Dollywood Theme Park Guide: Affordable Family Fun in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dollywood – 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

Welcome to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee home of national parks and national treasure, Miss Dolly Rebecca Parton! Growing up, Janine was the biggest fan of icon, humanitarian & all-around amazing human Dolly Parton & looked to her for inspiration in everything from fashion to Pageant Recitals & theater productions. Visiting Dollywood has been a dream of Janine’s ever since she was a little girl & in 2022, when Dollywood hosted our visit, we were thrilled that dream finally came true.

We hope after you read our Dollywood Theme Park Guide that you’ll consider a visit to our pick for the best & most affordable choice for your next theme park vacation. After all, we could all use a little more Dollywood in our life!


The Dollywood Story

Dollywood’s story began in 1961 as “Rebel Railroad,” a small Western Expo.  In the 1970’s, the Expo was rebranded as Goldrush Junction.  Then, in 1976, the fun spot became known as Silver Dollar City (not to be confused with the amusement park in Branson).  Finally, in 1986, Dolly Parton purchased Silver Dollar City and Dollywood was born with a handful of rides and shows.  The theme park, located just down the road from Dolly’s hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee which celebrated its 37th year of operations in 2022, was the brainchild of Dolly Parton herself and over the years it has continued to grow into the absolutely amazing family-friendly destination that we know it as today.

The best part, Dolly herself still maintains ownership as the Park’s “Dreamer in Chief” & a very public presence at the park today where it has grown to be the biggest tourist attraction in Tennessee and one of the most popular attractions in the United States.


More Than a Theme Park

Do you have to be a fan of Dolly Parton to love Dollywood? Absolutely not! Dollywood is for the young and the young-at-heart. What if you don’t like roller coasters? No problem! There’s a reason Dollywood is Tennessee’s #1 attraction and the #1 attraction in the United States according to TripAdvisor in 2022 with over 2.5 million visitors annually and that’s because Dollywood is so very much more than just a “Theme Park.”

Tucked into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood is located in a spectacular mountain setting on 160 acres that’s beauty simply must be seen in person to truly appreciate.  There were so many times while we were walking around this beautiful theme park where we found ourselves overwhelmed with the intricate, expertly-maintained and thoughtful landscape-designs as well as the lush natural beauty & theming. So many times we said to ourselves, we “can’t believe we’re in a theme park.” In fact, Dollywood has won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for “Most Beautiful Park” which should come to no surprise for anyone who’s seen it in person.


The Dollywood Difference

Dollywood does an amazing job setting itself apart from other theme parks, & we’ve visited a LOT of theme parks!

One of Dollywood’s many shaded & beautifully landscaped Relaxation Areas

With it’s one-of-a-kind attractions, world-class entertainment & service, award-winning food & fun – day & night, this family-friendly amusement park literally has something for everyone: water rides, kiddie rides, thrilling roller coasters, benches & relaxation areas, games, mountain arts and crafts, stores and all the live music you could ever want in one place.

Entertainment

That’s right, entertainment & live music are the cornerstone of Dollywood and the shows at Dollywood do not disappoint!

Dollywood’s impressive list of performers are beyond talented, and this should come as no surprise when visiting a theme park developed by the Queen of Country Music! During your visit, keep an eye out for The Smoky Mountain String Band, Harmonies of the Heart featuring members of Dolly’s own family, Country Crossroads, and of course – Miss Lillian & her banjo.

Another can’t miss show is Dolly’s immersive in-park film, Heartsong where Dolly takes viewers on a song-filled 20-minute journey through The Great Smoky Mountains. Created in 1994, this film is classic Dolly at her best. From start to finish, we were singing, clapping & smiling as the theater came alive.

Perhaps our favorite part of our time at Dollywood was the fact that we didn’t have to be connected to our cell phones 24/7 like so many other theme parks.  Dollywood is the perfect place to cut the cord and leave the phones behind.  Ride wait times and showtimes are projected onto oversized television screens at the front of each attraction which makes planning your day easy.  So much of our time at other popular theme parks is spent on our phones navigating ride wait times, showtimes, ordering food, etc.  Theme Parks are meant to be an escape from reality, and that has become more difficult as we depend more and more on our mobile devices. However, at Dollywood – that isn’t the case and for us it’s a welcomed one.

Coasters

Dollywood has a quaint, charming and homey vibe where visitors feel welcome throughout, but at the same time, it also delivers the thrills with some of the best roller coasters in the country and if you’ve been following us for a while, you know we love a good coaster. Currently, there are 9 thrilling & unique roller coasters within Dollywood, but 2023 will bring that total to 10 with Big Bear Mountain – the Park’s newest roller coaster which will also be its longest!

One of our favorite attractions out of everything we rode at Dollywood was the Mystery Mine coaster which is an intense & unique steel coaster that takes riders on a three minute ride through an abandoned coal mine.  The ride offers twists and turns, drops, inversions & perfectly placed pyrotechnics that had everyone in our ride vehicle clapping at rides end. This was by far one of the best Theme Park attractions we’ve ever ridden!

Another of our favorite attractions at Dollywood was the Firechaser Express coaster.  This unique steel coaster puts riders on the chase to put out the fire with the ride vehicle launching both forwards and backwards with a dual launch.  There’s also hills, twists, turns and some amazing theming and animatronics used along the way.  There are no loops on this ride. We absolutely loved this incredible ride as it was very different from your standard theme park coaster.

If you’re looking for classic looping coasters (think Sooper Dooper looper at Hershey Park, Mind Bender at Six Flags over Georgia, and Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg), then Dollywood’s Tennessee Tornado coaster is for you. There’s no need to tease your hair to the heavens, this classic steel looping coaster will have you looking Nashville-ready in no time thanks to inclines, declines, inversions & speed at 63 mph! This classic inversion coaster may be “old” by coaster standards (opened in 1999), but our ride was smooth and super fun.  Our favorite part of the ride is the “Iron Butterfly” created out of the track’s vertical loop and sidewinder which resemble a butterfly – Dolly’s signature symbol.

Overall, Dollywood has some of the most unique & well themed coasters of any Theme Park we’ve visited.  It’s easy to see that Dolly makes visitors feel a part of the family, but she also knows how to show her guests a real good time!

Fun & Games

Dollywood’s Country Fair area is the perfect spot for those of us who love a good carnival. From Flying Elephants to the Wonder Wheel and classic carnival games, we had an absolute blast – especially playing games thanks to the amazing Dollywood hosts who work in this area of the park!

The best part is the games are cash free! That’s right, Game Play Vouchers can be purchased at nearby kiosks which makes getting to the fun all that much more easy. Even better, the vouchers don’t expire until the end of the season which means you can save them for future visits.

We played several games during our time in Country Fair with Dollywood host Ken & a few others from basketball to ring toss & Janine even won our dogs an adorably oversized green gecko that they simply can’t get enough of.


Best Theme Park Food

If you know us at all, you know we didn’t just visit Dollywood for the thrills & entertainment.  We had to try some of that down-home southern cooking Dollywood has become famous for.

Dollywood’s Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread

The one thing we were told by anyone and everyone that we absolutely had to try was Dollywood’s Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread. We both love cinnamon bread already, so there was no arm twisting needed to get us on over to the famous Grist Mill where The Mill grinds its own wheat & corn with an iconic water wheel which produces homemade flour.  From their Dollywood hosts bake up the sweetest sugary-est most delicious delight known to all as Dollywood’s world-famous Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread, all while you have the pleasure of watching the hosts craft the cinnamon bread right before your eyes.

To say we enjoyed our order of Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread would be an understatement – this pull-apart loaf was the cinnamon bread of our dreams.  Guests have the option to have their Cinnamon Bread served up with warm icing or apple butter, and we had to try both. 

TRAVEL TIP: The Grist Mill at Dollywood isn’t the only place to purchase the famous Cinnamon Bread.  You can also find it at the DM Pantry at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort which made for the perfect souvenir. The Hosts at DM Pantry perfectly packed our Cinnamon Bread for our trip home.

Loaded with melted margarine, sugar & of course, plenty of cinnamon, this tasty treat is not to be missed during your visit to Dollywood! However, if you have Dolly’s Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread on your list of “must-eats,” be sure to get to the Grist Mill early & be prepared for a long wait (it’s worth it, trust us) as this mega popular menu item does sell out.

Pork Rinds

When it comes to snacks, Jared absolutely couldn’t leave Dollywood without trying the freshly made pork rinds in the Craftsman’s Valley area of the park (across from the Grist Mill). For him, this was a real southern treat as these were very v e r y good pork rinds – the perfect combination of crunch & flavor!

Dollywood’s fresh pork rinds are made on site, if you don’t see them crafted first – you will definitely hear them popping and sizzling away as you walk by. Janine found the whole process fascinating to watch & we absolutely loved that the product was so fresh, as so many theme park snacks today are not. The hosts were also kind enough to offer us free samples which was something we’ve never been offered at a theme park before!

There are two flavors of Dollywood Pork Rinds to pick from: classic & barbecue. They are also available throughout the park at Hickory House BBQ, Mr. Jerry’s Sit & Sip Refreshment, Midway Market and Country Cookers’ Kettle Korn. If you find yourself hungry for a Dollywood snack – make sure grab yourself a bag of the fresh Pork Rinds!

The Dog House

For Janine, it wouldn’t be a trip to a theme park without a hot dog sampling because to her, there is nothing more classic than a theme park hot dog. She has never met a theme park hot dog she could turn down, so while at Dollywood it was only natural for her to sample one from The Dog House near The Wilderness Pass area of the park.

The Dog House is a quick service spot that serves up both specialty and classic hot dogs, but Janine went with a plain-Jane dog for this experience and it was pure perfection in a bun! This was not a hot dog that had been sitting all day (or for days) on rollers. It was fresh, juicy and delicious.

In addition to Janine’s hot dog, we also purchased one of Dollywood’s refillable mugs which you can read more about below.

Aunt Granny’s

If you’re looking for a taste of real home cookin’ while at Dollywood, then you absolutely must dine at Aunt Granny’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Named as one of the Best Theme Park Restaurants by USA Today, Aunt Granny’s has been a Dollywood-staple since opening day in 1986.

The restaurant is beautifully themed with touches of Dolly-isms throughout. We loved walking through the restaurant and reading all of the adorable quotes from Dolly herself. The staff is absolutely wonderful – friendly, kind, welcoming & full of southern hospitality. From the minute we arrived, not only did we immediately start salivating simply because it smelled THAT GOOD (we could even smell it from outside the restaurant!!!), but Dee Dee made us feel like we were walking into a family kitchen for supper instead of a theme park restaurant.

Included with your meal are both hot and cold drinks (try the Southern Sweet Tea), a hot bar, salad bar and dessert bar, but the absolute best part is the Southern Fried Chicken – crisped to perfection, moist and seasoned to absolute perfection. We honestly could not get enough of this Fried Chicken, and all of the other diners around us were also raving about it as well.

Aunty Granny’s is the perfect place to sit a spell & take a break from coaster hopping to fill your belly with the absolute best theme park food we’ve every experienced. At $24.99 USD per adult, the value is exceptional for the quality of food served. If you make the trip to Dollywood, make time for a meal at Aunty Granny’s – you won’t be disappointed.


Affordable Family Fun

If you find yourself in Pigeon Forge, or any part of Eastern Tennessee for that matter, Dollywood is a “must-do.” It is by far one of the most reasonably priced theme parks in the country, especially when you compare the value to the cost. 

As of 2022, the cost for 1-day at Dollywood is $84.00 USD per adult which gives you access to over 50 attractions.  In comparison, the cost for 1-day at Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida) is $144.00 USD per adult with only 34 attractions.  Parking at Dollywood for a standard vehicle is $20.00 USD per day and $25.00 USD per day for oversized vehicles like RV’s and Campers while parking at Magic Kingdom is $25.00 USD per day for standard vehicles and $30.00 USD per day for oversized vehicles. However, parking is free for guests of Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and there is also a complimentary Resort Trolley available as well.

For us, it’s easy to see Dollywood is the best & most affordable choice for your next family vacation.

Saturday Early Entry

Guests of Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort receive a number of exclusive perks when it comes to visiting Dollywood, but one of the best perks, in our opinion, is the early theme park entry one-hour prior to opening offered on most Saturdays throughout the park’s operating calendar. For more information on Early Entry and whether or not it coincides with your visit, check out the schedule here

TimeSaver Pass

If you’re a Theme Park Hopper like us, you’re probably asking, “does Dollywood have a version of Universal Express Pass/Disney’s Fast Pass?” Yes they do! TimeSaver is Dollywood’s version of skipping the lines & reducing wait times on major attractions, and it does exactly what it implies – saves time. The best part? There’s no screen time required.  Forget your cell phone because all you need is your TimeSaver wrist band, and you’re good to go!

TRAVEL TIP: book a stay Dollywood DreamMore Resort for complimentary time saver, trolley service, package pickup, early ride time & luxury theme park accommodations

TimeSaver is valid for eight of Dollywood’s attractions.  As of 2022, the cost for the Standard TimeSaver Pass is $60.00 USD per person, per day.  This offers guests one ride on each of the 8 included attractions & unlimited seating at shows.  The cost for the Unlimited TimeSaver is $80.00 USD per person, per day.  The Standard TimeSaver allows guests to ride each of the 8 included attractions as many times as they want.  As guests of Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, we were both provided with complimentary TimeSaver passes.

Refillable Mugs

Throughout Dollywood, you will find plenty of opportunities to purchase one of the Park’s refillable mugs which are a great option if you plan to spend a full day or a few days at Dollywood. On those hot summer days in Tennessee, it’s important to stay hydrated & nothing tastes better in the heat than an ice-cold Coca-Cola. It also makes for a great souvenir from your day at Dollywood!

In 2022, the cost of a 16 oz. beverage (coke products) was $3.49 USD plus tax & 32 oz. beverage (coke products) was $3.99 USD plus tax. On a hot day with a family of four, those costs can add up quickly. There are two types of Refillable Mugs – Daily & All-Season Long. The cost of a Dollywood Refillable Mug as of 2022 was as follows:

  • 1-Day Unlimited Daily Refills: $14.99 USD for 1 mug
  • 1-Day Unlimited Daily Refills: $12.99 USD for 2 mugs
  • 1-Day Unlimited Daily Refills: $9.99 USD for 3 mugs
  • All-Season Unlimited Refills: $29.99 USD for 1 mug

As you can see above, there are discounts available when you buy multiple mugs which is perfect for large families (gotta fill up those stroller cup holders!).

With the 1-Day Unlimited Mugs, guests receive free refills for the entire day on the day of purchase. Every day after the day of purchase, the guest receives refills for $0.99 USD plus tax per refill. If you need more explaining, feel free to drop us an e-mail or a DM over on social media. After you purchase your mug, each mug holder will get a wristband designating the date of purchase which you will show for each of your refills. We purchased one mug between the two of us, so Janine was the one lucky enough to wear the pretty yellow refill wristband.

Dollywood’s Refillable Mugs are very well made – a thick walled polypropylene cup perfect for keeping your beverage cool in that hot sun. They’re not flimsy and fragile like so many other theme park mugs. The mugs also feature a sturdy handle, screw cap & a very nice reusable straw that tucks away back inside the cap. We rode plenty of attractions with our mug in our backpack without issue.

Before you head to Dollywood, you may want to do the math to see if a Refillable Mug would be a money saving option for your visit. For us, it most certainly was!


When To Visit

In working with Dollywood Parks & Resorts, we asked to visit during a time of year when crowds are most manageable to which their fantastic team recommended the last week of August/first week in September. We cannot say enough good things about the Public Relations Department at Dollywood as they were so helpful & informative in our trip planning. They answered every one of our questions, concerns & helped make sure we had the best possible visit!

Visiting during the last week of August/first week in September timeframe also happened to fall between a number of very popular car shows that take place annually in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg which meant the crowds were there before and after our visit, but not during and we couldn’t have been happier! We had the most beautiful weather throughout our entire week in Pigeon Forge, and we never took that for granite for even a second.

Thanks to Dollywood’s TimeSaver Pass, there were no long lines to wait in and we never waited more than a few moments for a Trolley to arrive to take us to and from DreamMore Resort. It should also be noted that we visited only on weekdays and not on weekends which also attributed to our manageable crowds as well.

Dollywood also hosts award-winning festivals year-round. From the Harvest Festival in the Fall to the Smoky Mountain Celebration in the Summer and a Smoky Mountain Christmas during the winter months, these fabulous festivals with their themed decor, fantastic food & entertainment are not to be missed.

Although parts of Dollywood Theme Park were decorated for Christmas in August/September for Dolly’s latest film, Mountain Magic Christmas which was VERY exciting to see celebrities & entertainers throughout our visit, for our next visit to Dollywood we are absolutely planning to visit during the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival. However, we have been told that the Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year at Dollywood which will be fine for us since we’ve already visited. We just did not want our first visit to be during a crowded timeframe where we’d miss out on popular attractions & shows due to time.


Where to Stay

With so many options in Eastern Tennessee from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge, the most difficult decision of our Dollywood trip planning was where to stay.

Margaritaville Island Hotel

Conveniently located off The Parkway in Pigeon Forge and at the second most popular attraction in Pigeon Forge – The Island Pigeon Forge, Margaritaville Island Hotel is a resort-style hotel offering 134 spacious contemporary-coastal hotel rooms with high-end accommodations & amenities.

Margaritaville Island Hotel is only a short 13 minute drive from Dollywood, and you can read our full review here

Dollywood DreamMore Resort

When it comes to perks, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort has you covered.

From complimentary parking at both the resort and the theme park, trolley transportation to and from the theme parks to complimentary TimeSavers and Early Entry in the theme park, if you’re planning a visit to Dollywood, DreamMore Resort offers so many exclusive benefits that will help you have the best Dollywood day ever!


Service

Not only did we experience some of the best theme park attractions ever in the cleanest & most beautiful setting in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, but we also encountered the kindest & most incredible hosts throughout the Park.

Every single Dollywood host greeted us with a smile, a hello and a “how you doing today” that honestly felt like a warm hug. Hands down, we recommend you plan a visit to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee! Special thanks to Kathy our Trolley driver, Ken in Country Fair & Dee Dee at Aunt Granny’s for making our time Dollywood magical & a very big THANK YOU to Dollywood for being our host! You were an absolute dream come true & we will always love you.


Over the years, visiting a theme park has been a hectic undertaking.  However, that was not the case at Dollywood.  In fact, it was completely the opposite.  Our time at Dollywood gave us moments and memories that we will cherish forever and we absolutely cannot wait to return in 2023!

Have you visited or are you planning a visit to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge? If so, let us know in the comments down below! We want to hear all about your past visits, your trip planning, and any questions you may have in order to help you plan the best possible visit to Dollywood!

The comments, opinions, and views set forth on this site are the reflected personal positions of the site’s creators.  Although our visit to Dollywood was a hosted visit in exchange for our review, this site is not an affiliate of Dollywood Parks & Resorts and all opinions are our own.  The comments, opinions, and views set forth within this site are not the official positions of Dollywood Parks & Resorts, and they do not reflect the Company’s position.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy an item from our post, we may make a commission at no cost to you.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Judy says:

    Great write up! Very clean park and lots of fun

    Like

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