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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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 exceptional hospitality.

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.

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 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

Please note: The Wild Bear Falls Water Park will be closed for maintenance January 17, 2022 – February 10, 2022.

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Are masks required?

All the lifeguards and employees were wearing masks and masks were required for guests everywhere but the actual waterpark area. 

How much does it cost?

The waterpark is open daily 11 am – 7 pm and rates are $24.96/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. 

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. 


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 is a brand new restaurant 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. 

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.


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. 

Safety Measures

All staff wear masks and guests are required to unless they are eating or drinking. Adults are also required to do a temperature check before entering which is contactless on a neat screen (I was a tad bit fascinated with this technology). 

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. 

Safety Measures

As already mentioned, masks are required anywhere indoors at the resort and on the shuttles. There are temperature checks for Southern Comfort and the marketplace and if you don’t have a mask, the staff will provide you one. 

The resort has instituted the WestgateCARES program, which assures guests of the enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures the resort has taken to make sure touch points are frequently cleaned.

You can read more about the program at the link but in summary, the resort is taking COVID seriously and is making great efforts to keep their guests and staff as safe as possible. 

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. 


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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

As of this writing, the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort is offering a Schoolcation package that includes a discounted rate plus up to a $100 resort credit when you book two nights. Other specials can be found here

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Water Park
915 Westgate Resorts Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Best Family Things to do Near Daytona Beach

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Planning a trip down I-95? KAG contributor Kristina has some wonderful ideas for families to check out in the Daytona Beach area.

I had the opportunity to spend some time on the Atlantic coast in Central Florida and I tried to make the most of the time I had with my kids. We are homeschooling so I was searching for things to do that were both fun and educational, although you could certainly do any of this stuff without the homeschooling aspect. 

The Daytona Beach area is about a seven-hour drive from Greenville and only about 90 minutes from the Disney hotspot of Orlando. There is a lot to explore in this area and I hope you have the chance to check these places out!

This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Dunlawton Sugar Mill

This old sugar mill has a fascinating history in and of itself and the ruins are really neat to see. You may recognize some similar equipment as was used in the cotton and textile mills in South Carolina. But then you’ve got actual dinosaurs scattered throughout the botanical gardens! They are cement and it’s a blast to find them with your kids. Although kids cannot play on them, they are certainly a fun part of wandering through the beautiful flowers and old oak trees laced with Spanish moss. 

There are also a couple free little libraries throughout the garden (a great opportunity to swap some books on your long drive). Restrooms are available on site.

950 Old Sugar Mill Rd, Port Orange, FL
Admission: Free

Two girls looking through fence at a dinosaur

Museum of Arts and Sciences

We loved this place because it has a huge kids area that combines learning with fun. It has several science-related exhibits that kids can enjoy, a play pizza parlor, a remote-controlled race car track, and even a planaterium. And if you have a Roper Mountain Science Center or WNC Nature Center membership, you get in free.

Admission: $12.95/adults, $6.95/kids ages 6-17, free/under 6; also free if you have an affiliated ASTC membership.
352 S Nova Rd, Daytona Beach, FL

Ponce Preserve

This small park is such a treasure. It has great nature walking trails that wind through the preserve and come to a little playground and tower that you can climb up and look out at the ocean. There are boardwalks through the marshes with kayak launches as well. Birds, crabs, and other wildlife are plentiful. The trail also has some fitness equipment, which my kids loved playing on. 

Admission: free

Two girls walking along sunny path

Marine Discovery Center Boat Tour

We did the full moon boat tour and it was the coolest thing. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area and we learned all about the local ecosystem, birds, dolphins, and manatees. The sunset was unreal and seeing the full moon rise was amazing. We got to see the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse (which we climbed the week before) so my kids had fun seeing it light up. The Marine Discovery Center also does kayak tours and the boat is covered so you are shaded from the sun. The center itself has some crabs, an eel, a corn snake (which we got to see eat some mice), and other fish plus a walking trail.

520 Barracuda Boulevard, New Smyrna Beach, FL 
Admission: Free to the discovery center itself but the boat tours are an extra cost.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

Climb the 203 steps that twist up the middle of Florida’s tallest lighthouse. You can also tour the old houses of former lighthouse keepers and a really neat lighthouse building with lots of mirrored panes that show how the lights work. There are also other historical aspects to the lighthouse which are worth taking some time to explore. 

4931 South Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, FL 
Admission: Free to tour the historical homes and buildings about the lighthouse. To climb the lighthouse, the cost is $6.95/age 12+, $1.95/ages 3-11, free/under 2.

Red lighthouse

Blue Spring State Park

Want to swim and canoe in crystal clear water over the summer and see manatees in the winter? Then you have to go to Blue Spring State Park. It’s an easy day trip from the coast or Orlando and completely worth it. Read our review here

2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL

Girl walking down stairs into water

Riverwalk Park

During those hot months, which is most of the year in Florida, Riverwalk Park has a great splashpad and playground plus lots of space for kids to run around. We loved hanging out here. You can also rent kayaks and canoes to use on the river. 

3459 S. Ridgewood Avenue, Port Orange, FL

Children playing at a splash pad

Seabird Island

If you like to fish, this is the place. There are two piers to cast your line into the intercoastal waterway. I didn’t see anyone catch anything when I was there but the view was awesome. You can see the Daytona Beach skyline and it’s just a neat location to check out, maybe have a picnic. There are restrooms and boat launches as well. 

Ramp at the bottom of the bridge onto Daytona Beach
Admission: Free

Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach

Just an hour south of Daytona Beach and the same distance from Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center and nearby Cocoa Beach should definitely by on your day trip list. I love all things space-related so going to the complex was just fascinating. And since my kids and watched the 2020 SpaceX mission, they were just as interested as well – and kept asking if we would be seeing the astronauts, Bob and Doug. Cocoa Beach is close by so going to the pier there and checking out the fun shops was an easy add-on. 

Space Commerce Way,
Admission to the Kennedy Space Center: $57/adult, $47/child
Admission to Cocoa Beach Pier: Free

Ocean pier with covered space at the end

New Smyrna Beach

We spent a day at New Smyrna Beach at Flagler Avenue browsing the shops with lots of cool apparel and jewelry from local artists. We had lunch overlooking the beach at Breakers, which was fairly reasonable. If you want to drive on the beach from there, it will cost you $20. Or just park in area lots and walk on the beach. There is also Smyrna Beach Dunes park with access to fishing and swimming. 

Admission to Dunes Park: $10
Admission to the drive on beach at Flagler Ave: $20

St. Augustine

This was my favorite day trip I took my girls to because the feeling of walking through our country’s oldest city was just amazing. We loved it. Of course there are touristy aspects but the locally made pumpkin spice latte and Castillo San Marcos made me fall in love with the city. The fort – Castillo San Marcos – is built right on the water and has a very interesting history. The free Junior Ranger Program is a must-do if you go to make the most of your visit and learn about it! The old town was such a pleasure to walk through. There are little shops and restaurants and cafes that are fun to wander around in. If you’re Catholic and want to attend Mass, the cathedral downtown is just the place. The church is decorated beautifully. You can head to the Alligator Farm Zoo in St. Augustine to make it a full day trip.

St. Augustine, FL
Admission: No fees to walk around Old Town or the fort, although you’ll have to pay for tickets to Castillo San Marcos and any of the attractions in town.

Two girls walking along a path next to stone fort wall

Where would you choose to go in Florida on the Atlantic Coast?

Speed Through the Everglades on This Airboat Ride

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Ever wanted to know what an airboat ride feels like? KAG’s Kristina took her kids on one in Everglades and tells us about it. 

An airboat tour of the Everglades has been on my want-to-do list for awhile. There is so much magic in those murky waters and sawgrasses. I always thought seeing it in person would be quite the experience – oh, and I’m totally obsessed with all things related to the invasive pythons that are making a mess of the environment there. Have you seen the snakes the python hunters have caught? They are huge! 

Ok, back to the airboat ride. Don’t those airboats with their enormous fans and flat, wide bottoms look cool? I was imagining flying through the waters and looking for gators and pythons. What I experienced was a tad different than what I had pictured. 

This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Sawgrass and Expansive Skies

The Everglades aren’t actually swamps but a super slow moving river of grass. The Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park and to see it, you really need a boat. There are hiking trails but you need a guide since you’ll be slogging around in knee deep – or deeper – water. You can camp there also, which scares me to death because of the wildlife even though I love camping. 

I had briefly thought about renting kayaks to explore the Everglades but reason won out and I couldn’t comfortably do that with my two small kids. So an airboat it was – which I always wanted to do anyways. 

There are a ton of airboat companies that do tours in the Everglades and we picked one of the closer ones to Ft. Lauderdale, Sawgrass Recreation Park near Alligator Alley. It was a 30-minute airboat group ride and included admission to the small nature park that housed snakes, alligators, and other wildlife – including a section where you could touch a baby gator!

I chose this particular spot because it had good reviews on Google, was reasonably priced, closest to where we were staying, and included that little nature park. Almost all the airboat companies offer private tours as well, which were just out of my budget, costing at least $300 for a small group. 

A 30-minute airboat ride at Sawgrass Recreation Park, if you buy the tickets online, is $21.45/adult, $11.60/child, and kids 4 and under are free. Any age is welcome on the airboat.

Our airboat group had 14 people and we sat in every other row on the boat so there was plenty of space. Masks were required inside at the gift shop, ticket counter, and nature center as well during the boat ride. 

Speeding Through the Water

Airboats, much to my surprise, go really fast! Admission includes ear plugs, which definitely caught me off guard. But then I realized why they were important – the boat was super loud because the engine was not in the water but spinning the large fans in the back of the boat. 

Our captain made sure to get us life jackets for kids ages 6 and under and got us situated on the boat. Then we took off into the water. 

We sped around the channels and zipped over the shorter grasses. It had just rained so the longer sawgrass was wet on top so when we ran over them with our boat, the water from the tops hit us right in the face. So word of warning – don’t sit in the front of the boat and maybe bring a light jacket and sunglasses. 

We did slow down a bit to coast along and search for gators but weren’t successful. We did see a smaller one near the dock which was cool. Our guide said that the alligators come out more at night and that you can do a night airboat tour (which sounded pretty neat). We did some birds and got to marvel at the huge expanse of sky and water meeting over the low, flat grass-covered, alligator-infested river. I did love that part of it and was happy our guide knew his way around since I imagine it’s easy to get lost in there. 

Local Wildlife + Biking

The park is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together and is home to snakes, birds, mammals, and even the elusive panther. While we didn’t see any of those while on the airboat tour, the Sawgrass Recreation Park nature center had everything but the panther. 

We got to see a couple alligators being fed treats by the staff and much to the delight of my kids, got to pet a baby alligator and learn about their habits and diets. 

Also, if you love biking, there is a long levee right near the Sawgrass Recreation Park where you can bike along the edge of the Everglades. Our guide told us you can park at Markham Park nearby and ride for miles. I hadn’t even thought of exploring the area that way and it looked like a really cool experience. 

If you have a chance to visit the Everglades, I certainly recommend stopping to enjoy the park and do an airboat ride. It’s a fascinating place – next time, I’ll do that nighttime airboat ride!

Would you do an airboat ride through the Everglades?

Get Up Close to Gators, Goats, Birds and More at Wild Florida

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If a trip to Central Florida is in your family’s future, consider a stop at Wild Florida, a gator-themed park that has lots of unique experiences for your family. KAG’s Kristina has the scoop. 

There is a lot to do in the Orlando area besides the theme parks. One such adventure is Wild Florida, less than an hour from downtown Orlando. The park is home to lots of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, a Florida panther, birds, and our favorite – goats. The park also has airboat rides on the nearby lake, the headwaters of the Everglades, as well as a drive-thru safari and unique animal experiences. We only did the gator park so that is what this review will cover. 

Find a place to stay in Orlando, FL. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Alligators and Crocs

Even though South Carolina has alligators, they (thankfully) aren’t located in the Upstate so I’m not too familiar with their characteristics and lifestyles. Wild Florida does a great job of educating their guests on all things gator and croc-related with boards around the park explaining different facts about them. There are also gator feedings twice a day and a place where you can feed smaller ones yourselves. 

We got to see the exotic animal show when we went to Wild Florida, which was super interesting. The guide brought out a blue-tongued skink, a Burmese python, and an American alligator. The crowd loved learning about the animals and seeing them up close. Reptiles have lots of cool facts about them and seeing them up close like that was enjoyable for my kids, especially since they are homeschooled and we are learning about animals like these currently in our studies. 

There are several enclosures throughout Wild Florida that house alligators, including two albino ones. You can walk over a wooden walkway to see tons of alligators right below you in the lagoon – terrifying and fascinating. 

Birds, snakes, and lemurs

Wild Florida has several different snakes at the park like the copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake and even a King Cobra. They also have an enormous Burmese python, which are invasive species in the Everglades just a couple hours south. I love anything having to do with python hunters so seeing one up close was pretty neat. 

They also have a neat aviary where you can walk through a bird enclosure and feed the birds from a stick (there’s a small fee to buy one). There are so many gorgeous birds in the aviary so walking through was quite the memorable experience. 

Several lemurs are at the park, which my kids loved. They are pretty cute I have to say. Other exotic animals live at Wild Florida, many of which have been rescued or donated if their owners couldn’t care for them. 

Petting Zoo

While my kids, ages 9 and 6, enjoyed all the animals at Wild Florida, the petting zoo was our favorite. The park allows you to walk into the big, fenced in space where there are lots of goats and even some baby goats! You can buy food to feed them or just go in and get happy playing with them. 

Readers at Kidding Around Greenville know how obsessed we are with goats so this part of the park was especially awesome. The goats are very friendly and the babies were adorable. It was a lot of fun to play these animals. 

There is also a small cow and large tortoise here plus some peacocks, although we didn’t see anyone trying to pet them. 

Manageable Size

I thought the size of Wild Florida was not too big but also not too small, a very Goldilocks-esque kind of park . There is plenty to see and do plus an on-site restaurant and lots of areas to sit and enjoy a meal.

We spent around two hours there and would have spent more time except that it was brutally hot.  The park had fans and mists everywhere but Florida heat can be oppressive so be sure to hydrate well when you’re there. 

You can add on an airboat ride to your park ticket as well as the drive-thru safari. 

If you want to take a break, there is a shaded playground near the alligator lagoon, which makes for a nice rest.

COVID-10 policies

In accordance with local regulations, masks are mandatory all throughout the park, both indoors and outdoors. 

There are hand sanitizing stations all throughout the park. 


Admission to the gator park alone is $10/adults (ages 13+) and $8/kids. Follow them on Facebook for special deals. When we went, they were doing a promotion where you got free admission if you donated canned goods to the park.

Wild Florida has several Animal Encounter packages for guests, most of which require kids to be at least 12 years old. You can see what they offer and prices here.

Airboat rides start at $30.50/adults and $27.50/kids. And the drive-thru safari is $29/adult and $20/child. You can also combine experiences with Adventure Packages and they do offer transportation from some parts of Florida.

The park is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm.

Wild Florida
3301 Lake Cypress Rd, Kenansville, FL

See Manatees and Go Swimming at Crystal Clear Springs in Florida

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Looking for something straight out of a fairy tale where you can see manatees, paddle a kayak, and go swimming in crystalline waters? Blue Spring State Park, less than an hour from Orlando, is the ideal place. Here’s what happened when KAG contributor Kristina took her kids for an adventure there.

You know when you see a photo of someplace that is just so unbelievably gorgeous that you save it on Facebook or Instagram or put it on a list you have of places that you must go to? I have a list like that and Blue Spring State Park has been on it for a bit. I think I found it through a kayaking group and right away, I knew I had to go. 

So when I found myself spending some time in Florida, Blue Spring State Park was at the top of my list and this beautiful oasis with clear, spring water ended up being one of my family’s most fun adventures in the state for lots of reasons. 

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Florida’s Natural Springs

My grandparents and dad’s family all lived in Florida so I ended up spending a significant amount of time there as a kid and teenager but we never explored that much, spending most of our trips on the Orlando area or at the beach. 

So I didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever of these perfect, clear springs that dot Florida’s hot and humid landscape. There are several in the central part of the state and most are located within Florida’s state parks system. 

The water is so clear because it’s filtered underground through limestone and is abundant in minerals that keep it so pristine (thank you big park educational boards that explained all this). Here is a list of other freshwater springs throughout Florida.

See Manatees

On a previous trip to Florida eons ago, I vaguely remember my parents taking my brothers and I to see manatees. I thought they were pretty neat, having had grown up in the Northeast, where we don’t have the big sea cow around.

Manatees, I learned from watching a YouTube video about them while waiting to get into the park, don’t have a lot of body fat so they need fairly warm water to survive, above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural springs are 72 degrees year round so they migrate there every fall and stay till early spring. 

Conservation efforts by Florida’s parks have significantly increased the protection of these gentle giants and their populations have grown. Swimming with them is prohibited.

I didn’t think we would see any manatees while there since we were a little bit early in the fall but surprise, we saw a couple of them! One swam right by us while we were canoeing and then another slipped by us while were tubing down the spring. 

Manatees are super protected by the parks. A woman in a kayak followed the manatees everywhere and told people to basically get out of the way and let the manatee swim wherever it wanted. Her kayak even said “manatee observer”. Legit job. 

Paddle the Spring

I love kayaking and decided this had to happen there. I went through Blue Spring Adventures to rent a three-person canoe, which was super sturdy and spacious. I am much more comfortable in a kayak but the only three-person option, which was my situation with my two small kids, ages 9 and 6. We rented a canoe for an hour and it worked out perfectly since it was the ideal amount of time to paddle the spring and head back without having the kids get bored. 

Blue Spring Adventures also has guided kayak and canoe tours. They are located right inside the park and I thought their prices were very reasonable (we paid around $25 for the hour canoe rental for three people). 

If you are planning on paddling through the spring, be sure to take the first time in the morning since they close that area from 11 am on since more people are swimming and tubing. You are required to wear life jackets, which come with your rental. 

When paddling the spring, you are not allowed to get out of your boat or off your paddleboard and go for a swim. 

The spring flows into the St. John’s River, where bigger boat nature tours are offered. We didn’t do that but the reviews online were very good. 

Swimming in the Spring

The water is a little chilly but it does feel great on a hot day, which are pretty prevalent in sunny Florida. And you can see straight to the bottom, which is around 18 to 20 feet. There are a few platforms that are easily accessible. Kids are welcome to wear puddle jumpers or life vests and you can bring a tube or flotation device as long as it’s not larger than six feet. 

Snorkeling and scuba diving are also permitted. I definitely wanted to snorkel after taking our tubes down the spring a bunch of times. It’s not far at all from the furthest drop in point till where you get out. You can walk down a beautiful boardwalk trail to get to that furthest point where you can swim or put in your tube. 

If you don’t have a tube, you can rent one for $6 for the first hour, $3 for each additional hour. 

Snorkeling seemed really fun. There are huge alligator gar fish (totally harmless) and some smaller fish that you can view just from looking in the water. I can’t even imagine how cool it would be to see them through snorkeling or scuba diving.

What about Gators?

OK, not gonna lie: I Googled the heck out of this topic. In Florida, you have to assume that alligators are present in any freshwater or brackish water springs, lagoons, ponds, etc. So yes, there are alligators there. We saw one in the lily pads while canoeing. 

The park has signs that there are possibly alligators there when you go swimming but gators usually prefer warmer water and in general, are pretty shy and avoid people. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have my eyes peeled the entire time we were in the water!

Also, the park rangers walk the boardwalk that overlooks the spring and they are on the lookout for alligators and will close the swimming area if any are spotted.  The last time someone was killed by an alligator at the spring was in 2015.

Need to Know

Blue Spring State Park is a popular park so you need to get there early, like before they open at 8 am. They will close when they reach capacity, which happens soon after opening. We got there at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning when we had the canoe rental reservation for 8:30 am. We didn’t make it there until 8:40 am with the long line and getting inside the park. 

The ranger told me they let in around 140 cars before they close it. We were probably number 30 or 40 in line. So get there early. 

So many people brought tents and coolers and we even saw an air bed. You can easily spend the day here and apparently that’s what people do. You can bring in food but they also sell hamburgers and hot dogs and other concessions. 

Be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s Florida so there will be bugs and sun. Be prepared. 

You can either buy your admission online or just pay when you get there. It’s $6 per car so certainly an affordable trip for a family. 

Blue Spring State Park is an easy day trip from Orlando, where it’s a short 45 minute drive. It’s the same distance from the Daytona Beach area as well. If you’re in the area, a trip to Blue Spring State Park is an amazing adventure that your family won’t forget!

Would you go swimming at Blue Spring State Park?

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL

Walk Over Hundreds of Snapping Gators at This Zoo in Florida: St. Augustine Alligator Farm

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Visiting Florida and want to have an unforgettable gator experience? Then a day at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is a must-see. Media tickets were provided for this review. 

I think alligators are pretty interesting and I adored Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, so checking out the St. Augustine Alligator Farm when I was in the area was certainly of interest. And I’m thrilled I got the chance to see it because it was truly nothing like I was expecting. 

The zoo is one of the very oldest in the country, founded in 1893. They are accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (which means you get a 50% discount on your tickets if you have a membership to another AZA zoo) and house 24 living species of crocodilians from the Americas, Australia, Asia, and Africa. 

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Let’s Start with Lunch

My kids and I got to the zoo right before an alligator feeding, which I was pretty excited to see. I had seen videos of gator feedings, mostly from watching television with my kids (which I’m totally fine admitting so don’t be ashamed) but seeing it in person was a neat experience. 

The alligator lagoon is an open air huge pit with sand, water, and a platform where the zookeeper stood with all the gator food. I had my kids count the gators in lagoon and they guessed around 25 alligators lived there. The zookeeper told the crowd there were 34 gators in all, most of them stealthily swimming towards the platform while others pushing their massive jaws against each other, knowing that food was on the horizon. What a sight. 

These gators were fierce and seeing them up close was a tad scary but also thrilling. The zookeeper talked a little about the gators, what they eat, and how much meat they need to stay healthy and grow. It’s only about 80 pounds a year, which I thought was very low. That’s like us humans eating one sandwich a week. 

We learned the differences between gators and crocs and then got to see a rat getting snatched up by the awaiting gators. The crowd may have let out a couple loud “eeewwwww” sounds. 

So that was our introduction to the Alligator Farm. Then we were off to check out the rest of the zoo.

Land of the Crocodiles

The Alligator Farm has not only tons of alligators but a lot of crocodiles as well and they are some funky looking creatures. Some of them are small and others are massive but others really catch your eye with their long and skinny snouts and razor sharp teeth that are equally terrifying and fascinating. 

There are several educational stations throughout the park where visitors can learn about the lives of the animals that live there. And the park also has other reptiles like snakes and lizards as well as tropical birds and sloths. 

If you’re homeschooling, this is a great trip to make if you’re in the St. Augustine area. The zoo also has dedicated homeschooling days, which are geared towards education and entertainment for school-aged kids. 

The animals are grouped into regions such as Africa and Egypt. We loved the Egyptian area as my kids are currently learning about Ancient Egypt. They were able to see hieroglyphs and pictures of the Egyptian gods. And the exhibit that houses terrifying Gaboon vipers is awesome – it is a sandy bottomed glass box that has a replica of the Ark of the Covenant and weaved baskets. Information about the Nile River and a crocodile is right behind a glass wall – we got stuck in a typical Florida rainshower under the overhang in that part of the park and saw the croc in the water, which then disappeared. He reappeared right next to my youngest, who was standing at the glass wall. I was never more happy for glass. 

Kids Zone

I loved the small kids area next to the funny looking birds. It’s geared for kids ages 3-12 and has shaded areas for sitting, slides, a rope climbing web, and a small climbing wall. It’s perfect for taking a rest while walking around the zoo. 

Next door to the kids play area is the concession stand, which has lots of typical American cuisine like burgers and hot dogs. Definitely try their gourmet popsicles, which are made locally and are delicious. 

Walking Across the Gator Trail and Zip Lining

While you can watch the zookeeper feed the alligators, you can also do so yourself if you dare while walking over the wooden trail that is suspended over a huge lagoon with alligators everywhere you look. Bring some quarters to get the gator treats and throw them overboard. 

And sure, your kids may be short and have to look through the posts down below but don’t pick them up or carry them on your shoulders. Bad idea. They can see the gators below snapping for the treats. 

For those brave souls who want to zip line over the actual croc and gator enclosures, the park allows you to fulfill your daredevil dreams. While we were waiting for the alligator feeding, we heard some zipping noises and looked up – sure enough, people were on a zip line right over the 34 alligators in front of us. This also includes a ropes course over crocodiles. Prices are between $37 – $67 and all participants must be taller than 52 inches, at least 8 years of age, and under 250 pounds

Visiting the Park

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is open year round from 9 am – 5 pm (closing is at 6 pm over the summer). Adult admission is $27.99 and kids (3-11) are $16.99. They offer a 10% discount to AAA members, military, and senior citizens and you can print out a $1 off coupon at their website.

And since the zoo is accredited with the AZA (if you have a Greenville Zoo or WNC Nature Center membership, you have an AZA-accredited membership), when you show your pass, you get a 50% discount for up to six people.

Hand sanitizing stations are all over the park and masks must be worn indoors. There are only a few indoor exhibits. Everything else is outdoors.

Plan to spend at least a couple hours at the zoo. There is a lot to see and it’s very educational and enjoyable. My kids and I had a blast during our time at the zoo and hope to go back the next time we are in the area. 

St. Augustine is under two hours from Orlando, Florida and about six hours and fifteen minutes from Greenville. There are a lot of other incredible attractions in St. Augustine such as their old town area and Castillo de San Marcos, a fort right on the water, so a day trip from Orlando would be a wonderful family adventure or a long weekend from Greenville!

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
999 Anastasia Blvd. St. Augustine, FL 32080

Would you love to visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo?

Make Your Mermaid Dreams Come True On This Magical Boat Tour in Hilton Head Island, SC

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Mermaids exist in Hilton Head Island, SC and you can see one on a mermaid cruise! Kristina took her family on this unique adventure and tells us all about it. Thanks to Mermaid of Hilton Head for the opportunity to write about the tour. 

Hilton Head Island is home to many wonderful family activities and opportunities to learn about the area’s history and environment – including lots of fun sea creatures like dolphins and turtles. But there’s only one place to find a mermaid: the Mermaid of Hilton Head encounter boat tour. This is no ordinary boat tour as you may guess. And contrary to my initial thoughts, it’s not just about finding an awesome mermaid in the salt marshes surrounding the island. 


Dolphins May Swim Up to Your Kayak on This Hilton Head Salt Marsh Tour

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Kayak Hilton Head let us join one of their boat tours this summer for an amazing experience on the water. Kristina shares all about what to expect and why this particular place is excellent for your next family adventure on the coast.

Media tickets were given so we could write about Kayak Hilton Head.

For more family fun on Hilton Head, don’t miss our list of our favorite things to do on Hilton Head Island.

I grew up near the ocean but never got to see dolphins, or really any other cool wildlife, up close until I started visiting the South Carolina coast. And wow, the beaches in the state are just beautiful. But then I learned all about salt marshes and the uniqueness of this kind of environment and was blown away! I’ve done amazing dolphin cruises in Hilton Head Island but I am a huge fan of kayaking and wanted to get just a tad bit closer to the dolphins and birds and salt marshes. 

So I went on a two-hour kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head. To say the experience was unforgettable is an understatement. If any of you followed our Instagram story on the kayak tour, you can plainly hear I lost my mind upon seeing dolphins up close. Sorry. I was excited. 

Experience Matters

Kayak Hilton Head is owned by a gracious and chill guy named Dave. He has been running the company for almost 20 years. And he used to work for Disney’s Hilton Head resort, so finding things to entertain kids comes naturally. That kind of experience is worth it when it comes to learning about the area, the salt marshes, and the incredible wildlife and creatures that inhabit it. 

The kayak tours take place at Broad Creek, a tidal creek that rises and falls with the tide. It’s a protected area far from the open ocean which means you likely won’t be dealing with high winds and waves – or big sharks. The salt marshes provide habitats for everything from dolphins to manatees to minks to vast oyster beds and all kinds of cool birds. We got to see a Rosa Spoonbill, a pink bird with a beak that looks like a spoon, which it uses to scoop out food from shallow waters. So cool. 

Our guide for the morning kayak tour we went on was Mary, a resident of the island. Mary not only provided an informative narrative tour as we were kayaking but answered our questions about literally everything from how the docks are built to the life cycle of oysters to the best restaurants on the island. She was awesome. My nine-year-old daughter and I did the tour together and I felt like we were on the best field trip ever – which I’m totally counting as homeschooling. 

We learned about the Loggerhead Turtles and how they travel the world but always come back home to lay their eggs (and how a teacher once tried to take a nest off the island – it didn’t end well). We learned about how stone crabs are harvested for their meat by taking off one claw and then letting the crab go free because the claw grows back, which is why, if you see a stone crab, they will almost always have lopsided claws. We learned about the harvesting and growth of oysters as well as the island’s history of being occupied during the Civil War by Union soldiers, who used the salt grass to wrap and preserve the fish they caught. 

And all of the learning was happening while we paddled along, with plenty of space between all of us in the group, in the beautiful water in the salt marsh. 

What We Saw

Yes, we got to see dolphins. And it was amazing. All throughout high school I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to swim with dolphins. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. If it had to do with dolphins, I was in. While none of those paths were in my future, my love of dolphins remains and it’s such a ridiculous joy to see these creatures. 



One dolphin surfaced right between my kayak and our guide, Mary, surprising us for a second. She told us that many dolphins are recognizable by locals by their unique markings on their dorsal fins. Of course, I wanted to see all the dolphins and learn each one’s name. But we had run out of time on our tour. It went by fast!

As much as I loved the dolphins, I wasn’t expecting to be wow’d by all of the other wildlife we saw. As mentioned above, we got to see the pink Rosa Spoonbill. Mary was really excited to see that bird so I figured it must be extra special. 

We saw lots of little spider crabs, egrets, herons, and jumping minnows. And everything we learned from Mary was just fascinating. The paddling was leisurely as we glided peacefully through the water, just observing the world around us. 

It was easy to forget life for a while, to just enjoy the quiet morning and beauty that surrounded us.

What You Need to Know

We went on a kayak tour with Kayak Hilton Head during the COVID-19 pandemic and they handled everything with care and consideration. All employees were wearing masks and they sanitize the kayaks, life jackets, and paddles between each use. Kayaking is a natural social distancing activity. You’re on the water and outdoors controlling your own boat. Even if you have zero kayaking experience, it’s not hard to paddle away from someone if you want. 

If you’re looking for a good outdoor activity where social distancing is easy, this is it. 

Also, you are provided with a life jacket and paddle so no need to bring your own unless you want to. They have a basket on land to keep your keys (which I suggest you use – don’t want to lose your keys accidentally in the water). If you want to bring your phone or camera, maybe have a wet bag with you or something waterproof to put them in. I had no problems doing that in our kayak. 

And bring water. It’s hot out there and water is essential. My daughter and I both wore hats and sunscreen as well, which certainly helped us stay cooler and of course, prevent sunburn.

Kayak Hilton Head has both double and single kayaks, which is perfect for families. My daughter and I were in a double kayak together.  I own a sturdy sit on top kayak so I was a little nervous to use a sit-in kayak but I soon figured out my worrying was futile. Our kayak was a Wilderness double kayak, one of the best on the market. It was sturdy and solid and a really easy boat to paddle. 

Check-in is 30 minutes prior to your tour time, which gives you enough time to get your gear, use the restroom, and have a Paddle 101 lesson from your guide. We paddled with a cute family who had two little kids, a mom, and a grandma. This grandma had never paddled before in her life but she was a rock star five minutes into our tour. Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked before.  If grandma can do it, so can you.

Booking a Tour

Kayak Hilton Head books tours all day every day during peak season in summer. Typically, summer kayak tours run at 8 am, 10:45 am, 2:30 pm, and 6 pm. Spring and fall tours are usually 9 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm. Reservations must be made in advance. 

Dave will tell you the best time to kayak is at 8 am. It’s relatively cooler at that time of day and you have a better chance of seeing dolphins. Seeing dolphins isn’t guaranteed on every tour though. They are wild animals and don’t have a schedule! 

If you reserve your tour online, the cost is $30/adult and $15/child (12 and under). If you don’t reserve online, it’s $45/adult and $30/child. 

Kayak Hilton Head does not have a minimum age to come on the tours and they leave it up to the parents. Just be aware that there is no place to stop on the kayak tour and jump out and stretch your legs or let the kids run around. They will be confined the whole time to your boat.

If you’re looking for other boat tours, Kayak Hilton Head has a shark fishing tour, a sunset cruise, and a beachcombing expedition. 

Kayak Hilton Head
18 Simmons Road, Hilton Head, SC
Kayak Hilton Head Website
Kayak Hilton Head Facebook

Would you go on a kayak dolphin tour?

Sweeping views of the Smokies & Gatlinburg is just the beginning of Anakeesta’s new attractions

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We are big fans of Anakeesta in Gatlinburg and have covered the park extensively. So when we got the opportunity to go to the grand opening of the new AnaVista tower, we weren’t going to say no! So here’s what the new ‘crown jewel’ of Anakeesta looks like and how you can enjoy all the great adventures at this magical park.

Flying High at Anakeesta

Guests to Anakeesta, the outdoor family adventure park and mountaintop village in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, can now climb to the highest point in the city and enjoy 360 degree views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Blue Ridge Mountains, and downtown Gatlinburg. The new structure is honestly incredible. In a world full of dull and boring buildings, the AnaVista Tower is an eye-catcher. Designed by one of the founders of Anakeesta, Bob Bentz, it is meant to resemble a flower – a lily is pictured in the signage – opening its petals to the sun. 

The tower is in the middle of the stunning gardens atop the mountain, artfully strewn with lilies, colorful little flowers, roses, lilac, and all kinds of other beauties that I love but have no idea what they are called. The views from the garden are amazing. You get up there and look out over the Great Smoky Mountains and just want to take it all in, to breathe freely, and to never leave. It’s peaceful and serene. The founders of Anakeesta are both landscape architects and it shows. 

The tower stands 50 feet high and has helpful plaques on every side about what you’re looking at, from Clingman’s Dome to Stone Mountain to Pigeon Forge. You can see for miles. There are also chairs set up on every level if you need to take a break on the way up to the top. It’s the highest point in Gatlinburg and is part of Anakeesta’s $6.5 million expansion plans. 

By the way, Anakeesta is only three years old. More than two million people have made their way up to the mountain and already the mountaintop adventure park has earned an impressive number of travel awards.

You can read my full review of Anakeesta and all their attractions including the mountain coaster, the zip lines, the restaurants, and the treetop walk here


The AnaVista Tower isn’t the only new addition gracing the top of the mountain. The new TreeVenture adventure course was recently unveiled. It easily fits into the landscape of the mountain with natural wood, nets, and fun obstacles for both kids and adults. 

That’s right, adults can have just as much fun as the kids! I tried it out and definitely enjoyed the swinging bridges and wobbly structures and huge slide. TreeVenture is creatively designed so it’s a challenge for everyone but also lots of fun. 

A new splash pad will open this summer and an indoor restaurant featuring Tennessee BBQ is slated to open in September. They are currently playing outdoor movies at night and are open for adventures with your family.

Be sure to stop at the ice cream parlor, which serves Blue Bell ice cream. I had the blueberry cobbler flavor and am still swooning over the delicious treat. 

Health & Safety Policies

Anakeesta has taken several steps to keep their employees and guests safe. All employees have their temperatures checked daily, have been provided face masks, and practice social distancing. 

Guests can follow really cute sasquatch signs indicating social distancing requirements. Masks are not required for guests at this point but they are sold for minimal cost if you’d like one.

Chondalas and cabins are cleaned often and sanitized. There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the park as well. You can read more about their policies here.


Admission is good for all day access and unlimited Chondala or Ridge Rambler rides up and down the mountain. Also included in the admission ticket is the AnaVista Tower, TreeVenture, Treetop Skywalk, Treehouse Village Adventure, Overlook Event Area, Vista Gardens Walk, Memorial Forest Walk with interpretive signs, shopping and dining opportunities at Firefly Village, and the most stunning scenic views in all of Gatlinburg.

An adult ticket is $21.99 and children ages 4-11 are $17.99. Kids three and under are free. New this year is the Express Pass, a timed entry ticket to the park. 

The all-day access I think is one of the best perks of admission to Anakeesta. We stayed at the beautiful Greystone Lodge, right across the street from Anakeesta, maybe a five minute walk, and the ability to head down the mountain and take a break there and then come back in the evening is a great way to spend the day. The Greystone has a fun pool, perfect for kids and a nice way to relax for parents.

Anakeesta also offers seasonal passes, which are good for an entire year from the date of purchase. This is a great option for families if they know they are coming to Gatlinburg at least twice a year and want to make Anakeesta a part of their visit.

Season passes are $43.98 for adults and $35.98 for kids plus you get extra perks like unlimited access to the Chondola express lane, an extra guest pass, and discounts on food and beverage and entertainment. 

Have you been to Anakeesta?

Stay in this Family-Friendly Safari Tent in Gatlinburg for a Fun Trip!

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Looking for a fun place to stay in the Gatlinburg area for your family, a girls trip, or even a romantic getaway? Kristina took her kids to Camp LeConte and tells us all about it and why it’s sure to be a destination choice for your next vacation to the Smokies. A complimentary stay was given to us for this review. 

If you like the outdoors and would love to stay overnight in the woods but camping just isn’t up your alley, maybe you have heard of “glamping” – it’s where you get the experience of camping but without having to set up a tent, sleep on the ground, and deal with no air conditioning. I’ve done all kinds of awesome glamping, as well as regular camping, and if I have the choice, it’s going to be one of comfort! And I stayed at an unforgettable glamping resort in Gatlinburg that may just seal the deal on your family’s next trip. 

Staying in a Safari Tent

Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort is only two-and-a-half hours from Greenville yet feels a world away. It’s a luxury camping resort that has safari tents, campers, and treehouses for rent plus spaces for RVs and regular tents. I had seen signs for the resort on my previous trips to the Smoky Mountains and was intrigued, so when I had the opportunity to stay in a safari tent there, you bet I took it. 

Our safari tent, which was imported from Europe, was basically a huge tent with walls of strong fabric stretched over wooden poles. It had two areas, one for sleeping, and a deck for sitting and eating. The back sleeping part was closed off with a zippered door and you could also close off a second part with a counter and storage area, leaving the deck open. We did that just for privacy and saw most of the other occupied safari tents doing the same. 

While there are no lions or tigers outside this safari tent, there may be bears, so you need to be sure to store your food sealed in your car or in a bear proof canister. No bears showed up for our stay though (I really wanted to see one – maybe next time).

There is also an outdoor charcoal ring with grill top for use plus a table and chairs and a wooden chair swing. Fire pits with chairs are nearby as well as potable water spouts. 

The most uncomfortable part of regular camping for me is the hard ground and lack of air conditioning. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’re sweating on top of a thin mat. That’s no issue at Camp LeConte. Our tent had a large, comfortable bed with a set bunk beds and an air conditioning unit. It was super clean and the tent even had windows (you could roll them closed at night for privacy) and a closet to store your bags. There’s also electricity so charging your phone is no problem.

It was very comfortable and my kids loved the outdoor swing and deck. 

Amenities & Location

One thing I’ve learned about taking kids on vacation is that a pool on location is key. Camp LeConte has a small pool perfect for lounging after a long day of hiking and where the kids somehow still have the energy to go for a swim. 

The resort also has a playground and laundry is on-site if you need it. The bathhouse is within walking distance to the tents and campers and was very clean. Towels, linens, and shampoo/conditioner/soap are all provided. 

There’s a general store also so if you forgot anything essential, you should be able to get it. They also sell firewood and ice, which is convenient. 

Check-in was a breeze. A welcome packet is placed outside the bathrooms and laundry area and you just grab it and go to your tent, treehouse, or camper. 

Camp LeConte is located just a few miles from downtown Gatlinburg and about 25 minutes to Pigeon Forge. The trolley stops right outside the resort so you can easily make use of that service if you don’t want to drive and park in town. There is a grocery store right down the street from the resort as well nearby restaurants, gas stations, and a CVS. The entrance to the Smoky Mountains is maybe 10 minutes away without traffic. 

I loved that the resort was close enough to Gatlinburg to be convenient but far enough to be away from the noise and traffic. The resort was pretty full when we went but it was quiet and peaceful and best of all, restful. 

The resort is open March through December.

Family, Friends or Couple Options

Camp LeConte caters to everyone and I love the variety of options they have. Our safari tent easily slept a family of four but they have others that are better suited for couples or even a girls weekend. Safari tents sleep two, four, or six people and range in price from $127-$150 a night. There was a group of four girlfriends next to us who looked like they were having an awesome time! 

The treehouses, which I’m totally eyeing for my next trip, look amazing. There are three of them at the resort and perched in the trees (obviously). They start at $197 a night. There are also two 1960s retro campers at the resort that look adorable. They are $139 a night. 

One important item to note is that pets are not allowed in the safari tents, the campers, or the luxury treehouses. Pets are allowed if you reserve one of the RV sites. 

Here’s a video tour of our safari tent:

Make Some Memories

All of these options at Camp LeConte are just perfect for that getaway you’ve been wanting to take but maybe aren’t sure where to go or what to do. We have a huge guide to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge if you’re looking for options on things to do in the area. This is by far personally one of my favorite places to take my kids because of all the unique things to do and the endless adventures to have at the National Park. 

My kids were sad to leave Camp LeConte – they loved the bunk beds and the whole experience of glamping plus the pool was endless entertainment. We explored Gatlinburg and the park during our trip, heading to Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, and the SkyBridge. It was nice to know we had a quiet, comfortable place to come back to each night after our adventures!

Have you ever camped in a safari tent?