Growing up in Florida, my experience with theme parks was the following: crazy parking areas, long lines for short rides, oppressive heat, long days, crowded buses, achy feet. It was the kind of experience that I anticipated greatly (yay! fun! woohoo!) and then ended up regretting as the lines got longer, the days got hotter and I realized what a chore it was going to be trying to get back to my hotel (even when I was staying on site). I cannot tell you how different Dollywood was from the Florida parks – like night and day!
First, the parking area was completely manageable. So much so that I just walked to the entrance instead of waiting for a tram. We were met by the great PR team there and escorted to a bakery where I consumed the world’s biggest cinnamon roll. Actually, I shared it – that was one big cinnamon roll!
The first thing I noticed about the inside of the park was that there was a canopy of trees throughout the entire park. While it was a chilly day while we were there, all I could think of was how much glorious shade would be available in the middle of the summer. Plus, it felt like you were walking through the Smokies instead of a theme park. Just beautiful.
There were a series of wonderful shops in Craftsmans Valley and while I could have spent all day just shopping and browsing, I was drawn forward to the 4 huge roller coasters in the park. Now, Dollywood is noticeably smaller than the Florida theme parks, which is why I was blown away by the number of crazy roller coasters. They all looked intense, but there’s one that’s been getting a great deal of buzz and that’s the Wild Eagle, the world’s first wing coaster (where there is nothing above or below you, but the sky).
It just so happened that the Discovery Channel was filming a pilot about roller coasts on the day that we were there and they invited the bloggers in our group to ride the coaster during the filming.
Since they needed to get shots from all different angles, the ladies rode it again…and again. Three times in all! While I decided not to ride it myself, you could tell that everyone coming off of that ride had a crazy good time!
After the Wild Eagle filming, we went to eat lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans and I have to say that the beans and collards were excellent! I was also happy to hear that all of the dining facilities at Dollywood can accommodate nearly every food allergy. While my kids are fortunate enough to be allergy-free, I can imagine how difficult it must be for parents and kids with allergies to have to constantly plan ahead with bringing their own food. That’s not the case at Dollywood – they’ve got you covered and they take food allergies very seriously.
After lunch, we wandered around enjoying the day and I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed with the shows and entertainment available in the park. I mean, it is Dolly Parton’s brain/love child, after all. One thing that really surprised me was how multi-generational the visitors to Dollywood were. There were just as many grandparents as there were children and I think that’s partly due to the great shows available there. I know that with the Florida theme parks that I’ve been to, folks who have no interest in riding the amusement park rides end up waiting around on park benches for the rest of their party to return. In Dollywood, there really is something for everyone and I think it’s great that grandparents don’t have to twiddle there thumbs waiting for the thrill seekers to return, but can actually enjoy themselves as well.
One thing I wanted to make sure that I mentioned is that Dollywood is a seasonal park, but it’s a long season. They are open from the end of March until the beginning of January. It is, after all, an outdoor park and the winters up here in the Smokies can be quite harsh. Oh and the prices? Check this out:
I could not believe that we can get season passes for $86 (for the adults) and $74 (for Parker) with Lexi getting in for free. That’s an incredible deal, especially considering that we’re only an hour or so away. Who knew? Now, Parker just needs to get a little bit taller so that he can ride the crazy coasters with his father while Lexi and I take in the shows – that girl sure does love to dance.
The other Dolly event that we attended was the Dixie Stampede Dinner Show. Apparently, dinner shows are all the rage in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The show itself was a fast-paced arena-style show with trick horseback riding and a friendly competition between the North and the South, but I think my favorite part of the show was the pre-dinner entertainment.
Normally, I get antsy and impatient waiting for dinner, but the pre-dinner show had me singing along with the band and laughing along with their jokes. I was actually sorry to see them end their act and honestly, it would have been a great show in and of itself!
It goes without saying that a trip to Pigeon Forge would not be complete without a visit to Dollywood. I want to thank the folks at Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede for hosting us! we had a great time and certainly appreciated all of your southern hospitality. We’ll definitely be back.