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I love a good amusement park. I consider myself something of a guru. But, until recently, I had never been to Dollywood theme park. So, when my husband found himself with vacation time to blow, we packed up our car and headed for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
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Where is Dollywood?
Pigeon Forge is, I don't know how to put this, a weird city. There is a replica of the Titanic, a giant ferris wheel, and several wax museums. And that's before you even get out of the main tourist areas!
When to Go to Dollywood
I'm a travel agent, so I like to think I know a thing or two about planning trips. But, sometimes even an agent's best guess is going to be wrong. I told my husband "Let's go on a Wednesday, there shouldn't be any crowds. It's a Wednesday in October." Well, guess what? Tickets to Dollywood sold out that day! I almost missed getting our Dollywood tickets. There were less than 100 tickets left for the day when I bought them the Sunday before. So, if you're going, especially during these times of reduced capacity, buy your tickets in advance! (She says in her most authoritative travel agent voice).
Dollywood Fast Pass Tickets: Which Timesaver to Buy
Because Dollywood was at capacity, my husband and I decided to splurge for a timesaver pass. Dollywood offers two types of timesavers, a 10 ride pass, and an unlimited pass. I have to say, I think their system is one of the best. As much as I like theme parks, I'm a total chicken. I won't ride anything that goes upside down or is otherwise too crazy. So, we bought my husband an unlimited pass and I got the 10 ride pass. It was a perfect solution for us, he could ride all those nutty rides while I scoped out the snacks. The only downside to the 10 ride pass, besides only being able to use it 10 times, is that you only get 1 ride each on The Lightning Rod, the Dragonflier and the Firechaser Express.
Dollywood Cinnamon Bread
Our first stop, after checking in and picking up our timesavers, of course, was the Grist Mill. Dollywood is famous for the Grist Mill cinnamon bread and it did not disappoint. I would eat it every day for the rest of my life if I could.
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Rides at Dollywood
After we were sufficiently sugared up, we hit the Village and County Fair section of the park, where I encountered my first and only disappointment. You see, Dollywood has a historic coal-powered train called the Dollywood Express, and it had a 2 HOUR wait to ride it! I couldn't believe it!
The social distancing measures only allowed the use of every other car. So, if the Dollywood Express is a must ride for you, get there early! We couldn't do that wait so we decided to pass. The rest of the County Fair area features classic kid and chicken friendly attractions like bumper cars, swings, and other rides that spin.
My husband's bummer moment arrived when he discovered Lightning Rod was already closed for the season. I wasn't going to ride it. I have a policy that I don't ride any roller coaster that would get a speeding ticket on the Turnpike, but he was pretty upset. If Lightning Rod is a must ride for you, you should visit during the summer.
Next stop was Craftsman Valley. Craftsman Valley is an area that really makes Dollywood unique. It's filled with different crafts and demonstrations. You can make your own candles, watch a blacksmith at work, and more. Many theme parks don't do a good job of having things for nonriders to do, but Dollywood really excels in this area. While we were walking through Craftsman Valley, I kept thinking how much my mom, who is afraid of heights and therefore doesn't ride much, would have enjoyed Dollywood. If you find something you just have to have while shopping, Dollywood will send it to the front of the park for you, free of charge.
More Rides at Dollywood
After Daredevil Falls and Craftsman Valley, the next section of the park is where most of the thrill rides and roller coasters are located. Again, total chicken here, but I really liked the Firechaser Express. The Firechaser Express is a roller coaster that features a section where it goes backward. It was the perfect amount of thrill for me. Just scary enough to be fun but not so scary that I was, you know, actually scared. Since Dollywood is built into the mountains, my husband encountered a unique problem on the Wild Eagle. He said he had never seen so many bees in his life as he did at the top of the first lift hill of the Wild Eagle. And my husband is not a city slicker. He and I both grew up playing in the woods and creeks, so if he says it's a lot of bees, it's a lot of bees. He heard the announcements warning oncoming riders of the bee problem, but still wasn't prepared for the swarm waiting for him. He did ride again at night and said the bees were nowhere to be found once it got dark. You might want to save the Wild Eagle for a night ride.
Dollywood is one of my top five family-friendly amusement parks, and that's an honor I don't give out lightly! Check out why Dollywood is perfect for preschoolers to Grandparents
Food at Dollywood
Then, we hit up Aunt Granny's restaurant for a super late lunch/early dinner. We always try to eat around 2-3 o'clock at theme parks. The lines for rides tend to be short during lunch and dinner, and the lines for food are shorter during nonmeal times, it's a win-win. The food at Aunt Granny's was really good. I was so busy eating that I forgot to take a picture! Aunt Granny's is an "all you care to eat" place. Right now they are serving the food family style, but it's usually a buffet. We had fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and biscuits. For not quite $20 (adults), which included a soda, I thought Aunt Granny's was a great deal. To say we were stuffed would be an understatement.
After we had digested a bit, we walked around and looked at all the Halloween decorations and lights. Dollywood really went out of their way to decorate. I'd love to go back at Christmas time. I bet it's gorgeous. Dollywood is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful parks I have ever visited. The combination of natural beauty, charming buildings, and a sanitation team that really keeps up with keeping things clean made for a gorgeous park. I can't say enough about how beautiful Dollywood is.
Dollywood Is For All Families
Dollywood has earned a spot in my personal top 5 amusement parks, and that is an honor I don't give lightly. Dollywood had something for almost everyone. I think preschoolers up to grandparents would love a day at Dollywood. I would definitely recommend Dollywood to most families!
When You Go
The closest major airport to Pigeon Forge is in Knoxville, Tennessee, about 25 miles away. I would highly recommend renting a car. Pigeon Forge is a small town. It's unlikely you will be able to get an Uber easily.
Where to Stay
My husband and I stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Pigeon Forge. I'm a big fan of Fairfield Inn's because they are budget-friendly (usually $100-200) and they have nice pools and free breakfast! Dollywood has a resort on-site, called the DreamMore, it's around $150-300 depending on the time of year, and it includes a free timesaver pass! If you don't mind people on the Ferris wheel being able to see you swim (you'll look like an ant anyway) then check out the Margaritaville resort! They have a rooftop pool, and lots of restaurants and shopping within walking distance.
You can compare prices on hotels and get the best current rates at Booking.com
Or if you feel more comfortable renting a house you can search the area through VRBO or use this interactive map to put in your dates and see where your rental would be in relation to Dollywood.
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