Turn left after the 385th Cracker Barrel: journey to Dollywood Clogging Classic 2018!

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The Dollywood Clogging Classic competition has a major advantage over many events because there is so much to do in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee! My carload also found plenty to do along the way.

The Mighty Cruze departed after Molly attended a meeting for her impending high school graduation. Seriously, Molly? Get your priorities straight! DOLLY is waiting.

That's Sabrena in the back. Luckily, my passengers were quite amicable about seating arrangements.

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We have a tradition of playing and/or singing the song when passing the Rocky Top exit. This year, we did both AND stopped for a photo op!

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The density of Cracker Barrel restaurants is a good indicator of how close you are to Pigeon Forge. We eventually succumbed to the signs and paused for lunch.

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With a little teamwork, these two managed to beat the table game.

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We received updates from other teammates along the way. Evie, my team director, drove up a day earlier due to she had family flying in from Florida to watch the competition and enjoy some family time. Evie's great-niece, age six, was pulled from the audience at Dolly Parton's Stampede to participate in one of the contests. She helped her chicken win a race and received a medal and a special edition of one of Dolly's books. Miss Brianna did Fancy Free Cloggers proud!

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Kudos to Evie's sister for coordinating her wardrobe with the show! In case of emergency, they could give Wanda Sue a hat, put her on a horse, and the show would go on.

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However, my favorite family photo has to be Dustin's dad befriending the penguins.

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Dustin and his mom had a scarier experience at the aquarium!

The worst possible time to arrive in Pigeon Forge would be right around the Music in the Mountains Parade start time, when streets are blocked off and crammed with spectators. Guess what time we arrived? YEP! 

My GPS tried repeatedly to route us in circles, but our hotel was on the side of the street that could not be accessed due to the parade. I finally parked in a nearby shopping center and we walked to the hotel.

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After 32 years as grand marshal, Dolly stepped down this year. Cal Ripken Jr. was her successor for 2018, promoting his baseball facilities in the Pigeon Forge area.

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Other parade highlights included several groups of military veterans,

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 the 865 All Stars Cloggers from Tennessee,

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Abraham Lincoln on horseback,

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this fabulous twirling Elmo following a majorette group,

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and, um, a bunch of superheroes with Mickey Mouse doing Star Wars cosplay.

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Yes, you read that correctly. Mickey Skywalker made an appearance. I am still baffled by this, even after consulting a Star Wars expert friend on the matter. 

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I enjoy oddities, so let's chat about this one. The balloon sculpture bear is amazing, but why are the person's hands sticking out? There is no way this costume is comfortable!

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Four giant cold air balloons made their parade debut this year. Despite having no clue who the Pajanimals are, I feel the Pajanimals balloon was the most impressive of the lot.

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Upon checking in after the parade ended, we were delighted with our hotel! It was our first stay at Arbors at Island Landing, and this will now be my go-to hotel for future Pigeon Forge trips. Friendly staff, free drinks and snacks 24/7 in the lobby, nice rooms at a reasonable price,  games (horseshoes, cornhole, etc.) and seating near the river, s'mores around the fire pit at night. Loved it!

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A wander of the nearby shopping area led to dinner at Margaritaville with seats beside the giant blender! (FYI for my age 21+ readers: this location appropriately features some margaritas made with moonshine.)

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Given that a bun is the official competition hairstyle for Fancy Free Cloggers, this shirt in a store window provided the perfect motto. Evie couldn't have said it better herself!

Whew! So much fun, and we haven't even made it to Dollywood yet! More to come next week.

DISCLAIMER: I don't actually know how many Cracker Barrels we passed on the drive to Pigeon Forge. Frankly, my estimate seems low...

(Thank you to FFC teammates and their family members for some of the photos used in this post.)

What are YOUR favorite stops on a trip to Pigeon Forge?