July 4, 2008 – Mangold Family Vacation

We started our morning with an excellent breakfast at Cracker Barrel (1 of 2 right in Pigeon Forge). From there we went to the outlets yet again for a couple of last minute things. Nathan and I found a place called “Lids” that sells hats. They had this huge contraption right in the middle of the store that was an embroidering machine. This machine for about $10 would add details to just about any hat in the place. We had a blast picking out our hats and customizing them.

We then took the kids to the NASCAR go-carts for the remainder of the day. The price wasn’t too bad, it cost about $25.00 for both of them to ride a couple of times. The wait time was a bit excessive with the holiday crowds, but they walked off the ride with a smile on their face.

We had lunch at Huck Finns. This, to me, is the only place to get catfish in all of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or Sevierville. The bill was a bit steep, but the meal was well worth it. We each got an entree which includes hush puppies, a sliced onion, pickles, and white beans with ham. I of course ordered catfish. Shannon and Katelyn ordered calabash shrimp. Nathan ordered fried clams. This restaurant serves their drinks in “Mason” jars. This is an old southern tradition that I often even did as a child visiting Mangold’s Grove. While I’ve been down here, I’ve ordered nothing but sweet tea. I even got Nathan hooked!

Thankfully, the weather cooperated. In fact so much so, we enjoyed the fireworks from our hotel lawn. They were about 5 miles away at Patriot Park, but we had an excellent view from where we were.

We surely could have covered more ground in Pigeon Forge had it not been for the miserable traffic AND my bum ankle. I’m good for about 3 hours and then I have to get it elevated. This is the first week I have been able to put weight on the left foot with the help of a cane. So much of this vacation is going to involve taking pain pills, going to the extreme with my foot, taking more pain pills, keeping it iced and elevated.

July 3, 2008 – Pigeon Forge, TN

After prayer to ensure a safe journey, we departed Sterling Heights at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Katelyn, bless her heart, was so excited she woke up at 2 and couldn’t go back to sleep. We stopped at Bob Evans in Ohio and had breakfast. We stopped for gas 2 times our first fuel up at Meijer in Ohio was for $3.99 and then again in Kentucky for $4.05 a gallon. Real deals considering Michigan prices are almost $4.20 as of this post.

We arrived in Pigeon Forge at roughly 4:00. We made relatively good time adhering to the speed limits not only to prevent getting a ticket, but for the added benefit of saving on fuel.

Dinner
We had dinner at Calhoun’s. This has been a Tennessee favorite of mine for a long time. They’re famous for anything from their steaks, seafood, and my personal favorite – Ribs! They were as always terrific. Shannon and Katelyn shared chicken tenders. Nathan had the special which was a Pork Chop with broccoli and a side of mashed potatoes. Our bill came to roughly $55.00 for all of us. Considering this was our main meal of the day I didn’t figure that was all that bad.

Traffic Surprise
To our dismay, on the way into Pigeon Forge, starting almost from the point we got off of Hwy. 640, onto Hwy. 40, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic. When we arrived at Calhoun’s we enquired about the traffic, and according to them, Gatlinburg, which is just up the road from where we were at, is known for being one of the first places in the United States to celebrate the birth of our country, by having a parade that starts at the stroke of midnight. People were lined up trying to pile into the small town before the streets get blocked off. Even as patriotic as I am, we decided to forego those festivities in favor of a quiet evening here in Pigeon Forge.

Accommodations
After almost 11 hours travel, we were ready to huddle into our room. I had some anxiety about checking in. I had previously booked a room here and had to cancel it when we decided to arrive a day early and needed a room for 2 days rather than just the one. The cancellation went through without incident, but I just wasn’t sure by cancelling and booking another reservation was going to work out. I could just imagine, someone thinking I intended to cancel the reservation and cancelling both of them. To my relief, the room was in fact ready.

Econo Lodge Riverside Review
Now, I’m not a connoisseur of hotels, but I have stayed in my share of good and bad, and there are certain things we MUST have in order to enjoy our stay at a hotel. Econo Lodge Riverside at 2440 N. Parkway Pigeon Forge TN 37868 is in a great location. It’s billed from a 2 to 3 star hotel but several sites. Incidentally, I located this hotel at Kayak.com for a rate of $79.99 (Thu.) and $99.99 (Fri.). This rate includes a non-smoking room with 2-queens with a AAA discount. Below is a description of my rating system and my review of the room.  

My Rating System

  • Cost – This is a very important factor in all of our decisions. In the past we have paid dearly for a room only to be disappointed. Budgeting for rooms for us typically falls in to the $75 – $100/night, depending on the area.
  • Cleanliness – We don’t mind paying an extra $10 or $15/night, if we can be assured the room is going to be clean. We have had bugs, hairs, soiled sheets, mold, mildew, rooms in disrepair and swore off ever staying at not only that particular hotel, but sometimes going as far as never wanting to stay at the chain. Best Westerns and Days Inns are 2 names that we have seen go down the tubes in terms of quality.
  • Closeness – Being in close proximity is important. This saves time and fuel, and enables us to absorb ourselves in the surroundings of the tourist attraction, but not be so close that we are dealing with crowds.
  • Quietness – Seldom, if ever, can you avoid noise, or predict it happening. The quieter the better though. We’ve stayed in 4 and 5 star hotels only to be totally disappointed with the stay due to loud and rambunctious hockey or softball teams and even grown-up reunions or retreats.
  • These are my ratings from lowest quality to highest: Awful –  Bad – OK – Good – Fair – Moderate – Excellent – Superb

So with these things in mind, let me just say, it’s been roughly 2 hours since we checked in trouble-free with this Econo Lodge in Pigeon Forge and here are my immediate reactions.

  • Check-in: This went relatively well. The lady at the front desk was polite enough and was helpful. I would suggest here that if you require a room on the first floor due to medical problems (like I currently have) you book this in advance and let them know. We were assigned to the third floor. When I requested a lower level, I was quickly cut-off and told there were none available. Here would have been a good chance for her to at least have offered to check for cancellations, and to offer at least a second floor. She did neither. I immediately asked if there was an elevator. She said yes, but it’s proximity to our room was prohibitive. I may as well take the stairs, although slowly and with a great deal of discomfort. The walk to the elevator would have been roughly double in length.
  • The Room: Very clean. A bit cramped, but with good reason. There are (2) queen beds, an small kitchenette style area with a small fridge, coffee pot, and microwave, 26″ TV, 2 closets with doors, a table with (2) chairs, a full dresser, a luggage table, and the standard night stand.
    • The decor was tasteful and up-to-date. It appears this is their original state, as no signs of paint or new wallpaper are evident. The carpet is a bit worn in high traffic areas, as is to be expected, but there are snags, perhaps from children or luggage.
    • The linens were all clean and in good supply. Enough for all (4) of us.
    • The soap products seem a bit stingy, but do-able. I did notice while we were checking in, a gentleman that must have been here for a couple of days had to come and get a bar of soap from the hostess, as his room attendant apparently forgot to leave a fresh bar. We had a bar on the sink and on in the tub, so apparently, the room attendant forgot to leave (2) bars of soap.
    • The pool is smaller than in the pictures, but clean. Being on the smaller side, the pool was quickly crowded, with a lot of screaming kids and non-existent adults.
  • The Breakfast: This was nothing short of disappointing. Definitely do NOT take this into consideration when factoring the price. With (2) Cracker Barrels, Bob Evans, IHOP, and scads of pancake restaurants to pick from, they actually do you a favor by not serving a decent breakfast.
  • The Beds: Not the most supportive, and they were probably due for a change-out soon, but they served their purpose.
  • Overall: My impression of this room is MODERATE
  • Would I stay here again? Yes
  • Would I recommend it? Yes
  • Recommend to who? Family on budget, business, or budget-minded couple on a get-away.

Celebrating 18 Years of Marriage – Weekend Getaway Day 3

Saturday February 9, 2007

Day 3 – Traverse City
We started our day with breakfast at Mabel’s Restaurant. This was without a doubt one of the best breakfasts we had the entire weekend. I had the Irish Omelette and Shannon had the Denver with egg-subsitute. We also bought a loaf of their homemade cheddar bread. Delish!

We had every intention of just chilling out and relaxing the entire weekend but that didn’t work out quite that way. Well, the chilling part was certainly a factor with sub-zero temps and windchills, but the relaxing part only came after we ran our legs off from store to store.

Before heading out to the yarn stores and outlets we booked a room for our final night at Grand Traverse Bay Resort and Spa. We were able to get a room for $199/night with a beautiful view of the bay in the “tower.” Our room included a hot tub (for 2), King sized bed, kitchenette, and wi-fi access. This may sound like a lot of money, but this was to be our last night away and we wanted to end our weekend on a high-note. We also booked a massage at the resort’s spa . This included a 1-hour massage. It was fabulous! I didn’t know they could do those things to your body. FYI: I had a man and Shannon had a lady…no hanky panky here!

Lost Art Yarn Shoppe – Traverse City, MI
We headed to a couple more yarn stores today as well as some shoe shopping (my favorite). Our first yarn store was “Lost Art Yarn Shoppe,” in downtown Traverse City. As most yarn stores are, this was quaint and offered some patterns that Shannon was surprised to find, like hair-pin lace patterns. The lady that tended the store was “snippy.” Shannon mentioned that she was pleased to find the hair-pin lace patterns to which the lady quipped, “well you know that’s for crocheting.” Shannon was well-aware of this fact. Another thing that turned Shannon off was when a customer asked about another local yarn store, Yarn Quest (see below), the lady “acted” like she never heard of the store. That’s bad business not pointing customers to your competitors. That says you’re paranoid and that your competitors are likely better than you.

Plamadon Shoes – Traverse City, MI
Across the street from Lost Art Yarn, I stumbled on a nicely staffed shoe store called, “Plamadon Shoes.” We were waited on hand and “foot” by a swee young lady named, of all things, “Winter.” She was very attentive to my concerns and tastes and we wound up purchasing 3 pairs of shoes and (2) bags. I purchased a couple pairs of “Keen” brand shoes and (1) pair of Merrell’s for Nathan. My shoes were Keen Bostons and Briggs. Nathan’s Merrells were Barcelona’s. The bags were by Keen as well called Alameda 15, made completely of recycled material. Hats off (or shoes as it were) to this team. They were top-notch in service, friendliness, and variety of merchandise.

Yarn Quest – Traverse City, MI
By far one of Shannon’s highlights was this store. Yarn Quest on Garfield, in Traverse City, was a good find. Shannon was able to get authentic Irish Yarn along with some patterns. She was very pleased with the staff. Shannon said she felt like she could just sit there and knit for hours. We returned for some more yarn for Shannon’s knitting partner, Pam. The ladies nearly hugged Shannon and were genuinely happy to see her. Now I know why Lost Art Yarn Shoppe was so hesitant about recommending them. They were awesome.

Irish Knits – Cedar, MI
Usually when you shop at yarn stores you’re greeted by ladies that average in age from 50 and up. This store was different. The staff was around 35 and under. Irish Knits was another nugget on Shannon’s yarn travels. They were located about 15 miles from Traverse City in a sleepy little town called Cedar. A very pleasant experience for Shannon.

Thistledown Shoppe, Sutton’s Bay, MI
Maybe it was just the time of year. The dead of winter can wreak havoc on small shops in the north. There is little or no tourism and to survive, the stores often have to skimp on inventory and variety. The Thistledown Shoppe appears to have fallen prey to the winter lull in business. They were certainly not worth the drive this time of year. Shannon was very disappointed, although the drive to it was beautiful even with all of the snow.

Dinner
Once we finished our massage we headed to a restaurant, I think it was called City, but can’t find information or links on the web to it. Suffice it to say, I know why. It was lousy. Not a very good ending to our day. We headed back to our hotel and relaxed for the evening.

There is a severe weather front that blew in over the evening. It didn’t bode well for our travel the next morning home.

Celebrating 18 Years of Marriage – Weekend Getaway Day 2

Friday February 8, 2008 

Day 2 – Ludington to Traverse City
Shannon’s really into knitting. In fact, I’ve tried to talk her into blogging about her knitting thoughts and ideas and to even blog about the many knitting stores I’ve taken her to. We visited Nautical Yarn at 108 S. Rath Ave. in downtown Ludington. It was a quaint store that Shannon was able to purchase some leather purse handles for a project she was working on. 

The Yarn Market – Beaulah, MI
On our way to Traverse City we visited another quaint yarn store in Beulah, MI called The Yarn Market at 254 Benzie Blvd. in downtown Beulah, just minutes away from beautiful Crystal Lake. The store was at one time the bank for Beulah. In fact, the office of the store is located in the large vault of the former bank. Shannon purchased a magnetic pattern holder and some patterns.

Holiday Inn – Traverse City, MI 
From there we headed into Traverse City. We spent several hours turned around despite having a GPS. My GPS (Delphi Nav200), nicknamed Betty (it has a female voice), did an excellent job of getting us where we input the addresses, but when we wanted to get a general feel for some of the area, we got turned around. Eventually we settled for the night at Holiday Inn in downtown Traverse City.

If you are on a budget I recommend this hotel although the rate was cheap enough ($80/night). It is an older hotel, and clean enough, but the linens and decor were a bit dated. We even had a corner of our room with a view of Grand Traverse Bay. As another note, I did not sleep well in this hotel due to a convention of loud kids, with dogs, running the hall ways until almost 2 a.m. I called and complained. The staff immediately sent security up to squelch the noise, but right after the guard left, the noise picked back up with a vengeance. I think once the group found out they were getting to us, they relished in that fact and were that much more malicious. I yelled out the door once in a feeble attempt to quiet them to which the adults (yes they were bad as well) said, “now we know who complained!” I was greeted by their 2 poorly groomed Schnauzers. I quickly shut the door and stuffed earplugs deep in my ears.

Blue Tractor Cook-shop – Traverse City, MI
We had dinner before settling in for the night at the Blue Tractor Cook-shop in downtown Traverse City. I had fish and chips (cod, whitefish, and one other fish) and Shannon had a stuffed chicken breast. The meals came to about $35 with beverages. Overall we had a great meal in a rustic, but clean setting.