This last week was my son Will’s Spring Break from school, so he and I took a 1750+ mile (2800+ km) road trip from our home in upstate New York, USA, down south to Tennessee. Over several blog entries I’ll highlight where we went and what we did. This is the second entry in the series.
Having spent more than a day getting from our home south of Rochester, NY, to Pigeon Forge, TN, my son Will and I were ready to begin our vacation in earnest. The forecast for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, was for the weather to be sunny and in the high 70s F (~ 26 C), exactly what we were looking for to push the long northern winter further behind us.
What were we expecting with Dollywood? An overall Appalachian theme with crafts, good rides, good food, and good music. Our family had visited several theme parks before including Disney World, Disney Land, Universal Studios Florida, LegoLand, Hersheypark, and Seaworld, so we were looking forward to something new. I’m not one to go on many of the more turbulent rides but Will is usually more than game to try them. As he pointed out to me on that warm Monday morning, I was not getting these rides out of his system but rather getting him used to them.
The daily schedule for Dollywood varies throughout the season but last week the park opened at 10 AM, closed at 7 PM, and was closed on Tuesday. Therefore, it was good that we had done all that driving on Sunday in order to have a full day available to us at the park on Monday. We were working from east to west in Tennessee and it would have very much affected our schedule if we needed to wait until Wednesday to visit Dollywood. No matter, we were there and the weather was perfect.
There are many online forum entries about how to prepare for Dollywood and what to do once you get there. I’ll summarize a bit based on our experience.
- There are only a few water rides, but they can get you quite wet. Therefore plan to wear something that will dry quickly. That includes footwear. The park does have “family drying stations” that blow warm air at you and your loved ones for a small price. I would avoid blue jeans. Will and I did Daredevil Falls and I got more wet from the water sloshing around on the seat than from water thrown at me during the ride. Plan to use the lockers near the rides to keep your phones and cameras safe and dry.
- Plan to arrive right when the park opens. There will be people who will get there before you do.
- The park is relatively small and you can probably do all the rides in one day, though there are quite a few smaller, carnival-like attractions. Since Will is 14 and 6 foot 1 inches tall, we skipped the rides for younger kids. While there were many people there on Monday, it was clear from the size of the parking lots that many more go during the high season in mid-summer.
- For Adventure Mountain you will need real shoes and not sandals. They will loan you some Crocs-like footwear but they might run out. Ideally you would wear some lightweight running shoes with good drainage that dried quickly if they got wet. Also note that there are several paths through Adventure Mountain and you don’t have to exit after doing just one.
- Look at the website and decide which rides you really want to go on and which are likely to be most popular. Go on them first. These include the Barnstormer, Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado, and Thunderhead. I went on none of them, Will went on all of them. My 50+ year old back feels better for it.
- If you go on the railroad, sit in the back so fewer coal cinders land on you and the steam engine smoke has a better chance to dissipate.
- Any vendor that sells drinks will give you a cup of ice water for free, so there is no need to bring water bottles.
- Don’t expect very fast service at anything, especially food. I kept reminding myself that they were being deliberate rather than slow, but bring your patience to the park.
In addition to going on rides multiple times, one of the reasons people go to Dollywood multiple times is the music. They are still having the Festival of Nations musical acts until the beginning of May, so there was much less bluegrass and other music than I was personally hoping to see.
We had lunch and dinner at the park. For lunch we had bar-be-que fare and for dinner we went with the buffet at Aunt Granny’s. I was somewhat surprised that we managed to stay all day, leaving to go back to the hotel around 30 minutes before the park closed.
The crowd was very well behaved and everyone who worked at Dollywood was quite pleasant. The setting in the Great Smoky Mountain foothills was quite pretty and the designers used the varying terrain quite well. While there are many ways to spend a lot of money at Dollywood, there is not a lot of pressure to do so.
If I was in the area, I would certainly go back. The park is much nicer than the surrounding rather crass Pigeon Forge strip would lead you to believe.
In the next entry I’ll talk about how Will and I headed into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Entire 2011 Road Trip Series