Spring break is a glorious time. It’s a time when we get a break from the business of school (and hopefully a day or two from work) to just chill. Our family wanted to take a short vacation (3 days, 2 nights) and not spend a fortune during our week long spring break. We wanted a place that was pretty much all inclusive that our girls (ages 6 and 7) would love and we wanted it to be a reasonable drive from Atlanta. To be completely honest, I also wanted to try an indoor water park. Wilderness at the Smokies and Great Wolf Lodge are the two options nearest Atlanta.
Please note: This is NOT a compensated or sponsored post. We paid for this entire vacation ourselves. All opinions in this post are completely honest and are my own.
The Wilderness at the Smokies resort, located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevierville, Tenn., is a year-round vacation destination. The resort opened in June 2008 with the Stone Hill Lodge and Salamander Springs outdoor waterpark, and just six months later, River Lodge and the 60,000-square-foot Wild WaterDome indoor waterpark were added. In May 2009, Wilderness at the Smokies expanded again with the addition of Lake Wilderness, the resort’s second outdoor waterpark. In 2012, the Adventure Forest family adventure center opened. Wilderness at the Smokies has something for all age groups, featuring a 36-hole championship golf course, over 700 rooms and suites, the Adventure Forest family adventure center with a variety of indoor “dry” attractions, a variety of dining and shopping areas, two outdoor waterparks, an indoor waterpark with a wave pool and the Southeast’s only Surf Rider, hot tubs, countless waterslides and attractions.
How would we choose between the two? I have a friend who vacations several times a year at Great Wolf Lodge and absolutely loves it. Another one of my friends lives somewhat close to the Great Wolf in Charlotte. Those two factors combined with the overwhelming “Great Wolf” response when I asked my Facebook friends which one we should go to definitely swayed me in the direction of Great Wolf….but we went with Wilderness at the Smokies because it was significantly cheaper. We paid $139.99 a night for our room which had 2 queen beds and a pull out couch. Little warning bells went off in my head. Lots of times cheaper means not as nice. Would that be the case with our spring break? Would our insistence on cheaper mean our vacation would be less fun or nice?
The two word answer is absolutely not. We had a fantastic time at Wilderness at the Smokies. I read some reviews of Wilderness at the Smokies that were less than glowing. When I read reviews I know there are always two sides to the story. People will complain about anything and everything (sorry if you are one of those people). When you are going to a lodge that has a water park you know a few things: kids will be present, kids will be excited, kids will be noisy, and hotel doors make a lot of noise when they bang shut. Seriously though, this is a place to go to have fun as a family. Sure, respect is still required, but kids are going to be super excited…as they should be.
We changed into our bathing suits and headed to the water park almost as soon as we arrived. The girls immediately went to the wave pool. If you are from Atlanta and have been to Lanier World then this comparison will make total sense. The wave pool is a good size (smaller than Lanier World) and the waves are big and pretty rough (much more so than Lanier World). The Great Wave, a 10,700 square foot wave pool capable of generating waves up to five feet. There are free inner tubes to use while you are in the wave pool. So many kids LOVE this. That being said, you may want to have your kiddo wait a bit to do this if they recently ate. There was a vomit incident that closed the wave pool for awhile while we were there. With the wave pool closed there was still plenty to do!
What we loved about Wilderness at the Smokies
The 42″ height requirement on the water slides meant that everyone in our family of 4 could go down the smaller water slides. The yellow water slide is d-a-r-k and thrilling. The purple water slide is light and not quite as fun as the yellow water slide, but we enjoyed that one too.
The Storm Chaser Water Slide has a height requirement of 48″ which meant that Big Sister could ride it. Without a doubt, it was the highlight of our entire trip. She went down with me once and my husband several times. The 55 foot drop is a little terrifying if you are in the tube backwards….like I was!
The Washout Mountain bucket bell ringing and the 750 gallons of water splashing out on everyone underneath it.
Trying to surf. It’s definitely harder than it looks (types the lady who sat and watched/video’ed).
Adventure Forest Family Adventure Center which allowed us to play mini golf, climb on the Tree Top Towers ropes course, rock climb, bowl, and ride a carnival type ride. We bought the All Stay Pass. I am not entirely convinced that we needed the All Stay pass, we would have been ok with the All Day pass. But we did actually use our passes two days in a row…so perhaps it was worth it. Getting up and walking above everyone on the Tree Top Towers course in the arcade was thrilling. When my girls had enough I took them to the gift shop and left my husband to enjoy some sky time.
Getting towels was easy. You get a towel card when you check in and you change your towels at a kiosks located in the water park.
What we didn’t love about Wilderness at the Smokies
There was a lot of advertisement about kids eating free….but we couldn’t figure out where kids ate free. We ended up using the mini fridge in our room for milk and having cereal in the mornings. We are pretty sure that breakfast was the time when kids ate free, but milk and cereal was much cheaper ($8 for the trip vs. paying for breakfast each morning). We ate at the arcade for lunch once. For dinner we ate off property…once at Golden Corral and once at the Mexican restaurant in front of Kroger (per a Yelp recommendation).
The wait for the shuttle was a bit annoying. One shuttle ran between the buildings. It was always full. In the busy months I hope there are two shuttles.
Your bed doesn’t get made by housekeeping until you have stayed 4 nights. That is not a deal breaker for me, but I know it may bother some people.
Customer service is good, but it doesn’t exceed any expectations that we had. When we vacation we tend to stay at Marriott hotels/resorts where customer service is top notch. While we were at Wilderness at the Smokies we saw employees while we checked in and the life guards were plentiful, but there weren’t people going out of their way to make sure that we were having a fabulous experience.
I was looking for things that were wrong and the only thing that I noticed was mold on the ceiling in the bathroom in the big arcade room. Employees were constantly picking up litter and cleaning.
Would I go back? YES! We will definitely go back. Everyone in our family wants to try all of the outdoor water park activities. We will definitely plan another short trip to Wilderness at the Smokies. Little Sister may choose to go to Wilderness at the Smokies for her 7th birthday next January instead of having a birthday party.
Tips for Vacationing at Wilderness at the Smokies
- Bring your own food and beverages. There are many places to eat on property, but you will save money (and possibly eat healthier) if you bring your own food. All 234 rooms in the Stone Hill Lodge include a refrigerator and microwave.
- Arrive early if you want a table, otherwise you will hopefully be able to snag a chair for your towels and shoes.
- Stay late. You can stay at the water park after you check out at 11:00 am. So load your car with everything except a change of clothes and play. Staying late gets you the most bang for your buck!
- Know that 42″ is the magical height number to ride the smaller slides and 48″ is the magical height number to ride the bigger water rides.
- Pack sunscreen. The water dome has a huge glass ceiling that allows plenty of sunshine to pass through. There are several signs up advising you to use sunscreen. I saw a few people who were sunburned. Ouch!
- Pack Flip Flops. They are the best shoes to have at a water park. You can buy them at the resort, but they are $8.00 per pair.
- Buy a waterproof bag for your phone or camera. This will ease a lot of your worries about accidentally getting your favorite device wet.
- Check the Wilderness Facebook page for discounts. Each Friday the offer a discount…so be sure to check before you book your trip.
What is the best vacation you have ever taken? Is a water resort something you would consider?
There are many fun things to do in and around Atlanta. Check out our recent posts about Activities in Atlanta for more suggestions and ideas.