“If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” —Dolly Parton
Adults-oriented amusements abound, from thrill rides to seasonal performances.
Smoky Mountain Christmas features 4 million lights, a colorful parade, and other themed treats.
By Hope S. Philbrick
‘Tis the season for Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.
The seasonal spectacular, which operates from November 4, 2017 through January 1, 2018, lifts the theme park to new heights of impressiveness and fun for all ages—yes, even adults.
My all-grownup family had a blast.
Though I’ve visited Dollywood several times on my own, I recently returned for Smoky Mountain Christmas with my husband and a friend. It was both guys’ first visit to Dollywood and they became smitten with the place—plus, unlike me, they braved the roller coasters, which they described as “fantastic,” “amazing,” and “the best thing ever.” They adored Tennessee Tornado so much that they rode it four times. Still, for its nerve-rattling twists and turns, they ranked Wild Eagle as their favorite.
I held their coats and strolled around admiring all the seasonal décor. Occasionally, I’d pop into shops to warm up and look for gifts. (I snagged Parton’s newest and first children’s album, “I Believe in You,” for the three-year-old on my list.)
Decking Dollywood’s “halls” for Christmas takes millions of lights (four to be exact). The holiday is also celebrated with several award-winning live shows, seasonal flavors on menus throughout the park, and the second annual “Parade of Many Colors.”
Dollywood will knock the bah-humbugs right out of even the grumpiest Scrooge.
“There is no time of the year that is more special to me than Christmas,” Dolly Parton is quoted in press materials. “Some of the best memories of my life are from my time spent with family and friends celebrating Christmas together. It’s when we all come together to enjoy sweet traditions and the warm love of family and to have those special experiences we’ll always remember. Now when we were growing up, we never could have imagined millions of Christmas lights or even a life-size Rudolph. But I know the families who come to visit my Dollywood this Christmas will leave with wonderful memories they’ll treasure forever—just like me and my family.”
“Christmas in the Smokies,” the festival’s headline show, features singers, dancers and musicians performing hometown holiday favorites with a mix of secular and Christian-themed segments. Other shows include the acoustic “An Appalachian Christmas,” “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (both based on the familiar stories), and the “Milestones” showcase of standard seasonal songs, among others.
New food items include a Thanksgiving Feast sandwich: a ciabatta roll filled with cornbread dressing, slices of roast turkey breast and cranberry sauce with sweet potato tots alongside. Returning favorites include turkey and dressing, ham, chicken and dumplings, Cornish hens, center cut pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot flavored drinks like wassail, Mayfield hot chocolate and cider, and more. Holiday desserts available throughout the park include gingerbread man cookies, red velvet and pumpkin spice funnel cakes.
Dollywood offers lip-smacking seasonal flavor and fun, but there are reasons to visit any time of year.
Dollywood For Adults…
A few years ago, before I’d ever set foot in the place, if you’d told me that after going to Dollywood I’d be eager to return, I’d have thought you didn’t know me very well. Then I went to Dollywood and was completely won over. It’s no ordinary theme park.
Yes, even after visiting Dollywood on multiple occasions, I look forward to returning for more fun and discovery. That’s high praise considering that I’m not what you’d call a ‘theme park person’. But Dollywood—which has been named “World’s Friendliest Park” for five consecutive years by Amusement Today—is no ordinary mash-up of carnival rides and hyper children. There really is something for everyone here, even grownups.
Among the elements with adult appeal…
Craftsman’s Valley is a collection of art studios and boutique shops that showcase an array of crafts: leather works, candy making, wood carving, blacksmith, pottery, blown glass, goats-milk soap, candle making and more. You can see masters at work and buy whatever strikes your fancy. Some items are available consistently, some are seasonal, and new items are frequently added; for example, the pottery shop introduced new egg plates this year, perfect for serving a dozen deviled eggs.
“We try to keep all the crafts to the late 1800s era ,” says Wes Ramey, media/public relations manager. “It’s amazing to watch these artisans’ skills. It’s great fun and you don’t even realize you’re learning at the same time. What the master craftsmen are able to do amazes everyone. In fact, lots of times there are more people watching demonstrations than are in lines for some of the attractions.”
New this year, you can get in on the creative action in the glass blowing shop and help make a keepsake ornament (for $29.99). The master craftsman will handle the hot glass and fire, but you pick the colors and then inside a designated safe zone you’ll be handed a tube and clean nozzle and given instructions of when to blow—getting the just-right amount of air going is harder than it looks! You’ll be able to take home your creation after it cools down in a couple hours, along with a certificate of completion to legitimize your bragging rights.
With six theaters, plus additional performers strolling around the park, there’s always somebody singing, dancing, acting, strumming, and/or doing something amazing that’s worth watching and listening to at Dollywood. All shows are included in park admission and, with different performances scheduled at various times throughout each day and season, on any given day you could occupy several hours simply by taking in different shows like The Smoky Mountain String Band, which mixes music and homespun humor, and The Kingdom Heirs, an award-winning Southern gospel quartet.
Enter the museum of all things Dolly and a hologram of Dolly Parton herself appears to welcome you. There she is, almost, standing on stage in sparkly clothes chatting away for a minute or so. It’s an impressive feat of engineering…as are some elements of her costumes, which you can inspect up close in several wardrobe displays. Other exhibits showcase awards, interactive video clips, home goods, and memorabilia celebrating the life and career of Dolly Parton. If you walk through this museum and don’t fall in love with Dolly at least a little bit more, there is something seriously wrong with your heart and sense of humor.
This historic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine travels a five-mile loop around the park in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The conductor narrates the tour with a mix of American history, Dolly trivia and homespun humor. Even when all the seats are packed, I find the ride bumping along on the tracks to be relaxing.
Eagle Mountain Sanctuary
Dollywood is home to Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, operated by the American Eagle Foundation, the largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles in the U.S. (“Balde” is an Olde English word meaning “white.”) The bald eagle, our national bird, is one of some 59 eagle species in the world.
In a netted area that climbs up the side of a steep wooded hillside, the sanctuary is home to bald eagles that are permanently disabled and would not be able to survive in the wild. You can get a good look at these birds any time Dollywood is open, but for an educational look at some of America’s birds of prey take in a Wings of America show at the open-air theater. The show offers an up-close look at eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and vultures along with informative insights from a professional handler.
Two new attractions opened this past summer: Drop Line and Whistle Punk Chaser (a kiddie coaster). Drop Line is a 230-foot tall tower: You sit down, get strapped in, and gracefully ride up to appreciate the sights of the surrounding mountains until the ring of seats is dropped more than 20 stories for a thrilling free-fall experience.
The carousel is more my speed—the horse is as real as you want it to be! and, no, it’s not just for kids!—but for more daring folks Dollywood offers an impressive assortment of spectacular roller coasters. Ride a coaster to get pulled 90-degrees straight up, tossed 360-degrees around and around, flip 180 upside down, rush downhill, zoom indoors and outside, go forwards and backwards, and more surprises. If coasters are your thing, you don’t want to miss Dollywood’s thrilling assortment, including the world’s fastest wood roller coaster that opened in 2016.
With its wide range of offerings, a day at Dollywood can be whatever you want it to be.
When To Go…
- Smoky Mountain Christmas runs November 4, 2017 through January 1, 2018.
Special Offers and Add-Ons…
- Buy a TimeSaver Pass to bypass the regular lines for rides and shows.
- Smoky Mountain Christmas guests can upgrade a paid one-day admission ticket to a regular 2018 season pass for as low as $30 (plus tax when buying four or more). Ticket purchasers receive credit for the value of a regular one-day ticket ($69) toward the purchase of a 2018 season pass. A season pass purchased during Smoky Mountain Christmas provides unlimited admission to this year’s Christmas festival along with Dollywood’s entire 2018 season. (A one-day ticket is valid for upgrade on the day of visit only.)
More To Do…
- Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction
- Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures, a new high-energy dinner attraction with a story inspired by the time Dolly’s parents met and fell in love. A new Christmas show is on stage through December 31, 2017.
Where To Stay…
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort
2525 DreamMore Way
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Where To Eat…
DM Pantry at DreamMore Resort is a coffee bar, pastry shop and grab-and-go deli.
Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans serves Southern country fare inside Dollywood.
Song & Hearth is a country sit-down restaurant inside DreamMore Resort that serves Southern-style breakfast buffet, a la carte lunch, and dinner buffet.
For the 10th consecutive year, Dollywood has won Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award.
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Odds of Encountering Children: Inevitable, but they must abide by the rules: “Children must be 13 years old or older to enter Dollywood without an adult. Children 12 years old and younger must be accompanied by a chaperone 16 years old or older. Unescorted children will not be admitted to Dollywood.” For the best odds of an adults-oriented experience, visit during the weekday when school is in session. Dollywood offers the following recommendations to avoid crowds: “In the spring, Thursdays are less crowded. In the summer, try for Wednesday or Thursday. In the fall, you might consider weekdays. During the Christmas season, weekdays are your best bet.”
– Wild Eagle roller coaster and parade float photos courtesy Dollywood, click on image for photographer details; remainder © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.