01 of 09
There Is a Lot to Love about Dollywood
There are many compelling reasons to visit Dollywood, the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee theme park in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. While it offers kick-ass 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 lands and attention to detail, 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. There are so many fun things to do at the park itself, visitors could easily spend two days exploring everything. The separate-admission Dollywood's Splash Country water park offers plenty of fun as well. With the addition of the DreamMore hotel, Dollywood is now a destination resort. (Considering the gaggle of other attractions and things to do in Pigeon Forge and nearby Gatlinburg -- not to mention the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- the... entire region is an enormously popular vacation spot.)
Before we run down the very best things about Dollywood, it's worth noting that some of its less heralded features, such as its lovely landscaping, doting attention to cleanliness, and exceptionally friendly staff, help make it a great park.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 pack is Lightning Rod. When it opened in 2016, it took the title of the world's fastest wooden coaster (at 73 mph) 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 characteristic rough and tumble), but despite its wild speed, 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 include:
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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 mph, and includes a "butterfly" looping element in honor of Dolly Parton's love for the creatures
03 of 09
Parkdom's Best Shows and Live Entertainment
The shows and live musical performances are so top-notch -- which is not all that surprising considering Dolly Parton's influence -- it's really a tossup between the entertianment and the coasters as to which is the best reason to visit Dollywood. If coasters aren't really 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 can't 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. Other festivals include:
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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 & 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
It's Dolly Parton's Park!
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 the Chasing Rainbows museum, which includes artifacts from and exhibits about 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 in which 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, however, 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:
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- Good sit-down restaurants, including buffets, that feature Southern fare such as fried chicken
- Steak and sausage sandwiches cooked in giant skillets
- Humungous pizzas at Lumber Jack's Pizza and apple pies at the Spotlight Bakery
07 of 09
Authentic Crafts Artisans
Traditional Smoky Mountain artisans ply their trades in the park's Craftsman's Valley. The handmade goods are available for purchase. It can be fascinating to watch the craftspeople at work, some of whom practice nearly lost skills. There are blacksmiths, candlemakers, leathersmiths, glass blowers, potters, and others.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Onsite Accommodations at the DreamMore Resort
The onsite DreamMore hotel is lovely. Its rooms are spacious, comfortable, and offer family-friendly touches such as bunk beds. The Song & Hearth restaurant, which includes buffet breakfasts and dinners, is quite good. There are activities for children.
The rates are reasonable and include benefits which can make staying at the resort a decent value, including: 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 TimeSaver devices which 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
Unlike many theme parks, Dollywood's Splash Country water park is not included with admission to the theme park. However, it is nicely themed and loaded with slides and rides, including a water coaster, a bowl ride, a family raft ride, speed slides, and a huge interactive water play area.