Ring in the New Year the Smoky Mountains Way

By Wendi Tunny © 2011, All Rights Reserved

When you say, "New Year's ball drop," most people immediately think of Times Square in New York. If you're looking for a family-friendly alternative to the bright lights and big cities, Gatlinburg delivers a celebration even Dick Clark himself would be proud of.

This year marks the 36th annual New Year's Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks Show. Taking place at the Space Needle in Gatlinburg, the party kicks off with music, favors and fun that lead up to the main event.

Then - as the countdown begins - the ball slowly descends, finally reaching the bottom at the stroke of midnight. But the excitement doesn't end there.  A fully choreographed fireworks show ignites from the Needle that ushers in the New Year in a blaze of glory.

Gatlinburg's New Year's Eve Celebration

If a street party is more your style, head over to downtown Gatlinburg where an estimated 40,000 people will gather to welcome 2012.  Starting at 11pm, a countdown to midnight sets off an enormous fireworks display.

Performers from the Hard Rock Café will have people dancing in the streets as will local radio DJs.  Many restaurants, shops and attractions are even open for this annual event.  Trolleys will operate until 2am.

Ride the Train to 2012

If you'd prefer a romantic evening for just you and your honey, leave the kids with Grandma and take a day trip to Bryson City, NC.  The Smoky Mountain Railroad offers a quiet celebration onboard this classic train filled with live music, dancing and scrumptious food.

Acoustic harmonies fill the air as the Atlanta-based duo rings out memorable classics and some unexpected selections. While relaxing in your vintage dining car, you'll be served an elaborate three-course meal, compliments of Chef Deborah Douthit.

Select from your choice of tiger shrimp and crab-stuffed mushroom appetizers to start.  Then savor one of three entrees: spinach-stuffed chicken, seasoned pork loin with raspberry glaze or a vegetarian favorite - portabella mushroom tower.  End this elegant meal with freshly prepared chocolate lava cake.

This is a 3-1/2 hour tour you'll remember for years to come.  Your adults-only journey is all-inclusive and complete with a traditional countdown to midnight.

Dancing with the Sharks

For a new twist on an old tradition, visit Ripley's Aquarium.  From 9pm until 1am New Year's Eve, they'll host "Dance with the Sharks," a celebration that includes heavy hors d'oeuvres, fireworks and two live bands that will surely have your toes (uh… fins) tapping.  Wondering what to do with the kids?  Bring them along!  Children's programs are available.

Out with the old… in with the new.  The Smoky Mountains offers some exciting ways to watch 2012 arrive.  Make your plans and reservations soon so you don't miss a thing.

Need a place to stay during your getaway? Wendi Tunny of Bear Run Falls offers affordable luxury Pigeon Forge cabins within walking distance to Dollywood.