We recently featured Global Connections Director of Membership Administration Eric S. and his wife, Accountant Christy, about their relaxing trip to Jamaica, a couples vacation highlighted by beaches and all-inclusive amenities. This time around, they brought the kids along and visited White Oak Lodge and Resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for some adventure on their yearly family trip.
Let’s see how much action they stuffed in their family vacation:
How was the cabin?
Eric: I think White Oak is just a beautiful property altogether. I love how it is nestled in the valley. The kids also spent a lot of time at the beautiful pool at the resort. They have tennis courts, grills and hot tubs, too. We played games: Cutthroat, a family tradition, and bought National Parks Monopoly. I was undefeated.
Christy: It’s nice to have an area where everyone can sit down and do activities like that. A lot of time in hotels, you don’t have the space.
My parents stayed here once and had to extend their stay another week because they liked it so much.
What was different about this cabin stay versus the all-inclusive resort?
Eric: The biggest thing is having different goals. When we went to Jamaica, the whole goal was to do nothing and relax. I wanted all-inclusive, I wanted food, I wanted drinks. With the kids on this trip, I didn’t want to spend all our money on food, I wanted them to have experiences.
For me, condominiums are great for families. You can use the condo as a central hub to do all the things that you want to do. For anniversary-type trips, the resort is the experience.
In what ways did you save money?
Eric: We have a methodology for our condo vacations in general. We check in, unpack and Christy starts setting up the condo with the kids. I usually go to the nearest grocery store and get breakfast and dinner for the first couple days.
You try to organize your day so you can get up, have breakfast and do whatever event you had planned for the day. Eventually you’re going to stop for lunch, but you can make it back to the condo for dinner, which saves a lot of money. You save $400-$500 on meals alone.
Christy: It’s nice to have a kitchen because at a hotel, you end up spending more on food. A lot of hotels don’t necessarily have a substantial breakfast included. It’s great to grab and go, but with five people, it’s not ideal.
Did you eat out at all?
Eric: I like to eat out at least once during the trip so I can get some of the local flair. We went out to Crystal Creek for dinner one night and I had the Tennessee Trout, which was delicious.
Christy: I had chicken fried steak. They had chocolate raspberry cake, which was homemade by the owner. Crystal Creek is also really nice because there is a tree outside that lights up at night. There is a creek behind it and the water system flows off the roof. So while you’re sitting in the restaurant, it looks like you’re sitting in a waterfall.
We also ate at the Little House of Pancakes, which claims it has America’s best pancakes. For the price, it’s pretty good. They had all-you-can-eat pancakes, except the first one comes out the size of a big dinner plate. Then you can eat as many as you can eat after that, which not many people do.
What attractions did you see while you were there?
Christy: Eric knew some of the things he wanted to do: zip lining, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. I wanted to see the Biltmore Estate. A coworker told me about it and my parents loved it when they stayed in Gatlinburg. I like historical attractions.
Biltmore is impressive. I mean, it’s huge. They have a winery, garden, some shops and horseback riding. They have capitalized on anything you might go to that area to do. You don’t have to leave the area if you don’t want to.
Eric: Whitewater rafting was awesome. We rafted down the Pigeon River with Raft Outdoor Adventures. There were several different class three and class four rapids. On one of the class two rapids, we were spinning around like a top. We even surfed on the rapid.
Christy: Why was it your favorite? Because you got to rescue people?
Eric: I did. I pulled two people out of the water after their raft flipped. We let a bunch of people start ahead of us, so we were one of the last rafts on the river. We were going through the last rapids and I watched this boat flip over from another company. People were going though, but there was a woman sitting in the water so I grabbed her (when you pull them out, you grab them by the life jacket, stand up and fall back so you don’t get pulled in).
That boat was still going down the river and a woman was holding on to the front of it and slammed into a rock. We paddled over to her, pulled her in. Our guide, Trent, was a stud. In all of that chaos, everyone was listening to him. He was telling other boats who to get and what to do.
After that, we had a quick lunch and two of my kids decided to go again. It was one to two hours each trip, so it was a full day.
That’s quite a bit of action! How else did you spend your week?
Eric: Monday we went zip lining. It’s the new zip lines adjacent to White Oak Lodge and Resort. In fact, we just walked over.
Friday, we headed up to Clingmans Dome. It was cold and rainy that day. They say you can see six or seven states from the top of the dome, but we couldn’t see 50 feet.
We stopped at a trail in the Smoky Mountains – it wasn’t a marked trail, just a path with a sign that said, “This is a no-named trail, just enjoy nature.” It was a little bit of a hike, but there was a cool waterfall, which we took a picture of. On our way back, we saw a buck.
What were the best views of the Great Smoky Mountains?
Eric: If you want a beautiful drive, the Foothills Parkway (near White Oak Lodge and Resort to Interstate 40) has two outlets on each side of the mountain. We took a picture on Sunday morning and it was probably the most scenic picture I took the whole trip.
Sounds like a fulfilling vacation at one of Global Connections’ most popular resorts! You can see the amazing White Oak Lodge and Resort yourself, just fill out a form for the Employee Condominium Program.