I grew up going to different theme parks. My husband and I have gone to some theme parks as a couple. Until recently, however, we have never taken the theme park leap with our three children. Usually we visit a local attraction or we go to a hands on science museum.
Dollywood was gracious enough to give me 2 adult tickets ($62 + tax, each) to visit the Theme Park. My husband and I have wanted to go to Dollywood for some time. With these tickets, and three more that we purchased, we became “theme park parents”. I have many friends who tell me how great Dollywood is, but I needed to see for myself if it really does live up to its reputation.
Is Dollywood really as family friendly as it claims to be?The kids were excited as we parked in section C. “C is for Cotton Candy, mom,” my daughter informed me. “That’s so we’ll remember where we parked!” explained RB.
We hopped on the tram around 10:00am. We received our tickets and paid for the kids ($49 + tax, each). Once we entered the theme park, we found the area where the kids could be measured for rides. RB and Sweet Cheeks could ride all the rides and Sunshine was given an arm band with a specific color telling us which rides she could experience. Then we were off! We went to Owens Park because RB wanted to see the Grist Mill. It smelled SOOOO good!! Fresh bread. No more words needed. (And the cookies were HUGE!)
Here’s a drawback to theme parks in general…if a person doesn’t like heights, then the types of activities one can do are limited. Since I know my son does not like heights, I wanted to figure out how adventuresome he’d be.
I led everyone to the log flume. Tame, right?
I love log flumes.
Not everyone in the family did. And at this point I knew roller coasters and anything way high were no-go’s. Which is actually ok with me.
I’m grateful that Dollywood is not all rides because we would have had a very short day.
We walked through Craftsman’s Valley and found candle makers, glass blowers, blacksmiths, sculptors, wood carvers, and more. The children were able to watch the artists as they created and ask questions.Then we found the bald eagle. Actually, we found a bird show. Eagle Mountain Sanctuary was a zoology lesson as falcons and eagles were presented to us. My husband got to be vulture food and my kids got to give a bird dollar bills as it placed the money in a donation box. The presenters were knowledgeable about the birds and the presentation was interesting and exciting. Dollywood is headquarters for the not-for-profit American Eagle Foundation which promotes the preservation of the bald eagle and has created an aviary where people can watch the birds up close. Baby eaglets have been hatched and raised here and let out into the wild. Did you know that bald eagles are officially OFF of the endangered species list?
After this, we walked down the other side of Craftman’s Valley and we stopped in to see the chapel, which holds services on Sunday mornings. While inside we, as a family, sang a verse of “He Wrote My Name,” which seemed to fit the environment. (No one was around to hear us, but the Lord!)
We entered The Village area and found the train and the time for the magic show. RB is into magic performances, so I wanted to be sure to not miss that. While were were waiting, we decided to eat lunch…..
I had been warned that food would be expensive. I didn’t doubt it. All theme parks have high prices for food. Because of this, we packed a back pack that held snacks and bottled water. I figured we’d eat snacks throughout the day and only buy one meal in the park.
We went to Victoria’s Pizza. I thought we’d be able to each get either a large slice of pizza, or a personal pan, or even a large pizza to share.
We ordered 3 kid’s meals, which seemed like a good deal until I saw what the food worker did. She gave each kid HALF of a personal pan pizza (which was about the size of the bottom of a paper plate), a small bag of apples and a small drink…and this cost $8.00 per child. My husband and I each bought a personal pizza…NO drink. Those cost $8.00 each as well. So we paid about $40.00 for lunch. I’m ok paying $40 for a meal for the 5 of us IF there is food to go with the money.
I also want to mention that we chose to not pay $5 per kid to dip candles in colored wax. Nor did we pay $15 for a bag of soil to mine for gems.
We ate lunch quickly because we did not want to miss the magic show. We hustled over to get a seat and the show began. The performer began by telling us that he was going to do practical jokes on the people coming off the train. What started out as a cute, funny joke turned into 10 minutes of heckling the train passengers. I began to feel sorry for the people and had almost determined not to ride on the train myself because I didn’t want to be the object of a joke. Then the magician began to do some simple tricks and push 2-3 products from the magic store next door. After about 15 minutes we left feeling like we’d watched an infomercial.
That was disappointing.
We went into the Country Fair area where the rides are aimed more for little children. We tried out Demolition Derby, Sideshow Spin, and The Waltzing Swinger. (I did this one for my girls and tried very hard to not get sick! But they loved it!) We walked through the mid-way section. Most of the games were 2$-3$, but we passed by a fishing game that was $5 for one person to play. Oh my!!I feel much better about our $7 donation to the American Eagle Foundation.
The train was disembarking again, so we decided to go for a train ride. I’m so glad we did! While waiting to go Dolly’s voice came over the speaker singing, “Victory in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” and later she sang, “Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”
I was impressed.
We happened to have spirited people sitting behind us, and we all quietly joined in singing together as we waited for the train to move. The train looped around the theme park and then traveled back to the station. It was nice to relax and see the gorgeous colors of the fall trees.
We knew the magician would be heckling the people, so we quietly began to warn the people around us preparing them for what was ahead. Maybe that was taking the fun out of the jokes, but at least a few people didn’t feel laughed at as we walked out of the train area.
We were beginning to run out of time, so we walked to Jukebox Junction in the Rivertown Junction area. Sweet Cheeks absolutely LOVED driving the car! She had gotten stuck while doing the bumper cars at the Demolition Derby, so this ride allowed her to be successful. That made my heart glad.
We wanted to ride on the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, but we had to meet people for dinner and didn’t want to get wet again. (Log flume consequences!)
And so our trip to Dollywood ended. We did not get to travel to Timber Canyon or Wilderness Pass. There were many more shows that we wanted to see, but couldn’t get to in time or they were later in the day when we had to leave.
What’s the answer to my original question? Is Dollywood really as family friendly as it claims to be?
My answer is yes, in many ways Dollywood is family friendly, but in some other ways, maybe not so much.
Evidence for YES:
- I loved the music that was piped all throughout the park. There were concerts going on in open area theaters every now and then. I didn’t have to worry about offensive music hitting my kids’ ears.
- I appreciated that there were rides for little kids who were not old enough to ride the big rides.
- I loved the log flume and it was fun to share a joy of thrill rides with my kids for the first time. Dollywood is all about making family memories!!
- Dollywood encourages education through physics and natural sciences. They even offer free lunches to students who come on field trips to the park during the week!
- The park has plenty of restrooms and they are easily found.
- Strollers were everywhere and the walkways were wide enough to accommodate movement.
- I LOVED the fact that so many of the artisans and ride workers were of an older generation. My kids were exposed to different people showcasing different skills and talents.
- GREAT Homeschooling lessons can take place including: map skills, money management, art, music, reading, social skills, and history.
- You can go to Dollywoodapps.com and download a park map to put on your phone.
- While we only had time to see two of the shows, ALL of the shows are appropriate for all ages. And during October, many of the shows include gospel music.
Evidence for No:
- Most of the rides allowed for only 2 people per seat. We have 2 adults and 3 kids, so seating became creative at times. I’m not sure what can be done about that, but it was a problem at times.
- Prices were really high. We probably would have spent more money if either ticket prices were lower, or the activity prices were lower. (Including food!) An economist would say that a business should charge as much as the market will bear. If Dollywood did not have high prices, then it would be over crowded. So, maybe I should not complain about the prices. I paid some of them. However, the prices inside the park left me feeling disappointed with the park.
- I did not like the heckling of the magician and showing my kids that laughing at the expense of others is ok to do. Jokes are fun if all parties involved are enjoying the laughter.
Family Tips for Visiting Dollywood:
- If I go back to Dollywood, I do not want to go back on a weekend. It was too crowded. Other guests said riding rides was quick on Friday, but not on Saturday. One of the great things about being a homeschool family is that we can do trips like this during the week. So if a church, or homeschool co-op, wanted to take a field trip during the week, the crowds should be smaller.
- There is no way to see the entire theme park in one day. If you go to the park after 3:00pm, then you can come to the park the entire next day as well!
- If you enjoy the park, and you will visit at least 2 times per year, then consider buying season passes. And for an extra $39 you get free parking and 20% off food prices. On this trip, if we wanted to upgrade we could have and it would be good through the end of the year. If we had waited until November to come to the park, we were told we could have gotten a season pass through the rest of 2015 and all of 2016.
- When you enter the theme park, you will see huge cups everywhere. If you buy that cup, then for $1 you can get refills throughout your stay and through the year. We did not need $1 refills, so we did well not to buy it. We brought in our own water.
- If you aren’t willing to pay the food prices, then I suggest bringing a cooler of food to leave in your car. You can leave the park and reenter with your tickets.
Personal Recommendation for Dollywood:
I enjoyed Dollywood! My family enjoyed Dollywood. I’ll let them tell you:
RB: “My favorite thing was the bumper cars. Not the log flume – that was scary!”
Sweet Cheeks: “I want to do the Farris wheel. My favorite thing was the bird show and seeing Victory!” (the golden eagle)
Sunshine: “My favorite was riding on those things together – the swings, roller coaster.” (What about the log flume?) “That was scary, but I still liked it!”
Whether you are looking for a 2 day (or more) vacation, a simple field trip, or church trip, consider going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. There are 4 options. There is the Dollywood Theme Park, Splash Country Water Park, Dollywood DreamMore Resort, and the Dollywood Cabins.