When you are from Central Florida, like our family, you are spoiled by Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. In fact, when it comes to theme parks, we are pretty well stacked. Orlando is one of the top tourism destinations in the United States with Visit Orlando citing nearly 113 million visitors to Orlando in 2016 (up from 66 million in 2015). While we love this about our beloved city…we needed a break. So we took our family to the mountains of Tennessee to visit a hub of entertainment, Dolly Parton’s Dollywood.
I vaguely remember a family trip to Dollywood with my family when I was a kid. Yes, it was over 20 years ago, but I still remember it and it was glorious. I don’t remember exact details, but I do remember having a blast. Heading there as an adult was not only pleasant, but extremely satisfying. The staff made us feel like family as we walked through the park and although Walt Disney World is a staple in my life, it’s clear there’s no other theme park like Dollywood. We were there for one day and it was impossible to see the entire park with three kids in just one day! We only saw a quarter of the 150 acre park, but we still left feeling accomplished and fulfilled. Allow me to elaborate on some of our favorite parts:
Our entrance into the park was great. The ticket system was simple and we were greeted with smiles and welcomes by every staff member we saw. Since we have a little guy, we grabbed a stroller, which was simple and affordable. We then got wrist bands for our two oldest, so they could easily enter the roller coasters that they were approved to ride without having to be re-measured.
Before heading to the coasters (by the way, Dollywood is home to one of the top five roller coasters in the world, but we’ll talk about that in a minute), we grabbed a bite to eat at the Front Porch Cafe. We told our waitress about our dietary preferences and they had no problem working with us and showing us some of the many items that we could eat that included no dairy or meat products. It was nice not to feel “weird” being a vegan family for once. : )
Our first stop was to the Eagle Mountain exhibit, where we saw the world’s largest population of non-releasable bald eagles right in front of our eyes. It is important to know that the eagles that call Dollywood home have a ton of space and are either unable to fly or cannot thrive in the wild due to an injury. We were told by one of the staff members that when a baby is born that they are released into the wild, which was really great to hear. The program is supported in a partnership with the American Eagle Foundation.
After a visit with our eagle friends, our first roller coaster was the Firechaser Express! Izzy, our oldest (8) was over the moon about riding roller coasters. Our little thrill seeker! She jumped in line and this coaster was a great warmup for the more intense coasters. It moves fast and even goes backwards a few times. There was also a great homage to firefighters in the front of the ride!
While the roller coasters are cool, no doubt, I definitely prefer a bit slower pace. The Dollywood Express is a train with a ton of history. The conductor’s voice is liquid gold, and he guides you along the short ride through the mountains with humor and pure joy. You can definitely tell that he loves his job. The train whistle is the highlight of the ride as you are suddenly transported back in time; you’re a settler heading out west.
Our last ride for the day was Thunderhead, which is one of the top five roller coasters in the world! Folks, this was our favorite ride hands down. You simply cannot leave the park without riding this wooden coaster. It is everything you want in a roller coaster and for a quick peek, press play on our video at the top of this post. Izzy rode this one too and she definitely agrees with me that this was the highlight of the trip.
The rides are great, but folks at Dollywood pride themselves on their high-quality entertainment. Their family-friendly shows rotate, so depending on when you visit, you might see a different show. Their main theatre welcomes traveling professional shows and the production quality is so high that you tend to forget that you are in a theme park. We had a chance to see a show called “Mother Africa” when we were there and the show was top-notch. The performers came out after the show and took pictures with the kids and we had a blast.
There is so much to love about this magical park. Dollywood has received countless awards for their rides, attractions, and entertainment, but our contact at Dollywood told us that the one accolade that Ms. Parton loves the most is the fact that it has been voted “Friendliest Park In The World” for five years in a row! When you are visiting Dollywood, you are family. Plan your trip and make several days out of it. You will not want to miss the country hospitality, delicious food, and industry-leading attractions in this gem of a park!
*Dollywood has compensated Lean Green DAD by giving complimentary admission to him and his family to blog about their park. Our opinions and thoughts are our own! For more details on what this means, please visit our disclosure page.