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Pulling your hair out trying to plan a trip to the Dollywood theme parks in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee? So many exciting attractions, so little time. This 12-point roadmap (with tips along the way) to “all things Dolly” in Pigeon Forge from a family traveler who’s adept at squeezing one more stop into a trip can make planning a little easier.
Dollywood: A Guide To The Many Facets Of Dolly’s Domain In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Families flock to Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee every year. Located near Gatlinburg on the steps of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood has accommodations, rides and other attractions. But, does Dollywood make it easy for families that want to have fun together?
I say yes!
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TravelingMom Tip #1: Zero in on Wildwood Grove. That’s the newest section in the theme park with 11 attractions including six rides based on Dolly’s childhood imagination. Latch onto Dolly Parton’s imagination and enjoy the ride!
TravelingMom Tip: #2: Don’t go in January (when the park is usually open for only the tail end of Christmas vacation), February and early March when everything’s closed.
The star of Dollywood’s 2019 season is Wildwood Grove, and it’s pure Dolly Parton. I found it whimsical, playful and so much fun, an easy place to visit.
And it’s in keeping with Dolly’s oft-stated goals of Dollywood: To promote family togetherness and give families the opportunity to make memories to last a lifetime.
The singer/entrepreneur grew up poor in the nearby Smoky Mountain foothills but she had a loving family, a talent she displayed before her teen years and an imagination that led her to write great songs like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.”
Her childhood imagination is front and center in Wildwood Grove.
Who else but a “mountain kid”—Dolly’s words for herself as a child—would imagine hopping on a bear for a jaunt through the woods? What about climbing onto an acorn that could spin you in the air or jumping on a “leaf boat” to take you up in the sky?
Other Rides at Wildwood Grove
Those and other extensions of Dolly’s childhood dreams and imaginings are now rides at Wildwood Grove:
- Black Bear Trail: Friendly bears beckon riders for a smooth-as-glass glide through the forest. It’s a non-scary ride for kids—as long as they are at least 36 inches tall.
- Treetop Tower: These gondola-style handcrafted acorns whisk riders to the treetop and release them to float to the ground.
- Great Tree Swing: Like a giant pirate ship, the Great Tree Swing is the ultimate swing ride in the sky.
- Mad Mockingbird: A salute to Tennessee’s state bird, on first look this ride appears to be just a swing-around ride. But riders have a bit of control with the sail allowing them to climb a bit or drift downward.
- Dragonflier: This suspended coaster imitates the flitting movement of the Smokey Mountain dragonfly. This is a “family coaster,” designed be friendly to little tykes without boring their parents out of their minds, but it hits some pretty thrilling speeds. Word is the action is in the back row with a tamer ride in the front.
- Frogs and Fireflies: Who wouldn’t want to take a spin on a friendly frog as it races around a lily pad trying to catch just-beyond-reach fireflies? It’s a tame ride suitable for the younger crowd.
More Wildwood Fun Facts
Dolly’s iconic butterflies are everywhere here. I love butterflies but I found the number a bit overwhelming.
The focal point of Wildwood Grove is the Wildwood Tree teeming with some 650 butterflies in brilliant colors. Sadly, I wasn’t there at night to see the butterflies glow and come alive in a nighttime display of butterfly fun.
Dollywood planners cared about details when they designed the park. Knowing that Tennessee’s summer temps can soar into the 80s and even flirt with the 90s, leaving visitors a little hot under the collar, they added two great places to help families cool off.
Wildwood Creek rules with water play among pop jets, splashing pools and wet play activities. When everyone’s cooled off, they can move over to an area where musical instruments wait for little ones to make their own melodies.
Don’t want to get wet but still want to cool off? Pop into Hidden Hollow, a climate-controlled facility where families can cool down as they enjoy indoor activities together.
Also in Wildwood Grove, visitors can grab a snack or a meal at Till and Harvest or shop for a souvenir or gift at Mountain Grove Merchants.
Dollywood Theme Park
The main theme of Dollywood, of course, is Dolly Parton, the “queen of country” singer who owns the place. After all, her name is more than half of the park’s name.
Naturally, Dolly plays a prime role here. Chasing Rainbows attraction is really the “Dolly Parton Museum,” “Tennessee Mountain Home” is a replica of the cabin where she lived as a child, and her extended family members perform here.
But something else plays a prime role here — family. Sure older teens, seniors, and couples who leave the kids at home to visit Dollywood will love it, but the family vibe is strong in the park.
The place is made to encourage family interaction. It’s the reason you won’t find a “kiddie area” at the park—little kids’ rides are sprinkled in among the roller coasters and entertainment venues. That’s so the whole family can stay and play together.
I’ve been told that’s the reason at Jukebox Junction you’ll find the Lightning Rod, a roller coaster that climbs some 20 stories high, right next to Rockin’ Roadway, cars that parents or grandparents can ride with the little ones. And, of course, Red’s Diner is there so everyone can grab a burger or a milkshake.
This is Family Smart
By mixing “big kids rides” with “little kids rides” throughout the park, youngsters aren’t running off to do their thing and then catching up with the rest of the family at the end of the day. Instead, togetherness and interaction among family members are nudged along.
Two non-ride attractions worth a visit are Chasing Rainbows and Dolly’s Home-On-Wheels, a motorhome that took her around the country.
Dolly’s Journey to Fame
I spent too much time looking at photos of Dolly, many with other famous people, at the beginning of Chasing Rainbows. It’s interesting, but there’s more interesting stuff ahead—exhibits depicting her childhood and tracing her career from high school graduation through her rise to fame and to the present.
I loved a class photo of Dolly’s high school trip to Washington D.C. Even as a teen, Dolly—in the front row—was a standout.
An insight into Dolly’s drive early on: She wrote as her high school days were ending that she couldn’t wait for graduation to be over because the next day she was moving to Nashville.
A letter Dolly wrote to her family shortly after moving to Nashville brought a tear to my eye. She told them she was okay and insisted they not to send her money because she could support herself. She was 18 years old.
A couple of unexpected attractions you’ll find at Dollywood:
Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame. This museum documents the history of Southern gospel music with its roots deep in the Smoky Mountains with memorabilia from a century of gospel music. The gift shop carries one of the country’s largest Southern gospel music selections.
Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. Dollywood has partnered with the American Eagle Foundation to house the largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles in the world at a sanctuary in the park The eagles cannot be returned to the wild because they are injured or were orphaned early in their lives.
Rides at Dollywood
Most visitors come to Dollywood for the rides. With more than three dozen to choose from, whether you’ve got a toddler or a teen in tow, you’ll likely find something they’ll enjoy.
Here’s just a sampling:
- Barnstormer: This is a pendulum swing thrill ride designed to simulate what barnstorming stunt pilots might have felt as they performed during the 1920s.
- Lil’ Pilots Playground: Down on the ground, this ride allows pilots-in-training who are less than 48 inches to have some climbing and sliding fun on their own.
- Busy Bees: Puts youngsters in “bumble bee” cars for a gentle ride that goes round and round.
- Lucky Ducky is a fun ride for tots that puts them in the driver seat—of a duck, that is.
- Rockin’ Roadway puts riders behind the wheel for a spin down country roads so “authentic” that Burma Shave signs dot the course. Kids must be under 42 inches and accompanied by someone who is at least 16 years old to ride.
- Drop Line lifts riders some 20 stories in the air for a slow spin around a tower and a quick drop to the ground.
- Wild Eagle: Described as the first ride of its kind in the U.S., this ride takes visitors 21 stories above Dollywood letting them feel like they are soaring above the Smoky Mountains.
- Tennessee Tornado: This triple spiral-looping coaster drops riders 128 feet at speeds close to 70 miles an hour.
Music at Dollywood
And, of course, there’s music. You won’t have to go far to hear it.
Looking for authentic mountain music? Check out the Smoky Mountain String Band at the Streetshow Gazebo.
Craving more authentic Smoky Mountain music? Catch the Wild Roots Band in Wildwood Grove.
Yearning for some 50s/60s music? The Gem Tones perform in Jukebox Junction, and Dreamland Drive-In performs at the Pines Theater
For some real Parton music, Dolly’s niece, Jada Star, and her music partner, Barry J, perform throughout the park.
This is just a sampling. Check out other acts and confirm performance times on the Dollywood website.
Dollywood Tickets, Special Offers
Savvy visitors purchase their Dollywood and/or Splash Country tickets online saving time instead of waiting at the first line they encounter at the park.
Add a second day for $20 more per ticket—and a third day for $10 per ticket on top of that. If you’re planning to visit the park more than two days, consider buying a season pass.
Season passes are available with unlimited entrance to Dollywood, Splash Country or both attractions. A “regular” season pass offers discounts at regional and national attractions, lodging discounts and exclusive pass holder-only offers and events. “Go Gold” season passes offer free parking, a 20 percent discount on select food and merchandise and discounts on “premium park experiences.”
TravelingMom Tip #3: Dollywood often offers special deals. To learn about them ahead of a visit, subscribe to the Dollywood newsletter and check the “Special Offers” section of the Dollywood website. Dollywood offers military families a 30 percent discount on one-day admission tickets. The tickets must be purchased at the park with valid military ID.
Coca-Cola often partners with Dollywood to offer discount coupons on tickets. Look for specially marked bottles in grocery stores in east Tennessee, especially in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area.
Dollywood, Splash Country Parking
Parking fees can add up fast—especially visiting both Dollywood and Splash Country Water Park.
TravelingMom Tip #5: Beat the $15 per day parking fee ($18 for oversized vehicles) by staying at DreamMore Resort and Spa and using the free Dollywood shuttle to the theme park.
I would absolutely love to visit Dollywood in the fall for Great Pumpkin LumiNights with its 12,000 intricately carved, illuminated pumpkins.
But many other festivals throughout the year sound exciting too: Summer Celebration with extended park hours, special entertainment and nightly fireworks; Southern Gospel Jubilee, celebrating gospel music; Festival of Nations with music, dance, food and art from around the world and the award-winning Smoky Mountain Christmas with lights, shows and themed rides.
One question a lot of people visiting Dollywood ask: “When is Dolly going to be at Dollywood?”
The answer is she’s there a few times a year. While her visits are not usually announced in advance, Dolly is likely to appear on opening day each year and when a new attraction opens at the park. An official told me: “She definitely tries to come 3-5 times a year, but sometimes it is at different times based on her schedule and what is new at Dollywood.”
TravelingMom Tip #6: Visitors staying at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa should watch for the partial enclosure on the left near the hotel when driving onto the property. It’s where Dolly’s motorhome is parked when she’s in Pigeon Forge. If the motorhome is there, she’ll likely be at Dollywood at some point.
When Tennessee’s summer sun heats up, Splash Country is the place to be. This award-winning water park requires a separate ticket from Dollywood theme park.
Open mid-May through Labor Day, the park offers 16 different water experiences from drifting down a lazy river to high-adrenaline rides like extreme white water rafting. Get soaked at Bear Mountain Fire Tower, take the Big Bear Plunge, do the Mountain Scream or catch a wave at Mountain Waves.
For the younger crowd, there’s Little Creek Falls with a kids’ pool, slides, and an activity center. At the Cascades, an 8,000-square-foot lagoon-style pool, with more than 25 interactive elements, youngsters can find hidden misters, bubblers, and slides in secret coves around the perimeter of the pool.
Dollywood Stampede is said to be the “most visited dinner attraction in the world.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it certainly draws a lot of visitors.
The four-course dinner is well known for being served without utensils—and it includes a serving of soup. For me, no utensils wasn’t that much of a challenge, but watching the show was. The servers, delivering food and pouring drinks for people sitting in the rows in front of me, kept blocking my view of the action—very frustrating.
The food was surprisingly good for a mass-produced meal. The first course—creamy veggie soup– was delish. Both it and whole small chicken served next were piping hot—again a surprise for a meal the scale of this one. Barbecue pork loin, a biscuit, buttered corn on the cob and a potato wedge rounded out the meal. Dessert, a turnover of some sort, was a bit disappointing.
Dollywood Stampede Show
The show was nothing short of amazing. An HD video wall served as a backdrop and, with 2.5 million LEDs, the scenery changed the look and feel for each act.
Top-notch stunt riders, acrobats on horses, aerialists, dancers, real live bison, longhorn cattle, piglet races and competition between North and South — this time friendly—filled the incredible program.
I was especially wowed by the “Roman riders,” riders who stand with one foot on the back of each of two horses which are driven as a pair. Remembering my awkward attempts at just staying atop a horse, the Roman riders were like Olympians to me.
One truly amazing act involved a girl from the audience (a plant?) who gets under a barrel on one of three wagons and is “shuffled” to barrels in the other wagons as they moved around the ring. How did they do that?
TravelingMom Tip #7: Package tickets to Dollywood Stampede and DreamMore Resort and packages to Dollywood, Dollywood Stampede and lodging are available.
Dolly brought pirates to Pigeon Forge this season with the opening of Pirates Voyage, a four-course dinner and a show with a pirate twist. To me, it was kind of out-of-step with what I would expect to see in a mountain town.
The star of the show is Blackbeard as the Crimson crew battles the Sapphire crew in swashbuckling shenanigans in the water and high above a “lagoon.” Guests join the fun by cheering their side to victory. Acrobats, mermaids, tropical birds and animals complete the cast.
I was totally in awe at the way the “pirates” sparred high above the crowd and then fell into the lagoon from dizzying heights.
Pirates Voyage in Pigeon Forge is a sister show to Pirates Voyage in Myrtle Beach, SC.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa
The first thing I noticed as we approached Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa is its size — the place is huge, more than 300 rooms.
The porte-cochere with a nearby whimsical water feature festooned with guitars and butterflies sets the scene. The next thing that caught my eye was the “back porch” filled with inviting white rockers. From the website’s “tour” of the resort, I know they’re there to beckon families to rock and talk together, one of Dolly’s dreams for her resort.
More than one “Oh, my gosh!” escaped my lips when I walked into the lobby. The first was for the massive three-story wall of windows that greeted me.
The incredible expansive view looks down on the resort’s “fishing hole,” aka swimming pool, and is literally breathtaking. There’s even a glimpse into Dollywood theme park with the Smoky Mountains as a backdrop.
Another “Oh, my gosh!” went to the stunning backlit moving landscape photos — several feet wide — behind the check-in desk.
To the left of the massive windows is a cozy table game area for families to enjoy. To the right is an area to relax, perhaps with a purchase from DM Pantry, a grab-and-go restaurant across the way.
Dolly seems to have accomplished her goal of making the resort a welcoming place.
Accommodations at Dollywood DreamMore Resort
The resort, opened in 2015, is light and airy, fresh and bright. A number of accommodation configurations are available. Rooms—some with bunk beds—can sleep up to four people while suites sleep up to eight people.
Or, for a real splurge—book Dolly’s Suite, a luxury penthouse suite for two.
DreamMore Resort is a family option for accommodations, close to Dollywood and Splash Country as well as the attractions in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The resort is also just a few miles from Smoky Mountain National Park making it an excellent choice for visitors who want to experience the park but not stay in it.
Again, Dolly’s famous butterflies (Remember “Love Is Like A Butterfly,” her 1974 hit?) are everywhere—on the carpeting, the walls and the bed scarf with the message: “Put wings on your dreams.”
And in the elevator reminders to “Dream More” and a message from Dolly (more precisely, the Dollywood Foundation): “If I have but one hope for you, it is to be more.”
“More” is a recurrent theme with reminders to “Dream more, learn more, care more, be more.”
TravelingMom Tip: If you want to stay offsite, try the charming and relaxing Little Mountain Valley Resort.
Dining Options at Dollywood DreamMore Resort
Guests don’t have to leave the resort for meals. They can eat onsite at Song and Hearth restaurant or The Lounge. And pampering is nearby too — at the Salon and Spa.
A nice touch at DreamMore: Dolly’s pink lemonade served by friendly hostesses in the lobby when visitors return from their afternoon activities.
Dolly has said she hopes guests will feel like the resort is “their home.” I certainly did.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins
For a unique and private experience, book one of 80 Dollywood cabins, all between one and 6.5 miles from Dollywood.
The word “cabin” shouldn’t scare visitors off. The cabins are not simple, rough-hewn structures lacking modern-day amenities. They are modern, air-conditioned units with a rustic look but totally luxurious.
Got a group? Don’t worry. Some cabins can accommodate up to 38 guests.
TravelingMom Tip # 9: Save some money by booking a package when staying at DreamMore or in a Dollywood cabin.
For example, visitors booking cabins during certain dates can opt for the Summer Fun Cabin Package. It includes unlimited visits to Dollywood and Splash Country, and a TimeSaver Pass that reserves a place in line at select shows and rides.
Resort guests who also purchase tickets automatically get:
- A complimentary Dollywood TimeSaver Pass which can be used for 10 select rides and unlimited show reservations at Dollywood. (Does not apply to Dollywood’s Splash Country.)
- Complimentary door-to-door transportation
- An exclusive Dollywood theme park entry and front gate drop-off at Splash Country
- Complimentary package Purchases made at the park are delivered to a visitor’s resort room at no charge
- Saturday Early Entry. On Saturdays, resort guests with tickets can enter Dollywood or Splash Country an hour prior to opening to enjoy a select ride.
Stay & Play Dollywood Packages
Stay & Play Dollywood Packages include tickets to Dollywood while Stay, Play & Splash Packages include tickets to Dollywood and Splash Country along with room reservations.
TravelingMom Tip # 10: Put together a package on Dollywood’s website with tickets to Dollywood and Dolly’s Stampede or Splash Country and reservations at an off-site hotel.
Even More to Learn from “We’ve been there” TravelingMoms
About the Author
Kathie Sutin, a former reporter/editor and PR writer promoting St. Louis, believes travel is the essence of life. After visiting all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries, she’s always planning her next trip. Kathie has covered everything from construction to transportation but her faves are writing about travel, food and people. Missouri Professional Communicators (formerly Missouri Press Women) named her Missouri Communicator of the Year for nine straight years. One of Kathie’s three children used to complain that Kathie and her husband dragged the kids all over the country on the family’s annual camping trips—until the kid went to college in the East and found that most of her new-found friends had never even been out of New England.