the bathroom FIRST. It’s 45 minutes which is plenty of time for a kid to go from “I need to go to the bathroom” to “it’s an emergency”.
  • Your ticket includes the entire gardens and zoo for 7 consecutive days. It’s quite a large area and there are several guided tours. Plan on eating while you are there. There are several restaurants onsite and there are lots of great spots to eat a picnic.
  • There are complimentary strollers (including “adult strollers”) which is really nice because there is a lot of walking.
  • Almost everything is outside so be sure to put on your sunscreen and bring a bottle of water.
  • Many of the sculptures have a fig leaf or less of clothing. Be prepared for your child to point this out loudly at the most inappropriate moments.

About Brookgreen Gardens

1931 Brookgreen Drive
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
Hours: 9:30-5 every day (with extended hours during select periods of the year)
Admission: Tickets are $22 for adults and children 4 – 12 years old are $12. Children under 4 are free, and seniors get a $5 discount.

Have you ever been to Brookgreen Gardens? What did you think?

What to Expect at Medieval Times: Myrtle Beach, SC

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If you have ever wanted a chance to let your kids be a medieval lord or lady for a night, you should consider reserving tickets for the dinner/show Medieval Times. Myrtle Beach is full of unique places to visit, and Medieval Times is one of the most creative and interesting experiences you’ll find. Here’s what to expect and also some key tips from our visit to help you have a fantastic experience.

Information about Medieval Times in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Plan out your next epic vacation with our Guide to Myrtle Beach, SC, loaded with things to do, places to stay, places to eat, and more!

Thank you to Visit Myrtle Beach and Medieval Times for making it possible to write this review.

Entranceway to Medieval Times in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Preshow and Souvenirs at Medieval Times Myrtle Beach

The doors open 75 minutes before the show and seating is first come, first serve. We arrived about an hour before the show started and while it did result in some of the best seats in the house, our children had trouble waiting until the show began. If you are craving those front-row seats, early arrival is key, but we recommend waiting if you have younger kids.

Upon arriving you will be given your seat ticket, officially crowned with a paper crown, and posed for a photo. My kids were especially impressed when they saw that we were entering a castle, complete with a drawbridge.

Be sure to have your children use the restroom right before the show as you won’t want to have to take them in and out during the action.

The Preshow

Before the show begins you can watch a pre-show where you can pay to be “knighted”, several gift shops, a bar, and a torture museum (additional fee). The show is around two hours, so if your kids are younger you may want to arrive closer to 20-30 minutes early if you don’t care about your seats.

Gift Shop

The gift shop has a number of interesting souvenirs such as light-up swords, costumes, and rather real looking weapons.  You may want to consider budgeting for flags as your children can wave them during the show. The gift shop sells some really nice flags but we were also offered $3-5 pennants and flags once we were seated in the arena.

The main arena at Medieval Times in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Food at Medieval Times Myrtle Beach

Remember that the show is a big part of the evening, but my family did really enjoy the meal too. You will be served a four-course meal, which ours included tomato bisque soup, roasted chicken, garlic bread, corn on the cob, herb basted potatoes, a dessert (it was pound cake our night), and Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, or water. Coffee is also on the menu, but it wasn’t offered to us the night we attended. You can substitute a vegetarian meal that includes items such as warm pita bread and humus, carrots and celery, three bean soup, and fruit which is a nice option.

The meal is served to you throughout the show so there is no customization available (other than the option to choose vegetarian), you will have no silverware (since you are in the Dark Ages), and there is just two rounds of drinks served. You can order additional drinks including non-alcoholic and kid-friendly drinks from the bartender who will visit your table before the show. They also have a full-service bar for adults who want a drink or two.

What Is The Show Like at Medieval Times?

Medieval Times at Myrtle Beach knights on horseback.

The show is approximately 2 hours and includes horses, a falcon demonstration, a knight tournament, and then a battle between the knights to determine the victor. The different parts of the story are tied together through dialogue of the king, his daughter, and the herald who frequently address the audience. Our family had trouble understanding what was being said but we were still able to follow the general flow of the story.

Each family is seated in the arena and assigned a knight and team to cheer for. The show is very personable with the knights making eye contact directly to the people in their sections (or even sneering at the opposing sections). The knights are also awarded flowers from the princess throughout the night which they throw out to the children in their section.

My children seemed particularly captivated by the closeness and realism of the arena. In fact, my daughter kept blowing kisses to our knight after receiving a flower. All the seats are really quite good in the arena. But, you are a little closer to the knights and action if you have a front or second-row seat.

My kids favorite part was definitely the sword fighting at the end of the show. It was full of big clangs, sparks, and all sorts of weapons. There is no blood, but be prepared for your knight to die as only one will survive.  I did read reviews online where some families felt like the fighting was inappropriate for small children, but I personally did not think that it was scary or particularly violent beyond being a sword fight.

Tips for Medieval Times

Gratuity is not included in your ticket price. Be sure to bring cash so that you can tip your server rather than tipping with your credit card. Even though the meal seems simpler than what you would experience at a regular restaurant, your server is having to carry massive trays (possibly a long distance) and be in character and costume during the entire evening. After some online research, we settled on $5/person which seems to be a common tip amount for the show.

Medieval Times is a show with horses and animals. So, don’t be surprised if you occasionally smell horses or see things that you would rather not during dinner. At least though your average kid thinks that horse poop during dinner is pretty funny. The arena is continually cleaned throughout the show.

If your kid needs to use the restroom at the end of the show (and it’s an “emergency”, of course), you might want to duck out right before the show officially ends. Lines for the restrooms can get quite long after the show.

You may be able to find deals on the Medieval Times website depending on when you are attending.

General Information

We attended the Medieval Times show in Myrtle Beach and had a great time. You can also find a show close to the Upstate in Atlanta, Georgia.

Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament
2904 Fantasy Way, Myrtle Beach, SC

Have you ever been to Medieval Times in Myrtle Beach? What did you think?

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