We have never had a real family vacation before, but last Christmas, Dave Ramsey gave all of his employees money to be used for a vacation in 2012, as well as two extra vacation days. Since I was pregnant for the first part of the year and then had a newborn for a while, we thought that an October trip would be the perfect time to go.
And it was. It was perfect.
The weather was stunningly beautiful! I recently had a friend say, "Of all of the Melissas I know, I think Fall Melissa is the happiest." I don't think I have a split personality, but I would definitely agree that I am the happiest in October. :-) Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year, especially when I am in the mountains with my family and the trees are at their peak and the weather is textbook perfect and I get to see my kids laugh and play and try new things. (Yes, my joy is worthy of a run-on sentence.)
On the first day we left early in the morning and drove straight there, stopping at Ripley's Aquarium before heading to the cabin. Gatlinburg, though a tourist town, was ridiculously charming with all of the fall color.
The kids had an awesome time at the aquarium. I am not a huge aquarium person myself, but it really is a great aquarium. I enjoyed myself thoroughly just watching my kids have so much fun!
The kids had a blast running around and checking out every room including their room with bunk beds and their own bathroom! Between that, the theater room, and a pool table, Brennan was in heaven!
On day 2 we went hiking. We decided to go check out Laurel Falls, and it was the perfect hike for our family. It was by no means a leisurely stroll, and although I could have handled more without kids, it was as long and hard as we dared let it be with three little ones. They had a ball.
I wore Seth the whole way up while everyone else took turns with Brennan and Cora. On the way down, Cora got "sleepy" and I carried her the whole. way. down. :-)
We had planned to spend the third day fishing, but we weren't sure about getting separate licenses and trying to find a place to fish. Jenny and Kenny had suggested a place they saw advertised with a stocked pond because it did not require a license, and we thought it sounded like a good idea. We had no idea what a good idea it would turn out to be! This place was fantastic!! We spent the whole day there, and it was positively glorious.
For the first hour or so, we fished.
Our last day was spent at Dollywood. I was looking forward to riding some roller coasters, but I did not dream that I would have so much fun!! Dollywood is the best family amusement park I have ever been to (well, besides Disney, obviously). First of all, it is so, so pretty, nestled in the middle of the mountains. Plus, there is something for every age! The kids started out in the children's rides, and both kids really gained courage with each ride. By the end of the day, Brennan had gone on almost every ride in the park, including upside down roller coasters!!!!! My little boy, who is so afraid of everything new, was so excited, so confident, and so willing to try new things, it actually brought tears to my eyes. It was one of my proudest moments. I never wanted the day to end.
The trip wasn't without its share of meltdowns (mostly due to overstimulation, exhaustion, and adjustment to life in a different place), but for a trip with three small children, it was truly perfect. I sent Dave a thank-you note, and I meant it from the bottom of my heart. Of all of the Christmas presents he could have given to our family this year, this one will stay with us the longest. It was very special.