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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Family Vacation Time? These Vacation Rentals With Private Indoor Pools are Awesome!

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Looking for vacation rentals with private indoor pools? We dug in and researched for you because amazing vacation homes with private indoor pools are surprisingly difficult to find and we know they make for wonderful family vacations. These mountain cabins and vacation house rentals are particularly perfect because they all include a private indoor pool.

Vacation rentals with indoor pools, private!

Your family can enjoy mountain towns and things to do, plus cozy fires, games, and swimming in your own private pool. We think these modest and luxury vacation rentals with private indoor pools make a pretty perfect trip, whether you’re looking for a little vacation away from the crowds, or just some quiet family time together.

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Lots of Winter Family Fun at Black Bear Snow Tubing in Hendersonville, NC

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Are you thinking about snow tubing at Black Bear Snow Tubing in Hendersonville, NC? Western North Carolina has great snow tubing and Black Bear Snow Tubing is a stellar option for families! They have a huge mountain to get your winter in high gear with a fun snow tubing trip for the whole family! We took a trip up to try out that snow-tubing mountain and it was so much fun! Now we have all the details to share so you can plan your trip!

Media tickets were provided for this review and the opinions are solely those of the author.

Snow tubing at Black Bear in Hendersonville, NC

While there aren’t any places to snow tube in the Upstate, SC, there are definitely options nearby and one of them is Black Bear Snow Tubing in nearby Hendersonville, NC, just over an hour from Greenville, SC. The snow tubing family-owned operation has been in business for over seven years and they really have a good thing going there, which I’m going to tell you all about in this story.

Scenes From the Slope

Take a sneak peek at this video at Black Bear Snow Tubing.

Snow Tubing at Black Bear

The slope at Black Bear Snow Tubing is 600 feet long with an 80-foot drop and it’s pretty fast. They make their own snow (unless they get a big snowstorm, which doesn’t happen too often) and the hill is well-maintained by their attentive staff.

How it works is that when you get to Black Bear, you go to a little shed to watch a short safety video, where you learn how to get out of your tube on the run and not to start snowball fights, sign a waiver, and head inside the cozy lodge to pay. Then you get your tubes and head to the hill.

They have a pulley system to get you to the top of the hill, which works by slipping the handle of your tube on a cable that takes you, while sitting inside your tube, right up the hill to the top. Once at the top, you’ll wait for a few minutes before being situated into your group by the staff and then sliding down the hill.

On the snow tube pully at Black Bear in Hendersonville, NC
Black Bear Snow Tubing Pulley System

Why Black Bear is Different

I’ve snow tubed at many places in our area and I think Black Bear Snow Tubing is pretty fantastic. Here’s why:

  • You can (and should) make a reservation ahead of time, which is crucial for us in Greenville who need to travel out of state to go snow tubing. It’s quite a bummer to get to our snow tubing place and either find out that they are sold out or having to wait hours for an open slot.
  • The staff is attentive and efficient. They were always around watching the hill to make sure things were running smoothly and safely. When there was a slight backup at the top of the hill, they figured out how to manage to get us all down the hill and back up to keep snow tubing without interruption.
  • The lodge is super cozy and warm and has reasonable concessions. I got a $2 hot chocolate and it was amazing. Plus, they have food, including apple cider donuts, that is affordable and you can get warm by the wood-burning stove inside or watch on the deck if you don’t want to go tubing.
  • The setup takes into account smaller kids. There is playground next to the place where you wait in line to go up the hill so smaller kids can get out their energy and there is a big fire pit also near the waiting area where you can warm up.
  • If you forgot a hat or gloves, they have them for sale inside the lodge. I feel like us parents can relate when our kid gets out of the car to go snow tubing and forgot his or her winter hat.
  • The check-in is fast. This is important because you want to get on the hill and start having fun as soon as possible!
  • Black Bear has excellent communication. They post daily on their Facebook page about current snow conditions, which is super helpful when you’re unsure about the weather.
  • The snow is real. They don’t have any synthetic chemicals in the snow – it’s the real deal.

My kids, ages 11 and 8, and I had such a blast snow tubing at Black Bear Snow Tubing. We went down the hill about 10 times (maybe more, I lost count honestly) and had so much fun together. I really love places where adults can carelessly be kids again. My kids are already asking to go back. The hill was super fast and seeing my kids faces light up with joy was special. I love those moments.

Tips on How to Enjoy Snow Tubing at Black Bear

Winter being winter, it’s usually cold when you go snow tubing. I’ve found that bringing hand and foot warmers is a really good trick to keeping everyone warm and comfortable. You can get them at Wal-Mart, Amazon, or most drug stores and they stay warm for hours.

Sliding down in a tube at Black Bear Tubing

It’s also really important to make a reservation when you know you want to go snow tubing. This is especially true during school breaks and holidays. Snow tubing is an awesome family activity on a day off but a lot of people also have the same thought. Don’t forget to make a reservation.

You don’t need to wear snow bibs or snow pants. I had on fleece leggings, hiking boots, and a couple layers of tops with a heavy coat (it was really cold when we went!) and I was fine. I saw people wearing all kinds of clothes that worked for them like pants, leggings, jeans, and sweatpants. The snow wasn’t wet at all when we went but if you go on a warmer day, you may want to bring a change of pants in case they get wet.

There are port-a-potties outside the lodge to use and no bathrooms indoors.

Double-check Black Bear’s Facebook page before heading out. Snow tubing is very dependent on weather, which changes often in the mountains. They will post current conditions and if they are open or closed most days.

Ticket Prices and Policies at Black Bear Snow Tubing

Tickets are $30/hour or $40/two hours for snow tubing. Kids must be 4 years old in order to go snow tubing. You can either sign a waiver when you get to Black Bear Snow Tubing or print one out online ahead of time. Either is fine.

While Black Bear Snow Tubing does take walk-ups, it is much better to make a reservation ahead of time instead of getting there and finding out they are full. Online reservations are fantastic for this very reason so definitely make use of them.

And be sure to check Black Bear Snow Tubing’s Facebook page before heading out to double check they are open and running. Winter tubing runs mid-December through February usually depending on the weather, of course.

And if you want to tube during other times of the year, you totally can! They have warm-weather tubing in the fall.

Black Bear Snow Tubing
373 Kerr Road, Hendersonville, NC
828.685.1155

Want to spend the day in Hendersonville? We’ve got lots of ideas on what to do in this fun town!

Things to Do in Hendersonville, North Carolina

Hendersonville is full of family fun.
Check it out!

Kidding Around Guide to Hendersonville

Winterfest is a Must-Do for Families: Pigeon Forge, TN

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Thinking about planning a getaway this winter? Pigeon Forge, Tennessee offers Winterfest celebrating the Christmas season and wintertime. You’ll find winter-themed shows, holiday lights, amusement rides and so much more! KAG Contributor Kristina Hernandez traveled to Pigeon Forge with her daughters during Winterfest. In this review, she’s sharing the many activities they enjoyed and also many more that are available for Pigeon Forge visitors during Winterfest. 

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Charming Hallmark Mountain Town Sparkles During the Holidays 

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For a unique and completely charming holiday experience, Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries in Western NC is the place to go for the whole family. It’s just two hours from Upstate, SC and three hours from Charlotte, NC. Go make some magical Christmas memories in Dillsboro, NC.

Thank you to Discover Jackson NC, Jackson County for inviting us to experience Lights & Luminaries. 

Taking time to slow down during the weeks leading up to Christmas can seem like an impossible task but when you make the decision to do so and really experience the joy of the magical season, that’s when those special memories happen. And those memories await you and your family in the small, mountain town of Dillsboro, North Carolina, a beautiful two-hour drive from the Upstate in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

Lights & Luminaries in Dillsboro

Lights & Luminaries in Dillsboro is the Hallmark experience you’ve been searching for. The quaint town twinkling by the light of sparkling radiance. The candles lit along the streets. The shops that carry all kinds of locally made goods that you can only find there. The kindest people you’ll ever meet who are happy to see you. 

Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries encompasses all of that and more. The festival started in 1983 as a way to celebrate the holidays and has been going strong for 40 years. 

There is a calming, magical ambiance at this festival. There are white lights Christmas lights everywhere, plus 2,500 candles in white paper bags along every street. It’s like you stepped out of your life and into a time from many years ago. 

There are carolers and horse and buggy rides. Santa & Mrs. Claus are available for timeless Dillsboro, NC Christmas photos. Nearly every shop sells only handmade goods from local artists or vintage items like cast iron cooking pans, antique furniture, and iron-wrought bed frames. There are shops that look like the North Pole exploded inside. Cookies, hot apple cider, and candy were in many of the shops and along the streets. I finally had to put a stop to my kids eating their monthly allotment of cookies all in one night. 

And for myself, I was elated to find a grown-up nativity set while browsing at one of the Christmas-themed shops. Everyone was so kind and helpful and wishing us “Merry Christmas”. 

It all felt authentic and genuine and just lovely. 

Where to Eat During Lights & Luminaries

There are a handful of restaurants in the small town that have everything from BBQ to pub grub to Greek and Italian cuisine. We chose the Quirky Birds Treehouse & Bistro because it looked really cute. We walked in to a very cozy dining room and friendly employees. We had nachos, vegetarian chili, pizza, and grilled cheese. It was great! The nachos were my favorite as they had guacamole, cheese, chili, and sour cream. I thought the prices were reasonable, around $7-$12/person. 

Dillsboro is small but mighty when it comes to food. Haywood Smokehouse is one of the Top 25 BBQ Restaurants in the country. We weren’t able to try it but it looks amazing. Next time!

Be sure to stop by the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory where you’ll be greeted by an array of handmade chocolates, fudge, and coffee. 

Where to Enjoy the Outdoors in Dillsboro

Dillsboro is close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, home to nearly 900 miles in hiking trails. It’s also only a 20 minute drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can get to places like Waterrock Knob, the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States. 

High Falls Lake Glenville

Cashiers, the Land of the Waterfalls, and a big favorite of us at Kidding Around, is about 40 minutes from Dillsboro. There are no shortage of gorgeous hikes and waterfalls to explore there.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

When we were pulling into our hotel, the Best Western Plus River, we saw the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad train and it was so cool! It was chugging along right in front of us, smoke billowing out from the top. It turns out the railroad is only 20 minutes away in Bryson City. 

If your family goes on the Polar Express ride during November and December, Dillsboro is the perfect spot to enjoy time together, especially if you make the trip during the Lights & Luminaries festival.

Where to Stay in Dillsboro 

Discover Jackson NC put us up in the Best Western Plus River Escape right on Tuckasegee River. Our room overlooked the river and it was so calming and peaceful. 

The hotel is beautiful and you could walk to the town of Dillsboro if you wanted to. They have a heated indoor pool and hot tub, which we made good use of after eating all those cookies at the festival. 

They also have a free, hot breakfast in the morning, which is pretty much equal to Christmas for my kids. They have eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, yogurt, oatmeal, a coffee maker that will make pretty much anything you want, juices, pastries, and our favorite: a pancake maker that looks like it came from The Jetsons. Rooms are spacious and clean and the lobby has a beautiful fireplace and cozy chairs.

Planning Your Own Trip to Dillsboro

Lights & Luminaries takes place the first two weekends of December every year, each Friday and Saturday from 5-8 pm. The last two dates for 2023 are December 8th and 9th. There’s still time to plan a last-minute getaway!

For next year, we will update this story with those dates and anything new that the festival has going on. There is no cost to attend Lights & Luminaries either, which makes it a wonderful, low-cost Christmastime adventure with your family. 

I think the biggest thing I loved about Lights & Luminaries was that it was the perfect opportunity to slow down, to enjoy the magical season, and to spend that quality time with my kids that I strive and long for. As I’m sure many parents can relate, the time we have with them goes quickly. I want to make the most of that time and this was a weekend well-spent.

Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries 
December 1, 2, 8, and 9, 2023 from 5-8 pm each night 
Dillsboro, NC

Christmas Wonderland Huge Light Display and Winterfest Village at the Tryon International Equestrian Center near Greenville, SC

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Ever heard of the Tryon Christmas Lights? Millions of lights are on display through more than 2 miles of entertaining Christmas lights in the Christmas Wonderland Light Show at the Tryon International Equestrian Center only an hour from Greenville, SC. We sent Kristina and her family to try out this holiday day trip and give readers the scoop on everything they need to know. Media tickets were given so Kidding Around could review the Christmas Wonderland and Winterfest Village.

In one of our area’s best drive through Christmas light displays, the Christmas Wonderland Light Show has set up millions of lights synchronized to an orchestra of holiday music in Tryon, North Carolina at the beautiful Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), just an hour from Greenville, SC. And Winterfest Village is a great add-on to the drive through light show with ice skating, s’mores, live music and entertainment, and lots more.

2023 Dates for the Christmas Wonderland Light Show: November 17th, 2023 through January 1st, 2024. Winterfest happens Fridays-Sundays December 1-17 and 19-23, 2023.

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This Gatlinburg, TN Resort Has a Huge Indoor Water Park

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Families and couples will love the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg with it’s excellent restaurant, indoor waterpark, spa, and proximity to the Smokies.

Kristina was invited to take her kids for a few days to explore all the resort has to offer. Thank you to the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort for hosting us and for exceptional hospitality.

Lobby at Westate of the Smokies

Our Review of Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort

The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg is part of the Westgate Resort family, which has properties in Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, and several other popular locations in addition to this Gatlinburg indoor waterpark hotel.

They are top-notch resorts that have plenty of entertainment for both families and couples who want to relax and have fun. They also take great pride in providing excellent dining, spa amenities, and family-friendly activities and events to guests. 

You Don’t Have to Leave the Resort to Have Fun

We were thrilled to stay at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg, just outside of the main drag and less than ten minutes from both Pigeon Forge and the perfect backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But really, if you wanted to just drive there, park your car, and enjoy the resort amenities without ever getting back in your car until it was time to go home, you could absolutely do that.

The resort has enough things to do to keep your entire family entertained easily for a weekend or more without ever leaving the property. 

Amazing Views

The Westgate Smokies is enormous and if you don’t have a room on the base level where the indoor waterpark and restaurant is located, you’ll be up the mountain with amazing views of downtown Gatlinburg and the majestic Smokies right outside your doorstep.

And the views are just breathtaking. The resort looks over to Anakeesta, the mountaintop village that we’ve often written about and just love, which is framed by Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, and Mt. LeConte, which is nearly as high.

We could even see the snow-covered peak of Clingmans Dome! The clouds roll in and out of the mountains, creating those postcard-perfect photos that you can’t even believe exist in real life. 

Shuttles & a Trolley are Available

Because the resort is so large, they have constant shuttles running to get you where you want to go and will even pick you up if you start walking back and forth to your room. The staff is very friendly and eager to please. 

If you feel the need to leave the resort, you can jump on the Gatlinburg trolley, which has a stop right at the resort entrance. That will take you into town for a minimal fee. 

How much does it cost to book a room?

The Westgate Smokies offers studio rooms up to five bedroom villas. Prices vary according to room type and season. As of this writing, a studio in January ran about $105/night and a one-bedroom was $130/night. In April, those same rooms are currently going for $185 and $200, respectively.  July and October are typically the busiest and more costly seasons. 

If you’re looking to visit, be sure to go to the Gatlinburg hotel deals, as they actually have more than one resort in the area.

Wild Bear Falls Water Park

For families, the main draw of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort is the indoor waterpark, Wild Bear Falls Water Park. I kept this part a secret from my kids when we went, only telling them to bring their swimsuits. It was worth it to see their utter amazement when we walked in. They were speechless, which, for kids, is quite incredible. 

The waterpark is huge, more than 60,000 square feet, and is nice and warm. It looks like a giant greenhouse with a big glass ceiling and glass walls. Parents or caregivers need to be in the water with their kids so be prepared to join in on the fun. 

Zero-Entry Pool and Playground

There is a zero-entry pool area with two slides that is perfect for smaller children. There is a big playground in the middle of the waterpark that pours gallons and gallons of water on kids as they slip down wet slides and play in the foot-deep pool. 

Westgate Waterpark

Pool with Basketball Hoops Right Next to a Hot Tub

A bigger pool for older kids has basketball hoops in the center and is the deepest at four-and-a-half feet. Next to that pool is a deliciously steamy hot tub. Adults seemed to gravitate over there. 

Lazy River

My kids loved the lazy river, which was only two-and-a-half feet deep and warm. You cruised around the park in a tube and could get out to go on one of two water slides.

Westgate Lazy River

Water Slides

Guests need to be 48 inches tall to ride the water slides. Tubes are needed for the red water slide, which is half open to the ceiling until the very end when you go through a short tunnel.

Westgate Waterslides

The yellow one is body-only and is totally enclosed. I preferred the red one best and my oldest went on it several times by herself. 

Westgate Smokies

There’s also a very warm hot tub near the water slides that opens to the outdoors, which feels really nice in the cool air. 

Locker Rooms

Locker rooms are on-site with showers and there are plenty of towels available for guests to use free of charge. Paid lockers are available if you want to store your backpack with your phone or other valuables. 

How Crowded was Wild Bear Falls Waterpark?

We went to the waterpark both on a weekday and weekend. It was more crowded on the weekend than on the weekday but still had plenty of space to not feel like people were close to you.

How much does it cost?

The waterpark is open daily but check the schedule ahead of time. Rates are $29.95/single day admission,  $53.85/two-day admission, and $84.75/three day admission. Children three and under are free.

Are day passes available?

Even if you’re not staying at the resort, you can go and enjoy the waterpark as they offer day passes.

What is there to do at the Westgate Smokies Resort?

We (myself and two kids, ages 9 and 6) stayed at the Westgate Smokies for three nights and nearly four days and didn’t get to do half of the things the resort offers just because we ran out of time. They have that many things to do. 

Outdoor Pools with Views

There are two outdoor pools, including an infinity pool at the top of the mountain. I saw that on the map and decided to check it out and am so happy we did because it was amazing. The view up there was insane and the infinity pool was perfect and warm. There’s a hot tub there as well.

Towels are provided and during the warmer months, they have a bar. It’s completely picturesque. 

Right below the infinity pool is an inviting firepit that overlooks the mountains. It was quite the place to get warm after our dip in the water and I could have looked at those mountains forever. 

View of Gatlinburg from the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort

Playground, Mini-Golf and a Zip-Line

A playground for kids is halfway up the mountain and right near one of the shuttle stops so you can stop there and play or just play while you wait for your ride. There is a mini-golf course and a zip line next to the infinity pool. Guests need to weigh at least 75 pounds for the zip line, which my youngest didn’t quite reach so we had to skip that one. Next time!

Fitness Center, Snack Bar, and Activities

A fitness center overlooks the waterpark and a snack bar also is at the same location as the waterpark. The resort also has a huge list of activities for families and their kids like archery, ornament making, survival courses, guided hikes, ghost tours, and free movie nights. Again, we just ran out of time to do any of these because we were so busy having fun doing other things there. 

Spa

If I had my husband with us on this trip, I would have taken advantage of a spa treatment because how amazing does that sound, right? They have everything from massages to luxury pedicures to hot stone treatments. 

Washer and Dryer

Every floor also has a free washer and dryer, which we definitely used. It was especially convenient to dry our swimsuits after going to the waterpark and pool. 

Kitchens and Kitchenettes

The rooms at the resort are spacious and some of them have kitchens or kitchenettes. Whenever we travel, I always look for this feature because it saves us so much money when it comes to not having to eat out at every meal if we can make some of our food at the hotel.

Yet you may not want to cook when you try the restaurant on-site, Southern Comfort. 

Southern Comfort Restaurant

Southern Comfort opened a few years ago at the Westgate Smokies that serves southern cuisine with a Lowcountry, Cajun twist. We sampled several dishes at the restaurant and each was better than the last. 

The chef at Southern Comfort used to work at the Biltmore and her food was incredible. It was flavorful with just the right amount of spice that even my kids, who aren’t into anything with spicy flavors, enjoyed it.

One of their favorite dishes was the Nashville hot chicken and biscuit that we had for breakfast one morning. I was shocked. It was like their little palettes were changing right before my eyes. 

Southern Comfort

This is how I can best describe every dish we had: it was so obviously made with love. You could taste it. I don’t mean that mushy romantic love. This was a love of food, of ingredients, and a kind of pride in the dish that the chef was serving to guests. 

We had everything from Egg Nog French Toast (as good as it sounds), Blackened Catfish, Pulled Pork with Sweet Potato Cakes, Southern Fried Chicken, Deviled Eggs with Spicy Pickle, Fried Green Tomatoes, Mac & Cheese, and my favorite, a Cajun Gumbo.

Kids’ Meals

The kids’ meals are also tasty. My oldest daughter got a cheeseburger and fries one night and I kept stealing her curly fries when she wasn’t looking. They were perfectly crispy and salty and hot.

Dessert

On our first night there, the general manager Crystal, told us about their s’mores dessert that has marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, and peanut butter cups. I had to get that the last night we were there and it didn’t disappoint. We managed not to burn the place down, which was a success. 

Helpful Staff

The entire staff was so kind and helpful. They not only talked to us about the recent opening of the restaurant but also gave us some tips on places to explore in the area. 

Cozy Decor

And the decor of the restaurant keeps with the whole cozy cabin theme of the resort with high ceilings, a log cabin feeling indoors with a large fireplace, and candlelit tables. 

Make a Reservation

Southern Comfort is open to both guests and the general public but definitely make a reservation if you want to enjoy a meal there. Weekends can have a long wait. Word is getting out just how delicious this place is.

There is parking on site. 

Marketplace & Starbucks

Lastly, there is a marketplace and Starbucks at the resort, which is so convenient if you want to grab breakfast and coffee on the go if you’re heading to the National Park for a drive or hike. I definitely made use of those when we were there. 

Other Local Attractions in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge

Kidding Around readers know how much we love Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smokies as we have many stories on things to do in the area. Additionally, the Westgate Smokies has these 51 things to do in Gatlinburg, most of which are within a quick jaunt from the resort. Yet every time we go, we always discover something new. 

Anakeesta

Even after going to Anakeesta several times, we’ve never been during Christmastime, which was a special treat. Lights are strung so beautifully up on the mountain village and the new restaurant is now open (make reservations as the waits are long). We finally got to watch one of their outdoor movies for a bit, which my kids really enjoyed. Elf was playing and they had never seen it before and thought it was hilarious. 

Anakeesta

Ole Smoky Moonshine

I got to do a special moonshine tasting as well this trip at the state’s oldest distillery, Ole Smoky Moonshine, right in the heart of Gatlinburg. I’m not a big straight liquor drinker but it was a lot of fun learning about the history of the distillery and tasting their surprisingly delicious offerings. The White Lightening, the straight up moonshine, was quite the kicker.

The others were a lot less of a punch in your face and I loved the peanut butter chocolate one, which hardly tasted like liquor at all (could be dangerous, right?). 

The distillery is America’s most visited and you can sample several moonshines for $5. The samples are thankfully tiny since the alcohol content is so high.

Their moonshine making process is open to the public and you can see how it’s made so if you happen to be homeschooling your kids, that’s a science lesson right there.

Ole Smokey Moonshine

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

And of course, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is just minutes from the resort. I love this park for its beauty, its miles upon miles of trails, and its fascinating history. The Westgate sent us on a short hike to the Noah Oglesby cabin with a guide and it was so interesting. Be sure to get your parking pass ($5/day, $15/week, $40/year) from the National Park.

Cabin

The trailhead was just 15 minutes from the resort and we learned all kinds of history about the family with nine kids who lived there and farmed the area.

My kids soaked up all the information and loved learning about the environment and different things to look for on hikes like twin trees, quartz, and woodpecker restaurants, which looked like lines of holes circling trees.

Virtual Learning & Homeschooling at Westgate Smokies

For families who are homeschooling or doing virtual school, taking a trip to Westgate Smokies is ideal because there are plenty of opportunities to learn about different subjects while getting homework done online at the resort and then playing at the waterpark or enjoying other amenities offered. 

It’s a nice change of scenery that could help give everyone a break while still making sure the work that needs to get done happens. 

The resort often offers specials and discounts, which can be found here

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park
915 Westgate Resorts Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
865.430.4800
Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort Website
Westgate Smoke Mountain Facebook

2 Million Twinkling Lights Are Waiting For You at The Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston, SC

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Thinking about some holiday fun in Charleston, SC at the Holiday Festival of Lights? The low country is full of holiday fun, including this awesome holiday light display! Here’s everything you need to know about the Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston, SC.

For more info on our adventures in Charleston, check out the Kidding Around Travel Guide to Charleston, SC: Things to Do, Where to Stay and Places to Eat

This review is from a previous year’s event and has been updated with 2023 dates and fees.

Charleston Holiday Fun
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10 Cozy Winter Vacation Rentals: Curl Up with a Book & Hot Chocolate

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If you are planning a cozy getaway with your family, then one of these winter cabin rentals just makes sense. Soft snow, bubbling hot tubs, and cozy fires are just some of the things you might find at these beautiful vacation rentals in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. So make your reservations and plan your winter-time escape now.

Winter cabin rentals near Greenville, South Carolina

As a Stay22 Affiliate Kidding Around earns when you book through these links.


Winter Cabin Rentals: Mountain Vacation in North Carolina

The mountains are calling out for a visit. While we can’t guarantee there will be snow, these rentals have amenities that promise a good time whether you get a winter wonderland or not. Grab the hot cocoa, grab the kids, and head to the mountains with the hopes of getting snowed in!

Hendersonville, NC

Want to stay in a “Treehouse” this winter? You can! This cozy house in the trees is just a short drive to Moonshine Mountain and has snow-tubing fun. Plus you’ll also be close to both downtown Hendersonville and Brevard for fabulous food, shopping, or taking a stroll. If you don’t feel like heading out you can stay in, enjoy the view, and warm up beside the wood-burning stove.

Treehouse Vrbo Hendersonville, NC
“Treehouse” VRBO near Hendersonville, NC and Moonshine Mountain, Photo Credit: VRBO

“Treehouse”

  • 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
  • Sleeps 4
  • Treetop views from every room
  • 5 miles to Moonshine Mountain
  • Near Hendersonville and Brevard
  • Wood-burning stove with wood provided

Book Treehouse on VRBO

Highlands, NC 

We love the wrap-around deck at Cedar Log Cabin. From there you can take in the view of the woods surrounding the cabin or relax in the hot tub. Inside the cozy cabin has two fireplaces and lots of common area space where you can gather with the family for games or a meal. If you feel like heading into town, the downtown area of Highlands, NC is just 10 minutes away.

Highlands, NC VRBO rental
Cedar Log Cabin, Photo Credit: VRBO

Cedar Log Cabin

  • 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
  • 10 Minutes from Main Steet, Highlands, NC
  • 2 fireplaces
  • hot tub
  • wrap around deck

Book Cedar Log Cabin on VRBO.

Hendersonville, NC 

Secluded on 2.5 acres, this Hendersonville cabin has everything you’ll need to enjoy a winter wonderland while not traveling too far from home. A wood-burning fireplace and hot tub will keep your family toasty and entertained. 

Stonewood Cabin. Photo Credit: AirBnb
Photo Credit: Airbnb

Stonewood Cabin

  • 2 beds, 1.5 baths
  • Wood burning stove
  • Wrap-around porch
  • Mountain stream on the property
  • 10 minutes from Downtown Hendersonville

Book Stonewood Cabin on VRBO.

Maggie Valley, NC 

This log cabin near Maggie Valley, NC has simply stunning views of the mountains. Families will love the outdoor fire pit, hot tub, and indoor fireplace.

Maggie Valley vacation rental on VRBO
Stunning views, Maggie Valley, NC, Photo Credit: VRBO

Stunning Views

  • 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
  • Hot tub
  • Fire pit
  • Fireplace indoors
  • Hiking near property

Book Stunning Views on VRBO.

Sylva, NC 

Summit’s End has everything you need for the perfect family winter getaway. Located at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, you will enjoy the picturesque views along with nearby hiking, a hot tub, and a fire pit. Did we mention it’s also pet-friendly?

Silva, NC winter cabin rentals

Summit’s End

  • 4 bed / 3 bath
  • Picturesque views of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Hot tub
  • Pet & Family friendly
  • Hiking and fishing nearby

Book Summit’s End on VRBO

Bryson City, NC

This newly renovated cabin offers stunning views of the mountains surrounding Bryson City, North Carolina. With a spacious living room, fireplace, deck and patio for relaxing outdoors, and a hot tub, this property is certain to make an epic winter vacation.

Bryson City, NC winter cabin. VRBO photo credit

Bryson City Cabin

  • 4 bedrooms / 2.5 baths
  • Sleeps 10
  • Hot tub, spacious living room, and full kitchen
  • Close to Nantahala National Forest
  • 4WD is required for winter rentals due to potential ice/snow

Book Bryson City Cabin on VRBO

Franklin, NC

Getaway to a winter cabin on the Top of the World in Franklin, North Carolina! The views are stunning, the homey vibe is cozy, and two firepits to relax around, this cabin is a wonderful getaway.

Top of the World Mountain Get-a-way in Franklin, Tennessee. VRBO photo credit

Top of the World

  • 4 bedrooms / 2 bathroom
  • Sleeps 8
  • Hot tub
  • Stunning views of all of Macon County

Book Top of the World on VRBO


Winter Cabin Rentals in Tennessee

Pigeon Forge, TN

You can enjoy some alone time in the private soaking tub, or cuddle all together in front of the fire pit. This Pigeon Forge cabin offers guests to the Tennessee mountains more than you’ll find at a five-star hotel! 

Moonlight Memory vacation rental in Tennessee. Photo Credit: AirBnb
Photo Credit: Airbnb

Moonlight Memories

  • Secluded cabin
  • Hot tub
  • 2 bed, 2 bath
  • 15 minutes from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg
  • Mountaintop views

Book Moonlight Memories on VRBO.

Pigeon Forge, TN

Mountain Seduction is a 3 story log home that offers all the amenities to have the perfect winter getaway, without skimping on the luxury. The home offers gorgeous views, a hot tub, pool table, foosball, and is close to all the fun in town!

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee winter vacation rental

Mountain Seduction

  • 2 bed / 3 baths
  • Hot tub
  • Views of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Can sleep up to 16 (additional beds in game room)

Book Mountain Seduction on VRBO

Gatlinburg, TN

Escape to one of the highest-rated mini winter cabin rentals in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Owl’s Nest. With a stunning view of Mt. LeConte, a hot tub, and only 3 miles from downtown, this quaint cabin is the perfect place to stay for a cozy getaway with your spouse or small family.

Winter cabin rentals: Owl's Nest in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. VRBO photo credit

Owl’s Nest

  • 1 bedroom / 1 bath
  • Sleeps 4
  • Close to downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Views of Mt.Leconte
  • Hot tub

Book the Owl’s Nest on VRBO

Will your family travel this winter?


Holiday and Christmas getaways

If you are looking for a place to stay for the holidays, check out one of these Holiday Getaways, with cabins near Christmas tree farms, mountain homes, and more!


Have an Appalachian Christmas at Earthshine Lodge

Looking for a new holiday tradition this year? The Earthshine Lodge Christmas celebrations offer a truly magical experience that your kids will talk about forever after experiencing Appalachian Christmas. Kidding Around contributor, Liene, has all the information about staying at the lodge, Christmas crafts and activities, llama hikes, brunch with Santa, and a whole lot more.

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4 Miles, 4 Million Lights: Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas Lights in Concord, NC

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With more than four million lights, the Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas lights at Speedway Christmas in Concord, NC is one of the biggest in the country and we’re here for it!

Thanks to Explore Cabarrus for media tickets and an overnight at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Concord so we could review the experience for our readers. All opinions are our own.

Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Speedway Christmas Presented by Atrium Health is unique in that you get to drive your own car on the racetrack that is normally driven on by professional NASCAR drivers.  Unfortunately, your mini-van will be going at a snail’s pace, but it’s still pretty cool. On the four-mile drive-thru course, visitors get to view displays consisting of over four million lights!  The Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas lights are easily one of the biggest displays in the country and there is just so much to see.

The Speedway is about an hour and 45 minutes from Greenville so if you want to stay overnight nearby, we’ve got just the place to do so at the Embassy Suites in Concord. Read on for the full review.

The Completely Epic Light Display with the Speedway Christmas Lights

There are four miles of more than four million lights at the Speedway Christmas. I’ve been to most of the Christmas light drive-through shows in our area so had a decent idea of what to expect but I can say with confidence that I was wrong. This light show is just unreal with so many cool surprises that it kept my kids and me enamored the whole time. For 2023, you get to see some awesome beach-themed displays in celebration of the theme, A Christmas Beach Party.

Entering the Racetrack for the Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas Lights

Once you get past the gate, you’ll go right onto the massive track. I had to squash the urge to floor it because really, how many times do you get to drive on a real racetrack? I did no flooring and went very slow with my headlights off like the other drivers, which is exactly what you need to do, so pay attention.

You will follow along with a string of red or blue lights, so you don’t have to worry about taking a wrong turn. If you’re behind someone going super slow, there are several places to pass cars if you want to do that. The speedway also recommends that slower traffic stay to the right, so those who want to go a little faster through the light show can pass on the left.

Speedway Christmas 2023 Santa's Beach Party

The First Section of Lights

There are three different areas of the light display but they all sync up to Christmas music that you listen to through your car radio. The first section is more of a fun light display with Santa doing funny things. As you enter the racetrack, you will see lots of animated displays following the theme. Wakeboarding Santa, Penguins splashing into a pool, Santa cruising on a boat with his reindeer friends shooting a canon of light, just to name a few.

The Second Section of Lights

The second section is a massive display of flashing lights from the bottom of the Speedway up through the seating area. This is where you will begin driving through a couple of light tunnels. You will also see the synchronized light displays with giant Christmas trees matching the beat of the songs coming from your 101.3FM radio channel with the LED light displays along the bleachers. This was probably my kid’s favorite part of the drive because of how many lights were dancing to the music.

Christmas trees at Speedway Christmas in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Final Section of Lights

The third and final section is tunnels full of lights – it’s super cool. As you leave the infield Christmas Village, you get to drive through the last portion of the lights display, which honestly, was my personal favorite. You will come across an area where you can pull off and look over all the lights, which was really neat to see.

You will also go through several light tunnels. The tunnels were done so well, and each one is unique in shape and color display. You also get to see some really unique animated and stationary light displays! Our favorites were the two astronauts, a ballerina pig, and a snowman being built through animation.

The entire light show took us around 45 minutes to drive through if you choose not to stop at the Christmas Village.

Full view of Speedway Christmas in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Christmas Village at the Speedway

Once you go through the bulk of the park, you will be guided to the infield parking lot. Here, you have the option to stop at the Christmas Village and/or see the drive-in movie playing.

The Christmas Village has a lot to do! The arches of lights, giant illuminated snowflakes, and “snow bubbles” that release a puff of smoke when they pop were some of my young daughter’s favorites. They also have a really cool FREE 360-camera experience for 2023. Your family stands on a platform as a camera zooms around you three times, giving you a unique holiday memory to enjoy! 

Large outdoor light displays at the Christmas Village at Speedway Christmas

Indoor Activities: Santa and More

The indoor section of the Christmas Village has two unique mazes, Christmas crafts at the elf village, vendors, decorated Christmas trees, and the opportunity to take photos with Santa. Santa was really kind, and your child can choose to stand or sit beside him. They even offer a little stool in case a parent needs to kneel down to keep their kids from getting nervous before rattling off this Christmas list. Pictures with Santa start at $10 for 1 photo.

Outdoor Food Court

The food truck lane has a lot of vendors with everything from Gyros to hot apple cider. One of the cooler food court stalls is the kettlecorn popcorn guy. My kids (and husband) enjoyed watching him flip the giant popcorn maker and reveal the sweet goodness that is delicious kettle corn. Plus, his stall has a little train engine on top that blows smoke every once in a while, which made us giggle.

We ended our food court adventure by purchasing some marshmallows to roast by the fire. We rocked in the rocking chairs, ate marshmallows drank cider, and just enjoyed the vibes. Afterwards, we visited the reindeer (animated, but so adorable!) for the kids to pet. They are super soft and look so real!

Reindeer at Speedway Christmas Village

Drive-In Movie

And then, perhaps my favorite thing – a drive-in movie. The Speedway makes use of one of its huge screens to show different holiday movies. You can park your car facing the screen, tune your radio to the channel dedicated to the movie, eat some popcorn, and watch the movie. My kids wanted to sit in the car and watch the film so that’s what I let them do because #Christmas. They thought it was really neat.

Drive-in movie at the Speedway Christmas

Here’s the movie schedule for 2023:

  • November 17-19: “Christmas Vacation”
  • November 23-26: “The Grinch” presented by Bojangles
  • November 30-Dec 3: Classic Christmas shorts presented by Food Lion
  • December 7-10: “White Christmas” presented by Cook Out
  • December 14-19: “Elf” presented by AutoBell
  • December 20-23: “Polar Express” presented by Cook Out
  • December 28-31: “Home Alone”

There are also bathrooms right inside the Christmas Village as well as directly next to the drive-in movie, which is really nice since the route does take a while to drive.

The Christmas Village is closed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.


Tips to Enjoy the Speedway Christmas

Knowing what to expect helps everyone enjoy the lights.

Wait Times

Because this is such a hugely popular attraction, the wait may be long. This can be said of most holiday light events anywhere during the holiday season. Make sure everyone has taken a bathroom break before heading towards the Speedway and have snacks on hand. In past years, the wait times have gotten up to more than two hours.

We went on opening night for the 2023 season right when they opened at 6 pm and while we were able to skip the lines with an Express Lane pass thanks to Explore Cabarrus, we did pass the main entrance and there was hardly a line.

On busy nights, the express pass will save you about an hour of that two-hour wait. The Express Lane has a different entrance (5197 Morehead Road, Concord) than the Main Gate and there are signs indicating where you need to go.

Visiting Monday through Wednesday is suggested because attendance will be at its lowest on those days.

Bathrooms

The Speedway has set up port-a-potties along the route for guests to use if they need to. You do need to remain in your car while driving but there is plenty of room to pull over for these bathrooms if you need. You will also find clean bathrooms at the Christmas Village.

Pets

Pets are allowed but they must stay in your car the entire time, including if you choose to visit the Christmas Village

Purchasing Tickets

Guests have the option to purchase tickets ahead of time online at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s website but they also have passes available at the gate. The tickets you purchase online must be used on the date you choose so if you’re not sure when you’re going, you can just purchase your ticket at the gate. Stay tuned to the website to be notified of any closures due to bad weather.

Dress for the Weather

The light show obviously happens during the colder winter months so dress for the weather with jackets, hats, and gloves, especially if you want to go to the Christmas Village, much of which is outdoors.


Tickets for Speedway Christmas

Ticket prices range from $35-$45 per car depending on when you go. General admission tickets are typically $35 Monday through Wednesday, and $45 Thursday through Sunday night are more expensive.

On Thursdays through Sundays, there is also an express lane option for $75. If you have more than 15 people in your vehicle, you’ll be paying the van and bus rate of $140 to $175.

You can see the exact price on the day you’d like to go at the Speedway Lights ticket site.

While Monday through Wednesday visits are cheaper, remember that the Christmas Village is not open on these days. The exception is December 18th through the 20th, 2023 when the village will be open and tickets will be at the regular $45 price.

Speedway Christmas runs from Friday, November 17, 2023, through January 7th, 2024.


Honest Mom Review of Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas Lights

My kids and I just loved this light show. It was almost overwhelming how many lights there were at the Speedway Christmas. I kept thinking, “How long did all of this take to set up?”! It is very well done and obvious the organizers take great pride in the light display and making sure it’s top-notch.

Part of the Christmas Village at the Speedway Christmas

For kids who may have sensory issues, the light show may be a little much in some parts. I thought the Christmas Village and drive-in movie was a great rest stop to just hang out and enjoy the atmosphere before heading out to the last part of the show. And staying nearby at the Embassy Suites was fantastic. I didn’t need to worry about driving home late at night and my kids could enjoy the pool before bed. We were at the light show in its entirety – driving and the Christmas Village – about an hour and a half total.


Cabarrus, North Carolina

We think spending a day in Cabarrus, North Carolina is a great day trip. We’ve had several of our writers spend a lot of time there and have stories on some of the fun things to do in Cabarrus County, NC.  You can spend the day there or make it a weekend with a stay in the Great Wolf Lodge, another favorite destination for us, here at Kidding Around.  Regardless of the length of your trip, we think the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s light display should be on your itinerary.


Lodging in Concord near the Speedway

Embassy Suites in Concord

Explore Cabarrus sent us to stay at the lovely Embassy Suites in Concord in 2022 right off I-85 and five minutes from the Speedway. I’ve stayed at Embassy Suites in the past and always like them for their spacious rooms, free breakfasts, and great amenities.

The room we had was a one-bedroom suite with a living space area, full bathroom, and a bedroom with a closed door. The beds were comfortable and there was plenty of space for my two kids and I. But this could easily fit a family of five even since the couch in the living space area is a pullout.

Embassy Suites Concord, NC Pool

The free breakfast in the morning was a hit with my kids. They had pancakes, eggs, French toast, yogurt, cereal, toast, biscuits and gravy, fruit, and a made-to-order omelet and waffle station. They also had coffee, tea, and juice.

This Embassy Suites also had a heated indoor pool, which my kids enjoyed after we went to the light show. It was a great way to wind down the night.

Homewood Suites By Hilton Concord/Charlotte

For our visit in 2023, Explore Cabbarus sent us to Homewood Suites by Hilton, located right beside the Embassy Suites. This lovely hotel is located right off of 1-85 and is only a 5-minute drive from the Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas lights. It is also close to tons of options for dining.

The hotel check-in was a breeze, and all the staff we interacted with were extremely helpful and kind. Our room was very clean, and even smelled good when we entered (that is always a good sign!) Our room was a suite, with a kitchen and living room, with a separate bedroom with double queen beds. The separate bedroom really helped us out because were able to put the kids down to bed, and then rest in the living room. We were very happy that the hotel was clean, quiet, and close to everything we would need.

The hotel offers free breakfast in the morning, which my husband took full advantage of. We had fresh waffles from the “make your own” waffle station, a mix of fruit, sausage patties, delicious muffins, cheesy omelets, orange juice, and fresh coffee.

Homewood Suites Concord

Other Lodging

If you need another place to stay near the Speedway, you can see the map below. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

There’s a lot to do in Concord and the Speedway Christmas show is a great way to end a day or weekend trip to Cabarrus County!

Have you made it out to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas lights? What was your favorite part?


Places to see Christmas lights in Charlotte, North Carolina

Want more lights? We have that!

Here are more than 10 places to see awesome Christmas Lights in Charlotte, NC!