Back in 1995, fresh out of college, Shannon Skidmore and his fiancée, Shannan, leased a small 20'x20' building, an old Chevrolet van, and 50 tubes, and took over Smoky Mountain River Rat from its previous owner. Over the next five years, the “Shannons” gradually made the business their own by buying their own property, with Shannon using his contractor license and expertise to erect a new, larger building in just six weeks. Smoky Mountain River Rat has expanded to 500 tubes, two vans, and 20 kayaks, and the business now also offers whitewater rafting on the nearby Pigeon River. Meanwhile, its shuttles transport families up and down the Little River for unlimited daily rides, with customers as young as 2 years old floating down 1.5 miles of tubing-friendly, meandering waters as they trade off verses of old sea chanteys.
Zorb Smoky Mountains holds the distinction of being the only Zorb site in the country. Born in New Zealand, Zorb globe riding is a sport that involves an inflatable globe and downhill trips, which may cause riders to roll so fast they think they are tearing a hole in the time-space continuum. The hills themselves are specially designed for globe riding and feature both straight and zigzagged trails.
Treks through Five Oaks Riding Stables' 70-acre nature park afford riders views of the Great Smoky Mountains and its indigenous mountain wildlife, including wild turkey and white-tailed deer. On 5-mile rides, tourists get glimpses of Mount LeConte, a mountain lake, and the remnants of an old moonshiner's still, which dates back to the days when Americans were only allowed to drink alcohol out of bathtubs.
What sets your business apart?
There is everything you could imagine in an amusement center. We have four different go-kart tracks, eight different kiddie rides, including a 70-foot Ferris wheel, and three thrill rides: the Sling Shot, SkyScraper, and the 700-foot long, 80-foot high zipline. Fun Stop also features a state of the art arcade with the latest games.
What inspired you to start or run this business?
My dad and grandfather have been in the amusement business for over 20 years. Personally, I had always dreamed of making a career in the amusement industry myself. That dream became a reality in November of 2011. I truly do love this business, and what I love most is our great customers from literally all over the world.
What is your most popular offering?
Our most popular rides are the Sling Shot and the SkyScraper. Our go-karts are also popular because they are the fastest in town.
Sixty-five feet above The Track Family Recreation Center, participants bungee toward the earth below, while one to three airborne attendees sample the buzz of skydiving at once by leaping into an oversize safety cushions on the SkyFlyer ride. Down on the ground, drivers in single- and double-seated go-karts hug the turns of a three-story, spiraling wooden track. Bumper cars smash into each other on land and water cannon–equipped bumper boats soak other vessels at sea. On the miniature fairways, putters aim to sink holes in one while avoiding waterfalls, tunnels, and mock jungle animals. Finally, thumbs test their reflexes in the arcade with video games, and youngsters can mosey over to Kids Country to pilot kiddie and rookie go-karts or make pet ponies jealous by riding the carousel.
Visitors enter a gleeful realm of recreation and friendly competition amid the indoor and outdoor attractions of Putt-Putt Golf & Games. The emerald corridors of 54 mini golf holes meander throughout the playscape, forming three 18-hole courses that gradually escalate in both difficulty and the territorial aggression of their native windmills. The thunderous clap of bat barrels smacking line-drives resonates from the baseball and softball cages, where mechanical hurlers sling baseballs at four different speeds and softballs at fast- and slow-pitch standards. More than 50 arcade and ticket-redemption games hungrily devour tokens in the game room, and guests can sate their appetites with pizza ($9 for a large), hot dogs ($1.50), and scoops of Blue Bunny ice cream ($2 for one scoop).