I have enjoyed many theme park trips over the years. A couple of years ago I set my sights on taking a family trip to Dollywood. It’s about a 5.5-hour drive (with favorable traffic through Atlanta) from Lee County, which is comparable to driving (or flying) to Orlando. Most experienced Dollywood visitors say to plan for two days to enjoy most rides and several shows, depending on your preferences and the crowd level. If you plan to visit Dollywood’s water park, Splash Country, I would add another day. This makes it much more manageable than a larger theme park such as Disney World. Here are things to consider when planning a trip to Dollywood.
Who Will Enjoy It?
Kids! There are so many attractions for young ones that they will never get bored. While kiddie and family attractions are found throughout the park, the biggest concentrations are in the Country Fair and Wildwood Grove areas. There are even thrill rides for riders that are at least 39 inches tall: Dragonflier, Firechaser Express, and Big Bear Mountain. My kids are currently ages 4-8 and they love Rockin’ Roadway, Flying Elephants, Whistle Punk Chaser, Mad Mockingbirds, and the Hidden Grove indoor playground.
Teens! There are eight roller coasters along with other thrill rides such as Drop Line and Barnstormer. In Craftsman’s Valley, there are cool experiences like knife making and glass blowing for an extra charge. The park is small enough that teens can easily go off to explore on their own if you are also trying to balance the desires of little ones.
Adults! Whether or not you are visiting the park with kids, you can have fun too. Rides, shows, shopping, and award-winning food can all be part of your day. My husband is not a theme park lover, but he enjoyed the Dollywood Express train, riding with the kids on various rides, and he even had a moment of insanity where he decided to get on a roller coaster by himself. I was so proud.
Grandparents! My parents bought their own season passes to Dollywood last year for their 40th anniversary and took at least three trips. My dad got to sing in the choir during the chapel service they hold in the park every Sunday morning. My mom loved the Dizzy Disk and Firechaser Express. If mobility is a concern, ECVs and accessibility passes are available.
When To Go
Dollywood hosts at least four seasonal festivals each year: Flower and Food (late April – early June), Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration (mid-June – early August), Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights (late September – late October), and Smoky Mountain Christmas (mid-November – New Year’s). Each festival boasts special decor, entertainment, and foods. I first became interested in taking my kids to Dollywood for the Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights because I know they will love seeing the pumpkins. Some theme parks only have scary Halloween things after dark, and/or charge extra for late-evening park access. I’m glad we can enjoy the fun together without needing to buy extra tickets.
If you can swing it, visiting on the weekdays when school is in session will almost always be the lowest crowds in the park. They even offer Homeschool Days in August and September with deep discounts on tickets to both parks as well as the DreamMore Resort. If that’s not an option for you, keep an eye out for things like Rod Run which is held twice a year in Pigeon Forge and causes lots of extra traffic. Joining Dollywood Facebook groups is a good way to learn about Sevier County Days, special events, and other peak crowd days that may not be reflected on crowd calendar predictions.
Where to Stay
There is no shortage of lodging options in Pigeon Forge and the surrounding area including Gatlinburg and Sevierville. It’s best to start looking early, especially if you plan to go during a holiday or school break.
If you are loyal to a particular hotel chain, you’ll likely be able to find one in proximity to Dollywood. There are also several independent hotels available. Many hotels offer amenities such as free breakfast, WiFi, pools, and more. Booking a suite with a kitchenette could save you money on eating out.
A step up from a hotel would be a resort option. Dollywood currently has the DreamMore Resort and Spa and will be opening HeartSong Lodge and Resort in November 2023. Guests who stay at DreamMore receive TimeSaver passes (value of $60/person per day). There is also a complimentary shuttle to the parks, free package delivery from the parks to the front desk, and Early Saturday Entry to enjoy a select ride before the park opens to the general public (this is also a perk for Gold and Diamond pass holders). Season pass holders can receive a discount on these resort reservations as well.
Another popular resort is Wilderness At The Smokies featuring a heated indoor water park and seasonal outdoor water park. They offer deals throughout the year on their website as well as on Groupon.
If you want even more space to spread out, vacation rentals abound. Condos and cabins are great for longer stays since they often feature kitchens and washers and dryers. If you are traveling with friends or family, sharing a cabin or condo and splitting groceries can actually be more cost-effective than a hotel. Dollywood partners with Bear Cove Cabins if you’re looking for a cabin stay with extra perks.
Ways To Save
Kids aged three and under are free for both parks. Kids aged 4-5 can sign up online for the free Pre-K Imagination Season Pass which gives them unlimited admission to both parks. This is a great value considering how many attractions are geared toward this age group. You’ll want to sign up as soon as you start thinking about a trip so you don’t miss the window of opportunity on these passes.
Kids aged 4-9 and seniors 62 and up receive $10 off tickets and season passes. Military discounts are also available for both tickets and passes. Season passes for the upcoming year usually go on sale in October and you can start using them right away. This is also when they are at their lowest price and come with the most bonuses such as free Bring A Friend tickets and refillable drink cups.
With a combination of passes and Bring A Friend tickets our family of six will make three trips in different seasons (a total of 4 park days) for less than the cost of one-day tickets and parking. So if you’re thinking about visiting Dollywood, you might want to think about going twice (or even more) for the same ticket price.