Toward downtown Gatlinburg TN, located high atop the beautiful mountains of the Smokies is ANAKEESTA, a beautiful and magical outdoor theme park where it felt like my family was playing in the heavens.
Upon arriving to the attraction, there's no dedicated parking for guests (but this seemed to be consistent with all of the attractions on the downtown Gatlinburg strip). If you wanted to park, there were numerous public parking garages and open gated lots from which you could choose. We arrived (party of 8), and no problems walking from our car to the Guest Services ticket booth. Upon arrival to the front of the attraction, you can pick up your general admission day pass like we did, or if you were anticipating making several trips there you could opt for the annual pass. Here, you also had the option to purchase an Express Pass (thereby allowing you direct access to the 4-person open chairlift), and also purchasing additional and separate admission to the Zipline Dueling Adventure. Visitors have the ability to purchase admission online and proceed directly to the Chondola queue (thereby bypassing having to to through the Guest Services line). We'd recommend purchasing tickets in advance, which would have saved you about 30-45 minutes the day that we visited. With tickets in hand we began our ascent to the top of Anakeesta!
You have two ways to get to the attractions: either take the Chondolas (4-person, open chairlift method, or the 6-person enclosed gondola which there were fewer of, so you could potentially wait longer to board this one), or the Ridge Rambler (big truck that could sit a whole bunch of visitors).
Upon stepping off of the lift and onto the platform, you can see a very energetic, and family-oriented atmosphere. It felt like we were very special guests walking into the center of a small village. The ambiance was warm and inviting, and I really wasn't sure which direction to go because everything looked so fun! I suppose one could proceed directly forward and ask questions from the Information Booth, or view the family pic we had just taken at the top of our Chondola ride at the adjacent Magic Mountain Photo kiosk.
A few steps away found us at the entrance of the Rail Runner Mountain Coaster. I was a little disappointed that we were not able to ride this, because I had heard that this ride was a lot of fun. However, on the day that we went, it was actually a 2-hour wait, which by the time we got to this attraction, would have put us past park close, and we hadn't allotted this much time in our itinerary. Something to note: admission to Rail Runner is actually an additional charge on top of your park entrance cost of admission. For single-riders, this came out to an additional $13. If you rode tandem (in which case one of the passengers must be between 3-7 years old, and the combined weight of the 2 passengers could not exceed 270 lbs.) this would cost $15 for each person of the duo (so $30 total). Hopefully, if we've ever back in Gatlinburg to visit Anakeesta, we'll try not to visit on a holiday (we visited on Columbus Day), and if you're able to make it out to the park: try to visit this one as soon as you arrive in order to ensure enough time to get through the queue.
The Treetop Walk was the next area of the park where we spent a fair amount of time. Honestly, this was probably my favorite part of the park because it was vastly different than anything else a visitor can do at any other attraction, anywhere. This was a series of 16 rope bridges which spanned more than 880-feet in all, located approximately 60-feet above the ground below. When I was younger, one of the coolest places I knew was my cousin's treehouse. Treetop Walk made you feel like you were one with the nature's animals, traveling from treetop to treetop. This was a pretty popular attraction which drew a very decent queue, but the line moved very quickly (we maybe waited to enter the attraction less than 5 minutes only. We had a group of 8, so it was difficult to go through this one a second time because we wanted to check out the rest of the park, but the views and experience here were pretty amazing. Definitely take your time crossing from bridge to bridge. We tried to keep the people behind us happy by not holding up the line, but really there was no hurry because if you sped through this one, you would have only ended up waiting on the guests in front of you to get across their bridge. Also, you don't want to miss the views! It's one thing to look at mountains across the distance, but it's completely different to know that you're actually IN that mountainous space.
In Spring of 2020 Willow was joined by a 50-foot tall Observation Tower, which sits atop Vista Gardens, and is located at the highest point of the park, offering up amazing 360-degree panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains surrounding Anakeesta.
Anakeesta provided a wonderfully fantastic getaway, into a theme park that made us feel like birds flying from tree to tree. In the midst of our visit during Covid quarantine, despite having a fairly decent attendance, we felt pretty safe and well-distanced away from the other guests. Although we were able to do alot within the park, and take in tons of scenery, I feel we could still be entertained with another visit there someday and enjoy the zip-line and the mountain coaster, neither of which we were able to experience this time around, unfortunately. I would strongly recommend getting to the park early, and taking your time to sit down and enjoy a nice sit-down meal at Smokehouse while getting a front-row seat overlooking one of the outdoor balcony spots. There were also tons of sweet desserts and goodies scattered throughout the park, but I think the lemonade drinks at the top of Vista Gardens were very refreshing. Had I not immediately consumed my lemonade, it would have been quite a treat to have sipped on that while standing at the top of the Observation Tower. With our visit having been on ourlast day in Gatlinburg before departing back to Orlando, we needed to leave a little early but Vista Gardens was amazing during the day time -- social media pics of Vista Gardens at dusk are really breathtaking, and lends to guests the opportunity to experience a whole different theme park at night vs. the daytime. We'll definitely come back to see you again someday, Anakeesta (and Willow Man)!!