I will start with a bias against shop after shop, tourist trap after tourist trap . . . for a far as the eye can see. Add to that arriving on Friday of a major American three day holiday and it is a recipe for disappointment.
We arrived into downtown Gatlinburg around 8:00pm after being on the road since around 9:30am from Lake Lure, NC. Unfortunately for us, the weather was cool and foggy, with terrible viewing for most of the day. Having done the Blue Ridge Parkway up in Virginia in the fall of 2009, I really had big expectations for our transition day from NC to TN. It simply wasn't to be. The day of driving had taken its toll and everyone was pretty tired and a bit on the cranky side.
We debated whether or not we should check into our hotel or go eat dinner at the place I had picked up a Restaurant.com certificate for. Since we were in the main downtown area and near where the restaurant was, we decided to eat first and then go to the hotel.
Navigating "the Parkway" (essential "Main Street") we located the place but didn't see any place to park . . . NOwhere. We drove around the block and saw some space in a hotel lot, but they were clearly marked "TOW AWAY ZONE" if you are not staying there so we didn't chance it. There were a couple of street spaces along the side street, but nothing open.
I then called the restaurant to get parking advice and was told to either pay $10 at the lot two or three blocks away or go check into our hotel and take the trolley (also for a fee). That seemed like a lot of effort to save $25 on dinner, so we just decided to punt and get to our hotel and figure it out from there.
At the hotel, the front desk person suggested a very nice place (The Alamo) where we went. Generally we all avoid late evening dinners, but this would be an exception. I think it was 9:00pm when we were served our dinner salads. (See separate review)
It was amazing just how many people were in this town. Most were walking from place to place . . . some using the trolley system. Those who were driving largely seemed like confused tourists like us . . . or locals just cruising the main drag. Very unimpressive!
The next morning we found a nice pancake house (one of many in town) for breakfast. It was pretty amazing how expensive southern egg breakfasts were. The food was good and service fast, so we were generally OK with the "Hawaii" or "Alaska" prices. (See separate review on this restaurant too.)
With food needs taken care of, we were on our way out of town and heading home. I suppose to be fair, had we arrived fresh and at a less crowded time, we may have liked it a bit more. We were too tired to schlep down to walk along the sidewalks to see the obligatory fudge shops, tee shirt stores or hand crafted gift emporiums.
If I were to plan a vacation around more time in the national park, Gatlinburg would probably be my choice for no other reason than their location. Literally, they are just five minutes from the entrance into the park and ten from a major visitor's center. More importantly for my interests, Cade's Cove (a well know black bear habitat) is less than a hour from downtown.