Howdy folks! Little bit and I just returned from our mommy and me trip and the centerpiece of our four day outing was DOLLYWOOD!
That’s right, we headed up to her Tennessee Mountain Home, and let me tell you Jolene, everyone was asking Whyd’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That after 9 to 5 in an amusement park, but they’ll be saying Here You Come Again because it was so much fun and we’ll be back!
Before this trip, I really knew nothing about Dollywood. When folks heard I was going, I’d hear through the grapevine that those who went loved it. Little bit picked it because she wanted to ride some rollercoasters, baby. And rollercoasters we rode! But otherwise, I didn’t know much.
Maybe you don’t know much about this hidden gem either. So like my Disney debriefs, I’ll offer this Dollywood Debrief for my friends looking to try a new (and much less crowded) amusement park.
Our itinerary wasn’t perfect, here’s a few tips to avoid my errors: We flew United from IAH to Knoxville and landed at 9:30. This is too late. By the time I got the rental car, we left the airport at 10 pm and didn’t arrive at Dollywood Dream More Resort (where we stayed) until 11. That is a hard drive to make in the dark of night. Take an earlier flight. Plus, after a long day at work and a flight and a dark-in-the-woods car drive, you’re going to want a glass of wine. But you’re not going to get it at Dream More because room service and all restaurants close by or before 11 pm. Which means you just hop in the shower, eat a few gummies from your carry on, and get in bed. Then we left for Asheville early Saturday morning and returned to Knoxville on Sunday afternoon to catch our flight out at 6:30 pm. (This is also too late – you’re tired by the last day of your trip. Fly out earlier.)
Next up, I’m not going to download the Asheville portion of our trip. We loved Saturday at the Biltmore but didn’t love the rest of Asheville we saw (which was a small part, and centered downtown). As my dear friend put it, “Asheville may not be your jam. It is Appalachia hippie…” Um yes, Appalachia hippie is not my jam. I’m okay with that. Square peg, peace sign hole, not a perfect fit.
Now for what’s to love about Dollywood.
First, stay at the Dream More resort. It is just lovely. Little bit and I had a king suite room with a private patio looking out on the pool. It was far enough from the pool that the noise didn’t bother us. We had a lovely little table and chairs where we could watch fireworks from at night and she had a separate room area with a bunk bed and t.v. She split her time between my room and hers. Breakfast is included and is super yummy. I’m not a huge biscuits and gravy gal, but mercy did they make some delicious biscuits and gravy.
Best of all, the Fast Pass is included. (Fast Pass details below.) I found the package reasonable – for three nights, breakfast included, two days of park tickets for both of us, and the Fast Pass, the cost was around $1400 (including all taxes/fees). Parking was free on property, which was nice since I had a rental car to get around, but if you’re just doing Dollywood you don’t need a car for the trip. Dream More offers a shuttle that runs every 15 minutes between the resort and the splash park (which we skipped) and Dollywood. We never had to wait. It’s only about a 10 minute shuttle too which is lovely if you’re used to longer distances and waits at Disney World.
Second, the RIDES! If you are a roller coaster enthusiast, Dollywood does not disappoint. On Dollywood’s app (which you should download if you go), they list 16 rides as “thrill” rides. I would disagree. However, of those 16, 9 can legit be called thrill. (There are two water rides – the log ride called Daredevil Falls which we rode once and an inner tube one – we skipped getting soaked at the park.)
Of the roller coaster/thrill rides, they have: Barnstormer, Dragonflier (new entry at the Wildwood Grove expansion), Drop Line, Firechaser Express, Lightning Rod, Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado, Thunderhead, and Wild Eagle.
Wild Eagle was our favorite. You ride it, legs suspended, get started off with a huge drop, and you do three upside down loops. It’s a super smooth ride with lots of thrills. We rode it at least a dozen times in two days. (How you Disney fans ask? Read on about Fast Pass.)
Lightning Rod is super intense – an incredibly fast ride. I love coasters and this one did a number on my stomach first time. Your butt leaves the seat at least twice. Speed tops 70 mph and it boasts being the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. It is fast. We rode it three times and probably would have gone a couple more if it hadn’t been Fast Pass limited. Warning – in talking with folks as we traveled, they said this ride is down a lot. It never was while we were there though.
Firechase Express isn’t scary but it is super fun. It’s fast but not crazy fast and it’s smooth, and it has a fun backwards element at the end. This was another dozen rides for us.
I liked Tennessee Tornado and L liked Mystery Mine but not vice versa. She thought TT was too jerky, it’s not wooden but does ride rougher, while I thought MM was a nightmare. Not because it’s scary, it isn’t scary at all until the end, but it is SUPER jerky and my head kept getting slammed between the headrests.
Neither of us rode Barnstormer or Drop Line because it just felt like a bit much for either of us so we can’t report. Also, neither of us liked Thunderhead because it is a super rough wooden rollercoaster. We rode it three times but then gave up because we always left with a headache. We also loved Dragonflier, it’s fun but not scary (another legs suspended one), but only got to ride it twice. It’s FastPass limited, and the lines were long, and Wildwood Grove is set far back from the rest of the park.
So go for the rides. It’s worth it. We rode a few others but we focused on those. Also, we did one live music show which was good, featuring Dolly’s niece, but I didn’t get to do most of the shows because of little bit’s focus on rides. I did drag her to Dolly’s museum which was fabulous. Those clothes!
Next up, FAST PASS! I laughed when I first saw it. It’s a paper badge you wear around your neck that the ride operators hole punch when you’re in the Fast Pass line. Well, I’m not laughing anymore. After the brutality of Fast Pass scheduling at Disney, this was a breath of fresh air. Each day, you have a card that allows you to use your Fast Pass for 10 rides on the most popular rides at the park. You may only use the pass once for Dragonflier, Lightning Rod, and Firechaser Express. Because of that limitation, and because those first two have long lines, we didn’t get to ride those very often.
However, no one at Firechaser Express ever checked our Fast Pass badge. So we got to use that Fast Pass line as often as we wanted. It wasn’t the only time we hopped into a Fast Pass line that didn’t check. The long lines always checked though – so expect to get clicked at most. Still, we didn’t use all 10 hole punches on either of our two days. It will be impossible to return to Disney after these super short wait times. Little bit was utterly spoiled. When we walked up to the TSA Pre-check line at Knoxville, surpassing the longer line on the other side, she inquired, Is this the Fast Pass line? TSA, I have an idea for some rebranding.
Last, the food. Now, the food isn’t healthy, it’s nearly impossible to find a salad (I wasn’t looking very hard) but it is good and reasonable. Both days we ate late lunches at a buffet (scoff if you will, but the food was fresh and hot). Miss Lillian’s Smokehouse cost us $28 for cold salads (potato, coleslaw, corn, etc.), hot sides (mashed potatoes, macaroni, green beans, corn, bread, etc.), fresh meats (roasted and fried), along with a dessert buffet and bottomless drink. That’s insane considering I couldn’t get one person a meal with a drink and dessert for $28 at Disney. Plus the fried chicken was delicious. The second day we tried Aunt Granny’s Restaurant which had an even broader array of foods, and a very lean salad bar, along with servers who refilled your drinks and cleared your dishes. That cost $32. I’ve just never experienced hot food with multiple options at an amusement park before. I’m not a buffet restaurant person but it really worked well for the park. Between the big breakfast at the hotel, and late lunch, we never ate much but a snack for dinner.
There are some drawbacks. Going in the summer meant afternoon storms, so we lost three hours each afternoon. The second day we used it to catch the shuttle back to the hotel and let little bit swim in the indoor pool. It is crowded in the summer so the bumping and smells that go with an amusement park in warm weather is there. (And it appears I’ve picked up some viral skin bug, so that’s super fun…)
The crowd at the resort and park is not diverse. It was noticeable enough for little bit to comment on it. Her next mommy and me trip may be abroad (since each kid only gets to go every third year, she’ll be 12 for the next one when I’m lifting the US restriction, budget permitting) and we’ll be intentional about seeing new places and cultures.
The objective of this trip though was one on one time together and roller coasters, so mission accomplished!
If you enjoy amusement parks, this is one you should try. It’s easy, and set just outside the picturesque Smoky Mountains, so a trip to Dollywood would also give you quick access to gorgeous camping or hiking if you’re so inclined.
The eldest’s mommy and me trip is already planned. Get ready for a wild and wooly recap next January when he and I take on the National College Football Championship in New Orleans. Heaven help us!