Our first experience at the Stampede was in Branson many moons ago when the college junior was in middle school. I remember our experience at the Stampede because you're given a ton of food and no silverware. Not even the plastic sort. It was a neat-nick OCD nightmare come to life. So this time I smuggled in some plastic silverware in my purse and passed it along to others in the group that preferred to cut the food rather than use their hands. It's all pretty portable to the mouth - rotisserie chicken, boiled potato, corn on the cob, biscuit - but I still preferred using utensils instead of getting my hands all icky sticky and greasy.
The rest of our trip included a visit to Ober Gatlinburg to ride the mountain coaster and tube. Plus a few more trips to the strip for dining, window shopping, and moonshine sampling. It's a redneck mountain thang.
We absolutely enjoyed the lodge we found on VRBO. It was very spacious, made with real logs and had lots of great details like the mountain critters carved into columns in the living room.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas, we had a store-bought meal from Cracker Barrel. Then we lowered the AC so we could turn on the fireplace without breaking into a sweat, just long enough to snap some family pics.