And most times, it is! It doesn’t take an advanced degree in hospitality studies to figure out that most things in the family vacation gauntlet that is Pigeon Forge, Tennesse For the uninitiated, Pigeon Forge is the closest neighbor of Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smokey Mountains. This website helpfully lists all the “attractions” available to those who would rather not hike, most of which line both sides of the highway you need to take to get to the Smokies. It is — especially to my European eyes — quite the sight. are, indeed, tourist traps — empty flashes of light and puffs of smoke meant to relieve you of some expendable income.
But in that most lies the trouble. For a decade now we’ve driven past a gigantic banner in the Shenandoah valley advertising the Luray caverns as if they were the eight Wonder of the World. And for a decade or so I avoided going because it was clearly a tourist trap. Only, it clearly wasn’t.
So I’ll tell you a secret: we did end up going to one of the “attractions” in Pigeon Forge that’s a mini-resort of it’s own call The Island and that too was charming in a fake lego-land sort of way. Dollywood is there too, and we will go some time soon.
Between everything that’s within walking distance in D.C. and driving distance up and down the East Cost — being loose with the definition of the coast as I will count the Smokies in there too — even if 99% of attractions are pure tourist traps, the 1% can fill a lifetime.
Two caveat: first, maybe your Tourist Trap Radar is better calibrated than my own, as my frugal-by-necessity parents instilled in me the sense that anything that charges money is a tourist trap. We saw many a historic landmark — from the outside, of course — in my childhood.
Second, it may occasionally happen that you pay for something and then, as you step through the entrance, get a sinking feeling that there is no there there and that the place is indeed a tourist trap. But so what! You can’t be a good surgeon unless you’ve occasionally taken out a healthy appendix, and you can’t be sure you’ve seen everything that’s good unless you’ve occasionally visited a clunker.
I sense this advice applies to more than just general surgery and vacationing.