Summer travels kept me from writing up the the last night of my southeastern states road trip from Orlando, Florida to Knoxville, Tennessee Airport via Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the first week of June 2015. My last night of the road trip was a complimentary night at DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista Gatlinburg, courtesy of the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce.
Normally, I do not ask for free hotel nights in places I travel. This road trip happened the week after I attended U.S. Travel Association’s IPW convention in Orlando. While walking through the 1,000+ tourism booths in the main convention hall at IPW, I came across two women sitting at a booth with this enticing photo on a poster in their booth of a hotel in the woods with a mountain backdrop. The poster was for The Park Vista, a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The cylindrical hotel set in a mountains backdrop looked like a lovely location.
Two women were seated at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge booth, talking after the end of a long day of appointments with travel buyers, and after more than 90% of people had left the convention hall.
I was staring at the poster thinking about how the hotel looked kind of cool in that location, when one of the two women greeted me with the words,
“Would you like to have a complimentary stay at that hotel?”
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the western gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I did not know that fact at the time. Gatlinburg was right by the route I needed to travel to reach Knoxville Airport TYS, the end point for my car rental return and a flight home to California to end my IPW Orlando Convention and week-long post-conference road trip adventure.
In the previous week since leaving the theme parks culture of Orlando, my travels had taken me to see the bikinis and bikers of Daytona Beach, storied history at Jekyll Island, Georgia, rock n’ soul river music festival in Savannah, Georgia and I met the feral cats of Tybee Island. The swamps of Congaree National Park taught me even South Carolina has a recent history of environmental activism to preserve river wetlands old growth forest. I lavished in the built parts of Biltmore Estate and thought I might get my ass kicked by a local woman too high on pot brownies and alcohol one Sunday afternoon in Asheville, North Carolina. It wasn’t my personality that set her off, but my camera was particularly offensive to her. I was on an opposite street corner photographing the historic building she happened to be dining in front of. After talking to me for a minute, I was invited to a sidewalk café table for an hour to hear viewpoints from three locally grown artists, two women and one man, offering locals’ tidbits of Asheville culture in their casual conversation and providing me a running commentary on how downtown gentrification had driven them from Asheville city center residences during the past decade.
Asheville, North Carolina to Gatlinburg, Tennessee
A long day’s road trip from Asheville, North Carolina through waterfall country and a drive along the ridge tops of western North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway provided one of the great driving memories of my life. Green leaves of trees colored accordion ridges of mountainsides as far as my eyes could see on an early June afternoon.
View from Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway vista point near Cherokee, North Carolina.
DoubleTree Park Vista Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg was a culture shock after many hours of driving alone through wilderness forestlands. Suddenly, immediately upon exiting the west side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was immersed in high density development of hotels, restaurants and shops. This change of scenery was a sudden jolt of civilization I was not prepared for so soon after driving out of the national park. Thousands of people were everywhere on the streets of Gatlinburg, walking the sidewalks and crossing the road, making the drive through town a crawl in my rental car.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee main drag on a weekday morning.
The Park Vista DoubleTree hotel is up a steep drive above the town of Gatlinburg. There is a large parking lot on level ground outside the hotel. The location of the hotel makes it one of the highest points in Gatlinburg with views down to the town in the valley below and out across the Great Smoky Mountains ridges.
View from DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista Hotel, Gatlinburg, TN.
I arrived at the hotel a little after 6pm and learned at the reception desk that the Hatfield and McCoy dinner show in Pigeon Forge was another 30 minutes drive from the hotel. The offer from the Tennessee tourism women in Orlando was a free night at the DoubleTree would also include a dinner show in Pigeon Forge. I did not realize I had to drive to another town when I picked that show out of the shows offered for the date.
DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista above Gatlinburg, Tennessee seen from my room balcony. The first photo shows the direction south I had driven from through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The last thing I wanted was to get back in my rental car after 11 hours of driving to reach Gatlinburg. But my tourism media commitment needed to be honored and I was back in the car driving to Pigeon Forge after less than 30 minutes in my hotel room.
I shot some photos of the room, shot a quick video, showered and I was back out to my car.
There are bear warning signs all around the parking lot of DoubleTree Park Vista and more bear warnings given by front desk staff when you check into the hotel. Do NOT leave food in your car.
I’d been living in my rental car for more than six days while traveling from Orlando, Florida along the Atlantic coast to Savannah and then inland across the Carolinas before I arrived in Gatlinburg. More time during my trip had been spent sitting in the driver’s seat of that car than I’d spent in hotel beds the previous six nights.
I was not even sure where all the food was in the rental car once I parked. I pulled out apples and oranges and empty food packages I’d accumulated and took them to the hotel room.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
Gatlinburg is a small town dominated by the tourism industry. The residential population is around 4,000 people. Yet, on many days of the year, Gatlinburg sees its actual population grow to 40,000 people in the hotels, businesses and on the streets.
Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge is like an Appalachian Las Vegas for entertainment venues. The valley setting between mountain ridges means the main road winds through the flatter parts of the river valley confining most commercial development to roads with strip style construction along miles of narrow valleys. Pigeon Forge is the next town north of Gatlinburg.
Google Maps showing Gatlinburg, Tennessee in relation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, TN.
Pigeon Forge has only a slightly larger population to Gatlinburg with close to 6,000 residents. Many of the dinner theaters and outlet malls are along the strip of Highway 321 through Pigeon Forge. Dollywood theme park is located here too. Dollywood is Tennessee’s top tourist attraction and some of the big tourism industry news when I was there in June 2015 was the upcoming opening of the $300 million DreamMore Resort at Dollywood in July. This CNBC article about opening DreamMore Resort says Dolly Parton is worth around $500 million.
Before the Flood in Pigeon Forge
Getting back in the rental car was bad enough after an 11-hour day, but the worst part was still to come as I drove north of Gatlinburg into a torrential rainstorm. My eyes were on the road the whole time. This photo was taken while I was stopped several minutes at a red light in the turn lane to the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud theater.
The dinner show was pretty much what I expected. The show was family-fun, entertaining and funny, and the music performances were outstanding. All in all, the performance was a professional quality show performance.
The food was served in pots and refills of sides and sodas were free. The fried chicken was a bit too dry for my liking, but the overall food selection was filling and included dessert. Young women in short shorts walked around selling alcohol beverages.
Hatfield & McCoy dinner show set menu of biscuits, pulled pork, cole slaw, corn on the cob and fried chicken.
Ticket price for dinner show is $54.95 adult and $19.95 children (3-11).
The rain had poured relentlessly for the two hours I was inside the theater and roads were heavily puddled driving back to Gatlinburg. Driving over 25mph was not advisable on the dark winding road as my car hydroplaned repeatedly in the standing water on the roads. Cars following me to Gatlinburg were driving even slower than me. TV news back in the hotel room stated the area was under flood watch as it had rained 1.5 to more than 2 inches in a couple of hours.
The next morning I snapped a few photos in the Park Vista lobby before dashing out early in the morning to get back into great Smoky Mountains National Park and take a hike before driving to the airport for my 3pm flight.
The unusual feature of the DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista Hotel is its cylindrical shape with an open atrium interior. The building design is very cool.
Once reaching the Park Vista Hotel, you can leave your car parked and take local trolley shuttle transportation around the town of Gatlinburg. Based on my experience, this seems the best way to get around town if you don’t need your car.
My hotel stay in Gatlinburg was brief, but at least I did not suffer a black bear attack on my car. Before reaching Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport, I stopped and cleaned out the rental car and packed a suitcase I purchased for $2 in a quick stop at a Goodwill Store in Maryville to pack all the extra stuff I picked up during my travels after two weeks in the southeastern United States. Among the items I found and discarded in the trash was some extremely fragrant beef jerky given to me by the Ritz Carlton Orlando ten days before. That jerky had sat uneaten in the trunk of the car for a week in daily 90+ degree temperatures. I had forgotten there was jerky in the gift bag from my hotel visit. I think the heavy night rains kept bears hunkered down in the woods rather than wandering the open space of the parking lot.
View from guest room balcony DoubleTree by Hilton Park Vista Hotel, Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The Park Vista, a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- 40,000 points per standard reward night Nov-Dec 2015.
- 30,000 points per standard reward night Jan – April 2016.
- 40,000 points per standard reward night May-Oct 2016.
Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015
- Orlando to Knoxville road trip in 1,100 miles–my outline of destination articles.
- Daytona Beach, Florida – Babes, Bikes and Speed at Daytona Beach
- Jekyll Island, Georgia from historic country club to State Park This article was accidentally published when I had only described the Jekyll Island Causeway. Rather than delete it, I left it posted and the story of the transformation of Jekyll Island from historic country club to Georgia State park continues in the post below.
- Jekyll Island, Georgia History and Jekyll Island Club Hotel
- Best Western paid me $11 for my Georgia hotel night
- Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Hospital, Jekyll Island, Georgia
- Westin Jekyll Island, Holiday Inn Resort and Quality Inn Jekyll Island
- Savannah, Georgia Historic Buildings and New Hotels
- The Brice, Savannah, a Kimpton Hotel
- It’s Tybee Time on Savannah Georgia’s Barrier Island beach
- Fort Pulaski National Monument and Civil War history in Savannah region
- Tall Trees at Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- Footloose and roaming Asheville, North Carolina
- Biltmore Estate is more than a Gilded Age mansion, Asheville, NC
- The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
- Asheville Vibrant Craft Beer Scene
- Chasing Waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, Western North Carolina
- White squirrels, black bears and waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
- Appalachian Highlands on Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
- Vast forest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park thanks to Rockefeller
- Out of Great Smoky and into DoubleTree Park Vista Gatlinburg with Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater Pigeon Forge, Tennessee