Looking for best hotels around Holiday World, Williamsburg and Dollywood

Which are the best and worst places you've stayed around these three theme parks?

From Robert Niles
Posted June 3, 2009 at 11:22 AM
I'm continuing with plans for the big summer roadtrip, and need your help.

I'm trying to decide on the best accommodations near three of the theme parks which I'll be visiting:

  • Holiday World
  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg
  • Dollywood

    Busch should be pretty easy to find a good room, but I would like to hear readers' pros/cons for area hotels. I'm not too worried about finding an okay place around Dollywood, either.

    But I'm stumped on Holiday World. Any help there will be greatly appreciated.

    Looking for high-speed Internet access (a must if y'all want to read my trip reports), non-smoking rooms for four (two kids), clean, with reasonably firm beds. I'm not looking for a resort experience, so I'd like to keep the price as low as possible without giving up on the amenities above.

    Suggestions? Thanks in advance

    From James Rao
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 11:47 AM
    For BGW, we stayed at the Wyndham Kingsgate resort. The place was real nice, had two outdoor pools and one indoor (they were salt water, though, which I do not like), a large arcade that was essentially free (you paid like $10 for the whole week to use it as much as you wanted), and it was about 10 - 15 minutes from BGW. While it was not the best place I ever stayed, it was very nice, and I would not hesitate to visit again.

    As for Holiday World, the closest option is the park's "on property" resort Santa's Lodge. However, I was not impressed with how it looked from the highway as we drove by it. However, you cannot always judge a hotel by its exterior. Anyway, we stayed at the Baymont Inn which was very nice. Nice staff, nice rooms, nice indoor pool, nice proximity to HW (5 minutes, maybe). It was a tad bit expensive for a suite (seemed like it was close to $180 when all was said and done) and the restaurant choices were *very* limited, but it worked for us for one night. Were I to go again, I would probably stay in Jasper (about 20 - 30 minutes from the park), or at a Drury Inn and Suites in Evansville (about 45 - 60 minutes from the park, but on the way from the St. Louis area). There is just not a lot to do in Santa Claus once the park closes. Better to stay "off site", I think.

    As for Dollywood, it has been too long for me, so I leave it to others to help you out.

    From Robert Niles
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 10:30 AM
    Bumping up, looking for any additional help here.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:36 PM
    Sure. Not good enough for you, is that it? Jeez....

    Seriously, aren't you staying in St Louis for a night or two? If you are not going to visit the water park at HW (not sure if you are or not), you can just leave St. Louis early, drive to HW arriving :30 minutes before the gates open, enjoy a good 4 - 6 hours in the park, then move on to your next destination, stopping in Louisville or whatever major city is next on the list. That strategy should give you plenty of time to experience the attractions that make the park unique, while bypassing the more generic, midway experiences.

    Also, for your hotels (since you don't trust me), check out tripadvisor.com. That site does a pretty good job of rating places to stay in major areas (like Williamsburg). Just be sure to read the negative reviews carefully because some folks will have one bad thing happen and give the hotel an awful review, despite the fact that everything else went well.

    From Don Neal
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 7:46 PM
    At Holiday World, we stayed at the Baymont in Jasper but it's not much and all that is next door is a Denny's. I would go with James idea and move on to Cincy or Louisville that night. You'll get a wider choice of hotel and food options.

    From Brandon S
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:15 PM
    For Dollywood I would recommend renting a cabin up in the mountains. It's a great experience and might get to see some wildlife. We did it and we saw black bear.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:07 PM
    I think Don, you meant the Baymont in Santa Claus. It is right off the highway, next to a Denny's and about 5 minutes from Holiday World. It is a nice place, but not cheap, and Denny's is pretty much your only food option.

    Jasper is about 20 - 30 minutes away from the park, but there is a host of hotel options to choose from and a variety of restaurants. If you are going to stay more than one day in Santa Claus, then Jasper is probably the closest, best option.

    With the time zone change in Louisville, you could always stay there, then drive in to Santa Claus using the time zone change to your advantage to gain an hour back and make it to the park before it opens. I think it was Steve Lee who suggested this before.

    From Rhys Evans
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:20 PM
    I echo the two others; when I went to Holiday World the first time, I was in Louisville and drove in that day (and onward toward, but not all the way to, St. Louis that night). The second time, I stayed in Jasper, and that was just a generic hotel (don't even recall which one). I also agree that, as much as I love Holiday World, it's a half-day park (with one key thing; I haven't ridden ANY of their coasters after dark, so the next time I go, I'll ignore the opening bell and plan to stay late).

    Williamsburg has dozens of options... And as for Dollywood, this next statement may get some jeers, but honestly, I wanted to escape Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg ten seconds after leaving the pretty awesome Dollywood. I thought PF was one of the most schlocky, tacky and get-me-outta-here communities I had ever seen.

    From Amanda Jenkins
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:26 PM
    I agree with renting a cabin, we have always used Eagle's Ridge Cabins near Dollywood. Plus you can not go wrong with the Holiday Inn that is close to the entrance to Dollywood. They had just remodeled a few years ago. Don't forget, if you want to tour Gatlinburg try to stay in a hotel there such as the Ramada Inn and Suites so that you will not have to worry about paying for parking. The parking is a nightmare to get in and out of around Gatlinburg.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:32 PM
    Let me clarify my previous comments: Holiday World is only a half day park if you do not plan on hitting the water park side (included with your admission). The water park is immense, cutting edge, and clearly a great place to spend at least half of your day.

    From steve lee
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 8:44 PM
    That was me with the Louisville suggestion, James. Thanks for the callback. While you're there, you can go spend an hour or two at SFKK (that's about all it should take), go check out the Louisville Slugger factory (with the world's largest bat), tour Churchill Downs, or enjoy a nice Hot Brown.

    No, a hot brown is not a sexual act. Google-fu if you must, but a hot brown at the Brown Hotel is a giant slice of fried gold.

    ("a hot brown at the Brown Hotel" sounds a lot worse that it really should)

    From Robert Niles
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 9:29 PM
    Our plan was to drive in from Kansas City the first day, spend some time at the Lincoln site, then stay overnight near Holiday World, which we would go to the next day. We'd then spend a second night there, driving up to Bloomington the day after that.

    Let's dissect that plan, shall we?

    I figured we'd leave around 8 am from K.C., which should get us to the Lincoln park around 3 in the afternoon, giving us a couple hours to walk and look around before it closes at 5.

    The next day, at HW, we wanted to hit The Voyage, The Raven, The Legend, Frightful Falls, Gobbler Getaway, HallowSwings and Pilgrims Plunge. Plus lunch at Plymouth Rock Cafe.

    How long would that take? I have no clue how long the lines are at Holiday World on a Saturday in late July.

    Would we have enough daylight hours to drive to Bloomington that evening? (I believe that we hit the time change from Central to Eastern on the drive between Santa Claus and Bloomington, too.) If not, I'd rather stay down south and drive to Bloomington the next morning. But if we really can do those eight things at HW in half a day, then I'd rather head up to Bloomington.

    From steve lee
    Posted June 4, 2009 at 9:47 PM
    I should probably start paying attention to all this Kansas City/St Louis talk since I'll be there in a few weeks...

    From James Rao
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 4:15 AM
    You know, Robert, you should probably just get a suite at the Baymont in Santa Claus. Yeah, it might be a little more than you would pay elsewhere, but it is so close to Holiday World, and the indoor pool such an added plus for kids who have been driving in a car all day, that it is probably your best bet. Sure, you will have to suck it up and eat at Denny's that night, but there are worse things in life (I can't think of any right now, but I am sure there are worse things!).

    Anyway, the next morning, tickets already in hand, you will get to Holiday World at 9 AM, :30 minutes prior to park opening. The best touring plan would send you straight back to Pilgrims Plunge & the Voyage, but you only have a limited slate of rides, and doing the Voyage first will diminish your rides on the Raven and Legend (the Voyage is just THAT good). So instead, I recommend this touring plan:

    The Voyage
    Gobbler Getaway
    Pilgrims Plunge (short lines? ride twice, it's new)
    Early lunch (11:00 AM or so)
    Ride The Voyage, again, if lines are short and if you are brave enough
    The Legend, again (if lines are short)
    Frightful Falls
    Check out the Dive Show (if you have time)
    The Raven, again (if lines are short).

    The idea is that by the time you get back to the Thanksgiving area, the Splashin' Safari water park will be open and half of the crowd will have moved on to do some water activities. You might have some long lines at The Raven & Legend, but most folks are overwhelmed by the Voyage and its line should be shorter than the other two coasters. The line for Pilgrims Plunge will probably be your longest wait as it is new this year. Hopefully, the park will be running at full capacity (two trains on coasters, and multiple boats on the two water rides) from the get-go...

    I am sure it will be very crowded on a Saturday in July, but start early, make haste between 9:30 and 11:00, and expect to see diminished ride crowds once the water park opens at 10:30.

    Regardless of crowds, you should be able to accomplish everything on your itinerary by 2 - 4 in the afternoon, then move on to your next destination.

    Keep in mind, once your kids get a look at Splashin' Safari with all of its colorful slides, they will probably want to check it out. If you relent (Dads do that sometimes) and decide to spend some time in the water park (hey, it is part of your admission ticket), then you are looking at staying in Santa Claus for a second night.

    From Don Neal
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 5:16 AM
    You are right James, I meant Santa Claus. There are a lot more options in Jasper but it is a little ways a way and if I am getting on the highway from HW then I would head on to Lousiville or Cincy.

    The Baymont isn't bad just simple straight place to stay. And Denny's is well...Denny's! :)

    From Robert Niles
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 10:57 AM
    What wait time are we looking at for Voyage and Pilgrim's? Saturday morning, worst case.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 11:23 AM
    Robert, the longest wait I had on a weekday in June was about 45 minutes for the Legend. They were only running one train, and the water park had not yet opened. By the time I got back to the Voyage, the water park was open and the coaster was a walk-on.

    Sadly, I have no frame of reference for crowd levels on a Saturday in July at Holiday World, but presuming everyone wants to ride the new ride, it will get swamped as soon as the park opens. Use that to your advantage and ride everything else first. Bite the bullet on Pilgrims Plunge and just know that potentially you are in for a long wait.

    Still, once the water park opens, most people who really want to get soaked will head there, so the lines should not get any bigger.

    From Robert Niles
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 2:17 PM
    Okay. Looks like we'll plan spending one night near HW and leaving in the afternoon for Bloomington.

    PP isn't real high on my priority list, but I feel like we should do it since we'll be there. (The coasters are higher priority for me.) If worst came to worse, I'd sacrifice it to get back on the road to Bloomington, but I'm guessing it won't come to that.

    Thanks for the great info, James. Anyone else wanna hop in with anything else? More Dollywood or Williamsburg advice?

    From Gary Oberto
    Posted June 5, 2009 at 6:34 PM
    In regards to hotels around Holiday World. I stayed at Santa's Lodge last year. The outside is deceiving. The rooms are very nice, very clean and that rates are reasonable. It is just down the street from HW, so that's one bonus. I'm not sure about high-speed internet though.

    My most recent visit was this past Memorial Day. I stayed at The Ramada in Tell City. It's only a 20 minute drive through some nice countryside. The rooms at the Ramada are also very clean and comfortable. The great thing there is the free breakfast, and that includes fresh waffles. The staff keeps it well stocked. They do have high-speed internet there. They do have a number of places to eat around there. A good mix of fast food, and sit down, buffet type, etc. While not a large number, I found the options quite nice.

    There are also several other hotels in Tell City to choose from.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:23 AM
    One more bit of info: Pilgrims Plunge is designed so that riders can enter from both sides of the park, meaning lines will not be impacted by the opening of the water park as I had previously speculated. Other than hot-footing it to the back of the park and riding PP first, which messes up the rest of your touring plan (and soaks you for the rest of the day), I think you are in for a bit of a wait.

    From Ben James
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 9:31 AM
    I just want to jump in In Robert and voice displeasure that it seems your not stopping anywhere in St. Louis.

    I know SFSTL is not a top park to visit. but, it would be nice if you could rate it for us. And, let us know what a master of theme parks really thinks about it.

    Second, your skipping past the number one zoo in the country (By Parents Magazine and the Zagat Survey). Which has free admission! And, your going to skip out on the science center which is one of the top 5 in the country (rated by ASTC). One of the 10 best science centers (rated by Parents magazine) As well as one of the top 25 museums in America (rated by Forbes Traveler).

    I am expressing sheer heart break. ;)

    From James Rao
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:52 AM
    If it makes you feel any better, Ben, I will be at the St. Louis Zoo this coming Thursday (6/11). Got a mini family reunion and we are meeting at the zoo. Can't wait. Went last year, but only spent a few hours in the zoo. Got a whole day this time! I love the St Louis Zoo! Although, I would argue that perhaps the Omaha Zoo might take first place in a Zoo Prize Fight.

    Let's face it, Ben, Robert loves to snub his faithful fans. It makes him feel powerful! ;)

    From Robert Niles
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:27 AM
    It's amazing how quickly even a month-long roadtrip can fill up!

    We've had to cut World of Fun (and thus, Prowler) from the trip, which I wasn't too pleased with. It looks like we'll be stopping in Brentwood (in St. Louis) for lunch, but that's all we had time for there. We'll likely be hitting the zoos in Cincinnati and San Diego this summer, so I anticipate having our fill with those.

    I would like to get to SFSt.L one day, but Holiday World, Dollywood and BGW were higher on the priority list this time. Sorry. (But I am looking forward to another trip in a summer or two, where we hit SFGrAm and Cedar Point, and I can add SFSt.L to that itinerary.)

    From Ben James
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:53 AM
    Brentwood... That's not far at all from the where I work and live.

    May I ask what restaurant you are going to be delving into? Maybe I could meet the world famous Mr. Niles... LOL

    And, for the record if you do SFSt.L on the same trip as SFGrAm. You'll see a huge difference between the two. But, it would be nice still.

    From James Rao
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM
    If you ever go to SFSTL, take a weed wacker - they can use the help! ;)

    From James Rao
    Posted June 14, 2009 at 4:46 AM
    Ben, I hit your Saint Louis Zoo this past week and had an amazing time. Most impressive, and definitely a full day event. Robert, if you get a chance, check it out. And, you can get free parking if you arrive early and don't mind a little hike.

    Also, stopped at a restaurant in St. Charles called Allins Diner. Excellent burgers and home made black pepper chips. Great place. Worth waiting for one of the few available tables if you have to do so.

    Couple other notes from my trip this past week: the museum and tour for the St Louis Arch are very well themed and worth a visit for those who have not made it before, and if you have an hour or two, stop at the CAHOKIA MOUNDS in Illinois (about 15 minutes east of St Louis proper). The history and mystery behind the mounds is very cool, and the visitor center is well done and worth your time.

    Anyway, just a couple of other options for you Robert, if you decide to extend your Saint Louis stay.

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