TRAVEL: Destination Dollywood
The theme park for parents with an aversion to theme parks
If you dread the endless lines, overpriced food, and stimulation overload at an amusement park, Dollywood might just change your mind. It’s a 5-hour drive from Durham and drops you in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The theme park is clean, the accommodations are ritzy, and the food is stellar. You can even take a break from the roller coasters, drop your kids at Camp DW, and go unwind at the spa. Leave it to Dolly Parton, Patron Saint of Tennessee, to add some luxury and sparkle to the theme park experience.
Book a room at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa and you’re just a quick shuttle ride from the theme park. A standard family-friendly room has a king-sized bed and twin bunk beds; a family suite gives you more space and separate sleeping quarters. Go for a dip in the indoor or outdoor pool, play foosball and air hockey in the family game room, and don’t miss the Dolly Album Hall where you can see a display of each one of her album covers. Need a break from the kids? Sign them up for Camp DW and book a massage or facial at The Spa at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Every night at 8 p.m., families can gather around the fire pit for s’mores and storytime with a selection from Dolly’s Imagination Library.
The theme park has plenty of deep-fried food on a stick if that’s your jam, but you’re likely to encounter long lines as many eateries and food stands are short-staffed. When your legs need a rest, head back to the resort and grab a table at Song & Hearth: A Southern Eatery. This onsite restaurant serves an over-the-top breakfast buffet with biscuits and gravy, pancakes, waffles, and made-to-order omelets, plus a donut-making station. For a down-home lunch or dinner, grab a table in the dining room or on the patio and order some pulled pork mac ‘n cheese and splurge on a mason jar of banana pudding. If you want to eat poolside, relax under your umbrella and order shrimp tacos and a Moonshine cocktail. And if you’d rather grab something to go, the DM Pantry has coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and pizzas.
You can get a day pass to the theme park and ride as many roller coasters, carousels, and twisty teacups as time allows, but one day isn’t enough for the full Dollywood experience. If you plan to stay for a few days, get the TimeSaver Pass (which allows you to skip the lines), early entry to the park on Saturdays, and access to the shuttle to and from Dollywood. Avid Dolly fans must visit the Chasing Rainbows Museum to see costumes, awards, and other keepsakes from the Iron Butterfly’s life and career. If you come between May and September, check out Dollywood’s Splash Country, the site’s 35-acre water park. Slide down Fire Tower Falls, have a rafting adventure down Big Bear Plunge, or float down the lazy river—just be aware that kids must be at least 36 inches to partake in many water activities and rides, and most require parental supervision.
Ready to fall for the Smoky Mountains?
Plan your visit around Dollywood’s Harvest Festival
Come for Harvest Festival between September 24 through October 30 and get your fill of all things fall. See colossal pumpkins that weigh between 800 and 1,500 pounds, hear Southern gospel and Bluegrass music throughout the park, and stay for Great Pumpkin LumiNights to view a magical display of illuminated jack-o-lanterns. Dollywood stays open until 9 p.m. every night during the festival so you have plenty of time to enjoy the pumpkins and sample harvest-themed menu items throughout the park.
Dollywood, 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge