Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley takes in the attractions of the Smokey Mountains


The towering snowcapped mountains, frequent black bear sightings and majestic, winding terrain contribute to the fact that over 12 million visitors flock to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone (not including the ever rising tourist statistics for the cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.)

Equally as impressive as the area’s vast natural splendor is its expansive array of entertainment and dining options, including variety acts, impersonators, tribute shows, dinner shows, putt putt courses and top notch eateries.

Joined by photographer Lynn Russ and her fun loving “Mimmie” Ramona, I took part in a number of offerings.




Including over 60 retail shops, an impressive lineup of dining options, live music appearances, a dancing fountain and amusement park -style rides, The Island has quickly built a reputation as a must-visit vacation “Bucket List” item for tourists since its opening in the spring of 2014.

We had the pleasure of experiencing The Island during Winterfest, which features brand new 40-foot high LED Christmas trees, millions of lights, outstanding water shows, set to classic and contemporary holiday music and a festive ambience you can’t find anywhere else.

One could easily spend the entirety of your vacation exploring the thrilling assortment of attractions The Island has to offer; However, if you find yourself on a more limited schedule, we selected some of our very favorites that cannot be missed on any visit to The Island:


One of the tallest attractions in the southeast, The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel stands at a staggering 200 feet tall, making it one of the tallest attractions in the southeast region. Step inside a comfortable, climate controlled glass gondola (which seats up to 8 people) to take in a breathtaking, unparalleled view of all the Smoky Mountain peaks and valleys. Challenge your friends and family to see how many iconic, popular Pigeon Forge attractions they can spot, with bird’s eye views of the Comedy Barn, Alcatraz and, of course, the many distilleries, fun parks and candy shops that draw visitors of all ages and backgrounds.

Since its maiden voyage in 2013, The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel has quickly gained notoriety as one of the most popular attractions in town and proudly stands as the centerpiece to The Island.

We recommend riding during the day and at night for a completely different experience each time. The nighttime option offers the opportunity to see the grandeur of the wheel illuminated in a rainbow of colors up close and personal, with a prime view of the famous Island Fountain, which offers dancing water shows, complete with synchronized music and lighting.





An experience sure to thrill the kids and kids at heart, you’ll find yourself twisting and shouting for this mini free fall over The Island. A great ride to do with your family and friends.


Manufactured by the Italian Bertazzon family, this classic ride is expertly hand painted in rich Venetian decor, with painstaking attention paid to each and every detail.



One of the most daring and high octane attractions The Island offers, Reverse Time allows riders to buckle in and experiencing a time-warping journey of dips, spins, twists and turns for a dizzying good time and undeniable adrenaline rush.



Built to accommodate both children and adults, the Happy Swing is a modern take on the beloved playground classic, offering a sensation of weightlessness as it propels guests back and forth up to 9 feet in the air.



A frolicking good time, Lil RIBBITS allows guests to climb aboard into a colored frog seat of their choice for a 360 degree ride, featuring lots of jumps, bounces and fun “croaking” sound effects.


(We recommend the Unlimited Rides Pass, which offers 48 hours of endless fun on all of the above rides and more, or an Unlimited Rides + Ropes Course, which also offers a Quick Jump, if you’re feeling extra adventurous.)

We would like to thank Amy Warner for her wonderful help in helping our tour of The Island and the wheel ride operator, Joe Daniels, for his exemplary service and hospitality throughout our ride.


PHONE: (865) 286-0119



A wildly immersive and highly unique virtual reality experience, Sky Fly: Soar America whisks visitors away on an exhilarating journey high above the trees, as you glide over some of the most iconic locations in North America, including the Grand Canyon, Alaska and Yosemite, as well as an unforgettably close encounter at a race car track and a fireworks display over the Island at Pigeon Forge.

Once guests step inside the beautifully decorated, steampunk-themed brick building, they will meet the innovative time traveling scientist Peter who– along with his wily daughter, Hannah– prepares to take guests aboard the tram, offering special effects and scenic nature views, before arrival to the main attraction: the time travel portal. Once you’ve buckled tightly into your seat, brace yourself as the floor beneath you magically disappears and sets you on a journey that you will not soon forget.

See for yourself why the Sky Fly is not only one of the most buzz worthy new attractions in the Smokies but has also garnered a nomination for the prestigious title of “Best New Attraction.”


PHONE: (865) 217-1430


Where can you get a chance play the guitar with Johnny Cash, enjoy tea with Audrey Hepburn, fight crime with the Charlie’s Angels and spar with the notorious Michael Myers? Why, the Hollywood Wax Museum in Pigeon Forge, of course.

Take in special red carpet moments with Julia Roberts and Jennifer Anniston, rub a magic lamp with Barbara Eden in character for “I Dream of Jeanie,” then take a seat at the diner with Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean for a milkshake– all within just the first few feet of entering this impressive and content- packed wax museum.

Wind your way through this expansive museum and have your phones charged and cameras ready for some of the most exciting Instagram-worthy photo ops you can hope to take on vacation.

Information stations are available beside each celebrity, with information ranging from their respective birthdates, awards and accolades, fun facts, pet peeves and charitable work and props, including various superhero capes, coats, dresses, hats, canes, boas and more, are available to help you fully immerse yourself in the character of your choosing.

Each section of the museum is thoughtfully themed and curated, paying homage to all your favorite Western Stars (including Clint Eastwood and John Wayne), leading ladies (like Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy), Hollywood Heartthrobs (such as Channing Tatum and George Clooney) as well as nods to some of the best classic television moments (for example, Lucille Ball’s iconic “Vitameatavegamim” commercial on “I Love Lucy”).

The Horror Chamber includes the Alien in “Alien Vs Predator,” Michael Myers, The Jigsaw Killer from “Saw” and Jason from “Friday the 13th.” The “Comedy Club” features Robin Williams, Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler.

Pop Stars include the legendary Prince, Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, Rhianna and Pink.

We have had the pleasure of experiencing the Hollywood Wax Museums in Myrtle Beach and Branson and our experience was very different at each location due to a rotating and ever-changing line up of featured “stars”

Come back soon if you don’t see a certain celebrity with whom you wanted to get up close and personal, since the wax museum is always adding new figures and be sure to put in a special request on the website for public figures you wish to see on display.


A favorite among zombie and haunted house enthusiasts, Outbreak: Dread the Undead keeps Halloween going all year long with a bone chilling trek through the ransacked labs at Chemacorp, a company that once served as the global leader in biotechnology. An experiment with the DNA-altering Alpha Strain, intended to create super human strength and intellect, went terribly wrong, causing the soldiers used for experimental purposes to turn into zombies, with glowing blue eyes and a penchant for devouring human brains.

Guests have been recruited as part of the clean-up crew. However, while in the training station, you’ll discover that the building has been placed on lockdown and the only way out is through winding corridors of glowing blue eyes, real live “zombies” charging and grabbing for you through doors and windows, with terrifying sound effects and chemical smells throughout.

Get ready for a fright a second, bone chilling experience that is sure to have your heart pounding and all your hairs standing on end.

Fun fact: during the construction of Chemacorp’s basement in real life, the crew heard inexplicable hums and bangs throughout the night and several of the rusty light fixtures and barrels were bought from the 100-year-old Lemp Brewery in St Lewis, which is, reportedly haunted, further adding to this frightful attraction’s scare factor

While this attraction may not be suitable for some small children, be assured that the zombie actors will not touch you and you are respectfully asked not to touch them.


Princess Hannah from the Kingdom of Savannah is the beautiful, yet tragically vain daughter of King Oscar and Queen Emmy, who seek the help of the unsightly, but hard working witch, Hetty to help their daughter turn from her self-absorbed ways. A miscommunication between the princess and witch cause an outraged and offended Hetty to send Hannah into an endless maze of mirrors, where she is doomed to live out the rest of her days in bleak loneliness, with only the company of her own reflection for all eternity.

Now, the Royal Kingdom, along with the Wizard of the Golden Globe, needs your help to rescue the beloved, but misguided, princess before the clock runs out. Navigate through a beautifully designed maze of mirrors with plenty of twists, turns, dead ends, sight and sound effects and special messages from the kingdom, Hetty and the Princess throughout your journey. A grand celebration, complete with royal music and a fireworks show awaits the Hero at the end of each journey.

Are you the Chosen One? There’s only one way to find out…


Step right up to the Castle on the Hill just off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge for a 3-D, high energy, shoot ’em up good time that’s impossible to resist. Test your aim and gaming skill at two separate theaters, featuring two different shows from which you can choose, including Los Banditos (an undeniably unique Western themed game where players compete to see who can shoot down the highest number of robot villains, created by a criminal mastermind with whom you’ll engage in a showdown at his lair) and my personal favorite, Carnival, featuring edge of your seat, state of the art 3-D action, top notch special effects and a harrowing cast of evil clowns, waiting to surprise and shock you at every turn.

Special thanks to Aileen Stein for her great help in arranging the spotlight feature for the Hollywood Wax Museum attractions.


PHONE: (865) 428-5228



Ranked the #1 miniature golf course in the country, Crave Golf Club is a delightfully original and deliciously decorated sweets-themed miniature golf course with two playing opinions: An indoor course for a great golf experience regardless of the weather and a rooftop outdoor course to enjoy for a different mini golf experience.

Each of the courses and holes offer fun and exciting challenges and picturesque decor, including life size candy canes, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, candies and a “fuel tank” that pumps fruit flavored soda pop. Visiting during the Christmas Season is highly recommended as the sight of decked out Christmas trees, festively placed ornaments and tinsel, as well as festive Christmas music playing throughout your visit is sure to put you in the holiday spirit.



Mini Bowling is a highly engaging miniature bowling experience, complete with stylish lighting and a comprehensive real-time digital score system, combining all the fun and action of traditional bowling, with a fast paced, high energy, downsized game, packing supersized fun into a small space. Miniature bowling is a great activity for both kids and adults alike as well as the perfect outing for birthdays or special events with family and friends. Gutter guards can be placed, upon request, for smaller bowlers and no special shoes are required. Just bring your best bowling skills and your game face.


PHONE: (865) 366-3403



One of Pigeon Forge’s newest miniature golf attractions, Toy Box Mini Golf offers an exciting outdoor course, decorated with an array of gigantic life size toys, including dolls, a dinosaur, teddy bears, army men and an enormous set of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, which have quickly become the talk of the town.

Sure to delight the kids, Toy Box, also allows adults to let their inner child run free with a nostalgic walk down memory lane, lined with all their favorite childhood toys at this fun and challenging 18 hole course.

The only course of its kind, Toy Box Mini Golf could be best described as a 10,000 square foot photo backdrop, a whimsical wonderland perfect for envy inducing, social media worthy snapshots.

An ideal setting for your annual family or company miniature golf tournament, Toy Box Mini Golf is also fully handicap accessible and offers “Toy Box Style” play, featuring “Out of the Box” twists and challenges to make your game even more exciting.

After your game, make your way onside to check out the sweet shop, offering an ample selection of candies, sure it’s satisfy your sweet tooth, as well as a laser maze and an onsite toy store.


PHONE: (865) 229-9922

Special thanks to Josh, for helping our incredible miniature golf and bowling adventures.


An adrenaline-pumping adventure, featuring a world class ropes course, The High Woodsmens Challenge, Loggersports, where you can compete in your own log roll, boom run and speed climb, as well as the Timber Towers: two incredible 80 foot free fall jumps, Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Adventure Park is a daredevil’s paradise.

The course, which takes approximately two hours to complete, also highlights the Flying Ox, the first of its kind zipline roller coaster, which offers the exhilarating and indescribably freeing sensation of a zipline combined with the streamlined speed of a coaster.

The High Woodsmens Challenge dares you to walk across barrels and spinning logs while suspend high in the air and the Logersports portion challenges you to run accords logs through a pool of chilly waters as you prove your best log rolling skills, just as the lumberjacks do in the acclaimed Lumberjack Show. Try the 80-foot free fall jump, if you dare, where you will be prompted by an adventure park attendant to step on a platform before jumping either backwards or forwards (backwards is my direction of preference) directly toward the ground, then be sure to book your tickets for the evening Lumberjack Show, which features highly acclaimed lumberjack athletes from across the U.S. practicing mesmerizing feats of strength and agility, including log cutting competitions, canoe jousting and axe throwing.


PHONE: (865)366-3330

Shout out to Donna and Josh for their aid in our spotlight on Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Adventure Park.

Special Thanks to the Gatlinburg Attractions Association and Erik Dobell of Impossibilities in Gatlinburg for helping our tour of the following attractions, which you absolutely must check out on your next trip to Gatlinburg:

Be sure to contact the GAA directly on their website: for all the exclusive inside scoop on the absolute best entertainment options in Gatlinburg.



Ride the iconic yellow SkyLift chairs 1,800 feet above sea level to North America’s record-breaking Gatlinburg SkyBridge, where you can experience the best panoramic views of the awe-inspiring Smoky Mountains and the lovely town of Gatlinburg below. Explore the SkyTrail during the daytime, conquer the SkyBridge, pass the 30 feet of see-through glass in the middle of the cable bridge, eat and drink in the SkyCenter and take in the mountain vistas on the SkyDeck’s amphitheater. A visit to the SkyLift Park gives you easy access to the best views of the Smokies and plenty of time to sit back and relax in our mountain-top setting. Come visit us and experience the best of the Smokies.


PHONE: (865) 436-4307


Embark on a terrifying excursion to explore this classic “turn of the century” haunted mansion. Let your fears awaken and discover the startling secrets of this dreadfully daunting domain. If you dare to step inside this once grand abode, you shall take an unguided tour finding your way through secret passageways, eerie dark corridors, winding staircases and spine chilling chambers that will curdle the blood of even the bravest of souls.


PHONE: (865) 436-7007


Victoria Henley’s Backstage Pass is aired on IHeart Radio and appears regularly in