Welcome to our Dollywood review, and top tips for a day at the Dollywood theme park. If you’re planning a trip to Pigeon Forge and it’s most famous attraction, this post is for you!
A high point of our recent summer road trip in America was seeing Dollywood. Who wouldn’t want to visit a theme park set up by living legend, Dolly Parton?
I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when we were gifted tickets to visit for two days. But Dollywood was recently named the best theme park in America, so we decided to give it a whirl.
Where is Dollywood?
Dollywood theme park is in Pigeon Forge. That’s in Tennessee in the South East of America.
Pigeon Forge is a small town around three hours drive from Nashville, or seven hours from Washington. Since Dollywood was created, a host of other attractions have landed in the town. There are shows and chain restaurants galore. The central strip feels a lot like Orlando, if you’ve visited there. Expect Hard Rock Cafe and not a great deal of charm.
Outside the town things get better. Dollywood is in the Blue Ridge Mountains so there are masses of national park to explore. If you like rafting or zip lining or cycling, you have loads of options to choose from.
Where to stay at Dollywood
If you’re visiting Dollywood the best place to stay is the on-site resort, Dollywood Dream More.
Staying at the resort means you get complimentary fast passes for each day of your stay. There’s also a free shuttle bus to the resort, meaning you don’t need to pay for parking. You’ll also get guaranteed entry (useful on busy days or for large groups), priority access through a dedicated entrance and early entry on Saturdays.
The hotel isn’t cheap. Rooms start at around $200 a night for a double room. We paid $320 a night for a suite with 2 bedrooms that sleeps 4. Because the rest of our trip was using home exchanges, we hadn’t spent any money on accommodation. So I didn’t mind splashing out for a couple of nights.
Overall, the free passes have a $60 per person value per day and you’ll save $35 each day on parking. So do your sums and decide if it’s worth it for you. We splashed out, but there are tons of other places to stay locally.
The Resort itself is charming. Decorated in an old-fashioned Southern style, expect rocking chairs on small porches, grand staircases and huge fireplaces. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a games room, on-site spa and a large restaurant.
But it’s the little touches that make the resort so fun. We arrived to roaming musicians in the lobby, and an amazing view of the weekly fireworks show at the theme park. Every afternoon you can get Dolly’s complimentary drink (on Tuesday’s it’s Pink Lemonade). In the evening there are S’Mores by the fire outside and bedtime stories for kids inside.
The whole hotel is packed with Dolly memorabilia. Everywhere you look there are paintings, inspirational quotes and album covers. There’s even a gift shop where you can get Christmas decorations modelled after the patchwork dress that Dolly wore as a child because her family was too poor for new clothes.
Dollywood Review: Rooms and Accommodation
We booked a family suite which has a large king size room. There is an internal door leading to a short corridor with a sink and fridge, then a bathroom, and a bedroom with solid bunk beds. I liked that the two spaces were divided. The door gave us both some privacy. Overall, the room was comfortable, clean and spacious.
All the rooms come with decent air conditioning. It’s not brand new, but it’s clean and comfortable.
We liked the in-room dining options, and the ability to use the Pantry downstairs for take-out pizza, and ice cream Sundaes. It feels really family friendly. Kudos also to the guy on the front desk who put a smaller-than-usual hold on my credit card when I explained I’d just used it to buy Taylor Swift tickets.
If you don’t want to stay at the resort, Dollywood has its own cabins nearby, or you can check out other options – they are certainly plentiful in the area.
How much does Dollywood cost?
The main cost of Dollywood is the tickets – it’s $99 for one day or $119 for two days. There is a $10 discount for elderly people and children under 10. That’s on a par with places like Thorpe Park.
On top of this you will possibly want to buy a Time Saver pass. These come at a couple of price points offering different levels of perks.
The standard TimeSaver is $60 per person and can be used to use the express line on 5 rides during the day. If you want unlimited access to the express lines, you need to spend $80 or $90 per person (there’s a $10 extra fee for express access to Big Bear Mountain).
What I will say is that when we visited the park it was not VERY busy. On the first 5 or 6 rides, staff did not scan our standard time saver wristbands. This meant that when it got busier in the afternoon we still had 5 ‘passes’ available.
What is Dollywood Food and Drink like?
In the most part, we found the Dollywood food to be what you might expect at a theme park. There’s turkey legs and fries and s’mores waffles and frozen lemonades. Expect drinks to start from around $4 up to $8, and meals around $15 a head.
No Dollywood review would be complete without mentioning the famous cinnamon bread. Head to the bakery (or the pantry in the Dream More resort) and you can pick up a fresh baked loaf of sweet cinnamon bread, that you can tear apart and drizzle with icing and/or apple butter. I’m not a massive cinnamon fan but this bread is DIVINE. At the gift store you can also buy a tote bag with the recipe to try at home!
We found the best food at the barbecue place next to the Eagle reserve. The brisket sandwich was pretty decent.
If you’re on a budget, my top tip is head to the sit-down restaurants. Here, kids can get a side of mac and cheese for $3. Also any concession will give you a cup and free cold water on request. You can also pay $17 for a refillable cup for other drinks, and this is probably a good buy on a hot day. Personally, I didn’t want to carry a bottle around with me so we paid $7 for bottles of Coke and then just used free water after that.
What are the rides like at Dollywood?
Honestly, I was so surprised by just how many rides there are at Dollywood and how GREAT they are. Note: we didn’t try any of the kids rides, so our focus is more on the rollercoasters.
Highlights for me were the Wild Eagle ride, which removes the track beneath you, giving the sensation of flying through the air. Add to this a 210 foot drop and multiple loops and it’s a real thrill ride. We also loved Mystery Mine, a breakneck speed rollercoaster that has inverse twists and a 95-degree vertical drop – this is for you if you like to scream!
Tennessee Tornado was fun but isn’t for you if you don’t like being jolted around (my back the next day definitely told me I’d been on this ride). Alongside the big coasters, there are plenty of rides that are more family friendly, like River Rampage, a whitewater rafting adventure, and the Dollywood Express – an old-fashioned stream train that takes a 20-minute ride through the park.
Plus Size Friendly Rides at Dollywood
As a UK size 20 on top and 16 bottom, weighing around 190lb, I am very familiar with theme park anxiety. Are there people in line who look like me? Bigger than me? Will I fit? Will I actually die of embarrassment if I don’t?
Actually, Dollywood is pretty friendly to plus size riders. Some things to note:
- Dollywood says most rides are accessible to most people up to 270lb. Above that you might not be accommodated on all rides.
- Several rides (including Wild Eagle) have rows with wider seats and/or longer seat belts to accommodate larger guests. On Wild Eagle, this is Row 4.
- There are tester seats at the entrance to Thunderhead, Drop Line, Mystery Mine, Dragonflier, FireChaser Express, Wild Eagle, Barnstormer and Lightning Rod.
- At both Thunderhead and River Rampage there are seatbelt extenders available for larger guests.
- In general if you have a big chest you’re most likely to struggle with over the head restraints on Tennessee Tornado, if you have a bigger middle you are more likely to struggle on Dragonflier and Lightning Rod, which have restraints over your middle.
- Rides that will easily accommodate guests of any size include Blazing Fury, River Rampage, Daredevil Falls and the Dollywood Express train ride.
- We saw attendants helping bigger guests and they were honestly SO friendly and helpful and will generally go the extra mile to make sure you can ride, while remaining safe. This is America, so there are a lot of people with different body shapes and disabilities and we never saw anyone being treated with anything other than total kindness and respect.
- We saw attendants giving one big guy a free FastPass for any other ride when he couldn’t fit into a seat, and also overheard another guest being advised to cross her ankles when a lap restraint wouldn’t come down (apparently this helps make your mid-section flatter)
What can you do at Dollywood apart from rides?
We love rollercoasters but there is plenty more at Dollywood besides rides.
One lovely spot is the Eagle sanctuary where you can see the birds rescued by the park and learn more about wild eagles. Or ride the Dollywood Express, an old-fashioned stream train around the park. If you’re a Dolly fan, you can see the famous chapel (and even get married on-site) and there is live music on the bandstand, where you can visit the bakery, shop at the gift store or view Dolly’s wardrobe.
There are a host of seasonal events and attractions. We particularly loved the adult and child foam pits, which were a great way to cool down on a really hot day.
At the end of the day there’s a spectacular fireworks and drone show, and there are live music shows every afternoon and evening, usually with a country-theme.
Is Dollywood worth visiting?
Getting to Dollywood is a must-see if you’re visiting this part of America. The park is clean, friendly and has some fantastic rides. If you add the Dollywood Dream More Resort to the package, then it’s a really memorable place to spend a few days.
We found the staff really warm and welcoming, and the whole vibe of Dollywood is so much less hectic than the Florida theme parks. Of course, it’s easy to be welcoming and friendly when your employer pays college tuition for all employees!
Dollywood Review and top tips:
- Get a 2-day ticket if you can, it is really good value. If you aren’t into 2 days of rides, you can opt for one day at Dolly’s splash water park.
- If you’re on a budget, take advantage of the free water policy and buy side-dishes for lunch to cut costs.
- Do bear in mind that Dollywood is in the mountains and the park is not flat. If you have mobility issues, be aware there is a lot of walking, and some small slopes around the park.
- If you visit with kids, have them measured as you go into the park. They’ll be given a coloured wristband that shows exactly which rides they’re tall enough to go on – and you can see at the entrance to each ride which ‘colour’ wristband you’ll need to ride.
- Don’t pay for lockers when you go on a ride – there are free cubbies next to the actual ride track where you can store things like bags, phones and glasses before you go on coasters.
- There’s on-site daily doggy boarding and it’s called Doggywood. That’s not a tip as such. I just thought you’d like to know because it made me smile!
We received complimentary tickets to Dollywood for the purposes of our Dollywood review