Tag Archives: Brandcation

A last thank you to #PidgeonForge and all the #Brandcation sponsors!

Brandcation group photo courtesy of Loundmouth PhotographyI’m having shoulder surgery tomorrow and don’t have much time to get everything done that I need to. So please excuse this mass post thanking all the wonderful companies who sponsored the Brandcation 2012’s Blog Cabin!

Cabin Fever Vacations

Can you believe that 34 women stayed in one cabin for several days in relative comfort? Sure we had to share bathrooms and beds, and there was no privacy to speak of and I had to change in the laundry room. But the place was clean and spacious. It had a fully stocked, big kitchen with two refrigerators,two fireplaces, great showers, two hot tubs, jacuzzi tubs in two of the bedrooms, and so much more. Plus the view of the Smoky Mountains? Amazing!

Cabin Fever Vacations, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee offer cabins to fit all sizes of groups. A cabin works better than a motel, especially if you have a large group and lots of kids. It’s also perfect for parents of children or anyone with a special diet or allergies who can’t eat out. (Our cabin was about four miles from a very nice Kroger supermarket, so very easy to stock up with all your favorite healthy foods.) One of our Brandcation bloggers stays at Cabin Fever Vacations every Thanksgiving with family and they cook the entire meal there, too.

You can check them out at cabinfevervacations.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Lumberjack Feud

If you enjoy watching lumberjack competitions on ESPN, Lumberjack Feud is the dinner theater for you. There’s lots of audience participation, especially for the kids. And the lumberjacks and jills are easy on the eyes to boot. I especially enjoyed the dog competitions, but wished the performers (many who compete professionally) would wear eye protection. It’s scary enough that they’re working with dangerous equipment and I feared for their safety. They also have a really fun gift shop.

You have the option of eating dinner there or just watching the show. You can find more information at lumberjackfeud.com or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede

While I enjoyed watching the piggie races, the kids chasing chickens, eating with my hands, and the horsemanship, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Dixie Stampede. First, I’m bothered about anyone glorifying war, so the whole “North vs. South” part really rubbed me the wrong way and probably explained why there weren’t any African-American faces in the crowd. Second, the Dixie Stampede is more about the Western expansion than the South, so there are a lot of cowboys and Western rodeo riding (barrel races and a patriotic horse riding demonstration that’s a not very good copy of the Westernaires). I found this confusing and thought I was at a rodeo for a second.

Third, I was put off by the bit about the buffalo. While it’s exciting to see live bison close up, the history behind their purposeful extinction as a way to get Native Americans on to reservations and dependent on Uncle Sam, was lost on the crowd. Same with the celebration of the Cherokee nation whose eastern reservation is an hour away from Pigeon Forge in Cherokee, North Carolina. If you remember, the rest of the tribe was forced to walk to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. It’s sad when Americans don’t know their own history. Or maybe it’s just about bread and circuses – or sweet drinks and biscuits.

Even so, the waiters were terrific, everyone was very friendly, the venue is very clean and organized, the food was tasty, and they were very generous in hosting our group. You can find more information on their website at dixiestampede.com.

Tennessee and Pigeon Forge Tourism Boards

I want to thank both the Tennessee and Pigeon Forge Tourism Boards for coming by the cabin and saying hi and helping our organizers plan the trip. People in Tennessee are super friendly and they’re here to help you plan your next trip. You can connect with them at:

Tennessee Tourism - tnvacation.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Pigeon Forge Tourism - mypigeonforge.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

I love Tennessee and plan to be back soon for a visit to Smoky Mountain National Park and to buy some sorghum. Can’t wait!

Other sponsors

Many of the Brandcation bloggers had sponsors and we got lots of goodies from them like Flashing Blinky Lights, Mom Agenda, Carpet One, Dolphin Organics, Party City, Sportline Pedometers, Cascade Ice Water, Natures One, K’Nex Tinker Toys, Lou Babs & Moogs, Blingles, Trash Pack, Group Gifting, Store Smart, Orbeez, and Fab Kids. There were also other events I didn’t attend like ziplining with Climb Works and a tour of the Hollywood Wax Museum.

If I’ve forgotten anyone’s Brandcation sponsor, feel free to add yours below in the comments.

Image courtesy of Brandy at Loudmouth Photography.

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own.

All aboard for the Titanic

Titanic Museum Pigeon Forge, TN

Besides my visit to Dollywood, the highlight of the Brandcation trip was our visit to the Titanic Museum Attraction. We were treated to a lovely breakfast where we got to meet one of the owners, the wife of John Joslyn, who co-led a $6 million expedition to the site of the sinking to film the remains and retrieve artifacts. They’ve created two world class museums – one in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and the other in Branson, Missouri – that recreate the feeling of being aboard the ship on it’s 1912 maiden voyage.

As you enter, you are given a passenger boarding ticket that has the name of an actual Titanic passenger and the class they were traveling. You follow your passenger through the ship, read their story, and learn their fate in the Titanic Memorial Room. I was given a pass for Margaretta “Daisy” Spedden, 1st class passenger, age 40 from Tuxedo Park, New York. She was traveling with her six-year-old son, Robert, her maid, Robert’s nanny and her husband. I figured since she was in first class, she had a good chance of surviving, but I hoped the best for her family and servants. (Daisy did survive, along with the rest of her group. She went on to write a children’s book, Polar the Titanic Bear, that’s available in the gift shop and online.)

Children are never given boarding passes for people who perished. Even so, be warned that finding out that your passenger died can be very upsetting. I saw several women from the Brandcation group in tears.

Titanic first class cabin

The trip through the museum takes two hours. I was very impressed by the amount of information and pictures they had on the building of the Titanic in Ireland. I was also fascinated by the replicas of state rooms for all three classes of passengers. There’s also a room devoted to The Titanic movie complete with costumes for all you movie fans!

Titantic Captains Bridge

My favorite room was the captain’s bridge. As I leaned against the window that looked over the starry night and the iceberg in the distance, I noticed that it was cold. I was amazed that they thought of every detail! Then we got the chance to go “outside” on the bridge and put our hands over the “side” of the ship into icy water to experience how cold it was both in the water and in the life boats. It really gave you a sense of what the survivors went through as they huddled on lifeboats waiting for rescue.

Dining aboard the Titanicmenu

Being the food and dish nerd I am, I was thrilled to see place settings and menus for all three classes of passengers. (You can also buy copies of the menus and some of the dishware in the gift shop.)

While the first class passengers ate filet mignon, the third class passengers dined on items like gruel. I was fascinated by this, so I did a little research on Titanic menus and recipes and found a great book, Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner. It’s out of print, but you can find a used cookbook on Amazon. I’ve bought a copy and can’t wait until it arrives.

Even better,  you can find the entire menu, recipes and how to plan and prepare the meal at The Dragon’s Kitchen! She has extensive posts on her Titanic Project as well as her Titanic Dinner Recipes. Quite an undertaking, but maybe an inspiration for your next dinner party!

What’s next at the Titanic Museum Attraction?

With so many children learning about the sinking of the Titanic at school, it’s no surprise that in 2013, the museum will feature stories of The Children of Titanic – and the mothers and fathers who loved and protected them. From the press release:

Each child who boarded the Titanic had a dream and a story to tell. Some hopeful, like six-year-old Annie Harper, a preachers daughter from London who couldn’t wait to see America; or Edvin Asplund the youngest child in a family of seven, that soon would become three. Or baby brother, Edmond and Michel Navratil, the famous orphans of Titanic!

The children and more will be the focus of the new exhibit. Where did they come from? What was their life on Titanic really like – what games did they play, what books, did they read, what were their religious beliefs, what meals were they served, where did they sleep and finally, how did they stand up to the challenge of survival? All will be revealed in exciting and dramatic ways in the new Children of Titanic gallery.

If you’re headed to Pigeon Forge next year, a stop at the Titanic Museum Attraction is a must! You can learn more about reservations, prices, times, locations and more at titanicpigeonforge.com.

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own. Pictures used with permission.

Amazon links are affiliate links. A commission may be earned from a referred sale to their website.

Making sorghum at Dollywood and Apple, Sausage and Sauerkraut Slow Cooker Stew at home

Apple, Sausage and Sauerkraut Slow Cooker Stew (before cooking) at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.comI’m not much for roller coasters after getting sick many years ago at both Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. (Never again!) So while the Brandcation gals were riding the Wild Eagle (and being filmed by the Discovery Channel), I was busy nerding out over the food at Dollywood as well as the folk art and crafts.

There’s a section of Dollywood called Craftsman's Valley that’s perfect for anyone who isn’t into the rides, has time between music shows to take a stroll, and has already visited the Chasing Rainbows Museum, or the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame. (I did all the above and had a great time.)

My foodie favorite was the Grist Mill where they grind meal and flour for sale. I also enjoyed watching the woodcarvers, blacksmiths, glass blowers and more practice their trade before the Brandcation group met for lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham N Beans. There we dined on Southern favorites like greens, corn bread and shredded pork. Yum!

Corn bread at Dollywood from This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.com

However, the cool discovery I made – even the PR person hadn’t seen it yet – was the sorghum making demonstration in The Village. Sorghum syrup is a sweetener made from pressing sorghum cane. The old fashion way is to feed the cane into a mill that is powered by a horse. The day I was there, they had a four-month-old colt tied up to the mama horse. This way mama could teach her baby how to run the mill. It was fascinating and the baby was darling.

Pressing the sorghum cane at Dollywood from This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.com

The sorghum cane juice is then boiled into a thick syrup that tastes like a cross between honey and molasses. I bought a small container of it at one of the Dollywood stores and wish I bought more because it’s delicious! I hope I can find some here in Georgia, but if not, I may just have to drive back up to Pigeon Forge and buy a gallon or two!

Cooking with sorghum – Apple, Sausage and Sauerkraut Slow Cooker Stew

You can use sorghum in any recipe that calls for agave, honey, molasses or maple syrup. It’s very thick, so you may have to make adjustments by adding a little water or juice to your recipe. I used it in a slow cooker recipe I used to make all the time. I’ve since lost the clipping from the Denver Post, but found a recipe that’s close but without the potatoes. I healthed it up by using chicken apple sausage and using half veggie broth and half apple juice. I also tried to use organic ingredients since I didn’t peel the apples and potatoes.

How to make sorghum syrup at Dollywood from This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.com

This was a big hit with my son Nathan who adores sauerkraut and thinks chicken sausage – unlike other forms of chicken – is yummy. My daughter Lucie just ate the sausage, which is odd because she loves pickles. Darn kids!

Apple, Sausage and Sauerkraut Slow Cooker Stew (before cooking) at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet - thismamacooks.com

Apple, Sausage and Sauerkraut Slow Cooker Stew

Based on Corbin Lee’s recipe at Recipe.com


  • 1 (32 ounce) jar sauerkraut (Claussen is our favorite brand)
  • 24 ounces (2 packages) sweet apple chicken sausage, sliced into 1’’ pieces
  • 4 small organic granny smith apples, cored and cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 pound baby potatoes (leave whole)
  • 1/4 cup sorghum syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup vegetable broth


  1. Pour sauerkraut – juice and all – into your 6 quart or larger slow cooker or Crock-Pot.
  2. Add the cut up sausage, apples and whole baby potatoes to the crock.
  3. Add the sorghum, salt, pepper, juice and broth.
  4. Cover and cook on high 4 hours, or low 6-7 hours.
  5. Stir before serving.
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 7 Hours
Total Time: 7 Hours 15 Minutes
Servings: Serves 4 to 6 with lots of leftovers
  • Serving size: 1/4 to 1/6 of recipe

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own.

Dealing with food sensitivities and allergies at Dollywood

gluten free cookieAs a community leader at Udi’s Gluten Free, a mom to a daughter with allergies, and someone who deals with food sensitivities, I was excited to learn about Dollywood’s Start Fresh program. During my recent Brandcation trip to Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, our group had the chance to meet with food team member, Cecil Page, during lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham N’ Beans, who told us all about the program they developed with the help of FANN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network). The program has been in place over two years and as far as I know it’s unique to Dollywood.

How Start Fresh works

When you arrive to any of Dollywood’s restaurants or eateries, talk with the manager to let him or her know what allergies and food sensitivities you and your family is dealing with. There’s no need to call ahead, though you can contact the Foods Department at 865-428-9428 if you so choose.

The manager and his or her team will make sure that your table is cleaned, sanitized and as free as possible from any allergens. They’ll also make sure you’re seated away from the kitchen so you don’t get a whiff of anything you may be allergic to, like fish.

The manager will then present you with a yellow binder (yellow is the color assigned to anything Start Fresh related) that contains the list of ingredients of all the menu items. This way you can decide what you feel comfortable ordering for yourself or your child.

Once your order is placed, it’s assigned to a cook who will prepare your meal from start to finish and will not cook up anyone else’s order until after you are done. The first thing he or she will do is clean and sanitize their work area and put on a fresh area. Then he or she will break open a Fresh Start pack containing everything they need to prepare and serve your meal (utensils, cutting board, knife, spoons, etc.) The cook will then prepare the meal to your specifications and deliver it personally to your table. It’s like having your own personal chef!

The cooks go through the special one week Start Fresh program after going through a regular culinary course at the Dollywood. Only those who pass the Start Fresh program can cook for allergy affected guests. So while other theme parks and restaurants serve up allergen free food, this is probably one of the few that understand about allergen contamination.

Dollywood restaurants also offer vegetarian, diabetic and gluten free menu options. I was pleasantly surprised to find packaged gluten free cookies at the Spotlight Bakery. And if you’re traveling with kids with allergies or you have food sensitivities yourself, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy dining at Dollywood can be!

For more information about the park, admission and hours, go to dollywood.com. You can also connect with Dollywood on Facebook and @Dollywood.

Eating gluten free when traveling

The Udi’s Gluten Free Community offers lots of great info and tips about traveling while gluten free:

How do you deal with food allergies and sensitivities when traveling?

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own.

As a Udi's Gluten Free Community Leader I'm compensated for my time and efforts on their behalf.

Dollywood food! #brandcation #wordlesswednesday

gourmet apples


apple pie

fruit and cream pies

sticky buns

For more information about Dollywood, visit dollywood.com. You can also connect with Dollywood on Facebook and @Dollywood.

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own.

Vacation, all I wanted. Vacation, had to get away. #brandcation

© 2012 WDeanBrown.com No use allowed without photographer's permissionWhen we drove from Colorado to Georgia, I fell in love with Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. So when I heard a bunch of bloggers (32 in all) were renting a big log cabin, I jumped at the chance to join them. After all, Pigeon Forge, Tennesee is only a four hour drive straight north from Athens through some gorgeous Smoky Mountain country. Plus, I knew I had to check it out for my family, since it’s only five miles north of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park – and we love our national parks and camping.

However, I’ll be having a different sort of vacation, called Brandcation, with the bloggers since we’ll be sponsored by local attractions so we can share our experiences with our readers. Besides staying in a luxurious cabin courtesy of Cabin Fever Vacations, we’ll be visiting Dollywood, attending the Dixie Stampede, touring the Titanic Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum, and watching the Lumberjack Feud. In our down time, we’ll be exploring the town, some gals will be going ziplining (not me – bad shoulder, hate heights) and having an ‘80s party. (I’ll be attending as an Adam and the Ant fan – stand and deliver!)

The Brandcation bloggers and I will be tweeting away during the event – just follow the #brandcation hashtag on Twitter. You can also check out our Brandcation Pinterest board. I’ll be posting about fun things to do in Pigeon Forge, where we’re staying, and the food (of course) here at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet when I get back, so stay tuned!

Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers are receiving special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we'll be visiting. All experiences and opinions are our own.