In March, our family had the opportunity to visit the Great Smoky Mountains for six days. If you caught part 1 of this ‘Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains‘ series, you know we had an awesome experience exploring the National Park and surrounding areas.
In part two, of this three part series, I’m offering some insight into visiting one of this regions largest attractions, Dollywood.
Whether you are a fan of Dolly Parton or not, this place is a must-visit, if you come to Pigeon Forge. Built with the family in mind, this amusement park does an excellent job of offering attractions for all ages including rides, games, shows, food, sweets, exhibits, history and Craftsman’s Valley.
We spent the most time in the Country Fair section of the park. It offers about a dozen rides for the young ones, mixed in with games and play areas to keep your toddlers and young children occupied until it’s time for lunch. There wasn’t a long wait at any of the rides and each time riding was a good few minutes so the kids seemed content getting off one and going to another. They are all very close together, so after one or two go-arounds, you end up rotating through with the same families, which is a nice little touch.
They offer a wide variety of food selections throughout the park. I’d suggest taking a look at the menus on their website just to have an idea of what you may be looking for, or where you can find it, to make it easier when it’s time to eat. My husband really wanted to try BBQ so we found a buffet where you could go in and sit down. It was quiet, relaxing and away from the activity. They have a number of these type of eateries throughout the park. We also liked the fact that you could take backpacks in and we even took our water bottles to fill up throughout the day and save on buying a ton of sugary drinks (although we did go into the Sweet Shoppe at the end of the day to try one of their milkshakes – well worth the splurge!).
One thing that you must do is ride the Dollywood Express. This genuine coal-fired train takes you on a 20 minute train ride above the park into the Smoky Mountains, giving you the history of the engine and where it has traveled before becoming one of the main features at Dollywood. Because the train is coal-fired, try to sit on one of the back cars so you don’t have to worry about soot and small particles hitting you or your children. There is a train schedule for each day that you can pick up upon entering the park. Seats do fill up quickly, but its well worth the wait.
Dollywood offers various festivals throughout the season. We were there during the Festival of Nations, which offered a number of different shows and musical numbers throughout the day focusing on different areas and origins around the world. We were able to catch the Polish Folk Dancing show, called SLAK, at the end of our visit and everyone, including Lucas, really enjoyed it. Great music and the costumes and choreography was great.
While walking through Craftsman’s Valley we stumbled upon an area called the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. It is an aviary that houses the country’s largest group of non-releasable bald eagles. They are housed here by the American Eagle Foundation for education, rehabilitation and breeding under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. There were more than a dozen bald eagles, along with other large birds that you could walk right up to, getting within feet of them. They were beautiful and neat to see up close.
A few overall observations that I think are good to know – the staff at Dollywood do an excellent job of keeping the park and the bathroom areas clean! We were very impressed with how clean everything was and the amenities they offered to families with children. They have a specific Baby Care Center that offers family changing rooms, private feeding rooms and baby bottles can be warmed at any facility within the park, simply by asking one of the staff. They also offer young children the opportunity to be “measured” as soon as you enter the park so that you know their height, and in turn, what rides they are able to ride on their own.
Also, take advantage of the option to buy your tickets ahead. Dollywood offers some discounts for tickets purchased online. And, we did not, but if you stay at the their resort, I believe there are different pricing options. If you can’t or don’t want to buy ahead of your visit, there are walk-up kiosks available at the ‘Guest Services’ part of the admission area and those lines move very quickly, versus waiting for the walk-up window.
When we were shuttling back to our car on the tram at the end of the day, we were surprised to hear them say that if you had any trouble when you got back to your vehicle – dead battery, lost your keys, locked them in the car, flat tire, etc. – simply return to the tram stop and they will call their vehicle service for you. They offer this assistance complimentary, for any of these problems, to each of their guests. I mean, how amazing is that? Now, that’s southern hospitality!
There is also Dollywood’s Splash Country. This piece of the park was not open when we visited in March. But, given the great experience we had in the amusement park, I think it will be on our vacation list to visit again during a time when the water park is open and we can experience that piece of Dollywood as well.
Interested in more of what the Great Smoky Mountains and Tennessee have to offer for family visits? Check out the first part of this series, National Park Adventures, and watch for the final piece, highlighting Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.