BEST OUTDOOR FESTIVAL: BOOMSDAY
Each Labor Day weekend, hundreds of thousands of people gather along Neyland Drive at Volunteer Landing in Knoxville to watch fireworks brighten the night sky. Everyone scrunches together on lawn chairs to talk, relax and enjoy the holiday weekend. Revelers enjoy food, live music and entertainment, and children light up at the games and inflatables. Hundreds of boats line the banks of Fort Loudoun Lake. It's Boomsday, the largest Labor Day fireworks display in the country.
And then the countdown. Just before 9:30 p.m. comes the familiar "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" from the crowd, followed by an eruption of cheers. Shells explode above the water as part of a 20-minute fireworks display choreographed to a soundtrack provided by radio station Star 102.1 FM.
Some folks complain about the crowds and the traffic, but that doesn't seem to stop people from coming back year after year to say goodbye to summer as one big East Tennessee family.
Runners-up: University of Tennessee football tailgating, Rossini Festival
BEST PLACE TO WORK (UNDER 50 EMPLOYEES): VIBE: A BELLEZA SALON
5042 Kingston Pike
What makes Vibe such a great place to work?
Vibe is more of a family than a workplace. Many of its stylists have been with the salon since it opened in November 2007, or were first part of Vibe's big brother, Belleza Salon and Spa.
Even the very genesis of Vibe is oriented in that family dynamic. The idea behind Vibe is to begin expanding Belleza by creating new satellite salons, ones still part of the family but that reflect the personality of those who partner with co-owners Marwan Zauok and Regina Zaouk to run the new establishments. In the case of this salon, that's stylist and Vibe co-owner Michael Layne.
Vibe values creativity (it's a salon, after all), education and hard work. Vibe also gives back to the community, whether it be donating hair to help with the recent oil spill on the Gulf Coast or taking part in a makeover for a local single mom. Between that, participating in fashion shows and just having a fun, Vibe has a great, um, vibe.
Runners-up: Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Theatre
BEST PLACE TO WORK (OVER 50 EMPLOYEES): U.S. CELLULAR
More than 700 people in the East Tennessee area are U.S. Cellular associates. Some answer calls at the Customer Care Center off Lovell Road. Others assist customers in the company's many retail stores in the region. Still others test the 3G network as field engineers or work behind the scenes in the company's East Region headquarters in Knoxville.
Those associates are committed to the highest levels of customer satisfaction and love going to work each day. U.S. Cellular utilizes a business model it calls Dynamic Organization, which systematically values open and honest communication. Associates are able to voice their feedback, which leads to both better business results and a strong sense of team dynamics. Employees at U.S. Cellular actually like going to work. Imagine that.
Runners-up: East Tennessee Children's Hospital, Home Federal Bank
BEST PLACE TO LEARN TO DANCE: COTTON EYED JOE
11220 Outlet Drive
If you're going to learn to dance, ballroom foxtrot may not be the place to start. Too much moving and flailing and stepping. Better to begin with something a bit easier. Perhaps a country line dance? Why, yes, that sounds like fun.
Fun is, after all, the key. Dancing is meant to be enjoyed, not to be difficult or stressful.
Cotton Eyed Joe creates the perfect environment for that. There are free dance lessons, so you can look like a buffoon with friends. Then there are the drink specials, Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments, pony rides, prize giveaways and food buffets, which always keep things interesting. Add in a few contests, concerts and dance parties, and you've got enough to keep you entertained whether you decide to dance or not.
Runners-up: Backstage Dance Company, Dancers Studio
BEST PLACE TO KISS IN PUBLIC: THOMPSON-BOLING ARENA KISS CAM
1600 Phil Fulmer Ave.
If you're going to kiss in public, you might as well really kiss in public. You know, on a leviathan of a television screen in front of more than 24,000 people at a University of Tennessee basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena. Go on, smooch away. We'll all watch.
If you want to up the ante, you can even propose to your significant other on the big screen. It's happened before, as YouTube can attest. Just make sure the answer is going to be "yes" first.
Runners-up: Market Square, Boomsday
BEST PLACE FOR FAMILY FUN: DOLLYWOOD
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge
"Fun for the whole family" is one of those cliched phrases that people toss around, like "don't count your chickens before they're hatched" or "like a duck on a June bug." Such phrases still have meaning; they've just been repeated so many times that people blurt them out without thinking.
But let's think about it. Dollywood? It really is fun for the whole family.
There are rides like the Blazing Fury mineshaft adventure or the upcoming 2011 Barnstormer ride. Entertainment includes magic, singing, dancing, even birds. Festivals invite park visitors to experience the music, food and art of other cultures, or to immerse themselves in the wonderland of a mountain Christmas. That's not to forget the bookstore, woodcutter, general store, handmade wagons, glass blowing demonstrations, nor the barbecue, funnel cakes or sandwiches.
Good thing the whole family is along for the ride. You'll need everyone's cooperation just to be able to see and do even half the things Dollywood has to offer.
Runners-up: Knoxville Zoological Gardens, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
BEST MARINA: CONCORD MARINA
10915 S. Northshore Drive, Farragut
Out of all the airports to fly into in the country, Knoxville's may offer the most spectacular view. Landing provides a breathtaking view of tree-covered hills, lakes, the Tennessee River and farmland. It's a panorama that is hard to come by in other cities.
Closer to the ground, you have reasons why. One of them is Concord Marina in Concord. The Concord area is calm and peaceful, nestled into the Fort Loudon embayment on the Tennessee. Concord Marina is a full-service marina with easy access ramps, gated security, fuel pumps, laundry facilities, a restaurant, a "dock shop," on-site mechanics and a clubhouse perfect for weddings or just grilling with the family.
Concord Marina is in the middle of the larger Concord Park, a 500-acre park with baseball fields, golf, trails, shelters and a skate park.
Runners-up: Sequoyah Marina, Norris Lake, Waterside Marina, Norris Lake
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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