Complete Guide to Dollywood for Families

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Dollywood Guide - The incredible 1,000 seat Showstreet Palace Theater.
The incredible 1,000 seat Showstreet Palace Theater. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

The writer was hosted.

Have you visited the theme park that took top honors (five in total!) at Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, including Best Park? If not, or if it’s been a while, you’ll want a refresher at the incredible Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where the family-friendly fun includes experiencing rides, live music, delicious food, and world-class shows. Learn why this majestic Tennessee town is the perfect destination for your road trip or vacation.

An Intro to the Dollywood Theme Park

Discover the allure of Dollywood Parks and Resorts—an enchanting destination where incredible attractions, delectable food, captivating music, and the legendary Dolly Parton converge. I found myself irresistibly drawn to its charm when I stepped foot in this magical place. The allure of visiting Dollywood is simply irresistible!

Whether traveling with friends or family or embarking on a solo adventure, Dollywood offers an idyllic escape for the soul. Nestled in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, just minutes away from the stunning Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Gatlinburg, this theme park is a haven for all. But it doesn’t stop there!

Prepare to be amazed by a thrilling water park, luxury and dreamy accommodations, a world-class dinner show, and much more.

Let this post be your ultimate guide for exploring this awesome Pigeon Forge attraction.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Download the Dollywood App to plan and enjoy your next Smoky Mountain adventure.

Dollywood Guide - Dollywood Express Train in October during the Great Pumpkin LumiNights.
Dollywood Express Train in October during the Harvest Festival. Photo credit: Taylor Howard

Dollywood Theme Park

Dollywood Theme Park revolves around the country music star and philanthropist Dolly Parton, who owns the park. In attractions like “Tennessee Mountain Home” (a moving replica of her childhood home) and The Dolly Parton Experience (coming in Spring 2024), Dolly plays a prominent role.

But, family takes center stage at Dollywood, the single word most commonly used for talking about the park, fostering an environment that encourages interaction and fun for all. Unlike traditional amusement parks with separate areas for children, Dollywood integrates kiddie rides among the roller coasters and entertainment venues to ensure a shared experience for the entire family throughout themed areas.

During my visit, I was captivated by the meticulous attention to detail, extensive selection of activities, and various festivals hosted throughout the year. Additionally, visiting Dollywood offers opportunities for excitement on thrill rides, admiring talented artisans, capturing the park’s pristine beauty through your camera lens, indulging in culinary delights, and enjoying a plethora of sit-down shows and attractions. The choice is yours – whether to take it easy or fully immerse yourself in all that Dollywood offers.

Dollywood Guide - Statue commemorating the Crafts Capital of the Smokies.
Statue commemorating the Crafts Capital of the Smokies. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Our friend Kathie Sutin at SheBuysTravel adds this. Many Dollywood visitors wonder, “When can we see Dolly at the park?” Well, she makes a few appearances each year. Although Dolly’s visits aren’t publically announced beforehand, she usually appears on season opening days and when a new attraction debuts.”

According to an official, she aims to drop by 3-5 times annually. However, the timing varies depending on her schedule and what’s new at Dollywood.

Need more to do in the area? Consider visiting Sevierville, the gateway to the Smokies, and an up-and-coming foodie destination.

Dollywood Guide - Barnstormer daredevil ride at the theme park.
Barnstormer daredevil ride at the theme park. Photo credit: Dollywood Parks & Resorts © Curtis Hilbun / AFF-USA.COM

Dollywood Theme Park Rides

Dollywood offers an array of thrilling rides for everyone to enjoy. Here are some top picks:

  • Big Bear Mountain: The newest coaster at Dollywood and one of their most popular family coasters.
  • FireChaser Express: A popular family coaster that goes backward for a short time.
  • Barnstormer: A pendulum swing ride that simulates the daring stunts of 1920s barnstorming pilots.
  • Blazing Fury: An indoor coaster ride guaranteed to deliver thrills.
  • Wild Eagle: The first-of-its-kind ride in the U.S., providing an exhilarating experience soaring above the Smoky Mountains.
  • Tennessee Tornado: A triple spiral-looping coaster with a 128-foot drop, reaching speeds close to 70 miles per hour.
  • Daredevil Falls: A heart-pumping water flume ride featuring a 60-foot drop at exciting speeds of 50 mph.
  • Dizzy Disk: A county fair-style ride that spins while swinging back and forth, offering more thrills than meets the eye.
  • Drop Line: A thrilling 20-story plummet back to the ground.
  • Lil’ Pilots Playground: A climbing and sliding adventure for wee pilots-in-training.
  • Busy Bees: A gentle ride in “bumble bee” cars that go round and round.
  • Lucky Ducky: A fun ride for kiddos, where they can be the driver of a duck.
  • The Amazing Flying Elephants: A whimsical ride reminiscent of Dumbo at Disney.
  • Express Train Depot: A 20-minute mountain excursion on an authentic coal-fired steam engine, offering a scenic 5-mile journey through the Great Smoky Mountains foothills.

In addition, there are more rides and country-fair-style favorites such as swings, scrambler, lemon twist, and the Great Tree Swing (the pirate ride).

Dollywood Guide - Bluegrass musicians at Dollywood Theme Park.
Bluegrass musicians at Dollywood Theme Park. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Music at Dollywood

Experience the sound of music right at your fingertips! The Wild Roots Band awaits at the Streetshow Gazebo, playing authentic mountain tunes that will surely make you clap and stomp along. Watch for the Smoky Mountain String Band at Market Square Stage for more authentic Smoky Mountain music. They are “all that and a bag of chips.”

The Tones, a mixed acapella group based in The Village, delivers pop melodies with intricate harmonies. In the Valley Theater, Forever Country explores the evolving landscape of the late 80s through early 2000s country music, featuring crowd favorites from artists like Shania Twain and Garth Brooks.

The Back Porch Theater presents A Brighter Day, showcasing four vocalists and a five-piece band performing selections from diverse genres, including contemporary Christian, pop, and inspiring country tunes.

And if you’re in the mood for ’50s and ’60s hit classics, enjoy Dreamland Drive-In’s live entertainment show at the Pines Theater. Check out other acts and confirm performance times on the Dollywood website or the Dollywood app.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Music and entertainment options at Dollywood do change depending on the season or festival. Remember to check their website or app for the most up-to-date offerings while planning your trip.

Dollywood Guide - Delicious caramel apples from Dollywood Theme Park.
Delicious caramel apples from Dollywood Theme Park. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

A Few Dollywood Gems

Discover another hidden gem at Dollywood – the Robert F. Thomas Chapel. Named after the doctor who delivered the iconic Dolly Rebecca Parton, this quaint one-room country church beckons visitors with its simple yet captivating charm. Immerse yourself in the timeless tradition of 11:30 AM Sunday morning worship, where hardwood floors and wooden pews reverberate the spirit of families and neighbors coming together.

Dollywood Guide - The picture-perfect Smoky Mountain chapel at Dollywood.
The picture-perfect Smoky Mountain chapel at Dollywood. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Witness the majestic beauty of the world’s largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles at Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. Dollywood’s partnership with the American Eagle Foundation provides a lovely sanctuary for these injured or orphaned eagles who cannot return to the wild.

Dollywood Guide - The Grist Mill is where you’ll find the beloved Dollywood cinnamon bread.
The Grist Mill is where you’ll find the beloved Dollywood cinnamon bread. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

While we could go on for hours about the delectable food and drink offered at Dollywood theme park, let’s just leave it at the cinnamon bread at The Grist Mill is a must and the family-style table buffet at Aunt Granny’s Restaurant for the fried chicken and apple pie are musts.

Finicky eaters may prefer the likes of Red’s, a retro diner serving up Americana dishes like burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Red’s is the perfect family diner!

Lastly, take advantage of the captivating Wings of America Show Birds in Craftsman’s Valley, also home to glass blowers, blacksmiths, candle makers, and tanners (leather workers) craftspeople.

Dollywood Guide - Rides and attractions in Wildwood Grove.
Rides and attractions in Wildwood Grove. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

Wildwood Grove

Kathie Sutin had this to say about her Dollywood trip, “Wildwood Grove is 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.”

Dollywood Guide - Gourmet food hall in Wildwood Grove.
Gourmet food hall in Wildwood Grove. Photo credit: Melody Pittman

SheBuysTravel Tip: Zero in on Wildwood Grove. That’s the section in the theme park with 11 attractions, including seven rides based on Dolly’s childhood imagination. Latch onto Dolly Parton’s imagination and enjoy the ride!

Those and other extensions of Dolly’s childhood dreams and imaginings are now rides at Wildwood Grove:

  • Big Bear Mountain: Dollywood’s newest coaster, longest coaster ever, and first coaster to use onboard audio.
  • 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 to 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.
Dollywood Guide - Man, woman and twin toddler girls pose in front of large illuminated guitar made of lighted pumpkins.
Taylor Howard and her family during the Great Pumpkin LumiNights event. Photo credit: Taylor Howard

Dollywood with Kids

Taylor Howard recently visited Dollywood with her husband and twin 18-month-old toddlers. Here are her tips for visiting Dollywood with young children, especially during more crowded times such as the Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights in October.

  • An arrival time of 3:30 pm was perfect for our toddlers. This allowed enough time to make it around the park to the rides/attractions they could do, then eat dinner, and see the lights.
  • Be prepared to walk! We underestimated how big the park is and how much square footage it covers. Pushing a stroller with two kiddos made it a long day uphill for us, so definitely wear your comfiest shoes.
  • Tip to save money on food and drink: We bought the refillable cups for $10.99 each and filled them up 6-7 times, including dinner. A total of $22 for drinks all day was a win for our family of four!
  • The Busy Bees, Lucky Ducks, and Piggy Parade rides were a hit with our toddlers. Wildwood Grove also has an indoor play zone and other toddler rides.
  • Having toddlers with us made it very hard to ride roller coasters, but at the end of the night, we were able to hit some rides with Dollywood’s Parent Swap program. We only waited in line for 15 minutes for Wild Eagle (the posted time said 25 minutes), now my favorite coaster. We also walked on to FireChaser Express. With Parent Swap, the adults take turns riding while the other stays with the kids, without having to wait in line over again.
Dollywood Guide - pumpkin display
Pumpkins are everywhere during the Harvest Festival! Photo credit: Taylor Howard

Dollywood Tickets and Special Offers

Purchase Dollywood and Splash Country tickets online to save time instead of waiting in park queues. A park ticket will currently set you back $89 in addition to tax. Seniors (62+) and children’s tickets (ages 4 to 9) are $10 less. Dollywood also offers military families with a valid military ID a deep discount on one-day admission tickets purchased at the park. Please note that the theme park is closed in January and February. 

Add a second day for $30 more per ticket—and a third day for $10 more (ticket plus second day, plus $10). If you plan to visit the park for over two days, consider buying a season pass, offering unlimited entrance to Dollywood, Splash Country, or both attractions. Other season pass holder discounts include lodging savings, exclusive passholder-only events, and a percentage of food and merchandise.

SheBuysTravel Tip: 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.

I love that even though pets are not permitted inside Dollywood (except for service animals), they offer dog accommodations at Doggywood, including kennels ($25 per day) and cottages ($35 per day). Space is limited, and reservations are highly recommended.

Other items to purchase that can add to significant savings include a TimeSaver pass, soda refill mugs, ECVs, festival tasting passes, a Photo Memory Pass, and a parking pass.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Children born in 2019 or 2020 are eligible to register for a FREE 2024 Pre-K Imagination Season Pass to Dollywood & Dollywood’s Splash Country.

Dollywood Guide - Great Pumpkin LumiNights sign and lit pumpkins.
The Great Pumpkin LumiNights is fun for all ages. Photo credit: Taylor Howard

Dollywood Festivals and Events

Dollywood’s year-round festivals and events celebrate each unique season with captivating decor, delicious food, sensational entertainment, and more!

Harvest Festival, from mid-September to October, features the renowned Great Pumpkin LumiNights, illuminating the night sky with over 12,000 pumpkins. Enjoy a world of not-so-spooky nighttime fun with patterned quilts, pumpkin trees, wall of pumpkins, and southern fall flavors.

Smoky Mountain Christmas invites you to explore a captivating winter wonderland adorned with 6 million twinkling lights, festive flavors, heartwarming holiday shows, Santa’s Village, and seasonal shopping from November to early January.

The I Will Always Love You Music Festival honors the art of songwriting and the stories behind the songs, while the much-anticipated Flower & Food Festival, from mid-April to early June, showcases larger-than-life blooming Mosaicultures, picturesque Umbrella Sky, delightful flavors, and captivating entertainment.

Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration, from mid-June to mid-August, features energetic dance parties beneath the Wildwood Grove tree and a mesmerizing Sweet Summer Nights drone & fireworks show. Don’t miss the mind-blowing Gazillion Bubble Show!

Dollywood Guide - Kids playing at Splash Country Water Park.
Kids playing at Splash Country Water Park. Photo credit: Dollywood Parks & Resorts

Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park

Splash Country is Tennessee’s premier water park. Open from mid-May through Labor Day, this award-winning park offers 16 water experiences, from lazy river drifting to extreme white water rafting. Highlights include Bear Mountain Fire Tower, Big Bear Plunge, Mountain Scream, and Mountain Waves for catching the perfect wave.

Downbound Float Trip offers the chance to float down a 1,500′ “river” and beneath a 200′ cascading waterfall. Raging River Rapids is a thrilling experience as you ride rafts of three to five people.

Families can enjoy Splash Country Water Park’s Little Creek Falls, featuring a kids’ pool, slides, and an activity center. The Cascades, an 8,000-sq-ft lagoon-style pool, offers over 25 interactive elements with hidden misters, bubblers, and slides in secret coves.

Don’t miss out on the ultimate summer fun at Splash Country!

Dolly Parton’s Stampede

Dolly Parton’s Stampede is touted as the world’s most visited dinner attraction, drawing countless visitors. The four-course dinner is renowned for its utensil-free service and includes a delectable bowl of vegetable soup. I took my daughter to a different Stampede location, and we had a ball!

Surprisingly flavorful for a mass-produced meal, the Dolly Parton’s Stampede fare impressed. The piping hot creamy vegetable soup preceded a mouthwatering rotisserie chicken, accompanied by hickory-smoked BBQ pork loin, a southern biscuit, buttered corn-on-the-cob, and herb-basted potato.

Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available upon request—please mention when reserving. Stampede facilities are fully accessible for individuals with special needs.

The show is truly unique! An HD video wall backdrop with 2.5 million LEDs changed the scenery for each act. The incredible program is filled with top-notch stunt riders, acrobats on horses, aerialists, dancers, bison, longhorn cattle, piglet races, and friendly competition between the North and the South.

The athleticism of the performers is truly spectacular. And then there are the costumes and music, completing the package for money well spent. This show is a family treasure.

Dollywood also includes the following attractions, but I have yet to go to them: Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud, and The Comedy Barn Theater.

Dollywood Guide - Elegant room at the DreamMore Resort.
Elegant room at the DreamMore Resort. Photo credit: Dollywood Parks & Resorts

Dollywood’s Resorts

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa is a luxury property with a gorgeous mountain setting. The sprawling property is truly dreamy, hence reiterating its perfect name. Inside are five dining options, an indoor (and outdoor) swimming pool, Camp DW children’s activities, and a full-service spa.

Rooms are beautifully decorated and are light and airy, sleeping between two and four guests. Some rooms even include bunk beds for the littles. A new offering here is the chance to stay on Dolly’s highly personalized motorcoach, her home on the road, at the Dolly Suite 1986.

Start your day off with the pancake station at Song & Hearth and return for the Southern classic dinner or prime rib buffet on weekends.

Meanwhile, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge and Resort juxtaposes rugged Smoky Mountain lodging with refined hospitality. The resort’s focal point is the 4,000 sq ft four-story atrium lobby, complete with a romantic stone fireplace.

Other notable features are the Honeysuckle & Pine A Storied Goods Mercantile and the 26,000 sq ft event center.

Privileges for staying at Dollywood Resorts include complimentary shuttle to and from Dollywood Parks & Resorts, complimentary package delivery, complimentary Dollywood TimeSaver Passes (reduced wait times for resort guests with valid park admission), complimentary parking, priority access to the parks, and Saturday early entry to the parks.

Melody Pittman of Mesquite, NV, is the creator and owner of Wherever I May Roam Blog, an established blog focusing on cruising (54 thus far), small towns, great food, and travel, plus syndicated on MSN. She is also a digital influencer and freelancer, writing for print and online publications. Born in West Virginia, Melody loves showcasing her beloved Mountain State. She recently published her first book, 100 Things to Do in West Virginia Before You Die, through Reedy Press. She has social channels and a podcast (100 Things WV) to accompany it. Melody and Taylor Hardy, her daughter, have hosted an annual travel conference (Southern Travelers Explore or #STE), which brings CVBS and travel writers together from around the country since 2020. Melody loves and promotes the concept of buying and shopping locally and “be better, do better.” She can find fun no matter where she travels and prefers sunsets over sunrises. Melody is an animal lover, will brake for cows, and puts family first over anything else. Being a GB (what her granddaughter calls her) is her favorite hat she wears! Never at a loss for words, Melody has never met a stranger and says that meeting amazing people from all corners of the world is the best part of her job. She also shouts out to those her age (over 50) who can juggle the ever-changing social media trends and stay relevant in today’s society.
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2 responses

  1. Would love to hear more about traveling first couple weeks of January- how much is closed at the park? We are thinking of going second week in January as a Christmas gift, just after the holiday rush!

  2. Thanks for sharing your articles with me. After reading your article on Dollywood I am going to make this a place to visit. Can’t wait to read your next article. Thank you so much for sharing!

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