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By LARRY VAUGHT
Since I was anticipating that Kentucky would be playing in the Final Four in Indianapolis to end a magnificent basketball season, I knew I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to have to go far to spend a few days unwinding with my family after the Final Four ended.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I thought Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tenn., would be the perfect driving distance and hopefully the perfect place not only for my two grandchildren, but also their parents as well.
No, Kentucky didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t win the national championship. However, my time away earlier this week was still perfect and if youÃ‚Â need a spot to slip away with the family for a few days, this is it.Ã‚Â And while I normally stick only to sports, I thought some of you might be interested in a neat vacation getaway spot as well.
Wilderness at the Smokies has luxurious accommodations and a waterpark that everyone in my family thoroughly enjoyed. And the three waterparks at the resort are for resort guests only Ã¢â‚¬â€ and unlike some places, admission to the waterpark is included in the room rate.
We stayed in a two-bedroom premier suite that could have slept at least 12 and had ample room for the eight of us. It included four televisions and refrigerators in each of the bedrooms, a nice touch when the grandchildren went to bed at night. River Lodge has over 400 units, including fireplaces that were a nice touch. Better yet, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s connected to the indoor waterpark and Lake Wilderness outdoor park was right outside our room.
The Wild WaterDome, a 60,000 square foot indoor waterpark, was where we spent most of our time the two nights and three days we were there. The see-through roof almost made it seem like you were outside the temperature was plenty warm Ã¢â‚¬â€ a major worry my wife had before we arrived.
The two 350-foot tube slides were fun, but the two family raft rides were exhilarating and made us all scream and laugh at the same time. Runaway Canyon takes you through 450 feet of tunnels, turns, 360-degree loops and a drop of almost 60 feet that certainly took us by surprise the first time. The Storm Chaser sends you into the storm with an unexpected drop into the funnel. Both were family-style raft rides Ã¢â‚¬â€ and that made it nice to share the fun together.
The Surf Rider enables you to see if you can surf Ã¢â‚¬â€ and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not easy. The wave pool is fun and when the waves crank up, it created a lot of excitement that almost overwhelmed my grandchildren.
My grandkids were happiest in the play area designed for them with shallow water, two kiddie slides, bounce swings and a teeter totter.Ã‚Â It had fountains that shot water a few feet in the air that fascinated my grandson and a bucket that periodically dumped water on anyone within range, including my wife once.Ã‚Â There was another play area for bigger kids that had two slides Ã¢â‚¬â€ my grandson tried both but was a little young Ã¢â‚¬â€ and it featured an enormous tipping bucket of water.
My favorite spot might have been the large indoor/outdoor hot tub. It was relaxing and soothing Ã¢â‚¬â€ and a great place to escape for a few minutes to recharge my batteries to keep up with the grandkids.
The Lake Wilderness outdoor park was not open yet but it has a wave pool, lazy river and large outdoor area to enjoy. Salamander Springs outdoor waterpark was open, but we had so much fun indoors that we never had a reason to venture outside to try the 150-foot body and tube slides and other activities there including the pool with three basketball goals. It also had a play structure for children.
There was plenty to do when you were not at the waterpark, too. My children and their spouses each made pottery and there is an 18-hole, lighted miniature golf course. The resort has an arcade and retail shops Ã¢â‚¬â€ and two restaurants and a snack shop at the indoor waterpark. Thirsty Miner Grill features a terrific breakfast buffet, but we also fixed meals in our room. My son and his wife also liked the home-made fudge available at the resort.
You are within easy driving distance of other attractions/restaurants in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, so thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never a shortage of anything to do. However, we had so much fun that we basically stayed at the resort and left with only one regret Ã¢â‚¬â€ we wished we had planned to stay longer.
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If you are interested in more information, call 1-877-325-9453 or visit http://www.wildernessatthesmokies.com. Wilderness at the Smokies is about seven miles south of I-40 off Exit 407 on TN Route 66. Turn right at traffic light 17.4 off Route 66 to enter the resort.