Trip Planning Posts
Becky Mansfield | My Top 5 Favorite Things About Dollywood
Date: February 1, 2017
There are many things that I love about Dollywood, from the old schoolhouse in the park to the most amazing shows. I love that there is a chapel right in the park and at the same time there are those rides that are so thrilling and FUN! I could list 100 things that I love about Dollywood, but here are my favorite 5:
1- Dolly Parton
She is such a generous person. She is kind and so funny! I loved how she is raising money for those families that were involved in the fire as part of her My People fundraiser with the Dollywood Foundation. I love that even with her success, she has never forgotten her past, or where she came from, or her humble beginnings. She has a replica at Dollywood of her childhood home (her brother built it and her mom helped decorate it). She grew up with only one bed in her home and in very closer quarters with her family. It is said that she still returns to visit her childhood home often.
2- The rides!
My favorite is the Lightning Rod. It was amazing. It was so fast and so much fun (and worth the wait to ride in the front!) Our son’s favorite ride was the Wild Eagle. It took a little courage before he would ride it, but after he did he told me that he felt like he was flying. The water rides were a huge hit in our family, too. They are a perfect way to cool off in the middle of a warm day!
3- The 25 lb. Apple Pie!
For Dollywood’s 25th anniversary, their pastry chef created a 25 lb. apple pie - and it was such a hit, so it is still there in their 32nd season. It is the star of the bakery. When we walked in, I think we all stopped to stare at it for at least 5 minutes, amazed that a pie could be so big and look so delicious! It comes in the cast iron skillet, too. Can you imagine bringing that out for dessert at your next party!? So fun!
4- Reminiscent of Simpler Times
I can’t really describe it, but it feels easy there- peaceful. It has an old-time feel. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t old-time at all, but it just feels like a simple time. The people are among them most kind people that I have ever met. When I met Dolly Parton, I asked her why she thought the workers were so sweet and she said, “It’s just our mountain way!”
5- Craftsman’s Valley
It’s not something you find at most theme parks- master craftsmen who practice their crafts in front of an audience. You can even buy handmade goods right after watching them make them. It is like a fall festival every day. You know the kind where they have the craft stations just filled with things that locals have made? That’s it. They have these amazing wood crafts, recipes, and jams that you can take home with you that day. My favorite things were the wooden signs, but my sister-in-law loved the blown glass.
Dollywood isn’t just a theme park, it is a whole vacation… an experience that I am happy to give my family. It is somewhere that I want my kids to take their kids and say, “When I was young, my mom loved this ride!” Or, “When we ate here when I was your age, it was just as good!” It is somewhere that I know my family loves and I love it, too (maybe the most!) :)
Linda Scruggs | Ride Accessibility at Dollywood
Date: February 1, 2017
As theme park fans, my family enjoys fun, thrills, food, entertainment, and attractions. And yes, the shopping, of course. We love to travel, and while we seek adventure, it may be surprising to know that we also have accessibility needs. Looking at my family, you'd never know one of us has a medical condition. And that can make some of our family adventures difficult to navigate. We don’t have to worry about that at Dollywood. From the moment we enter the park, we feel a warm welcome and genuine Southern hospitality. It's that feeling that sets Dollywood apart and why we have fallen in love with visiting this world-class theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Concerns about accessibility shouldn't stop anyone from planning their next family destination, but a little planning always helps. At Dollywood, my worries were alleviated when I discovered the Ride Accessibility Center, which is specifically designed for families like mine so we can get the most out of our theme park visit. I’m happy to share this information that made my family’s experience great.
First, I recommend finding the Park Accessibility Guide and Entertainment Schedule online before you arrive. You can download both. Upon entering Dollywood, before heading to any attractions, you should visit the Ride Accessibility Center (next to the Dollywood Emporium across from the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame). This is where you can discuss any accessibility needs with a Dollywood host and receive specific information on rider requirements. This is a small team of six hosts, so you’ll get to know them as you return again and again. You'll receive a Boarding Pass for the attractions you can enjoy along with members of your party and use the accessible entrances. My family was one of more than 20,000 to benefit from a Dollywood Boarding Pass in 2016. What a fantastic program! I'm a nurse, and like you, privacy is important to me. The hosts in the Center provide a personalized and private opportunity to ask questions and gather information to make the most of your visit. They’re wonderful!
I’d also encourage you to enjoy the shows! We rely on taking breaks and discovering everything Dollywood has to offer. The entertainment truly cannot be missed. Indoor theaters have accessible seats that are available on a first-come basis, so be sure to arrive early. Guests who require special assistance can speak with one of the friendly ushers.
While I love attractions, what makes Dollywood stand out to me is being able to take our time to talk with the hosts and feel relaxed as we explore the park. It's the kindness that makes a difference, and I hope you enjoy many fun moments together during your visit to Dollywood!
Morgan Crutchfield | Dollywood Different - The History Inside the Park
Date: February 1, 2017
Chances are when someone says “theme park,” you think of lots of different things: coasters, characters, maybe a funnel cake or two. But do you think of history?
At Dollywood they do things differently in the best of ways, pairing your favorite thrill rides and entertainment with the soul of the Great Smoky Mountains. Attractions are plentiful, you can get a ton of tasty treats, and you’ll find everything you love about theme park fun right where you’d expect. But at Dollywood, it’s all steeped in the legacy of the Smokies and the proud history of Appalachia. How do they wrap nostalgia around a park full of thrills? Let’s find out.
Ride the Rails
Dollywood’s roots lie in a small attraction that opened in 1961 called Rebel Railroad. Featuring a coal-fired steam train named Klondike Katie, the railroad took guests on a ride through the mountain wilderness. Those rails still exist today and now guide Klondike Katie and another coal-fired steam train named Cinderella up the mountain to give Dollywood guests a taste of Appalachia as they see the countryside. While the park’s newest roller coaster, Lightning Rod, is a wild ride, hearing the distinctive whistle of a steam engine as it chugs past is a thrill all its own.
See the Mill
Much of the Great Smoky Mountains’ heritage lives in the products and crafts of its people, whether it’s a mile-high apple stack cake, a handcrafted leather belt, or a tune picked on a set of strings. At the heart of Dollywood is the Grist Mill, the first working grist mill built in the Smokies in more than 100 years. Hosts at the mill handcraft the most incredible cinnamon bread along with other scrumptious fresh-baked goods. Guests use the extra energy from the warm, sweet bread to make their way to Craftsman’s Valley where a wide variety of authentic crafts like homemade jams, handcrafted linens, and handblown glass await, with daily live demonstrations. Nowhere else can you experience the heirloom legacy of this incredible region alongside the heart-pounding technology of the country’s most cutting-edge rides.
Hear the Songs
It wouldn’t be Dolly’s if it wasn’t wrapped in a melody. Dollywood is as steeped in music as it is in mountains. From the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame just inside the park’s gates to festivals centered around gospel and bluegrass music, to the incredible stage shows and regular performances, the park rings with the native music of the Smokies every minute that it’s open. You’ll hear everything from Dolly’s hits to true Southern Gospel and can even attend a church service in the park’s Robert F. Thomas Chapel on Sundays for a good dose of classic hymns.
These days it’s difficult to find a place that excites as much as it enchants. I call Dollywood “my” park for the fun, the heritage, and the feelings of home it brings when I visit. Come find out what “Dollywood Different” means for you and your family and make it your park, too.
Sami Cone | Only 36 Hours at Dollywood? Start Here...
Date: February 1, 2017
While I love spending a long weekend at Dollywood, my family never turns down any opportunity to spend time in the theme park.
So what can you do if you only have a single day ticket to Dollywood?
First of all, get rid of one thing from your vocabulary: ONLY.
One of the many reasons we love Dollywood for our family vacations is the value. Not only are there many opportunities for added value tickets throughout the year, such as the world-class acts during Festival of Nations or the nightly fireworks during Dollywood Summer, but there is something very important you need to know about your single day Dollywood ticket: it actually has bonus hours built into it.
Yes, you heard me right. You are getting more fun packed into that single day ticket than initially meets the eye.
Dollywood Theme Parks offer an “After 3 p.m., Next Day Free” ticket deal; this means that if you enter the theme park at 3 p.m. or later, you get to return the next day for free! If you take advantage of this offer during the summer when the park doesn’t close until 10 p.m. on some nights, you can pack almost twenty hours of park time (divided amongst two days) into a single day ticket! New in 2017 – Dollywood will be open 10 a.m. until midnight a couple Saturdays in July (July 1 and 8). This would be a GREAT time to take advantage of the After 3 p.m. deal.
And if you’re looking for even more time in Dollywood theme park, you’ll want to make sure to spend the night at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Each Saturday, the theme park opens one hour prior to the scheduled opening time just for Season Passholders and Dollywood lodging guests to enjoy a select ride.
In addition to the Saturday early entry, resort guests also enjoy a free trolley to the theme park, along with a free TimeSaver pass for every member of your party, saving you both time and money.
So now that you know how to fully maximize your 36 hours at Dollywood, what are you going to do while you’re there?
I’m glad you asked.
Dollywood is known for so many things, but one of the biggest draws is its shows. If you think about it, the ride lines are constantly moving, but there are only so many seats in a theater. So the first thing you want to do is plan out what shows you want to see and when.
After you have your show schedule set, I recommend starting with a ride the whole family can enjoy. For us, that means heading over to Country Fair. This is the area of the theme park where you’ll find the highest number of rides per square inch, plus, there’s something for just about every member of the family to ride, regardless of age. While you’re there, I highly recommend riding the Dizzy Disk and Sky Rider.
After County Fair, you’ll probably want a snack. I suggest a crowd favorite like Dogs N Taters; it’s delicious and easily portable - not to mention conveniently located near the center of the park as you walk out of Country Fair on your way to the next activity. And let’s face it, if you are looking to maximize your time, you’re going to want to walk and eat (at least for one meal).
Remember, if you’ve come in after 3 p.m. and enjoyed some time at Country Fair, chances are, some of the other guests that have been at the park all day are going to start heading home, so this is the time to hit some of the bigger coasters. If you have elementary-aged daredevils, I suggest the FireChaser Express (my son’s favorite and always his vote for first ride). If your thrill-seekers are tall enough, you’ll want to get in line for Wild Eagle before it gets dark - the view you’ll experience on your way up the hill is unlike any other in the theme park.
After a few rides, you’ll want to take a break and take in some shopping from the artisans in Craftsman’s Valley. You’ll find everything from personalized baseball bats and leather goods to delicious dips and Volunteer State originals. Plus, if you are staying at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, your packages can be delivered directly to your room so you don’t have to carry them around with you the rest of the night.
I’d imagine about now you’re ready to take in one of the award-winning shows before dinner. Speaking of dinner, a trip to Dollywood isn’t complete without a meal at Aunt Granny’s Buffet. It’s an “all you care to eat” restaurant, complete with drink, dessert and even a taco bar included!
After dinner, you’re going to want to ask everyone in your group how they’re feeling; after all, you don’t want to push yourselves too hard or too late…you still have an entire day at Dollywood Theme Park in store tomorrow!
My suggestion? Grab the trolley back to the resort, sit around the fire pit and plot out your plan for the next day.
Just think, if you've had this much fun in half a day, just imagine all the adventure a full day at Dollywood theme park holds!
Teronya Holmes | How to Pack for a Day at Dollywood
Date: February 10, 2017
I have been to Dollywood nearly 100 times over the years—so I’ve learned a thing or two when it comes to preparing for a day at my favorite theme park. One word of advice: pack an extra pair of socks for those who plan to do the water rides! Find out what else I recommend you bring in my “How to Pack for a Day at Dollywood” video.
Sami Cone | Park Flow Tips
Date: February 22, 2017
When you fall in love with a place like Dollywood and you visit over and over again, you’ll pick up on things that will make your trips even better—like, do you know when it’s the best time to ride the train? How about which area of the park to hit first to avoid the crowds? Or, which tucked away restaurant rarely has a wait to be seated? Find out all this (and more!) on my video informing you about park flow.
Teronya Holmes | Springtime in the Smokies
Date: February 28, 2017
Springtime in the Smokies is always truly captivating. The bright sunshine and gentle showers coax the daffodils, tulips, and forsythia into bloom, as the dogwood and redbud trees light up the mountains with colorful cheer. Dollywood is an especially spectacular place to visit to celebrate the return of spring every year, and 2017 promises to be the most exciting yet!
The Grand Opening of the Dollywood Theme Park is March 18, and they’re welcoming everyone back with the Festival of Nations (March 18 - April 9). This annual event is a fascinating multi-cultural extravaganza, featuring traditional music, dance, food and art of nations from all over the world. What better way to remind us how much we share in common than to experience and embrace the colorful cultures and traditions found around our globe! This season, Mother Africa, the headline show, returns for another exciting, entertaining, and high-energy performance. Also this year, Slask Song and Dance Ensemble, a prominent Polish folk ensemble, visits Dollywood for the first time. These shows, along with more internationally known performance artists and groups, roaming musicians, and all of the sites, sounds, and tastes of the nations will ensure your family experiences a fun, educational, and exciting escape around the world without ever leaving the Smokies!
Are you looking for a new way to spend Spring Break this year? Just as Dollywood’s Festival of Nations moves out, Spring Break with Tokyo-based dance company enra moves in (April 10 - 22). The cutting-edge performance routines of this high-energy, multi-media dance, light and video fusion show will surely leave guests mesmerized. This group was featured on America’s Got Talent in 2015, and I believe the only way to truly understand this “motion graphics performance art” is to just go see it for yourself!
And just because one huge festival in the spring isn’t enough, I’m happy to report that Dollywood is once again closing out spring with some fabulous “swine dining and old time mountain music.” Of course, I mean none other than Dollywood’s BBQ & Bluegrass Festival (May 26 - June 4)! Come to Dollywood to get summer started in the South with the tastiest barbecue and some of the biggest and brightest names in bluegrass. Enjoy free daily concerts from performers such as Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Daily and Vincent, Blue Highway, Hot Rize and Steep Canyon Rangers. Honestly, I can’t think of anything my family and I enjoy much more than eating saucy barbecue while listening to the South’s sauciest music!
Don’t forget - Dollywood’s Splash Country opens May 13 for the 2017 season (daily operation begins May 20). So, if your family prefers their thrills to involve lots of splash-tacular fun, be sure to plan your vacation around the grand opening of this theme park! Splash Country features 35 acres of fun, including a brand new exciting water slide this year - TailSpin Racer!
This year promises to bring special enchantment to the Smokies as Mother Nature’s springtime recovery from the devastating wildfires of late November last year takes on a life of its own, literally. Though about 17,000 acres were affected, that is only a very small portion of the 520,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina - so there will be plenty to see and do!
My family has always welcomed spring by making the pilgrimage back to enjoy the great outdoor adventures along the mountain pathways on the many trails throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and we look forward to doing so again this year. My boys and I are anxious to go creek-walking in the Chimneys, hike to the overlooks and waterfalls, and explore Cades Cove on our bicycles. As always, and especially this year, I recommend that you check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call to find out about any road, trail, or bridge closures. This is always a good idea, because there are always repairs to be completed after the sometimes severe weather of winter, and as in the case this year - wildfires, in the mountains.
Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg also have their own special ways of welcoming springtime in the Smokies. Tourists are sure to pour into the region this year, not only to welcome spring, but also to bring their support back to this beautiful region as it continues in its recovery from the wildfire damage.
Gatlinburg will bloom with color during the Great Smoky Mountain Associations’s 67th Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage (April 11 - 15). During this week of activities, everyone from the serious botanist to the weekend gardner will be able to follow along as the nation’s leading botanical experts and Appalachian wildlife authorities conduct exciting seminars and intimate guided tours. There will be more than 150 programs, instructional walks, guided hiking tours, demonstrations, and guest lecturers. What an amazing opportunity to learn about the abundance and varieties of wildlife native to the Great Smoky Mountains!
Pigeon Forge’s Wilderness Wildlife Week™ (May 9 -13) will delight nature lovers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Educational programs, guided hikes, seminars and workshops will be offered daily from the beautiful LeConte Center in the heart of Pigeon Forge. Come celebrate the features, creatures, and cultures of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park right in the “Center of Fun” in the Smokies!
Sevierville’s Bloomin’ Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival (May 20 - 21) takes place during Smoky Mountain Springfest, located conveniently in historic downtown Sevierville - which happens to be the home of a beautiful statue of none other than Dolly Parton—since this is her hometown. This festival is a true barbecue cook-off - an official barbecue championship of the State of Tennessee.
As you can see, there is so much to see and experience during springtime in the Smokies, so be sure to plan your getaway now so you can enjoy the fun, beauty, and adventure for yourself!
Katie Van Dyke | Dollywood Parking Strategy
Date: April 03, 2017
I recently had the chance to chat with Lance Ridley, Dollywood Parking Supervisor. He was full of great information and graciously answered all my parking strategy questions.
Everything you need to know to park well
When you arrive at Dollywood, the first thing you’ll see is the parking booths. These open two hours before the park and if you have your pass and payment ready your parking host can have you through the parking booth in just 30 seconds or less.
Then, it is off to find your spot. Parking Lot A (Apple Jack) is exclusively disability parking. According to Lance, if you want to get a spot in Parking Lot B (Butterfly)—the closest to the park for regular parking passes—then you need to arrive about an hour before Dollywood opens.
If you’re taking advantage of Arrive After 3 p.m., Next Day Free and don’t get here until 4 or so, Lance says to give Lot B a try. All the guests who arrived early to get their spot are usually starting to leave. Don’t worry if closer lots are full and you need to park in F (Funnel Cakes), just catch a tram. Dollywood runs up to 12 trams to make your trip from the car to the park easy.
Speaking of trams, Lance had a few tips for those, too. You can take strollers on the tram. If possible, have it collapsed and ready when the tram arrives. Lines are longest for the tram the first two and last two hours the park is open, so consider that when planning your day. (The first two hours, it’s busy getting into the park and the last two hours, it’s busy trying to return to the parking lot). This fact is even more important in the fall and winter months when Dollywood hours are shorter. I asked Lance—if I don’t want to wrangle my family onto the tram, can I drop them off at the front gate and then park? I assumed he would say no, but to my surprise he said, “Sure!”
For guests splitting time between Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country there is no need to park twice. You can hop on the Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort Trolley and it will transport you between the two.
My absolute favorite thing I learned about parking at Dollywood? Courtesy Vehicle Assistance. If you arrive back at your car and find you have a flat tire, or a dead battery, or have locked your keys in the car, don’t worry! This does not need to put a damper on your Dollywood visit. Just call (865) 428-9463 or walk to the nearest tram stop and tell a driver your problem. The driver can contact Vehicle Assistance for you. As a mom who often has her five kids there by herself I love this thoughtful bit of help and security.
Because this is everything you need to know about parking at Dollywood we should cover costs. Parking for all standard length vehicles is $12; oversize length vehicles such as RVs and trailers are $18. You can catch a ride to the Front Gate on one of the trams. If you have a Gold Season Pass, standard parking is free.
Dollywood also has Preferred Parking that is $25 (just $13 for Gold Passholders). Parking in Preferred means you get a close parking spot, a separate ticket window to purchase tickets and season passes, and an exclusive entrance to the park. I have several friends that adore this option, and according to Lance, the convenience is totally worth it. After parking there on our last visit, I am inclined to agree.
You can also upgrade to Valet Parking for $38 (Gold Passholders receive a $12 discount). Purchase Valet Parking at the parking booths upon arrival. Valets will help you unload your crew and gear when you get there, and with a 15-minute notice, they can assist with expedited departure for guests by having vehicles back at the valet parking drop-off.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa guests should take advantage of the convenient, free shuttle service which transports visitors from the resort to both Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins guests receive free parking in a reserved lot at Dollywood and free parking at Dollywood’s Splash Country.
Here’s a video of some rapid-fire parking questions I threw at Lance. Find out what he says when I asked whether my 15 -passenger van is considered “oversized” at Dollywood.
Linda Scruggs | My Family's Experience with Dollywood's Calming Room
Date: April 10, 2017
Our family recently had the opportunity to visit Dollywood, and we were able to enjoy it to our fullest potential. My kids seek adventure, enjoy new attractions, and are balls of energy, but we often reach a point when everything can feel a bit overwhelming. Whether it's too much to process, overwhelmed senses, or not feeling in control, we often need to take a break and slow things down so we can enjoy our day together.
Thankfully, there is an option for families like ours right within Dollywood. Last year, the park opened a calming room to help kids with sensory overloads. Having concerns about being able to decompress and address our specific needs privately may have deterred us in the past, but now we're able to share new experiences as a family.
Upon entering the room, I immediately took notice of the soothing color scheme. As a registered nurse and mom who understands that every child has a threshold and that's what makes us all unique and special, the calming room provides a supportive and soothing haven.
The room's purposeful features include:
Low lighting options
Soft and inviting, over-sized bean bag chair
Fiber Optic strand lights
Option to play music
Small table with chairs
A mindful initiative that is truly appreciated, we simply spoke to an attendant at the Ride Accessibility Center for assistance. I could feel the intent from the well-trained staff throughout our experience and time in Dollywood's calming room.
Some of my family went off to enjoy the famous fresh-baked cinnamon bread at the Grist Mill while my son and I privately took the break that was needed to calm down and relax. We felt the efforts that went into creating this room, and we appreciate Dollywood’s sensitivity in providing an option that will benefit so many families.
*Dollywood’s calming room has been created for the purpose of helping our guests with special needs who may have sensory overload while visiting our park. The calming room is a quiet, relaxing environment where the guest and his/her family can feel safe and at ease. To find out more, please call 1-800-365-5996 to speak with our Ride Accessibility Center. When you visit Dollywood, stop by the Ride Accessibility Center adjacent to the Dollywood Emporium.
Sami Cone | Don't Let Rain Dampen Your Dollywood Visit
Date: May 29, 2017
As much as I’d love to pretend there’s a bubble around Dollywood and it never rains there, sometimes it does. BUT, Dollywood has so much to offer even in the rain. In fact, cloudy days can be the best days to come because you have more elbow room. The rides still run unless there’s lightning nearby, so hop on your favorite attractions and enjoy a shorter wait! Here are some more suggestions from a few of your Dollywood Insiders on what to check out whenever the forecast threatens to dampen your visit.