Rock city is WELL worth the price! Massive amounts of natural beauty and things for the kids. Arguably comparable to Paris Disneyland in terms of entertainment dollars. No, seriously!
While it lacks rides of any sort, for the very young and those of us who hate G-force attractions intended to make you puke, I would argue that while it’s about 1/4 as big, Rock City’s 700 acres is competitive with Paris Disneyland (~$83/day) in terms of whimsy and natural beauty, for 1/4 the price (~$20/day) — although I would suggest attending it during one of it’s special event nights and in good weather.
At the top of Lookout Mountain is Rock City, which I had the impression would be yet another over advertised but underwhelming tourist trap — sort of like Old town in Orlando is — so I was deeply hesitant to buy a ticket. Adds for it are everywhere in the region — no really, EVERYWHERE — billboards and pamphlets, none of which ultimately do the place any sort of justice (they really do need better marketing). Now keep in mind I’m something of an amusement park connoisseur. I’ve been to all the Disney Parks world wide, even did Tokyo three times — and am waiting with baited breath for Shanghai to open — and just recently spent about 5 months in Orlando of doing little else other than going to Disney World and Universal (let’s hear it for season passes).
As such, I entered the park pretty sure I would hate Rock City, but I was wrong. Initially when I headed over there (after having spent the early part of the day at Craven’s House, a Civil War historical site half way up the mountain), I did so just to see what this Rock City thing was — from the adds I honestly wasn’t sure, other than it had a spot where you were supposed to be able to see seven states, while from Point Park, the National Park section of the mountain, you could only see Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama).
When I got there, I initially wasn’t going to go in, but I talked to a few tourist that were just leaving, and they all said it was very pretty and they felt they’d gotten their money’s worth. As I approached the ticket booth, to see what it cost, I saw signs advertising a special event that would begin at 6:00pm for the kids called fairy tale nights (apparently a chance for kids to talk to their favorite fairy tale characters), for a few dollars more than the normal ticket. As it was already approaching 4pm, I bought a ticket to that and drove back down to the base of the mountain to grab a bite at the 1885 Grill, a restaurant that I liked so much I’d been working my way through the menu (haven’t had a bad meal yet).
My initial experience of the park was NOT good (they really need to talk to Disney about crowd management), in that rather than allowing us in all-at-once, they forced us to stand in a very long line while they slowly, and I mean painfully slowly, allowed family’s and or or individuals such as myself into the park …. one at a very long intervalled time. Each of us was forced to have an extended discussion with a guard sitting at the top of the “castle wall” and not allowed to enter until the family that had gone in before us finished talking to the first character by the gate, which I think was Cinderella and Prince Charming who were RIGHT at the other side of the gate. Suffice it to say people were NOT happy about this.
Ultimately, however, by the time I’d walked through the whole place I was a big fan of Rock City. Just like the Mr. Disney’s vision for his parks, which resulted from his having to take his nieces to amusement parks where he ended up sitting on benches being bored out of his mind while they went on rides, this attraction is sort of two parks distinct merged: one that meets the desires of the kids and the other is intended for the adults. At the disney parks the former is achieved with rides, candy and the ability to meet and talk to their favorite fairytale and cartoon friends, while the latter is addressed via beautiful gardens, architecture, and good food. Rock City achieves this same sort of dichotomy, and I’m posting two collections of photos to give you a sense of that difference.
In the first, kids get to do things like shrink down in size and talk to fairies that live in oversized gardens, see hawks up close, rock climb, do crafts like decorating their own crowns, meet characters like Hansel and Gretel, and look in on glow in the dark dioramas that display their favorite fairy tales.
At the same time, while the kids are being thus entertained, adults get to be overwhelmed with natural beauty (and not so natural — the waterfall is man made) and impressive vistas. In addition, about halfway through the park, when you get to the lookout side, there’s a nice restaurant where you can just sit and sip come coffee and enjoy the views (that supposedly has pretty good food), and just chill. Since I was there for an after-hours event most of the food services had already closed — again they need to talk to Disney about (a well run park should never miss an opportunity to milk more money out of folks inside the park).
Also, I have to add that I got QUITE the work out walking around in there because of a myriad of up and down stairways, un-level walk ways, etc. A staffer told me that there’s even a local woman has a season pass and walks through the every day as exercise, and with a one year pass only costing $55, I can see how folks who live nearby might do that.
Lookout Mountain: the neighborhood
I have to say that the thought of being able to, in my retirement, walk through that park as my ‘daily exercise’ makes the idea of buying a place near there appealing (and I have a good friend who only lives about 30 minutes away). On the downside, however, should I collapse on one of those walks no one might notice me for a good long time because of how the park is constructed, and how lightly it is staffed; and, to get from there to the nearest hospital would require being medevaced. No really, this is how my mind works.
I’m currently homeless and part of what I’m doing during this road trip is trying to decide where to re-locate to (my hometown of Chicago has a high cost of living). The dream, had always been to retire to Disney World, and go there daily for my walks. This is far less crazy than it sounds. Firstly, Florida is retirement central with a slew of doctors who specialize in geriatric medicine, and, secondly, Disney is chock full of staff trained to keep guests in view at all time (other than in toilets) and to respond instantaneously in the case of medical issues — that and they assign a specially trained cast member to hold your hand the whole time you are in the hospital, send you flowers, and be in constant touch till you’re checked out (its how Disney guilts people into not suing them/ the per hour cost of that cast member is much cheaper than paying a lawyer). Only — you can’t walk from your house to any Disney park, but you can live almost across the street from this one.
That and, overall, the neighborhood is very familiar for me; maybe six years ago I used to live in the hills of the San Francisco South Bay area, and the neighborhood at the top of Lookout mountain reminded me a lot of that. Both are high up on mountains, have very ritzy homes that range from upper middle class to obscenely wealthy (in SF I was renting a room from an elderly woman whose neighbors included rock stars, high-tech millionaires, and folks like Ram Dass). I don’t think this neighborhood is quite that upscale, but it had the same feel — and according to various folks I spoke to it has some of the best public schools in the area (a self-selecting mechanism for who your neighbors will be). Now granted, there wasn’t a decent grocery store up there — just a small market for overpriced necessities, but there is a Starbucks — although how much I’ll enjoy that at 70 is doubtful.
Also, while driving around that neighborhood I came across a local woman walking with her young son, and had an interesting conversation. She was originally from Vancouver, and her boyfriend used to live in Evanston, IL — where I used to live — and his family has a house in the village where I grew-up. She extolled to me the virtues of living on Lookout Mountain, saying that not only were the schools wonderful, but that it’s so safe that shehe allows her son to walk unattended and wasn’t even sure where the keys to her house were — he looked to be about 7. Homes here very from multi million dollar homes that have amazing views to more landlocked homes that range from 250K to $300,000, and the distance from here down to Chattanooga proper, with all it’s stores and restaurants, is about 2.5 miles. She also said that while the folks who live there are not particularly political she was pretty sure every one of them was voting for Trump