The 3,000-seat Cherokee Events Center will host Little Big Town on March 2 and Celtic Woman on April 26.

On a smaller scale, casino guests belt out karaoke or listen to live bands in the Essence Lounge.

Retail shops have grown more upscale over the years, with a Callaway Golf Shop in the Creek Tower and stores selling everything from high-end purses to linens.

The casino has family-friendly options, with an indoor pool and arcade room (open on the weekends for kids).

If you want to get outdoors, there's trout fishing in the stream running alongside the resort (there's an Orvis River's Edge Outfitters shop, too) and the 18-hole, par 72 Sequoyah National Golf Club (about 10 minutes from the resort).

Less than 30 minutes away from Harrah's Cherokee Resort, a don't-miss attraction for families is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, N.C., which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The sightseeing train offers daily excursions to spots such as the Nantahala Gorge and Nantahala Outdoor Center, and historic Dillsboro, N.C.

You'll travel alongside rivers on the trains, which are climate controlled and have comfortable padded seats. Prices vary depending on the cabin.

Workers often perform songs and stories, and group excursions are available, too. You embark and disembark from downtown Bryson City, which also provides dining options. We ate at Pasqualino's Italian Restaurant.

For the kids, it's best to time your visit to a themed journey. During our "The Polar Express" trip in December, workers acted out parts of the book, passed out cookies and hot chocolate, sang Christmas carols and danced with kids.

Once we hit the North Pole, kids squealed (and some parents got a little teary) when the "conductors" pointed out the colorfully lit homes of Rudolph and other holiday characters, before Santa entered the train cars to talk with the kids and hand them sleigh bells.

Upcoming trips include the Peanuts Easter Beagle Express in March or a ride tied to the PBS show "Dinosaur Train" during the summer.

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IF YOU GO:

Harrah's Cherokee Resort 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee, N.C. 28719, 1-828-497-7777, http://www.harrahscherokee.com. Room rates start at $79.

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad 226 Everett St. Bryson City, N.C. 28713, 1-800-872-4681, http://www.gsmr.com. Prices typically start at $51 adult, $29 child, for coach class seating, but vary depending on event/trip