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The countdown is on – in just two short weeks (3/13/21) Dollywood Theme Park will be opening for the 2021 season!

Our road trip with the big kids last summer had a couple of goals: get more states crossed off the list (on our quest to take them to all 50 states) and take them to two theme parks.

The first theme park we visited on our road trip was Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. You can read about our day at Silver Dollar City here: A Quick Guide to Silver Dollar City

The second theme park we visited was Dollywood. This post will be all about how you can have an awesome day when you visit Dollywood Theme Park in the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

WHAT’S IN OUR BACKPACK

Our bag for the day included: unopened bottles of water, one reusable water bottle, non-toxic hand sanitizer (we like Young Living’s Thieves Waterless Hand Purifier or Honest Company’s Sanitizer Spray), umbrella (but the hubs said “we won’t need this” and left it in the car…I’m sure you can see where this is going), sunnies, phone charger, non-toxic sunscreen (we like Badger Sport Sunscreen), chemical-free baby wipes (we like Honest Company), hats, and a wash rag that was wet/frozen overnight/placed in a baggie.

See more theme park bag packing tips in this post

With the majority of the day at Dollywood being a success, one thing I would change is their food policy. We eat mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar free by choice and even stick to this as much as possible on vacation. Dollywood didn’t allow us to bring any food in, even if we had special dietary needs. Dollywood, as most theme parks, had a very limited selection of healthy food items.

MEASURING STATION

If you’re visiting with kids shorter than 50″ tall , your first stop should be to Dollywood’s Centralized Measuring Station. It’s on the backside of The Emporium (pictured below, left) and across from The Southern Gospel Museum (pictured below, right). This was one of the things we loved about Dollywood – only measuring the kids once!

A Dollywood staff member will measure your munchkin and put the appropriate color wristband (different colors for different heights) on them that your kiddo will wear all day. The wristband lets the employees at each ride know if the kids are tall enough to ride that specific ride. Genius!

*For reference, our kids are 9 and 8 years old.

PARK PLAN

Next, we made a beeline for the rides! Since we didn’t have little Peanut (our precious three year old who was back in Texas with Nana) with us, we were on a mission: ride as many rides as possible. I think we did well – a total of 11 rides, or 15 if you count the rides we repeated!

Here is our Park Plan if you want to do the same when you visit:

  • Thunderhead
  • Whistle Punk Chaser
  • Mystery Mine
  • Dragonflier x 2
  • Wild Eagle x 4
  • FireChaser Express
  • Lunch at The Front Porch Cafe
  • Blazing Fury
  • Daredevil Falls
  • Eagle Mountain Sanctuary
  • Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home
  • Smoky Mountain River Rampage
  • Rockin’ Roadway
  • Smoky Mountain Christmas Cottage (I collect Christmas ornaments from all of our travels!)
  • Drop Line

RIDES

Thunderhead: An excellent thrill ride to start the day! This is a wooden coaster that seemed to last a really long time!

Whistle Punk Chaser: The kids rode this one by themselves. It was a mini version of Thunderhead, which you can see in the background of the picture below.

Mystery Mine: This ride took some convincing for our son. As we were waiting in line he could see the ride went upside down for a bit, which got him a little nervous. We talked him up, distracted him with thumb wars with dad, and after the ride he ended up asking to ride it again!

Dragonflier: The kids LOVED this one. We all rode it twice! This ride was their “second favorite” of the day. It’s a ride where your feet dangle and you are mimicking the flight of a dragonfly.

Wild Eagle: winner of Best in Show for the four of us! My husband and I rode this one first to see if it would be too much for the kids. There wasn’t a line when we got back so they let us go again and our daughter wanted to join, after some convincing. After the second ride, we tried to convince our son to ride but he wasn’t ready. Later in the day, our little dude built up some courage and wanted to ride the Wild Eagle, so we made our way back again. He LOVED it and we all rode it twice in a row! The ride makes you feel like you’re flying on the wings of an eagle. You can see how tall it is in the pictures below – 21 stories tall to be exact!

FireChaser Express: We all enjoyed this ride. It was one of the longest lines of the day for us, taking about 45 minutes. We passed the time by braiding hair, playing I Spy, and my kids getting 15 minutes of screen time on my phone. Bad idea. They accidentally dropped my phone and cracked the screen. Womp Womp. The line was worth the ride though! This ride had an unexpected element to it – we went backwards halfway through the ride!

Blazing Fury: An indoor coaster in the dark, which was enjoyed by all!

Daredevil Falls: My husband and I have to be really hot to go on water rides at theme parks. Luckily for the kids, who LOVE water rides, it was a warm day AND we’d just gotten poured on. Remember that umbrella that we “didn’t need” that we left in the car?! Ya, we totally could have used it.

We were warned in the beginning of the ride by signs that we would get soaked. The sign isn’t lying, y’all!

Smoky Mountain River Rampage: While we were already soaked, why not throw another wet ride in the mix?! Out of the two water rides, we got less wet on this one.

The picture below is one of my faves from the day. Our daughter was so confident she wouldn’t get wet on this ride. She was the only one of the four of us who got this wet! Happy seat picking to you!

Rockin’ Roadway: Our kids said that little Peanut (our three year old) would have enjoyed this one. It’s definitely one for the younger kiddos, but it’s fun to see all the old-timey cars.

Drop Line: Just the hubs and the little dude rode this one. There was no amount of convincing that would have gotten me on this ride, or any free fall drop ride. I did too many of these as a teenager and in my older years just can’t handle them! Also I’ve had three “natural” childbirths, so there’s that. If you know, you know.

FOOD

Our son is a grazer. I know it’s a bad habit, but he’s a growing boy who eats allllll day long. Teenager mamas – I’ve heard it’s worse when they’re in their teens?! How can this be!?!

Us not being able to bring any food into the park, even snacks, made the day a little rough for our little dude. We did our best to distract him during the morning until lunchtime.

I read menus ahead of time and The Front Porch Cafe seemed like it had healthier options than most of the other restaurants in the park. The cafe was super cute and super southern, just as you’d expect. The food was down home southern cookin’ that was satisfyingly delicious.

The Front Porch Cafe had kids meal options like most other restaurants. Let’s play a game of let’s see if you can guess what’s on the kid’s menu. A. Chicken Fingers

B. Cheeseburger

C. Macaroni & Cheese

D. All of the above

If you chose D, you are correct!

Our three kids have all been raised on mostly God-made whole foods from birth. Because most restaurants have a kid’s menu like the above, we usually order for them off of the regular menu. Side note, I LOVE when restaurants offer more real food options on the kid’s menu!!! I hope that will become a trend someday.

The kids shared the Roasted Chicken meal with potatoes and green beans. I had the Southern Spinach Salad and a sneaky piece of the bread that is brought to every table. While my body did not love the bread, my taste buds definitely did!

THE PARK

The theme park is easy to navigate and heavily shaded. We aren’t used to these big beautiful trees back home in Dallas! I recommend downloading the Dollywood app before you arrive. I mainly used it for the park map, but it has lots of helpful information on it.

If you have a little one who likes trains, catch a ride on the Dollywood Express!

Our son enjoyed learning fun facts about eagles at The Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. Dollywood offers a Birds of Prey show, but we were walking up just as the show was ending. If birds of prey are your thing, make sure you plan on visiting the show!

If you are a Dolly Parton fan, make sure you go by the replica of Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home.

There were several cute picture areas around the park. The kids also loved cooling off at the misting stations.

Public restroom tip: When the kids were too old to come in the stall with me, I started making them put a foot under my stall when we are in public restrooms.

Public bathroom safety with kids

END OF THE DAY

If you don’t get a pic by the Dollywood sign at the entrance, did you even go to Dollywood?!

Tip: wait until the end of the day when you’re exhausted, your feet are tired, and your hair is limp from the water rides to get your family pic. There won’t be a line!

Family picture at Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee

The park definitely cleared out towards late afternoon! This is when we did a little shopping in the Emporium. The kids received spending money from grandparents for the trip and had fun looking at all of the souvenirs. We even found a couple of things for my Dolly Parton-loving mother-in-law!

We were super impressed with the cleanliness of the park and the friendliness of the staff. This is a park we would visit again!

Let me know in the comments what ride you would want to ride first!

Related posts you might like:

A Mom’s (or Dad’s) Theme Park Bag Essentials

Seeing the USA, One Road Trip at a Time

A Quick Guide to Silver Dollar City

Managing Great Wolf Lodge with Three Kids

Mandi

3 Replies to “A Day at Dollywood Theme Park”

  1. I was so excited to see this post! We are going in June and this will be really helpful. We are going with a big group and have “kids” of all ages (65 to 1) so I’m sure we will have to split up. Do you know if Dollywood has the same line policy for families with littles who want to ride the roller coasters? Where you all wait in line together and then one parent rides first while the other waits with kids and then you swap without having to wait in line again.

    1. So glad this post was helpful for you, Tara! Yes, Dollywood has a Parent Swap program! Your whole party will go through the line and when you get to the front, let the ride’s staff member know you want to do Parent Swap. One parent/adult will ride with the kids who meet the height requirement while the other parent waits with the child(ren) who aren’t yet tall enough. Then, they’ll let the parents swap! I hope y’all have so much fun on your trip. 🙂

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About the Author

Hey there & welcome! I’m Mandi – wifey to my college sweetheart, mom to three crazy cute kiddos, and we are an American/Australian dual citizen family.  You’re in the right place of the blogging world if you love your kids, but also want to be encouraged to travel kid-free once in a while. I share about our luxury travels (kid-free & family), our love for healthy foods, and how we stay mentally/physically/emotionally well.

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