After the success of our DIY trip earlier this year Dad and I decided to do another one next Summer and I was entrusted to come up with some ideas. My first thought was to do something Dad has always wanted to do, which is drive Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, but after doing some research I found that you can’t really do that justice in just two weeks.
I stuck with the idea of doing some form of road trip starting in Chicago and came up with the idea of visiting somewhere I have always wanted to go – the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Looking at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park web site I found that the nearest place to stay is Gatlinburg and getting some directions from Google Maps told me that the driving time between Chicago and Gatlinburg is about 9 hours so we would need n overnight stop en route. Louisville, Kentucky seemed an ideal spot from looking at the map and it actually turned out to be near enough exactly half way leaving around 4 ½ hours driving each day.
Next thing was to look for flights and, after juggling the dates, I found miles plus money flights with Virgin in Premium Economy for £930.80 each. This would also mean flying back to Chicago for the return flight and internal flights were coming in at around £380 each. The problem was that the times of the internal flights didn’t really tie up well with the return Virgin flight and would either mean a tight connection time or we would be hanging around Chicago for hours and so I decided to look at an “open jaw” flight. The nearest international airport to Gatlinburg with direct service to London is Atlanta and, as Virgin don't fly there I found flights with British Airways in World Traveller Plus from London to Chicago and Atlanta to London for £1,019.80 each which would make the return trip a whole lot easier at the expense of a 3 hour drive to Atlanta on the last day rather than a 1 hour drive to Knoxville.
After looking at hotels on Expedia and reviews on TripAdvisor I decided on the Hilton Suites in Chicago for 3 nights at a cost of £107 per night and the Hyatt Regency in Louisville for £73 for the night. Car hire with USRentacar is £249.82 for the full package 13 days plus a $300 one-way rental fee, which is payable when we pick the car up.
The final thing to decide on was accommodation in Gatlinburg. I knew I wanted to stay in a log cabin but what I didn’t know was just how many cabins and cabin rental companies there are out there – hundreds of different cabins and dozens of rental companies! After searching through the 2-bedroom cabins I narrowed it down to 5 and then after Dad had looked through them I settled on this one, which is close enough to Gatlinburg to be able to get there quickly and easily but is still far enough out to be “away from it all”.
So we will be leaving on 22nd July 2009, staying in Chicago until 25th July 2009 when we will travel to and stay in Louisville for the night, then drive down to Gatlinburg and stay there from 26th July to 4th August when we will drive to Atlanta and get the flight back to London.
We are hoping to book the cabin later today and then book the rest later in the week once Dad has paid off all the bits for our holiday to Florida in March next year. I’m really looking forward to planning an itinerary for this trip and I’ll post updates as and when I plan more.