Everything You Need for a Family Cabin Vacation

My friend Andrea is working feverishly to book a huge cabin for a family gathering next summer. It’s a big job — finding the best cabin, making sure it has everything that you need, and then paying for it and getting other family members to pay their part!

But what comes after is what people often forget about. It’s like they suddenly think: “Ahh! I”m going to have 20 people in one cabin for a week! What are we going to DO all the time? What are we going to eat?”

We’re here to help! Here it is, all in one place — everything you need to plan a family vacation in a cabin. Andrea, this post is dedicated to you and your family as you start the process of actually planning the time together.

What to do

Families love to spend time together. And it seems like the time will go quickly enough, right? Well, sometimes people forget that after the catching up and the sitting in the hot tub and the fighting over the remote and a game or two of pool, people may get stir crazy. After all, days of relaxing can seem pretty long!

No worries! Here are five ideas of things to occupy a group in a cabin (some of these are our best ideas from older posts and some of them are brand new!):

  1. Family Bubble Talk. Okay, this is my FAVORITE idea! We’ve done this with both sides of the family and have ended up laughing until we’ve cried. Here’s what you do. First, you need the game Bubble Talk — buy it here at Amazon for $15.86. Even by itself, this game is fun and worth the price. It’s basic — the game comes with lots of funny photos. A little boy and girl holding hands, a dog working on a computer, a cow stuck over a fence, etc. Then there are lots of cards that have quotes in speech bubbles. Examples: “Dance for me, Monkey!” “Worst Valentine’s Day ever.” “That’s what she said.” “I think I’m over-dressed.” Much like Apples to Apples, players match their quotes with the funny photos. It’s hilarious. But for this particular activity, you only need the quote cards. Beforehand, compile a big group of family photos onto someone’s laptop (the sillier, the better). Then use those photos for the game. It’s so funny! And it will have everyone talking about the old times, too.
  2. Pack a big basket of edible decorations for the forest friends that live outside your cabin.

    Make a Christmas tree for the animals.We did this on one Smoky Mountain Christmas (though it could work for other times, too. Just call it a decorated tree)! It was so much fun! Decorate an edible Christmas tree for the animals to enjoy. First, spend an afternoon making edible decorations. (Make sure you don’t use glue, since it can be dangerous to the animals.) Even small kids can join in the fun. Here are some ideas:

    • String popcorn and cranberries, cheerios or pretzels to make a garland
    • Paint peanut butter on pine cones, roll in birdseed and give them a string hanger
    • Loop bagels, apple slices, orange slices and dried fruit from pipe cleaners

    Next, set off on a Christmas hunt. Find a pine tree that you can watch out the cabin window. And set to decorating it with all of your edible decorations! Over the next few days, watch as the birds, squirrels and other animals come to feast on your Christmas tree. Replenish as needed. Before you leave your cozy cabin, clean up the pipe cleaners and string. Enjoy the memories and photos for years to come!

  3. Put on a play. I know, this sounds so corny. But that’s the whole point! The cornier, the better! One year, my mother-in-law rewrote the Nutcracker and assigned everyone parts. While she narrated, we had to act out our roles. (Think: My father-in-law as the Sugar Plum Fairy.) The kids got parts too. They LOVED the experience and we have some hilarious photos to go along with the memories.
  4. Let the kids cook dinner. This works best with older kids — at least 7 or so — that are very comfortable readers. Let the kids choose a simple meal. Best case, take along a kids’ cookbook, so they can pick. Go buy the ingredients, then set out supplies. Be available for extra help with sharp knives and the oven. Otherwise, let the kids go to work, while the adults sit and chat. Oh, and take photos of the craziness that ensues. Our kids love to make individual pizzas, mac and cheese, and dirt pudding.
  5. The $10 Game. Every person comes prepared to spend $10. Drop each person’s name into a hat, then everyone draws one out. (Make sure no one gets their own.) Then head to the outlets. Plan a meeting place for a certain amount of time later (I’d recommend at least an hour), and spread out to find the perfect gift for the person whose name you’ve drawn. You can make themes, if you want. Ideas are: something to do later in the cabin, seasonal items, colors (everyone find something for  your person that is red!), souvenirs of the trip, etc. After you all meet up, go somewhere to unveil your finds! Of course, you can play this game with other amounts of money, as well.

What do we eat?

The most important thing is to make it simple. When we stay in a cabin with a large group, we always divide up meals. We’re also big fans of having two-meal days — a big breakfast, then another big meal in the afternoon. Another idea is to do simple breakfasts and lunches (cereal and bagels for breakfast, sandwich fixings for lunch), then plan a more elaborate dinner. Here are five ideas for quick, easy meals for the cabin:

  1. Hobo Pies.You may be saying, oh, we make Hobo Pies. On the campfire, right? With bread and pie filling? Nope, different Hobo Pies. I know that’s what MOST people call Hobo Pies. But nevertheless, Hobo Pies is what we grew up calling these yummy meal packets.The basic idea is to give each person a double thickness of aluminum foil. Coat it with a non-stick spray. They then fill it with whatever meat/veggies, seasonings and sauces they want. Then they wrap it up very securely, write their initials on top and throw it on the cabin’s grill or in an actual campfire. Either way works. Expect close to an hour to cook, especially if you have a lot of potatoes.After cooking, eat it with a fork right out of the foil. (I like mine with a little sour cream on top!)Here are ideas of meat/veggies to put in your Hobo Pies:
    • Hamburger (raw — it will cook in the fire, crumble some on your foil first thing)
    • Sliced kielbasa
    • Or hot dogs
    • Lots of thinly sliced potatoes
    • Green peppers, diced
    • Onion, diced
    • Carrots, diced
    • Celery, diced
    • Mushrooms, sliced

    Set out some sauces. Here are a few ideas:

    • Barbeque sauce
    • Ranch salad dressing
    • Pats of butter
    • Garlic butter
    • Italian salad dressing
    • Honey mustard
    • Sweet and sour sauce

    Finish with a few spices. Here are the shakers to bring along:

    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Garlic powder
    • Seasoning salt
    • Basil
    • Oregano
    • Chili powder
    • Cumin
    • Lemon pepper
  2. Quick Stromboli.People LOVE this recipe. After they rave about it, I’m always proud to tell how easy it is to make. At which point, my husband elbows me. He thinks I should let them think I slaved for hours making the bread from scratch!Ingredients:
    Refrigerated French bread dough
    Third pound sliced deli ham
    Third pound salami
    2 handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese
    2 handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese
    1 TBS butter or margarine, melted
    Cooking sprayOpen can of bread dough and carefully unroll. Fill rectangle with ham, salami and cheeses. Roll back up. Grease cookie sheet with spray. Place roll on sheet and brush with melted butter. Bake according to French bread package directions. Slice and serve.This is our favorite combination, but of course, you can add whatever ingredients you want. One stromboli serves about 3 adults. We like to eat it with chips and salsa!
  3. Kendra’s Loaded Baked Potato Soup.Picture it now: It’s a brisk evening, and you’ve just returned from a hard hike. You’re tired, hungry and chilly. What’s better than a steaming bowl of this soup? Trust me, everyone that tries this pronounces it a winner!Ingredients:
    5-6 large potatos
    1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese
    1 can cream of mushroom soup
    1 can cream of celery soup
    1/2 tsp garlic powderGarnishes:
    Shredded cheddar cheese
    Cooked, crumbled bacon (do this before you leave home or buy the pre-cooked kind)
    Green onions, slicedClean potatoes and cut into cubes. Put cubes into large pot and just cover with water. Boil until potatoes are tender. Turn to medium-low and add cream cheese, garlic and soups. Cook and stir until melted.Serve with garnishes. And maybe a big hunk of crusty bread. This will serve at least 6 people, with some leftover.
  4. Loaded Baked Potatoes. This is a fun, easy idea. Get plenty of potatoes, wrap them in foil and throw them in the oven. While they cook, set out butter, sour cream, chives, bacon (buy it pre-cooked to make it really easy), chicken cooked with fajita spices (can be made at home beforehand), cheese (shredded and maybe a sauce), broccoli and salsa. Give everyone a potato and let them dig in!
  5. Warm Subs. Before you go to the cabin, buy: sub buns, 3-4 kinds of lunch meat (plenty for all), 3-4 kinds of cheese, tomatoes, lettuce leaves, pickles, onions and marinara sauce. Bring: aluminum foil, mustard, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, Italian dressing, salt and pepper, Italian seasoning, and a Sharpie marker. Set everything out and let everyone make sandwiches. Wrap them in foil and write names on them with the sharpie. Stick them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Serve with chips and fruit. Easy and delicious!

What should we take?

Well, this is easy! We actually have a list you can download! Just go to our Cabin Vacation Packing List page and download it. You’ll be all set!

What should we when we feel like leaving the cabin?

We have lots of help for this, too. Here are three of our favorite things to do. Check the additional resources at the end for even more ideas.

  1. Go for a hike. Well, it does depend on the weather. But we’ve had trips in the dead of winter when we’ve been able to hike. Here are posts about our favorite hikes: Baskin Creek Falls; Rainbow Falls; Andrews Bald; Porters Creek Trail; Mt. LeConte; and Chimney Tops.
  2. Go to MagiQuest in Pigeon Forge. Seriously, if there’s one attraction to spend money on, this is it. We LOVE this place. In short, think Harry Potter meets Disney World. Kids walk around with magic wands and complete certain quests with the help of their adults. The wands open treasure chests, make gems sparkle, and beat bad guys. It’s SO fun and creative. For a complete review, read our blog: MagiQuest — Fun for kids (of all ages)!
  3. Go to the Lumberjack Feud show. We just did this, so it’s fresh in my mind. But it really was fun. The kids loved it, the adults loved it. Even the baby sat through it. Win for everyone. Instead of a song and dance show, this one is a story combined with a lumberjack competition by real ESPN athlete lumberjacks. Impressive and entertaining. For a complete review, read our blog post: The Lumberjack Feud — a Hit with the Kids!

Fore more planning help, visit:

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