My First Time at Dollywood

Want to learn about my first time at Dollywood? Read on for some tips and lessons learned at the popular theme park.

Rollercoasters, Cinnamon Bread, and Eagles: My First Time at Dollywood

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains lies Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s 150-acre theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. As a huge fan of Dolly and amusement parks, I was thrilled to finally make the trip out to Dollywood for the first time this fall. With its charming Southern flair, one-of-a-kind rides and attractions, and Smoky Mountain backdrop, Dollywood was a fun way to spend a day out of the office. 

In this post, I’ll give a complete rundown of my experience at Dollywood as a first-time visitor, including tips for purchasing tickets, reserving dog boarding, navigating the park, tackling the rides, enjoying the food, and more. Whether you’re a fellow Dolly devotee or just love amusement parks, I hope this guide will help you make the most of your first trip to this Smoky Mountain attraction.

Before You Go 

Planning ahead before your visit to Dollywood can save you time, money, and hassle during your trip. Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

– Purchase Tickets Online in Advance – 

I highly recommend buying your Dollywood tickets online before arriving at the park. This allows you to take advantage of discounted multi-day tickets and avoid waiting in long ticket booth lines. 

I got crazy lucky though and won a ticket to the park at the Dogwood Festival. Then, my friend Cathy won tickets too. She decided not to go, so she gave me her ticket and I went with my husband for a fun day away. (We also had a free stay at Red Roof Inn making for a super fun weekend excursion from Kentucky to Tennessee!)

– Make Doggywood Reservations – 

If you plan on bringing your dog along, be sure to reserve a spot at Dollywood’s Doggywood pet resort ahead of time. I made the mistake of waiting until a week before our trip and had to change our date to visit because of how many days were completely booked up. 

Doggywood provides climate-controlled spaces for dogs to relax and play while you enjoy the park. The $25 dog boarding fee is totally worth it for the peace of mind. Note – we had to pay an extra $5 for ours because we had a second dog in the kennel.

We LOVED the fact that we were able to leave the park and walk the doggos multiple times during the day though. It made it a lot more special knowing they were close by and we could see them anytime we wanted.

– You May Want to Download the Dollywood App – 

Get the official Dollywood app on your phone to view park maps, show times, wait times, and more. This can be incredibly helpful for navigating the park efficiently and minimizing time spent waiting in lines.

Parking and Entry

Arriving and getting into Dollywood sets the stage for your day. Here’s what to expect:

– Parking – 

Dollywood has several large parking lots surrounding the park. I recommend following signs for the main entrance lot. Parking starts at $25 per day. Tram service is available to shuttle you from the lot to the park entrance.

Your best bet to avoid long lines is to get to the park as soon as possible. Once the park opens, it can take a while to get into the parking lot.

– Entry and Ticket Checkpoints – 

Once parked, you’ll take a tram or walk to the main entrance plaza. There are multiple ticketing booths and turnstiles to get into the park. Have your printed or mobile tickets ready to scan. I breezed through quickly since I had “pre purchased tickets.”

– Security Screening – 

After ticketing, you’ll go through an airport-style security checkpoint where bags are searched and scanned. Leave prohibited items in your car to speed up the process.

– Park Maps – 

Be sure to grab a printed park map as you enter. Or you could download the Dollywood app to pull up the map on your phone for easy on-the-go navigation. 

– Lockers and Storage – 

If carrying bags, purses, phones etc, I suggest using the locker rentals to avoid having to store items on rides. 

The entry process was smooth and only took about 10 minutes to get into the park even with moderate crowds!

Rides and Attractions

The rides and attractions are the heart of Dollywood! Here are my tips for experiencing the best of Dollywood’s world-class rollercoasters, shows, and more:

– Prioritize the Headliners – 

Be sure to hit Dollywood’s most popular rides like Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, and Tennessee Tornado right when the park opens, or use the TimerSaver Pass to skip the huge wait times. These thrilling roller coasters draws crowds all day long.

Note: Look at the website before you go because some rides may be closed due to local conditions. For example, it was a high fire risk day when we attended so we were unable to take the Dollywood Express Train.

And, some rides close based on the season. We went when it was starting to get colder so all the water rides were closed.

– See the Shows – 

Dollywood has phenomenal live entertainment like regular Dolly Parton stage shows. Check the park schedule and plan to see one or two shows that interest you. Arrive early for the best seats. We went at the beginning of the Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration and were able to enjoy a few fun Christmas caroling experiences throughout the day

– Don’t Wear Hats on Rides – 

Yes, I know. You would think I would have known better, but I learned this lesson the hard way and lost my favorite baseball hat on the Blazing Fury. 

Even if ride attendants say a hat is ok –  as was the case for me on this particular ride – it’s better to play it safe and remove them to avoid spending $20+ to get it mailed back like I did. 

– Take Advantage of Rider Switch if You Have Kiddos –

This allows one parent to wait with a non-riding child while the other rides, and then switch without having to wait in line again. Perfect for families with small kids.

– Go See the Bald Eagles! – 

Perhaps our favorite part of the day was seeing all the Bald Eagles at the park! 

Spread across a steep, forested hillside, Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to observe magnificent bald eagles up close. As the largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles in the United States, this special aviary is home to these majestic birds who cannot survive in the wild due to injuries or disabilities. 

A stroll along the sanctuary rewards visitors with breathtaking views of the eagles in their naturalistic enclosures. Spanning over 400,000 cubic feet, the sanctuary contains several sections tailored to the needs of each eagle resident. The “Pick a Mate” enclosure houses eligible bachelors and bachelorettes with partial flight abilities and room to choose a partner. Private nesting enclosures provide breeding pairs like Isaiah and Mrs. Jefferson intimacy to raise eaglets. And a special ground-level habitat accommodates eagles with amputated wings who cannot fly.

The American Eagle Foundation’s staff meticulously cares for each eagle daily, providing food, fresh water and medical care. While enjoying your Dollywood visit, I highly recommend witnessing these magnificent eagles who call Eagle Mountain Sanctuary home. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after your Smoky Mountain getaway.

Dining and Shopping

Dollywood has some delicious dining options to refuel between rides. Here are my recommendations:

– Front Porch Café –

We ate lunch at this family-style restaurant which features many of Dolly Parton’s favorite home cooked meals. I ordered the Smothered Pork Loin & Onion Gravy with mashed potatoes while my husband had the Chicken & Dumplings. The food was hearty, flavorful Southern comfort food. They can accommodate any food allergy as well.

– Spotlight Bakery – 

Before leaving the park, we stopped at Spotlight Bakery to try Dolly’s famous cinnamon bread. You can get it with vanilla icing or apple butter – we opted for both just to try it! The bread was enough to make your mouth water! It was delicious and fresh, but we learned our lesson when we tried reheating it at home. Eat it fresh at the park! I suggest ordering coffee too since it’s incredibly sweet.

In addition to great dining, Dollywood has unique shops selling handmade crafts, toys, clothes and more. I enjoyed browsing for souvenirs, especially in the DP’s Home On Wheels shop featuring Dolly-themed gifts.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some extra pointers to make the most of your Dollywood experience:

  • Bring Essentials – Be sure to pack sunscreen, hats, ponchos/umbrellas, phone chargers, and other park necessities in your bag. It can get very hot and stormy in the Smokies. 
  • Know the Schedule – Check the park map and app for parade, show, and ride opening times. Plan your day around must-see events and attractions. 
  • Use Single Rider Lines – For busy rides, hop in the single rider line which moves much faster than the standby queue. You may not ride together, but it saves a ton of time.
  • Take Breaks – With 150 acres to explore, Dollywood is an overwhelming full day outing. Don’t be afraid to head back to the car to rest or stop for a mid-day break. You’ll enjoy the park more when well-rested. 
  • It’s NOT Disney – Don’t go to Dollywood expecting a trip like Disney World, because you will be disappointed. It’s a lot more quaint than that. The best way I can describe it is it’s a lot like going to Cracker Barrel, but with rides.

I hope these tips help you have the best experience on your first Dollywood trip!

Making Memories at Dollywood

Our first ever trip to Dollywood was an interesting experience. Our favorite parts were the drive to the park because – wowza, it’s in a stunning location, the mouthwatering Southern food, and the charming mountain setting. 

I’m glad we went, and did have a good time, but I personally don’t foresee us going back for another visit unless we get free tickets again. Still, it was fun to cross it off our bucket list. And, that cinnamon bread in the Spotlight Bakery sure was mighty tasty. It is good to know that if I ever get a craving for it again, we can buy it at the DM Pantry inside the Dream More Resort without even needing to be a guest.