01 of 09
Lots to Love at Dollywood
There are many compelling reasons to visit the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. While it offers amazing thrill rides, it's much more than a regional amusement park.
It may not be on the level of Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando, but with its distinct, charming property, attention to detail, and exceptionally friendly staff, Dollywood more than qualifies as a theme park and occupies a satisfying middle ground.
As it has grown through the years, Dollywood has evolved into a multi-day experience. You can easily spend two days exploring everything. The separate-admission Dollywood Splash Country water park offers plenty of fun as well. With the addition of the DreamMore Resort, Dollywood is now a destination resort.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
World-Class Roller Coasters
Because the resort offers so many wonderful things to do and see, it's difficult to single out any one attribute as the best. But it's hard to ignore Dollywood's impressive lineup of roller coasters.
Leading the rollercoaster pack is the Lightning Rod. When it opened in 2016, it took the title of the world's fastest wooden coaster at 73 miles per hour as well as the distinction of being the world's first launched wooden coaster. Woodies can be notoriously rough (the park's own Thunderhead delivers plenty of characteristic rough and tumble), but despite its wild speed, the Lightning Rod is remarkably smooth. Loaded with airtime and wonderful elements such as a quadruple down, it is not only the best ride at Dollywood but among the country's best wooden coasters.
Other standout thrill machines:
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- Wild Eagle: A particularly potent wing coaster that includes a soaring 110-foot loop
- Mystery Mine: A nicely themed ride that includes indoor dark ride scenes as well as two vertical lift hills and a beyond-vertical drop
- Tennessee Tornado: A classic steel looping coaster that climbs 163 feet, hits 63 miles per hour, and includes a "butterfly" looping element in honor of Dolly Parton's love for the creatures
03 of 09
Best Shows and Live Entertainment
The shows and live musical performances are top-notch—not all that surprising considering Dolly Parton's influence. It is a tossup between the entertainment and the coasters as to which is the best reason to visit Dollywood. If coasters are not your thing, the shows are reason enough to go. By the way, if you're a coaster wimp, but want to conquer your fears, there is hope for you.
The sheer quantity of entertainment at the park is staggering. You cannot walk more than a few yards in any direction without bumping into a stage. While the lineup of shows constantly changes, the performances are consistently great.
As you might expect, the park offers plenty of country music such as the traditional sounds of the Smoky Mountain String Band. Gospel music is represented with the Kingdom Heirs (the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame is also inside the park and included with admission) as well as oldies, pop, and other genres.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Dollywood is known as much for its festivals as its coasters and shows. The festivals are included with the price of admission. Its season-ending Smoky Mountain Christmas is among the best holiday events at any theme park. It features a dazzling array of lights, a colorful nighttime parade, and Broadway-caliber shows.
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- Festival of Nations: The season kicks off in the spring with a celebration of music, food, and cultures from around the world
- Barbecue and Bluegrass: Later in the spring, the smells of smoked brisket and the sounds of bluegrass music fill the air at the park
- Harvest Festival: In the fall, the sounds turn to gospel music, and the park welcomes artisans to demonstrate their talents and offer their crafts for sale
05 of 09
Dolly Parton Is Another Reason to Go
The beloved country and pop superstar, who grew up in the Smoky Mountains, takes great pride in her park. She occasionally makes appearances and is personally involved with many behind-the-scenes aspects, including the development of some of the shows.
Among the attractions at the park is Chasing Rainbows, a museum that has artifacts and exhibits from Dolly's career and life. Visitors can also peek into one of her tour buses and walk through a replica of the two-room Smoky Mountain home where she grew up.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
At far too many parks, food can be mediocre at best. At Dollywood, the food is one of the highlights. One of the most unique and delicious items is cinnamon bread, which is prepared fresh in the park's fully functioning grist mill. The aroma of the hot-from-the-oven treat is intoxicating.
Other great dining bets include good sit-down restaurants, some with buffets, that feature Southern fare, steak and sausage sandwiches cooked in giant skillets, humungous pizzas at Lumber Jack's Pizza, and apple pies at the Spotlight Bakery.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Authentic, Crafty Artisans
Traditional Smoky Mountain artisans ply their trades in the park's Craftsman's Valley. The handmade goods are available for purchase. It is fascinating to watch the craftspeople at work, some of whom practice nearly lost skills. There are blacksmiths, candlemakers, leathersmiths, glass blowers, potters, and more.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
On-site Accommodations at the DreamMore Resort
The on-site DreamMore Resort features rooms that are spacious, comfortable, and offer family-friendly touches such as bunk beds and activities for children. The Song and Hearth restaurant, which includes buffet breakfasts and dinners, is quite good.
The rates are reasonable and include benefits which can make staying at the resort a decent value: parking, shuttle to Dollywood and Splash Country, two-day Dollywood tickets offered for about the cost of a one-day pass, early admission to the park, and time saving devices that allow guests to make ride and show reservations and skip the lines at the parks.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Attraction-Packed Water Park
Dollywood's Splash Country water park is not included with admission to the theme park. Regardless, it is nicely themed and loaded with slides and rides, including a water coaster, a bowl ride, a family raft ride, speed slides, and an interactive water play area.