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Visiting Dollywood and Beyond: Pigeon Forge, TN

Here is what to expect and plan for when visiting Dollywood theme park and what to see and do in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

How I managed to live 52 years of life without going to the Dollywood Theme Park is beyond me, but now that I’ve been there, I imagine myself going once a year or so to soak up the magical qualities that only this park can deliver. When visiting Dollywood and the Pigeon Forge, TN, area sprawling over 160 acres, here is what to expect. I hope your Smoky Mountains getaway is as magnificent as mine. 

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Tickets were provided by a PR company representing Dollywood for this story. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.

Dollywood Theme Park

Expect to pay $20 for parking and right under $90 for a ticketed admission to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park. After parking, there is a shuttle to drive you to the gate. Be prepared because Dollywood is huge and has several steep hills to access certain parts of the property.

First and foremost, the park is arranged smartly. Dollywood’s main attractions include rides, music, food, and artisans; you can focus on one of these items, or a nice mix of all, which is how I arranged my day.

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First up, I climbed the hill to check out Dollywood’s thrill rides, which included mostly coasters and the Drop Line, a 200′ dead drop. I honestly had no idea that Dollywood had such thrilling rides, but I can certainly vouch for them now. The park was beautifully decked out with fall and Halloween decorations, so while the walk was strenuous, there was plenty to look at and take photos of along the way.

Fun Fact: There are over 50 rides at Dollywood!

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One of the highest levels of the park (elevation) is Wildwood Grove, where you will find adorable kiddie rides. I thought it was the prettiest part of Dollywood, especially the picturesque Wildwood tree. There was even a photo-op with an adorable fairy, too, whom my granddaughter loved seeing via FaceTime.

Dollywood is laid out in the following fashion. The park areas are Wilderness Pass, Craftsman’s Valley, Country Fair, Wildwood Grove, Owens Farm, Timber Canyon, The Village, Adventures in Imagination, Jukebox Junction, Rivertown Junction, and Showstreet.

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Dollywood Dining

Now for the food. My friends couldn’t believe that I escaped Dollywood without buying the cinnamon bread at the Grist Mill. I was tempted, but not a big cinnamon fan. And I must have been the only one in the park who missed out. The lines were long every time I walked by, and the smell is enough to make you drool. Instead, I chose a sit-down lunch option.

Aunt Granny’s is where I ended up for lunch. While I have nothing pre-COVID to compare it to, the individual table buffet was perfect and reasonably priced. Guests can choose two or three entrees, four sides per table, and a dessert. The price also includes a fountain beverage or tea for the $23.49 (three entrees is $1.50 more) price tag.

Oh my, the beef pot roast was so good! You can ask for seconds of whatever you want. I went back for more green beans and honey-roasted sliced carrots.

Fun Fact: Tripadvisor and USA Today rank Dollywood as one of the best theme parks in the world.

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Then there are the snacks. Seriously, you could eat for days at Dollywood Theme Park. The sweet shop pictured here, Spotlight Bakery, had the most mouth-watering caramel apples, tempting pastries, gourmet chocolates and cookies, and smelled like heaven. They also sell a 25-pound apple pie whole or by the slice.

I ended up choosing a chocolate milkshake at Showstreet Ice Cream, and it hit the spot.

A few restaurants I’m already eyeing to try next time are Front Porch Cafe and the Dog House.

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Music and Other Dollywood Fun

The quality of Dollywood’s entertainment floored. These musicians are sensational. I attended four of the musical offerings around the park and each was entertaining, full of fun and enthusiasm, and really talented musicians. I even came across some roaming banjo players, which was great fun.

The trio known as Good Vibes sang upbeat pop songs and then broke out into “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” while Wild Roots Band, at the Showstreet Gazebo, including tane upright bass (a personal fave), played bluegrass and played it well. Their version of “I’ll Fly Away” brought back many memories and stirred emotion with myself and others.

The music scene at Dollywood is off-the-charts!

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Be sure to make time for the Robert Thomas Chapel, the replica of Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain (childhood) home, Chasing Rainbows Museum, and Village Carousel.

The high-energy shows are top-rated at Dollywood, so I recommend saving time to enjoy them, as well. You may need two days to cram it all in.

Heartsong is one of the most popular, where Dolly herself takes you through the magical Great Smoky Mountains and shares personal stories and memories of what living in this region mean to her. It is a beautiful multi-sensory experience and a lovely theater.

Wings of America-Birds of Prey is another extraordinary show where you can get an up-close look at these winged beauties and learn about them. Or, you can just admire the raptors, hawks, eagles, vultures, and owls in their habitats along Craftsman’s Valley.

And speaking of Craftsman’s Valley, this photo-worthy part of Dollywood features working glassblowers, blacksmiths, woodcarvers, candle makers, and more.

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Pigeon Forge Attractions

I hadn’t been to Pigeon Forge in nearly 20 years, and as you can imagine, it had really grown up. In fact, the neon at night seemed to even give Las Vegas a run for its money. You will find anything and everything in this eastern Tennessee city, from Hard Rock Cafe and the Titanic Museum to Smoky Mountain Opry and Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Feud.

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You can’t come to Pigeon Forge and not visit the Christmas Place, the largest Christmas store in the south. I remember bringing our daughters here 20+ years ago and oohing and aahing over the incredible decorations for hours. We even had a custom-made holiday wreath here that was filled with collectible ornaments.

Nice to know the Christmas Place is still every bit as jaw-dropping as it was way back then. There are several buildings to wander through and admire the trees, ornaments, Nutcrackers, holiday villages, and much more.

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Iconic Pigeon Forge: The Island

The iconic Pigeon Forge photo of the Ole Smoky Moonshine, dancing water fountain, and the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is better known as The Island. This complex is the cornerstone for the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville Island Hotel and Margaritaville Island Inn plus dozens of shops, eateries, and fun attractions.

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The carousel and amusement-style rides were two things I noted that my granddaughter would enjoy, while my husband and I splurged for the $22.99 per person tickets to ride SkyFly: Soar America. The ride is similar to “Soarin” at Epcot, but while the queue lasts 15 minutes or so, the actual ride and fun of the attraction last only a few minutes. It’s still fun, and I loved seeing all of the beautiful landscapes.

Places you will soar to on the ride include Chimney Rock (NC), Everglades (FL), Tracy Arm Fjord (AK), and Mount Rushmore (SD), to name a few.

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Classic Pigeon Forge:

The second place of utmost importance in Pigeon Forge that requires a visit from mainly all tourists is the Old Mill. Here you will find the comfort-food Old Mill Restaurant of the same name and an area to get outdoors and walk from shop to shop, taking in the scenery and photo-ops. Four shops, a distillery, a candy kitchen, creamery, and a cafe are other places to see when you visit the Old Mill.

My favorites were shopping at the Old Mill General Store for gourmet food products, cookbooks, and kitchen accessories and picking up some gorgeous notecards and seasonal decorations from Pigeon River Pottery.

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If you’d like more info on the Great Smoky Mountains region, you can check out these posts:

Ultimate Guide to Pigeon Forge

Best Restaurants in Sevierville

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