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Windy City, Smoky Mountains Pre-trip

Discussion in 'Non Disney Trips and Travels' started by wickesy, Nov 5, 2008.

  1. wickesy
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    wickesy Earning my ears

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    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.
     
  2. wickesy
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    wickesy Earning my ears

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    6/10/08

    So, quite a bit of planning has been done already. Last Sunday we booked the cabin, which was central to the whole trip. We had a slight panic when we realised that the online booking form had nowhere to enter United Kingdom in the payment details but luckily the reservation went through anyway. I e-mailed the rental company with the booking reservation number, explained the problem we had and giving our full mailing address and a couple of hours later I had an e-mail back from them confirming that they had updated their records and the payment has been taken so it looks like we are OK there. We also booked the car hire, electing just to pay a deposit at this stage – better to have the money in Dad’s account than theirs. ;)

    This Saturday we booked the flights with BA and after a quick look “just for laughs” we confirmed that we wouldn’t be going any higher than World Traveller Plus – Club World was an extra £1,600! We also booked the hotels in Chicago and Louisville, which I did through Hotels.com via Quidco earning us £40 cash back .

    So with everything booked, and after a bit of research I have sketched out a rough itinerary:

    22nd July – Fly out to Chicago, check in at Hilton Suites and get our bearings.
    23rd July – Visit Navy Pier, check out the shops on Magnificent Mile and go up to the John Hancock Observatory to get a birds-eye view of Chicago
    24th July – Visit the aquarium, planetarium, Field Museum and Sears Tower
    25th July – Leave Chicago and drive to Louisville – I found a great site for planning this part of the trip which is travmatix.com. Not only does it give you driving directions but it also lists the gas stations and restaurants at each exit of the Interstates on the way. Depending on how the journey goes and what time we get there we can have a wander round and see some of the sights.
    26th July – We can have an hour or so in Louisville and then head off on the drive down to Gatlinburg and see the cabin for the first time.
    27th July – After two full days of driving today will be spent in the cabin and in Gatlinburg.
    28th July – Day trip to Dollywood
    29th July – Cades Cove
    30th July – Biltmore and, if we leave early enough, come back the scenic route down the Blue Ridge Parkway which could be anything up to another four hour drive.
    31st July – Touring the Smoky Mountains National Park visiting some of the easy trails to the waterfalls.
    1st August – A second day at Dollywood if we need it.
    2nd August – Up the mountain to Ober Gatlinburg
    3rd August – Another easy day preparing for another long driving day tomorrow
    4th August – Check out of the cabin by 11:00 and drive to Atlanta for the flight home
    5th August – Arrive home, hopefully with lots of happy memories and plenty of pictures for the trip report.

    The days that we are staying in the cabin are all interchangeable depending on how we feel and what we fancy doing on each day but listing it out means I know exactly what I want to cover while we are there. I’ve ordered a “Smoky Mountains Explorer Pack” from the official National Park shop so once that comes I will have a better idea of where the various trails are and possibly find places we want to go to that I haven’t discovered yet.

    The more I plan the more I’m looking forward to this trip but I’m trying not to wish my life away wanting the countdown to go faster. I’ll post more updates as and when things change.
     
  3. wickesy
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    wickesy Earning my ears

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    I got home tonight and when I checked my e-mails I found one from BA letting me know that the flight from Atlanta to Gatwick on 4th August has been CANCELLED. A few minutes of panic followed but I phoned the Executive Club who told me that it seems all of the Atlanta flights have been re-routed and we will now be arriving back at Heathrow instead. The flight also now leaves at 22:05 instead of 18:35, which gives us a bit more time for the drive back to the airport.

    The new flight is showing up on the booking on the website now so everything seems fine.
     
  4. catrancher
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    catrancher Assistant Cruise Director Forum Host

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    David,

    Something to keep in mind when you reach Gatlinburg. Sometimes traffic in the town can become virtually impassable. :mad:

    The best course of action is to find a parking lot off the main street (Great Smoky Mountains Parkway), park your car and spend the day walking. The town itself is not all that large but it is a tourist mecca and as such, can be quite crowded.

    Be sure to try and take a day to go over 441 through the mountains to Cherokee, NC. Perhaps a little side trip along the way at Newfound Gap up to Clingmans Dome. It's all very beautiful coutryside! Be sure to bring your camera! (And perhaps a fly rod if you'd like to fish).

    Tom (who enjoys an occasional day in the mountains)
     
  5. wickesy
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    wickesy Earning my ears

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    Thanks Tom, I had intended to 'park and walk' at Gatlinburg as I would have had quite enough driving over the previous couple of days.

    A trip over to Cherokee and Clingman's Dome is definitely on the list. Since I originally posted the above reports on another board I have received a copy of the "Smokies Road Guide" and read about them in there. I'm now wishing I had an extra couple of days as I'm worried I won't have enough time to fit everything in, it all sounds so great!! I will definitely have a camera and plenty of memory cards with me as I'm not sure if or when we'll get back over that way so I want to capture as many memories as I can.
     
  6. Dorothy
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    Dorothy Smiley Herder

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    Navy Pier is awesome, but can I suggest that you do it at night if the weather is clear (not raining). The view of the city all lite up at night is something to NOT be missed. They also have some type of live music at night and a beer garden :D

    Michigan Ave is so wonderful to just stroll down and window shop. What we do is park at Water Tower Place and then just walk down Michigan ave and back. If you want see State Street there are a number of stores that have enetrances off of both Michigan and State so that you more or less can walk through the store and be on State or Michigan.

    That is a LOT to do in one day. The Field alone could take the better part of a day to go through depending on how interested you are in the exhibits and the same for the Aquarium too. When it gets closer you will have to check the show times for the plantarium as they have a lot of school kids in the summer and certain times may not be available for the general public.

    If you have any other Chicago type questions just give a yell :yes:

    AND you are so going to LOVE Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge :D We've been there several times and just love the Smokies.
     
  7. foreverducky
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    foreverducky Addicted to Mickey

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    I would love to visit Gaitlinburg.

    Yes, the Field Museum is an all day event.
     
  8. wickesy
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    wickesy Earning my ears

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    Yes, as I looked into it more I realised that doing it all in one day was going to be ambitious. I love aquariums so what we'll probably do is start out there and then see how time goes.

    Thanks, I will. :thumbs_up:
     

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