Christmas Vacation in November?

Sort of, yeah. To say I love Christmas is a bit of an understatement. A mean a whole season to purposefully focus on Christ. So wonderful. I could listen to Christmas carols all the time and I beg Trevor to let me keep our decorations up year round every year but the Grinch says no. In our old house I decorated twelve trees each year. Our cabin isn’t as big but I can still get about six trees crammed in somewhere. The dinners, the parties, the lights, the decorations, the baked goods and candies. Did I mention the baked goods? I love it all!!

But this year, we will be on the road, by ourselves, in Florida. I’m still trying to figure out how to get some Christmas decorations in our already tight camper that Trev will be okay with. (I’m sure I’ll think of something. Sorry, honey).

So, before we leave for Florida, we are taking us a little trip this week to soak up some of that Christmas feeling at a couple of our favorite places. This means no school and a little bit of backtracking to two states we’ve already been to.

First up, is the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It is America’s largest home and was originally built by George Vanderbilt, of the Vanderbilt railroad family. If you remember, we visited the Breakers, the summer cottage of George’s great-grand father, Cornelius Vanderbilt, in Rhode Island earlier in this trip. This house is amazing. We opted for the Evening Candlelight Tour to add to the Christmas ambiance.

The tour is self-guided but I definitely recommend adding the audio tour. There’s so much history that you just don’t get if you just walk through. They also have a fun kids audio guide, where the Vanderbilt’s St. Bernard, Cedric, narrates. The boys liked it. Your ticket includes the house tour plus your get access to enjoy the grounds the same day or the next. I recommend going both days and wearing really comfy shoes. There are a lot of steps. There is an elevator that goes to the second floor but not the third floor or the basement but they have a video you can watch that shows the rooms on those floors.

Your house ticket has a timed entry and recommends you get to the gate 45 minutes prior to your house tour time. We thought that was a little long but it does take a while to drive, park, catch a shuttle, and get to the house. We got there early and browsed the various gift shops. The Carriage Shop usually has drink samples and food samples. Good to know if you’ve got kiddos. This kept us away from the cafe. 😉 The boys sampled the Blackberry lemonade mix, the Wassil, key lime pie dip, pineapple pecan dip, and the roasted red pepper dip. Although, Mason was fervently requesting for the key lime pie mix go home with us. The staff are extremely friendly and really take pride in representing the Estate. Such a pleasant experience.

It took us about 1 1/2 – 2 hours to tour the whole house. You could definitely make it through faster if you didn’t have the audio guide and you could take longer if you like to linger and soak in every detail. I have tons of pictures but they just don’t do it justice. Plus me or one of the family is usually in the picture blocking at lot of the room. The Estate has 250 rooms and 8,000 acres. It was originally 125,000 acres. All I can say is you’ve got to experience it for yourself. To be built in about six years, and to be so advanced such as having electricity about 50 years before most homes in the area had it, flushing toilets, on-demand hot water, an indoor lit swimming pool, and a bowling alley, the Estate is an amazing testament to the vision of George Washington Vanderbilt II and architect, Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted…and a whole lot of money.

After a late night at the house, we awoke to some light snow and a large dose of cold air. It was freezing! But we bundled up and headed back out to the Estate to explore Antler Village.

Figures, the one year I’m not going to do Christmas cards and I have an actual Christmas family picture I could have used. Totally should have had Tuck take his hood off. You can’t even see that he’s smiling. Heehee.

The Downton Abbey Exhibition is going on until April 7, 2020. I was the only one in my family who cared about this but my boys were super cool about viewing it with mom.

After walking around the Village, we walked over to the Barn and then the Farmyard. The Barn has three videos discussing the Estate, the farming, and the people behind the scenes. They also have skilled craftsmen like broom makers and blacksmiths demonstrating their craft. Marlow, the broom maker, was extremely friendly and informative. His family has been making brooms for 47 years. Just FYI, they take lunch from about 12:30-1:30.

Hannah, at the Farmyard, was very knowledgeable about the animals and super sweet. The fact that it was lightly snowing just added to the Christmas experience of it all.

It was bitterly cold so before getting frostbite, we loaded up and headed over to Pigeon Forge for one of our favorite annual holiday tradition must dos…Dollywood Christmas. The drive was beautiful and snowy white. Cue the Christmas music, add another log on the fire, and pour yourself a nice hot cup of cocoa.

Ok, we, apparently, are a little rusty with this packing thing. I didn’t pack my hairbrush or hairspray, neither of the boys packed pjs or athletic shorts/pants for around the hotel, and Trev’s “breakfast” shirt he throws on to go down to breakfast was forgotten as well. Holy smokes! I sure hope this isn’t a sign of things to come when we pack for the camper.

Day one Dollywood did not go as expected. It was still really cold but, despite our packing mishaps, we did pack our winter clothes.

At Christmas, we love all the lights and we love to watch all the shows.

When the weather is this cold a lot of the rides, mainly coasters, aren’t open. The temperature has to be above 36 degrees or something before they can be safely operated. The lines for the shows can get really long and sometimes fill up. However, we were staying at the Dreammore, which means Timesaver passes, which means we get to put our name on the list for the shows and we get reserved seats with little to no line. It’s fantastic! But you kind of have to plan your showtimes, especially if you will only be at the park for a short time, as some overlap, and can be as long as an hour. But we were ready. We had our first and second choice itineraries ready to go to ensure we saw all the shows during our two days at the park. Feeling confident, I waltzed over to the concierge’s desk and made my request. BOOM! Nailed it.

I mean it is a Wednesday. The only people here are us and the tour bus loads of senior adults. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I look forward to being on some of those buses one day. I often say I was born 30 so that puts me in my 70s now. Hello, Branson! Trev has a way with the senior ladies. They love him. We were visiting a nursing home once and one of the ladies we visited was hitting on him. Heehee. It was great.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Back to Dollywood. We usually try to work it where we only eat one meal in the park as a budget issue and we try to make it a sit down restaurant as opposed to a $10 greasy corndog and fries. The park opens at 2pm so the plan for today was to get on the first shuttle leaving the hotel at 1:15pm so we could get Tuck’s height armband and get up the hill to Till and Harvest, the Mexican place in the Wildwood Grove section, and be eating right at 2pm so we could make it to our first show at 3pm with plenty of time; no rushing, no stress.

Usually, this side entrance hardly ever has a line or it’s a very short one if it does, as it is only open to Dreammore guests, preferred parking, and buses. Well, the shuttle dropped us off at the side entrance behind 5 tour buses. :-(. No big deal. We had to wait for the gate to open at 1:30pm anyway. But we took the early shuttle so we’re still good on time. We get in, Tuck gets measured, and we head up the hill.

At the top of the hill it was still roped off as it still wasn’t 2pm so I decided now was a good time for a potty break. Mind you, I’m wearing my thermal top, a sweater, a fleece jacket, my parka, scarf, sock hat, gloves, thermal bottoms, jeans, warm socks, and my snow boots. You would have thought I was climbing Mt. Everest but I HATE to be cold, remember. Anyway, I stroll over to the bathroom and stop to read the Caution Wet Floor sign they have standing at the entrance. I step around it and next thing I know my body is throbbing and I’m staring up at the ceiling and I feel cold. It wasn’t just wet. It was a sheet of ice. There I lay looking like a turtle on its back (I’m wearing my backpack stuffed with the boys coats for later). I fought back tears as I got up and made it in the stall. I would have probably cried had it not been for the fact there was a lady in the stall beside me. Pride and embarrassment kept those tears from falling.

I loaded up on ibuprofen (that I’ve learned to always have on hand) and “manned” up for the whole day of walking I knew I had ahead of me. 😦

So we get to Till and Harvest and they’re closed. They had some kind of technical difficulty that lead to them opening 10 minutes late which normally wouldn’t be a big deal but we wouldn’t have time to go somewhere else and make it to the show in time. Plus I didn’t feel like walking around looking for something else. So we waited the 10 minutes. We knew what we were ordering so we thought we could get through fast. Well, they changed their menu last week while they were closed to decorate for Christmas. So now we’re scrambling to decide what to order and the normally very organized staff were all staring at us and we didn’t know which person was supposed to take our order. Picture a Moe’s where each person has one station they are responsible for, except today they all looked confused as to who did what. It took way to long to get our order made and we wound up scarfing down our food and rushing to the theater. Not the stress-free start we had envisioned.

We made it to our first show, Christmas in the Smokies just in time, so things were fine. We’ve been coming to these shows for years so we recognize a lot of the cast from year to year. This year a lot of the parts were swapped around and there were a lot of new faces. We missed a couple of our favorites like Mr. Tom but the show was still entertaining.

After the show, Tuck wanted to ride the Rocking Roadway, after learning the Lighting Rod was closed due to the weather. Then it was off to see O Holy Night. We had front row seats and got to meet the grandmother of two girls that were in those two shows. It was pretty cool to chit chat with her about how the girls got into “the biz,” school, and travel and stuff.

We had a gap before our next show so off to the County Fair section for some the Scrambler and bumper cars and some more bumper cars and some more bumper cars. This was the first time Tuck actually drove the bumper car. He was psyched.

Afterwards, we headed over to our next show to find out that the show had been cancelled due to a cast member bring ill l. Man! But the attendant said It’s a Wonderful Life still had some spots open so we high tailed it over to that theater. We just slid in. Even though we weren’t on that TimeSaver list, the attendant let us in since our show was cancelled. Thank goodness. The cast had changed on this one too and two of our favorite characters were different. We sure did miss the guy who played Clarance.

Then it was back up the hill to Glacier Ridge to the big lighted tree show. It was great. They narrated it this year, which Trev and I agreed was a wise choice. In the past,’ there was a sign telling you the story of the cousin bears (black bear and polar bear) wanting to spend Christmas together but if you don’t read the board you don’t know that there’s really even a story being told with the lights. Good call, Dollywood. Much better this year. It ends with “snow” at the end and the boys were having a blast. As I’m flipping through my pictures, I realized I didn’t even take a picture of the bears. Oh well. Trust me there were bears on the tree.

It was so cold we decided to skip the parade. It’s really pretty and I definitely recommend it. Just get there early to get a spot right up front so you can see. We have just seen it numerous times and we were all cold and tired so we called it a night.

We got a slow start to our second day. The kiddos slept in really late…7:30am. After breakfast, it was time for a swim at the indoor pool. I went down to the concierge’s desk to put our name down for the show that was cancelled the night before; however, the Resort had met its limit on the early show. Dreammore is only allowed a certain number of Timesaver slots for show. I put our names down for the later show. So we headed over to the park a little early in order to go by the Timesaver office at the park. They were able to move us to the early show. Yay!

Next stop was for a late lunch/early supper at one of the kid’s favorite places, Aunt Granny’s. Papaw and Nana joined us for lunch and a day at the park. The boys loved spending time with them watching the shows and riding rides. Thankfully, it wasn’t near as cold as it was yesterday.

Aunt Tress, Farz, and the kids made it to the park too, in time to watch ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Mason was picked from the audience to come help Joe the Juggler with his pre show. How cool is that? He was so thrilled.

After the show it was time for some of Dollywood’s famous cinnamon bread and some hot chocolate before the nightly parade.

Five Oaks Farm Kitchen was calling our name for breakfast the next morning. Papaw and Nana were able to come too. The portions are huge! We ordered the Farmer’s Tenant Bounty and split it between three of us. Tuck ordered a kids meal; however, he could have shared with us too there was so much food.

No one wanted to leave but we had some things that needed our attention back at home and we had to load up the camper!! Yippee!!!! Next time I write it will be from the CAMPER!

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