Amusement parks are synonymous with “fun.” But what if you don’t like rides? (Let’s be honest: a lot of them are just plain scary, and possibly dangerous too.) You could resign yourself to sitting on benches and waiting while your family rides the rollercoasters at Six Flags. But here’s a better idea: Plan a family trip to Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood. It has rides to please your party’s thrill seekers — but it also has so much more. From live entertainment to luxury accommodations to world-class dining, there’s a little something for everyone at Dollywood. Check out this guide to help you plan the best trip possible.
What is Dollywood?
Named the #1 Theme Park In The United States and #8 worldwide by Tripadvisor in 2022, Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It’s not only family-friendly — it’s family-centered. Dollywood is the brainchild of country music legend Dolly Parton, so naturally it’s inspired by her favorite things: music, the mountains, food, and family. It’s bursting with feel-good Americana in its decor, entertainment, dining, and rides. You can attend live shows, eat a great meal, and if you’re lucky, maybe even catch a glimpse of Dolly herself. All this for around $89 — which is up to $100 cheaper than a ticket to Disney World.
When is the best time to go to Dollywood?
Any time, really. Dollywood has year-round themed entertainment and events. But right now is an especially good time to go, since the park is reopening for the season on March 11, 2023. (To prep for a new season, the park typically closes from early January to mid-March.) Springtime in the Smokies is special — the mountains are covered in wildflowers, and the mild weather is perfect for spending time outdoors. Dollywood alone has over 500,000 flowers to enjoy, as well as a dedicated Flower & Food festival from April 21-June 11.
From March 11 to April 8, the park will be celebrating 50 years since the release of Dolly’s iconic farewell tune, “I Will Always Love You.” Guests who visit then can enjoy limited-time-only merchandise, themed performances, and special decorations.
If your thrill-loving family still needs more convincing to visit Dollywood, tell them the park is also set to announce the opening of Big Bear Mountain, its longest coaster at almost 4,000 feet.
Where To Stay at Dollywood
A good vacation starts with a good hotel. There are several lodging options in Pigeon Forge, where Dollywood lives. And many of them would be just fine. But if you’re going to make the effort, just fine probably won’t do. Dollywood has its own resorts, and beyond being one-of-a-kind and beautiful, they also offer guests special park benefits, including early Saturday entry, free shuttle rides, and a free TimeSaver Pass, which grants you priority access to rides and shows. Below, check out three unique stays dreamed up by none other than the Queen of Country herself.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa: This 300-room stay is the definition of family-friendly luxury. The sophisticated yet comfortable resort is nestled in the Smokies, and features swimming pools with poolside fire pits, mountain-view porches with rocking chairs, and an onsite market with dining, snacks, and more. The rooms are thoughtfully designed for families, with many featuring bunk beds and extra space for play. The kids can enjoy activities like crafts while you relax at the spa — now that’s fun for the whole family.
Dolly Suite 1986, A Tour Bus Experience: On DreamMore’s property is a once-in-a-lifetime stay: Dolly’s personalized tour bus. That’s right — you can spend the night on her real-life tour bus, designed by Dolly herself, where she wrote many of her songs over the last 15 years. The bus accommodates two guests and booking includes a VIP dining experience. This opportunity comes at a cost, unsurprisingly — a hefty $10,000 for the two-night minimum. But all proceeds benefit The Dollywood Foundation, which supports the education and literacy of children around the world. Expensive, but potentially worthwhile if you’ve been dreaming of Dolly while working 9-5.
Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort: This mountain-themed resort is set to open in Fall 2023, and Dolly has been involved in planning all the details. “In its simplest form, HeartSong is about the Smoky Mountains and while I continue to come home year after year … The beauty of the mountains — at every hour and in every season — is simply an inspiration,” Dolly said of her newest resort. It will be larger than its sister resort DreamMore and feature onsite shopping and dining options, an acoustic music room, gathering spaces, balconies, and a convention center.
What To Watch at Dollywood
Just because you don’t like rides doesn’t mean you’ll be bored at this theme park. Dollywood offers top-notch live entertainment; so if the rest of your party is on coasters, don’t just wait for them to finish — go take in a show (or three). Below, find some of the best shows and performances your money will buy you.
Wings of America Birds of Prey: Nothing says “America” quite like the majestic bald eagle. See eagles and other beautiful birds of prey presented by wildlife professionals. Each bird is taken care of by the American Eagle Foundation.
Harmonies of the Heart: This is an unforgettable experience that die-hard Dolly fans won’t want to miss. In the 30-minute theater show, Dolly’s nieces, cousin, and family friend sing original songs and tell stories about Dolly — or “Aunt Granny,” as they affectionately call her.
Comedy Barn: Get your whole family laughing with “the most successful and most attended clean comedy theater in the world — 25 years and counting!” (or so the website claims). Enjoy live gospel and country music, animal performers, jugglers, ventriloquists and more. You may even become part of the show yourself, since performers often pull audience members up on stage.
Music performances: Tap your toes and break out your dancing shoes, because Dollywood is full of live music — after all, that’s what its beloved founder is known for. You can enjoy mountain music from the Smoky Mountain String Band, hum along with a cappella group The Tones, or even take in a celebrity concert from artists like Jo Dee Messina, Natalie Grant, Ricky Skaggs, and more.
Dinner shows: Food makes everything better — and that goes for live entertainment, as well. What’s more luxurious than eating while somebody croons to you? Luckily, Dollywood has multiple dinner shows from which you can choose. Here are three:
- Dolly Parton’s Stampede: A classic for a reason. This dinner show features musical productions, daring horse-riding stunts (featuring 32 horses), family-friendly hilarity, and a four-course meal.
- Pirates Voyage: Watch pirates Blackbeard and Calico Jack engage their crews in battle on land, in the air, and in the water — all in a secret indoor hideaway lagoon. You’ll see full-sized pirate ships, amazing stunts, mermaids, and more, all while devouring a feast of four courses.
- Hatfield & McCoy: This “dinner feud” features top-notch singing, dancing, and musical acts, as well as silly antics that will have the whole family giggling. You’ll also enjoy some “explosive” stunts and all-you-can-eat classic Southern fare.
What To Eat at Dollywood
The only thing you can’t do at Dollywood is leave hungry. With over 30 places to grab a sip or snack, you’re sure to find a delicious treat no matter where you are in the park. Here are just a few noteworthy options.
Aunt Granny’s Restaurant: Titled after Dolly’s nickname, Aunt Granny’s is one of the most popular dining locations on Dollywood’s campus. Enjoy comforting, Southern-style dishes like pot roast, fried chicken, corn pudding, catfish, mashed potatoes, Dutch apple pie, and more. The best part: it’s all served family-style, like you’re sitting at Aunt Granny’s table.
Front Porch Café: If you want to live like you’re Dolly (who wouldn’t?), you won’t want to miss the Front Porch Café. Its menu is centered around Dolly’s own favorites, like fried green tomatoes, smoked pork belly sandwiches, chocolate lava cake, and more.
Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans: Ham and beans are a comforting Southern staple, but they’re not all you can get at Granny Ogle’s. Named after Dolly’s childhood best friend Judy Ogle, this eatery serves up homestyle favorites like Chicken Cassoulet, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and even pork rinds topped with pimento cheese.
Spotlight Bakery: We hope you saved (a lot) of room for dessert, because Spotlight Bakery is best-known for its whopping 25-pound apple pie. Feeling intimidated? Opt for a fresh-baked cinnamon roll, cupcake, or cookie instead.
Grist Mill: This beautiful building was not only Tennessee’s first fully operational grist mill — but it’s now famous for Dollywood’s world-famous cinnamon bread, which you can watch being made on-site. Pair your bread with fresh jam, and buy a bag of stone-ground grits on your way out.
Long Live Queen Dolly
If you want fun for the whole family but you don’t want to sit on the sidelines while your kids take in all the rides, Dollywood is probably your best bet. Visit their website to buy tickets and schedule your visit now. You’re bound to be taking home some very sweet memories.