Last year, we began playing around with the idea of visiting all the major theme parks in the United States, starting with those located in the southern region of the country. While Six Flags Over Georgia would have been a closer drive from our home, we opted instead for Dollywood located in Pigeon Forge close to the Smokey Mountain National Park. (Just a side note: if theme parks don't interest you, then certainly a drive through the Smokey Mountain Park will.)
Dollywood was once a Silver Dollar City theme park until Dolly Parton bought in to it 20 years ago. My wife still remembered the part of the park that was once Silver Dollar City. There have been additions such as County Fair which is the new home of fair type rides designed for small kids in mind. My children enjoyed the County Fair quite a bit...to be honest, parents with small kids could easily take up a good bit of time there enjoying the rides with their kids. There are a couple of rides that smaller kids won't be able to ride even with a parent, but practically all are quite tame.
The train ride - which I believe is the orginal attraction built even before Silver Dollar City got ahold of this piece of real estate - is still going and offers a bit of rest for tired feet.
Even while time permitted it, we did not go on each and every ride. We always like to save something for the next trip.
Some of the rides/attractions seem dated, a good example being the Blazing Fury attraction. This is an indoor roller coaster that has a story line that at one time may have been exciting. But it's very difficult to be thrilled with this attraction after spending time in the Orlando parks. Blazing Fury needs to upgraded or replaced with a more contempory roller coaster or attraction.
The Tenn. Tornado is not a bad roller coaster at all. The Tornado doesn't quite compare to BG's Montu or other such roller coasters but don't write the Tornado off. It's fast and has some good loops and drops. The common complaint I believe - and it's one I have - is that it's too short. Maybe so, but it's still a great roller coaster ride.
My children tremendously enjoyed the playground which is complete with water cannons that you can shoot at one another. There is a water spout area that shoots water; it's a good idea to take extra clothing if the kids want to play here. They will get extremely soaked.
While planning this trip, I was concerned about the aesthetic quality of Dollywood. For me personally, a theme park must have edenic beauty with perfect landscapes and gardens and authentic and detailed architecture that reflects the overall themes of the park. Disney is the master of this, in my opinion. I was worried that Dollywood might not have this quality that I look for in a theme park.
Boy, was I ever wrong!! When I entered the gates, I was totally amazed and impressed with what the makers of this theme park had accomplished. The park is filled with beautiful buildings and landscaping in keeping with the cultural heritage of the region. In addition, there are educational exhibits that one can take advantage of. A person can observe cast members making all sorts of crafts.
The entertainment is top quality as well. There are country music, bluegrass, and southern gospel groups performing all around the park. There is even a southern gospel museum that anyone with a southern Protestant background should find interesting. No matter what one thinks about the music, Dolly has done her part in preserving a regional music style that has inspired and uplifted many good people.
We ate brunch at Aunt Granny's which had a buffet. Go there just to get the chocolate cake for dessert!! We also ate dinner at Red's Diner which is a themed 50's cafe with the regular menu of hamburgers, fries, coke, and I believe, malted milkshakes. (They have veggie burgers on the menu as well for the vegetarians.) Overall, an excellent and authentic atomosphere.
In summation, Dollywood offers an enjoyable theme park experience that rivals that of Orlando. There was a crowd both days we visited -if you purchase a ticket after 3:00p.m., you can go the next day also - but it seems to be a slower paced theme park in spite of tons of things to do. There are plenty of shops to peruse, and the merchandise is not over priced. I recommend Dollywood to anyone. Sure, some of the rides need upgrading or even replacing in my opinion, but I never felt that it detracted from the overall great experience of Dollywood. Besides Dollywood, Dolly Parton has put together some great attractions for family vacations, including the Dixie Stampede (we did this as well, 10 out of 10 stars) and her water park, Splash Country ( we'll do this the next time we visit Dollywood, next year!!). Based on what she's done in Pigeon Forge alone, there's no telling what she's planning next. We'll be watching.
Did you guys get to ride Thunderhead?
I'm still shocked that DW exceeded my expectations. With the exception of the roller coasters, I would place it far ahead of Busch Gardens, Tampa. (Love BG as well!!) Nothing at DW can touch the Montu or Kumba, but for me there is so much more to theme parks than fast rides. Dollywood has something every theme park should strive to have...and that's beauty. I also enjoyed the southern hospitality of the cast members.