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“Pricey but fun! Server was great! Need Steam!”

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Ranked #2 of 32 things to do in Bryson City
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: A 52-mile rail journey through valleys, inside winding tunnels and across spectacular gorges of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Salisbury, North Carolina
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“Pricey but fun! Server was great! Need Steam!”
Reviewed July 6, 2013

Rode yesterday (7-6-13). Had a blast! My friend and I were in the MacNeill car. We had debated on going with first class because of the price, but it turned out to be a great decision. Our server was a very polite and rather attractive young man by the name of Nick (His blue eyes were extremely pretty) The scenery was great (could be a bit better with less trees) and Nick pointed out a few things and answered all of our questions.

The food was delicious. I had the salmon and my friend had the beef tips. I also had a Railroad Relaxer and it was lovely! Nick had to work extremely hard all day because the car was full and everyone wanted something pretty much all the time, but he was on top of everything and except for a slight delay here and there worked quickly and efficiently, and nobody seemed to have to wait long at all for anything they asked for.

The only complaints I had were very negligible, and one of which was not a fault of the company. The Conductor was polite but seemed a bit grumpy. Also a women in a couple sitting near us was grumpy and very snippy with Nick, even with him trying his best to make them happy.

In all it was a great experience. The food was great, the staff was polite and helpful, Nick was fabulous and made the trip, and the scenery was nice. It's a bit pricey considering the service rendered, but still worth doing more than once. If the prices were cheaper, we probably would have bought a t-shirt or jacket or some merchandise. Also some vintage decor like old railroad photos, maps, or artwork would be nice. STEAM ENGINES ARE NEEDED. Nick told us about the plans to bring them back to service and we look forward to seeing them. We'll be back! Bring your friends and family, and tip your server well!

Visited July 2013
2 Thank HJ843
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Sanford, North Carolina
Level 1 Contributor
3 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
“Ride to Dillsboro”
Reviewed July 6, 2013

The train ride was awesome. The views were excellent and the story telling was unbelievable yet believable!

Visited July 2013
2 Thank Tina G
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
West Palm Beach, Florida, United States
Level 4 Contributor
41 reviews
15 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 88 helpful votes
“Save your money!”
Reviewed July 6, 2013

Our experience with Great Smoky Mountains Railroad occurred on July 1, 2013. Our daughters (ages 8 and 7) were very excited about the trip, as we had been planning to schedule a ride on the train for months.

We arrived in Bryson City (the site of the train depot) at least 40 minutes early, and spent at least 15 minutes driving around looking for a parking spot. Finally we had to park illegally so that my husband could ask the staff where to find the parking for train passengers. We were directed across the street to a very difficult-to-find, poorly-labeled lot. Imagine our surprise when we were then charged an additional $5.00 to park. As paying train passengers, we felt this was a very tacky move (especially given the exorbitant prices of the train ride itself).
Our ticketing process went smoothly, and the ticket office personnel were pleasant and efficient (this was helped by the fact that we had pre-purchased our tickets by phone). Our boarding area, however, was extremely far from the ticketing window, and definitely presented a problem for my father who has mobility issues and walks with a cane. At no point did the numerous staff who were driving around in large, empty golf carts and standing around smoking cigarettes ever offer to assist anyone. We did choose the “open air seating” car, which is less expensive than some other classes. Was this why we were forced to walk so far to board the train? If there is some logistical reason why the train must be parked in that exact location, the least they could do is offer a golf cart or other transportation to people with limited mobility.

Upon boarding the train, we were pleased to see that there was plenty of room on the bench style seating, and the seats were comfortable. However, the train car itself (The “Olivine”) was definitely run-down, with peeling paint on the railings. I understand that these trains are historic structures, but it would cost less than $200 to put a layer of paint and a pressure-wash on the train car. Other cars on the train did look better cared-for, so perhaps our train car is in line for a facelift soon.

We did have a very unfortunate event when we first boarded. I attempted to take my two young girls to the restroom, and viewed some restrooms in the next train car. As we headed that way, a staff member by the name of “Elizabeth” loudly stopped us and rudely said, “Absolutely NOT…that is a PRIVATE CAR that serves alcohol! YOUR restrooms are back that way.” At first, I was taken by surprise at her abrupt manner, especially as someone who is in the customer service industry myself. I should mention that there was NO INDICATION that the next car was restricted in any way, not even a rope across the door with a small sign for parents who would naturally head that way with their children (since it was the closest restroom to us). I have no problem with the fact that certain cars are restricted, but at least there could be some indication of such, and the staff could demonstrate some courtesy and respect to their customers who make an honest mistake. (It turns out that there was a sign on the door that was only viewable after the train was in motion and the door had been closed).
Heading down to the restroom all the way at the end of the next train car, we found the bathroom itself (a single toilet with a sink) extremely filthy and reeking of urine and stool. I was afraid to allow the girls to touch anything. I understand this is a train bathroom, but I rode public trains for years in college and have never witnessed such a filthy and deplorable restroom. Add to this the fact that this one tiny bathroom was supposed to serve at least 100 people (between the two cars), many of whom had small children with them. As I was mentioning this unfortunate fact to my husband upon my return, staff member Elizabeth again materialized and rudely intruded into my conversation (which was not directed at her), and felt the need to remind me that sometimes one toilet services FOUR cars instead of just TWO. I was appalled that this same staff member rudely interrupted my private conversation with my husband after just demonstrating such discourteous behavior ten minutes earlier, but even more horrified that what she said might actually be true. If so, I have a hard time believing that would not violate some kind of health code to have so many people sharing one very filthy toilet. I’ve seen better hygienic conditions on Greyhound buses carrying the unwashed masses from Boston’s South Station.

Shortly afterwards, the train left the station and we had the pleasure of meeting “Brenda”, the rear brakeman, who was pleasant, courteous and helpful the entire trip, stopping to answer questions and even reassure my oldest daughter (who has anxiety issues and was nervous about the train “tipping over” because of the rocking motion). She demonstrated professionalism and she obviously cares a great deal about her job and her customers. It was a relief to meet her after our unpleasant experience with Elizabeth.

As for the ride itself, we found the scenery to be very pretty. The views of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River were beautiful, and it was nice seeing them from this unique position. There are some lovely houseboats on Fontana Lake, and the scene was so peaceful and charming. It was also very interesting seeing the whitewater rafters on their various rafts and kayaks, since we are planning to take the girls rafting soon. It was fun to wave to the rafters and see them navigate some of the rapids. Frustratingly however, the sound system was so faint that we couldn’t hear any of the narration in the open-air car at all. It is obvious that more speakers and/or better volume are needed.

Unfortunately, our pleasant ride became less pleasant upon our visit to the “Conductor’s Café’ Car” (the train’s snack bar). We attempted to purchase a hot pretzel for our daughter shortly after departing the station, and were told they had “run out” and there would be no more available (this a mere few minutes into the trip!). In addition, the food service conditions were unsanitary to say the least. The pulled pork was served in an unsupervised chafing dish, and it was left up to the customers to spoon out their own pork with an ice cream scoop (!). The hot dogs were also left unattended on a roller for people to serve themselves. The last thing I feel like eating is pork and hot dogs that people have been coughing and sneezing on (which I witnessed happening right in front of me). We are far from a snobbish family and we most often eat casual fare at restaurants, but some things are just disgusting. In addition, the nacho situation was beyond bizarre, as the cheese dispenser apparatus was apparently broken, and a staff member was standing there with the dispenser open, manually squeezing the cheese bag with her hands and “milking” the cheese onto the skeptical customers’ nachos. I mean, really??

To say the least, I was looking forward to our stop/layover at the NOC (National Outdoor Center) so that I could get my family some decent food. My hopes, however, were to be dashed shortly upon arrival at the NOC. To begin with, the train again pulled FAR past the destination, causing us once again to have to walk over a quarter mile to reach the buildings. We had also been warned before-hand that there would be a strict one hour layover, with a timely departure of 2:00 pm. This would have been fine, except for the fact that we pulled into the NOC almost ten minutes late, then had to walk almost another fifteen minutes back to the NOC, so that our total time to find food was only about twenty minutes. Again, some basic consideration for the passengers would be nice as far as walking distance. They could at least extend the layover time a little to accommodate all of the extra walking and crowds. Our choices were limited to a VERY overpriced barbecue restaurant ($9 dollar hot dog anyone?), a convenience store or a crowded sit-down restaurant that could not have accommodated us in our allotted twenty minutes. The NOC itself was disappointing as well: very crowded tourist trap, dirty restrooms, and clearly not designed to handle the sudden disgorging of approximately 400 train passengers into its midst. I am still not sure why the train stops here, since there is clearly nothing for train passengers to do in the short time they are given here. Perhaps free advertising for the NOC? Who knows….

We ended up choosing the convenience store across the street, thinking we could just run in and grab some quick snacks for the girls to tide them over until we returned to Bryson City. That was a BIG MISTAKE. There were so many people inside the store that we couldn’t even walk in. Once inside, the price gouging was absolutely outrageous. Nine dollars for a small package of beef jerky? Give me a break. We ended up spending $20 for a couple bags of chips and some drinks. By this point, I was longingly eyeing the copious amount of overpriced beer in the refrigerated coolers just so I could numb the pain of the rest of the trip. But alas, beer-less, hungry and annoyed, we began the Bataan Death March back to the far end of the train, just in time for the 5 minute warning. Our return trip was uneventful, but the unpleasant experience we had at the NOC caused us to be frustrated and annoyed.

Overall, I think the GSMRR could be a good experience if a few key items were addressed. Certain staff members need to be instructed in good customer service skills and common courtesy. Signage to restricted cars needs to be more apparent to first-time riders, and courteously enforced. The restroom situation needs to be improved by providing clean facilities that accommodate the amount of people onboard. The train cars need a little bit of cosmetic attention. The snack bar experience needs to be improved upon. Passengers with mobility issues need to be better accommodated if the distance issue cannot be addressed. The sound system needs more speakers and better volume so that the open-air passengers can also enjoy the narration along the trip. Arrangements need to be made to better accommodate the train passengers during layover at the NOC, rather than forcing them into an unpleasant, crowded and expensive situation. I know that our family would rather have skipped the stop entirely rather than endure that ordeal.

We love the Smoky Mountains, but this is one experience we will definitely not be repeating.

Visited July 2013
28 Thank Gwendolyn M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Palatka, Florida
Level 4 Contributor
32 reviews
15 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 23 helpful votes
“Ask about the Private Caboose Party”
Reviewed July 5, 2013

We hit a Home Run when we selected this for our Grandson's 7th birthday party. The caboose accommodated the entire family of 9 with no issues. An experience of a lifetime even when you are 70 years young.

Visited June 2013
4 Thank Raymond W
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level 5 Contributor
53 reviews
21 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Fun for all.”
Reviewed July 1, 2013

I have been ill with cancer for a long time and unable to get out of the house. My husband and I are in our early 40's and really needed some time away. Hs best friend bought us two first class tickets as a surprise for me out of the kindness of his heart. The railroad was onetime, they are very positive in how they deliver safety information. They served food quickly and efficiently. We, however, were not given some of the same menu choices others were given prior to arrival to the trip. The food was good though.

Visited May 2013
1 Thank Holley M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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