Katie Van Dyke

Life With a Big Family is a Balancing Act 
Category: Best Value
Date: February 1, 2017

When planning family adventures we try to balance budget against how possible it is that our entire family will have fun. With a wide age range, this can be a lot harder than it sounds.  It becomes even harder when you want a day that offers memories, laughs and fun at a reasonable price. When you want value. 

While considering options this year I did a little quick math:

Full Family Day Option #1 
1. Movie (provided we can find one everyone wants to see) 
$12 x 2 adults = $24 
$9 x 6 kids = $54 
$20 for treats 

2.  Trampoline Park 
$17 x 4 adults= $68  
$12 x 2 kids = $24  

3. Local Hands-On Science Center
$7 x 7 people= $49
$2 x 7 for planetarium show= $14 

Total=$253 for one full day of fun

Full Family Day Option #2 
Day at Dollywood (We buy season passes, so add 245 more days of fun!)

$86 x 4 kids = $344 (We only need 4 because kids 3 and under are Free!)
$98 x 2 adults = $196

Train ride- included
Roller coasters- included
Shows- included
Play areas- included
Water rides- included 
Craft demonstrations- included
Younger child rides- included
Festivals- included 
Museums- included 

Total= $540 for 10 months of visits

Option #2 is a little more expensive but here is where more value comes in: we get 246 possible days of family fun with our season passes. Note we only bought four of our kids passes, our two year old does not need one as kids 3 and under are Free. Obviously, we won’t make it 246 times, but 10 is a realistic number for our family. That averages out to one visit a month and that makes each trip $54—or just $7 per person! 

Now let’s talk about the fact there is something on that list of “included” attractions that each person in my family loves. My 4 year old loves the train and everyone else will have fun riding with him. My older guys love roller coasters, but my toddler will have fun playing in a nearby Fun Yard while they ride. That means no, “I’m bored,” no eye rolling, no asking when we are leaving, no creatively entertaining a toddler because they aren’t big enough for anything. Value with a capital V. 

When everyone has something to enjoy it also allows my husband and I to fully enjoy time with our kids.    

And I get to do the things I love at Dollywood like listening to my older guys laughing at me for screaming the entire roller coaster ride or riding the Rockin’ Roadway cars with my 4 year old for the fifth time. I love watching all their faces light up as they watch a show or waving to my toddler flying by on the Busy Bees.   

A season pass also relieves the pressure I can feel to make everyone cram as much family fun into one day as possible. I know I am not the only mom, who knowing how much money has been spent on a day, has given her kids “the” look and through partially gritted teeth instructed them to start having fun immediately.  With a season pass if one or more of my kids is having a meltdown, we can just pack it in and try another day. When we have an unexpected free evening we can surprise the kids with a quick trip to one of their favorite places.  

So, if you’re wondering if Dollywood is a good value for you family I’m going to say YES.  Dollywood manages to balance big roller coasters, small rides, parks, food, water rides, shows, arts and crafts, music and more.  Everyone will find something to smile about.  So, pack all your precious people into the car and head to Dollywood for your own family fun. 


Dollywood With Your Little Ones
Category: Family Visits
Date: February 27, 2017

Taking a toddler to Dollywood?  I have survived this stage more than once and am right there with you now.  Don’t worry toddler mamas, you’ve got this.

Dollywood is ready to host you. All you need is a stroller and a plan. So here goes.

Stop one is Dollywood’s Centralized Measuring station. You will find it across from The Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame on Showstreet.  Stopping first will make the rest of your day much smoother. A Dollywood host will measure your child and then give them a color-coded wristband. The coded wristbands correspond to the color-coded information displayed on signs at each ride in the park and helps you quickly identify which rides your littles can ride.  No waiting in line only to find out you’re not tall enough.  Plus they get their very own, very special Dollywood bracelet.  Can you tell I’ve had to sell this stop?

Then it is on to the fun.

We hit Rockin' Roadway first. It is a classic favorite and it is on the way to the Country Fair.  The added bonus is if you happen to have bigs with you, too, they could ride Lightning Rod because it’s right next door.

Country Fair is your area to play. It is full of fun rides for your little guys, and the hosts running the rides are seriously as patient and kind as can be. Don't miss Piggy Parade, Lucky Ducky, Busy Bees, or Amazing Flying Elephants.  Again, Dollywood has thought this through: if you have a few older kids in your group there’s the Scrambler, Demolition Derby, the Dizzy Disk and more rides for them.  Everyone is happy here.

The Village Carousel is another ride your littles will love, it is just up the hill from the Country Fair.  

Toddlers get tired. If you need a midday break or nap, we have a few favorite options: shows or a train ride. The Little Engine Playhouse during Dollywood Summer is perfect, entertaining and air-conditioned. There are three 20-minute sing-along musicals throughout the day, each featuring Dolly via a special video-taped appearance.  There are several other great show options, and they change throughout the season so check the schedule on your visit.  There will be something you will all love.

The Dollywood Express is another tested favorite. An authentic coal-fired steam engine takes you on a five-mile journey through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a perfect way to allow your littles to rest and still have fun.

Water-loving littles ones will want to make a stop at the Firehouse Fun Yard or the Pig Pen, they can climb, build, slide and play in the pop-jet water fountains. These fun play areas are located near some larger rides making the perfect place to play while the bigs in your group ride a ride or two.  River Battle is another great water option.  Guests shorter than 48” can ride with you if they love water or you can simply stand at the water guns on land and get sprayed by the riders. We had one that hated to ride but loved to squirt riders, especially when they were his brothers.

A note for you nursing mamas: the nursing rooms are fantastic. Located in Showstreet, the Baby Care Center offers a private nursing area furnished with multiple gliders with foot stools, two baby changing stations and a restroom. Restrooms with nursing stations can also be found in Country Fair, Jukebox Junction, Market Square, The Village and Craftman's Valley near the Woodcarving Shop. Any park restaurant (this does not include concession stands) can assist you with warming a bottle.


Dollywood for the Non-Riders
Category: Entertainment
Date: March 15, 2017

When I tell you that Dollywood has something for YOUR family, yes, I even mean something for the non-riders in your group. Don’t hesitate to bring someone who isn’t a big fan of thrill rides. Watch this video and I’ll share with you my family’s favorite mild attractions at Dollywood.


Dollywood Parking Strategy
Category: Trip Planning
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. 


Dollywood With Your Middle Kids
Category: Family Visits
Date: April 26, 2017

We have talked about Dollywood with Littles. Now it is time for Dollywood with Middles, those guests who are “too big” for the Busy Bees but not quite ready for Wild Eagle.  If your child falls somewhere in the 39 to 48 inch ranges it is still be a good idea to stop by Dollywood’s Centralized Measuring station. (You will find it across from The Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame on Showstreet.) With their wrist band they can easily identify which rides they can ride.

This group is now big enough for rides all over the park. My guys were always so excited about this. Even if they didn’t want to ride a particular ride that fact that they could was a big deal.  What rides should you start with?

Dollywood is opening a new ride this year that is perfect for this group! Whistle Punk Chaser is a new junior coaster opening in summer 2017. It is full of thrilling twists and turns designed for Dollywood’s younger loggers.  Another top contender in this category is FireChaser Express. It is a family coaster that goes forward and backwards. Don’t discount the Country Fair area. Even for Middles, there are lots of rides and games there to love. It is my favorite place to take the whole family. You’ll find rides for everyone and they are close together.  As for which is the best ride for your Middle’s first bigger ride, there is always a disagreement in our family.  Some would say Blazing Fury is the best first big ride. I would say Tennessee Tornado.  I’m going to leave this one up to you and your family.


This group is also big enough for all the water rides. I suggest deciding in advance if water rides are on your agenda.  It matters in how you dress and how you pack for the day.  River Battle is probably the tamest water ride and the adventure progress up to River Rampage on to Mountain Slidewinder then to the 50 mph 60-foot drop of Daredevil Falls.

You’re never too big for a ride on the Dollywood Express. An authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine takes that takes you on a five-mile ride you don’t want to miss.  Guests in this group will also love this season’s shows, so be sure to grab a schedule when you arrive.