Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll find the award-winning Dollywood, a theme park that will satisfy any thrill junkie as well as entertain the younger set. While the park went through several name/ownership changes from its opening in the 1960s, it’s been operating as Dollywood since the 1986 season. Once considered a regional park, Dollywood now draws crowds from around the world and has nearly three million visitors annually.
A huge thanks to Dollywood for hosting us for the day. We received complimentary admission but all opinions are honest and my own.
The kids, especially Nick, have been begging to go to Dollywood for the past few years, so they were super excited to check out the park. While we go to Disney (World and Land) fairly often, the older kids love the bigger thrills and number of roller coasters at parks like Dollywood.
We started the day with Lightning Rod, the world’s first launched wooden coaster, since it’s one of the most popular rides in the park and we knew it would have a long line later in the day. That turned out to be a great decision since it had a 60-minute wait in the afternoon!
Since Ellie wasn’t tall enough for this one, we mapped out our day while Jacob took the big kids and they all gave Lightning Rod two thumbs up! We could have used Parent Swap (more details to follow) in this situation so that both adults could ride, but I wanted to move on to something that the whole family could enjoy.
Rockin’ Roadway was next on the to-do list since it was something that Ellie could ride, too. Ellie (and even the big kids!) had fun driving the classic cars around Jukebox Junction.
We continued counter-clockwise around the park to Smoky Mountain River Rampage, a white water rafting adventure full of twists and turns and LOTS of water! The rafts only seat six so I volunteered to skip this one so that we didn’t have to split the family into two rafts, plus it meant that I stayed dry while everyone else was soaked. Win-win for me!
The Dollywood Express, a twenty-minute train ride through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, should not be missed. The fully narrated train ride takes you across the park as well as through some beautiful Smoky Mountain scenery. We even caught a glimpse of the newest area of Dollywood, Wildwood Grove, which opens on May 11.
I love that Dollywood has rides for the preschool (and younger) set interspersed with the thrill rides. Even though Ellie (at 42 inches) wasn’t tall enough to ride everything, there were enough rides that she could go on, like the Village Carousel, that she didn’t feel left out.
On Sky Rider, you soar 70 feet in the air and have control of the rudders making each ride a different experience! This one is not for the faint of heart since you’re up in the air and spinning the whole time.
We decided to have a late lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans, and we definitely made a good choice! We love doing sit-down/full-service meals for lunch because it can be a great break during the heat of the day and it’s a great opportunity for us to map out are afternoon plan.
Instead of each person ordering their own meal, we ordered several options and enjoyed them family-style. I love doing that, especially when we go somewhere new because we’re able to try a greater variety of meals and we waste less food. We ordered two of the Fronie’s Sampler (slow cooked beef, pit ham, mashed potatoes, turnip green, coleslaw, and Granny Ogle’s pinto beans seasoned with ham) and one Meatloaf Stacker (meatloaf with brown sugar tomato glaze topped with mashed potatoes and served on butter crust bread with coleslaw and beans). It was all delicious though I think the Meatloaf Stacker was the winner with our crew- unless you ask Ellie, in which case the beans were bowl-licking delicious and the only thing she wanted to eat!
We were excited to see the Grist Mill at Dollywood, especially since we did the tour at The Old Mill the day before! Just like at The Old Mill, the grist mill at Dollywood grinds corn and wheat and is powered by a giant water wheel.
Inside the Grist Mill, the bakers make cinnamon bread and cookies by hand and you can watch them while you wait in line. This place definitely does have a line that can go out the door (we probably waited about twenty minutes) but it moves quickly and it is SO. WORTH. IT.
When it’s your turn to order, make sure that you get the world-famous cinnamon bread. You can order it to enjoy right away or get it packaged to take home– you better believe we did both! For a bit extra you can get icing or homemade apple butter to have with the bread and you can’t go wrong with either (or both!).
While Jacob took the big kids on a couple of the big roller coasters, Ellie and I waited by the Grist Mill to get pictures of the train passing by. She’s finally old enough that she can help out with the blog/social media by taking pictures on my iPhone while I take some on my DSLR. Train photo credit goes to Ellie!
We did have a few tears in the afternoon because I thought that Ellie was tall enough for Blazing Fury (42-inch height requirement) but she was just a SMIDGE too short. However, it did give us a chance to try out Dollywood’s Parent Swap. After waiting in the line as a group, Jacob took the big kids on the ride while Ellie and I waited near the exit, then we swapped and I took the big kids on the ride again (note: other group members are not ALWAYS permitted to ride again) while he took Ellie outside.
We made the Fire Chaser Express our next stop since it only has a 39-inch height requirement. Ellie was thrilled that she could go on a “big” roller coaster and absolutely LOVED it! It was the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster and goes forwards AND backwards!
Mystery Mine is the main reason that Nick has been begging to go to Dollywood and I have been hearing about this ride non-stop for the past several years.
Mystery Mine, the heavily themed ride through an abandoned mine is absolutely thrilling! While it’s not the fastest or longest ride in the park, but because you ride in an 8-person mine cart instead of a traditional coaster train, it really ups the thrill factor and it was the absolute favorite ride of the day for our coaster enthusiasts!
We wrapped up the day with a ride on the Whistle Punk Chaser, or rather the kids did! This junior coaster is perfect for the preschool crowd and is a great introduction to the bigger coasters that Dollywood has to offer.
Thanks again to Dollywood for a fantastic day! We were at the park from open to close (10am-7pm) and definitely didn’t have time to see or do it all. Even with a great game plan, you’ll have to pick and choose if you’re going to do Dollywood in one day- we definitely recommend doing at least two!
Things to Remember When You Go To Dollywood
- Dollywood is open from March through the end of the year. Make sure to check the Dollywood Operating Calendar for all the details about opening dates and hours.
- If you want to exit and return later the same day, get your hand stamped on the way out and then scan your ticket for re-entry.
- If you’re planning to visit for more than two days in a season, go with a Dollywood season pass and save some money! Plus, you’re entitled to additional discounts and perks.
- Make sure to utilize Parent Swap if you have little ones in your group. This ensures that all of the adults get a chance to ride and eliminates the need to wait in line twice!