No We went during a busy time for Fall break in October. All the information I’m going to share with you should pertain to other seasons, but I will be sharing more details about going during this time to help you plan your trip.
As always, anything that I put on my blog is from my own experience and I’m coming from a place in my heart to genuinely help you and your family have a successful and fun time! Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You pay no more when you click and purchase from those links and I earn a small fraction of your purchases to pay for this blog. Every item that I share is something that I found on my own and I am never solicited to share those with you. I aim to keep this blog ad free so everyone can benefit from this information without having those pesky pop up commercials.
As of this post, Dollywood offers you a deal on tickets where you can buy two day tickets OR buy one day tickets with fast passes for the same price. You could also go two days with fast passes for both days and it would be less than Disney. For our family though, buying tickets for two days without the fast pass worked for us.
First, go online and prepay for the Preferred Parking. It is very close to the park and you get to use a special entrance with less people. It’s only $10 more. This will save you time and frustration. The trams were packed with thousands of people in line trying to get on them when we passed. Avoid that hot mess bc you can. Take a photo of your parking pass to show the attendant. It’s super easy.
Dollywood has a no outside food policy. The thing is, there is currently a shortage of staff, making every food line about 90 minutes long according to current times given by various guests on Reddit and reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, & what I saw with my own eyes.
I made the usual PB&J sandwiches for my kids and packed our protein shakes. We also packed prosciutto, cheese, apples, chips, humus, cookies, protein bars, and ice cold lemon water. We got the lemon water for free at our awesome free hotel. Read on for that!
I highly recommend this backpack we bought on Amazon for a steep discount using Rebates Key. I have another post dedicated to that website but I can share it on here too. First here is the backpack:
Here is the Rebates Key link. It’s free and you don’t have to review anything.
Now you’re wondering, how did we sneak our food in? When we went through security, they only opened the top zipper. The bottom contained the ice packs and cold food and the items that didn’t need to be chilled, (such as chips, cookies, & protein bars) I simply wrapped them inside a change of clothes and had them in a gallon sized ziplock bag.
I can attest that everything stayed cold and this backpack was comfortable when we did wear it.
This not only saved our wallet some serious money, but it saved our stomachs from getting overwhelmed with theme park food, and it saved us at least 60 minutes per meal. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to wait in the hot sun for an hour or more to just get a hot dog or warm day old turkey sandwiches for $15 each.
If you don’t want to break any rules you could leave your food in your car and come out for a picnic. This still would save you time and aggravation.
You gotta have energy to take small kids to any theme park. I use these drinks everyday but especially need them to get through theme parks with my kids. The one on your left has caffeine and vitamins and is like Advocare Spark. The one on your right has amino acids and electrolytes with no caffeine. This will help you to stay hydrated snd keep your muscles fed to stop fatigue and later on muscle cramps. Here are the links:
Here is the energy drink:
Here is the amino acid drink:
These can be easily mixed with water on the go or you can do what I do…just pour a scoop into my mouth and chase it with water. 😂 They’re light weight and easy to bring with you anywhere you go!
If you want more in depth info on these check out my Need More Energy post.
Where to stay?
In my Staycations post I shared how we got the Marriott credit card to use points to stay at the Opryland Hotel for free and frequent Sound Waves. I had no idea how we would then use those points to have a free three day vacation in Pigeon Forge. Here is the link to that card with an added bonus of a free night for you!
The Courtyard Marriott in Pigeon Forge was everything we needed to enjoy Dollywood. The rooms were huge with balconies overlooking the mountains and the amenities were incredible. Here is the exact link for the hotel. They have very good reviews, so you don’t have to take just my word for it.
There is a restaurant on site that had meals at $15 or less for adults and $5 for kids that were delicious and reasonably healthy. After a big day at the parks we aren’t the kind of family who enjoy going out to restaurants, (getting dressed to go out, driving there, finding a parking space, waiting on seating, then waiting on food, the eventual meltdowns that come with small kids and/or autism….need I say more?) so we would order in dinner and eat outside at the hotel. Here is the link to the menu:
If you’re a big foodie there are many restaurants around that you could order delivery or take out from.
Also there is a Kroger less than a 5 minute drive away. You can load up on your grocery needs easily and quickly for your meals.
On average it took us no more than 20 minutes with traffic (10 minutes with no traffic) to get to Dollywood from our hotel, making it easy to go between the two.
Plan on leaving the park to take a mid day break for your family’s mental health
Having two small kids in tow changes everything. Add in that two of us have autism and are prone to overstimulation… then that changes things too. Find out what works for your family, this is what works for us and if you’re in a similar situation it may work for you also!
For our family, taking breaks has become key to our sanity and overall enjoyment of our theme park holidays. Splashing around in the pool/river, hot tubbing while soaking in the sun, napping, and/or watching a TV show during the hottest part of the day has become our secret to successful theme park vacays with our kids. My husband and I also switch off with the kids so we can each have alone time.
We left Dollywood at 12:30 and then were at our hotel before 1. We returned to Dollywood at about 4pm and were able to miss rush hour traffic going back there.
How to navigate Dollywood with little kids
First you need to prepare with the right equipment and game plan.
First, bring your double stroller if you have more than one child. The crowds are insane and expecting your kids to walk so much is going to lead to problems. I’m not saying they shouldn’t walk at all, because when they do walk, you now have extra space to store your items. Here is a link to a similar model to ours. They not only work so well but they retain most of their value so you should be able to sell it for 50% of what you paid for it.
Before you go to the park watch some YouTube videos of the rides. Dollywood has a strict no camera policy on most of their rides which flabbergasted me as I was told to remove my GoPro harness even! So this is why you can’t see the rider POV videos. Watch what you can with your kids to see what they like, then make a list of those rides. I will be sharing links to our videos as soon as I have them made.
Here is a video of us walking around looking at the evening Halloween decor:
Then you should download the Dollywood app. It shows you a map of the park plus the waiting times for most rides and the height requirements. Some rides don’t have waiting times-just letting you know.
Yes I said it-bubble wands. If your kids are like mine then they will beg you for overpriced ones that you could buy at any Walmart, outlet, or Target for 50% less. It’s not just the money spent, it’s the time waiting in another long line to buy something. Bringing my kids’ bubble wands also gives them something fun to play with while waiting in lines, or walking through the park, plus it brings joy to other children who love the bubbles flying by.
You can also buy glow sticks at the Dollar Tree to enhance your kids’ fun at the parks.
I use these rechargeable fans for every trip we take and I’ve had them now for three years and they’re still going strong! They not only keep your kids cool but they make the perfect natural bug repellent for your meals. There were bees at Dollywood this time of year and I am allergic, so I like having these running to keep the bees off of our food and our bodies. I suggest buying two at $10 each. Here is the link:
Speaking of fans, I used these more at Disney World but if you’re prone to getting hot in 80 degree sunny weather then these will come in handy for you. I also like to use these at the zoo or other places when it’s very hot. Here is the link:
When you’re theme parking you will be using up your phone to use the app or to take photos/videos. Take a charger with you! I’ve used this one to charge our GoPro, phones, and fans (when I forgot to charge the night before) on the go. Here is the link:
When to arrive?
So we tried two different ways to arrive. The first time involved sleeping in and arriving 20 minutes after the park’s opening. The roads were full of cars and it took a long time to get through parking even with a prepaid pass. By the time we got to the bigger rides the lines were 60 minutes plus for wait times except for the Eagle rollercoaster which we were able to do the Baby Swap with. These lines never went below 45 minutes the whole day and evening. This one mistake of sleeping in really messed with our whole day. If you do find yourself in this situation then here is my best advice: go immediately to the right of the park to the Country Fair area with little kiddie rides. The lines will still be lighter there and trust me, you’ll be happy to only wait 5-10 minutes for the carnival rides your kids will love rather than get there later and have to wait 30 minutes to ride a basic carnival ride.
The second day we arrived at 9:30 before the park opened. We were able to go up the left side on the small path where guests were allowed up to a certain point until the park’s official opening. By doing this we were able to ride the bigger coasters and were done with our list of must do’s by 12:30. Oh that also includes an hour and twenty minutes of indoor playground time. Be like us on the second day.
Which rides should I ride first?
If you get there early and through security and into the park before 10am then I suggest that you go immediately to the small path on the left and walk past the mine rollercoaster and go to the Fire Chaser ride.
This ride always had a wait time of 60-80 minutes. We didn’t get to ride it our first day so we went first thing our second day.
Then we hit the Mystery Mine with the baby swap and the DragonFly ride because they both have long wait times once the day gets going.
How to wait less time in line
The staff is not trained for efficiency. There is no single rider line either. If you’re doing baby swap as a single rider then let the ride operators know. Keep your eye out for empty seats. I saw several coasters with empty seats pass me by before I got assertive and spoke up. I put my one finger in the air and called out to the ride operators that I was a single rider. This saved me on average 15 minutes per ride. Having your finger in the air gives them a visual clue too.
This is hard to navigate at Dollywood. For example I was waiting in line for the Screaming Eagle while my husband was at the playground with the kids. I told the ride operator who directs riders to the left or right that I was doing Baby Swap. He told me he needed to see my kids. No way was my husband going to carry our 3 year old son with autism up that long flight of stairs with our 7 year old in tow leaving our stroller unattended with our valuables to watch me wait in line. At Disney World there’s a Baby Swap person at the entrance of the ride and that makes sense to me. But considering I didn’t see a staff member until I had already waited 20 minutes in line, having them go into the line with me is not an option.
I even asked the operator, what did he think I had to gain from this? Did he think it was more fun for me to ride alone or with my husband? He seemed stumped. He said he never thought about it that way.
My kids were being entertained while I waited in line alone. After I rode I found my husband at the playground (there is one by the Fire Chaser ride across from the Screaming Eagle) and sent him to the employee to do the Baby Swap. He just said he’s the husband of the blue haired woman and it worked out.