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.

Mangold Vacation 2008

This is one of our most exciting times of the year; VACATION! Each year, with the Lord’s help, we have been able to enjoy a modest vacation away from the hectic pace of life. This year, thankfully, will be no different. Our destinations include the following:

Pigeon Forge, TN: July 3 – 4
Hilton Head Island, SC: July 5 – 11
Charleston, SC: July 12 – 13
Frederick, MD: July 14 – 20


Pigeon Forge
We will be in Pigeon Forge, TN for just a couple of days to celebrate the 4th and to take in some mountain music and air! We booked a reasonable hotel at the Econo Lodge Riverside at 2440 N. Parkway Pigeon Forge TN 37868. It promises to be a great time, in a great location. I was told by the clerk that fireworks are viewable right from the hotel. I will be posting my review of the hotel during our stay. It’s been 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.

Hilton Head Island
We are super excited about this new venture for us. We have never stayed in Hilton Head and have heard many great things about it. Our friends, Pam and Ray Slone, recommended this destination to us. We booked a villa on the island at Resort Rentals of Hilton Head. This was a superb find and very affordable, especially when you can split the price with another family. In our case, my inlaws are going in “halvers” with us. The rate for the week came to $1386.45. Here is a link to the actual unit we will be staying in (LINK). As is the case with the accommodations at our other destinations, I will be posting a review of the unit here.

Charleston
Yet another recommendation from several people, Charleston is an historic destination by the sea. Some have even said, this would be even a better place to stay than Hilton Head. Of course, that remains to be seen. Our accommodations are at Sleep Inn Charleston 1524 Savannah Hwy (US 17 S) , Charleston, SC, 29407 Phone: (843) 556-6959. The rate was a bit more than I really wanted to pay, but not having been to the area, I had to rely heavily on the reviews of former guests at the hotel to determine a clean and safe hotel to stay at. According to Hotels.com this hotel would be recommended by 77% of its guests and is a 2 star hotel. Our rate was $115/night for 2-queens, non-smoking with the AAA Discount. With taxes, the room comes to $132. We typically like to keep it under $100/night, but again, not having stayed there before, we chose to hedge our stay by spending a bit more to ensure we are in a good area and at a good hotel.

Frederick
Of course, if you’re a visitor to this blog, you may have stumbled upon the fact that we have many relatives that live in the Frederick, MD area. Our accommodations here will be with family. Uncle Mike and Aunt Sharon Mangold will be our hosts and we so look forward to seeing them. But no visit to Maryland would be complete unless we frequented my Aunt Yolanda and Uncle Donny Johnson’s home where my Mamaw Dovie lives as well. This leg of our journey will be pure relaxation and lots of quality family time catching up with them. We have not seen them since last July. Way too long for my liking. Here I will visit with Mamaw and show her some of the new pics that my newly discovered cousins were kind enough to share with me.

Gas Prices
A huge crimp in our style this vacation is of course the gas prices. I created a spread sheet that I will be using to track gas prices as I go through the trip. I project our fuel cost for the entire round trip will be between $400 – $500. An actual figure, bar any other long distance trips, is $420. The total miles at 2168, with an average gas price of $4.00/gal. I know this may seem conservative considering gas is now over $4.00/gal in some areas. But, doing a search of gas prices in each area, the average still is around $4.00 with prices ranging from Michigan at $4.17 on down to South Carolina at $3.79/gal. So taking into account mountain driving and flat terrain driving, I estimate our price per mile will be approximately $.19/mile for fuel. I will track it throughout the trip to see how close my estimates are. Gas prices were taken from the AAA website Fuel Price Finder. Mileage and time estimates were made using Google Maps.

GPS
The GPS we will be using is the Delphi Nav200. I purchased this unit last November (2007) for $129 at Sears. It has been a terrific unit that has seldom steered us wrong. I tested this unit in 2007 for our trip to up east in Maine. We used to travel from Bar Harbor, ME through New York, NY to Maryland with excellence results. Just getting through New York sold me on this unit. Granted, there are slimmer and trimmer models on the market, but this unit has proved itself worthy of my demanding qualifications and will accompany us on yet another Mangold Family Vacation.