Dollywood with Little Kids
Everything you need to know for a day (or two) at this world class amusement park nestled in the Smoky Mountains.
No visit to the Great Smoky Mountains would be complete without a visit to Dollywood. Dollywood takes the amusement park and makes it feel down right homey. During our day at the park we found ourselves relaxing in rocking chairs, enjoying exceptional music, riding a steam train and being fully immersed in the picturesque Appalachian lifestyle peddled by the park.
We’ve visited amusement parks around the globe, despite not being big ride people. (I shouldn’t include Jeff in this as he loves a good rollercoaster. I am thinking our Little Little is going to love them too!) Amusement parks are a great way to really get a sense of a region’s people and their culture. Dollywood is no exception. Here you find music on display in every aspect of the park, the perfect storytelling device for Dolly Parton’s park.
We arrived by car to Dollywood. The parking lot is vast, but there is a tram that runs to the park from the parking lot. The tram runs frequently so park near the tram stop and just hop on. The tram has plenty of space for strollers.
As you come through the ticket gate make sure you let the ticket taker know you are celebrating something and they will get you a button to wear. Our Middle Little tends to be shy, but loved wearing his birthday button. The woman taking tickets got down and spoke to him so gently he was smiling from ear to ear.
Once you are in the gates head to the left to get your littles measured for the rides. They will each get a colored wristband that will prevent you from wasting time in line on rides they can’t ride. We had a bit of trouble measuring our Little Little and went without a band for him. Instead, we measured him at each ride. It is certainly less convenient.
What to Eat
There is no shortage of food options at Dollywood.
No visit to Dollywood would be complete without some Cinnamon Bread. We planned this as our mid-morning snack. We got two loaves for the five of us and sat in the nearby rocking chairs, which are in the shade. Yummy! This stuff is gooey and sweet and perfect for a little pick-me-up.
The Cinnamon Bread is made fresh and can be found at the Grist Mill. There are actually sales counters both upstairs and downstairs – but nobody knows that! When we were there the line downstairs was out the door, but there was no one upstairs. Just make sure you check both.
The plan for Lunch was Red’s Dinner, which serves burgers and fries in a diner setting. The line however was so very long. We could see people not only waiting to order but also waiting to get their food.
Instead we walked over to the Front Porch Cafe and waited only 15 min for a full service meal. The down home meal options were fresh and perfect for keeping us full the rest of the day. Jeff ordered a salad with chicken, I had a club sandwich, the Big Little had a hamburger and the Middle and Little split some chicken fingers. We ended up with too many fries, but other than that it was plenty of food.
The Front Porch Cafe has high chairs, easily accessible bathrooms and changing stations. It is also air conditioned.
Little Kid Rides – Country Fair
There is no shortage of fun things to do at Dollywood, but the park is huge. We consulted with a staff member about our plan for the day. Even after spending all day in the park and hardly waiting in line we still didn’t get a chance to see the whole place.
We started our day at Country Fair. This area of the park is aimed at little kids and is packed full of little rides your little ones are sure to enjoy. Even our more adventurous Big Little (age 7) was happy here.
The Big Little and Dad ran right toward Sky Rider. They loved starting the day by flying above the park.
Then we hit up the trio of small kiddie rides – Lucky Duck, Buzzy Bees, and Piggie Parade. Each of these rides was operated by an older worker who talked to the kids while they rode. My kids were entranced and I was tickled.
These are precisely the type of rides the kids used to enjoy in Delft when the fair would set up in the town square. The bright colors and atmosphere make these rides inviting for the Littles.
The Big Little and I also hopped right onto the Shooting Star, which is one of my favorite rides. It’s thrilling and tame at the same time!
We worked our way over to the Village Carousel, with its variety of animals. The Middle Little even found a piggy to ride on!
Our Favorite Ride
Our favorite ride though was the Rockin’ Roadway. Our kids love to drive, so “kids get to drive” rides always rank near the top for us. Dollywood’s Rockin’ Roadway is the best we’ve seen.
Cars stop and go automatically, so you don’t have to worry about any crashes or keeping your foot on the pedal. Yet, the kids really steer so you can bump that rail over and over. They have booster seats for the little ones and fuzzy dice to add to your ride.
As soon as you pull away from the garage (where you load) music blares in each car, so you can dance and drive your way through the ride. The passenger’s seat is equipped with a horn that is fun to honk as you pass through tunnels and over other cars.
Brand New – Wildwood Grove
Wildwood Grove had just opened a few days before our visit. This is a new expansion to the park that includes something for everyone. The crowds were the thickest here, but the new area offers plenty of attractions so we still hardly waited in line. The area’s new plantings have not filled out the way they have throughout the other parts of the park, so you can tell the area is new. Still, this area boasted some of our favorites.
Frogs and Fireflies looks like just another kiddy ride that goes round and round, but it was way more fun than I anticipated. These frogs jump their way around the fireflies. Each jump is a different height which is sure to leave you laughing as you bounce around.
The whole group was in stitches! I could hear the boys laughing behind me the whole time.
We also took a turn on Black Bear Trail, where you board the back of a little bear who makes his way around a raised track, bouncing up and down. We first saw this type of ride in Europe and I was amazed that we hadn’t seen them in the United States. These rides are great for kids. The Big and Middle rode alone, while I had to ride with the Little Little.
Wildwood grove is also home to some new meet and greets. My Big Little is always one for a cute photo, the other two however wanted to steer clear.
Two play areas in Wildwood Grove (one indoor and one outdoor) are also worth dedicating some time. The indoor one reminded us of the large climbing structures we found throughout Europe. The boys ran into it and we didn’t see them for half an hour as they clambered through obstacles and exited through slides. This area has only one entry point and tons of comfy seating with great views of the play structure – exactly what this mom needed.
The outdoor play area is water based and is perfect for a hot day. We didn’t spend a lot of time here as I wasn’t prepared for water play. If you’re visiting in the summer though this would be the perfect place for the whole family to cool off.
We also just had to try the Mad Mockingbird. (This ride turned out to be a bit too much for the Middle Little and me, but the other boys enjoyed it.) While these birds swing around you can use the handle on the front of the bird to maneuver your bird to swing out and in. The Big and Little littles loved maneuvering their own birds.
The Dollywood Express
The Dollywood Express is a real steam train that runs into the Smoky Mountains. Along the way you get a view of part of the park and get to listen to some great music. It runs hourly and is a must ride when you are here.
We piled onto the first ride of the day. The train was packed! I’m not sure if every train is packed, or just the first one, but I advise arriving early to catch the train.
Dollywood is full of so many things to see that you could easily spend a day without riding any rides at all. Many of the buildings from Dolly Parton’s life are on the property. You can go inside quite a few of them and get a sense of life in the Tennessee Mountains. There are also several museums with memorabilia from her recording career.
You won’t want to miss Heartsong, which is a multimedia presentation where Dolly Parton takes you on a journey through the seasons in her Smoky Mountains. We sat right up front and found ourselves in for quite a few surprises, from live music to being splashed. The kids were thrilled and even learned a thing or two.
There are so many amazing details that you are sure to enjoy and add to the pleasure of the park. There are also musical performances going on throughout the park. We stopped to take in a few and then went on our way as the kids’ attention span waned.
We also really enjoyed the glass blowing demonstration. The glass blowers were actively working on a glass fish and it was fascinating.
We watched as glass was melted and colored into just the right shape.
If you have older kids, you can actually make your own glass ornament, which is one of the coolest souvenir opportunities I have ever seen.
Throughout the park are small play areas that were a big draw for the kids. We could hardly walk without the kids finding somewhere to play or take a silly photo. I don’t even think they realized how much we walked.
We didn’t even get through the whole park, but since we missed nap, we headed home shortly before dinner time. (Dollywood closed at 7pm on the day of our visit.) There were still some rides the Littles were interested in, but we wanted to avoid meltdowns.
Departing the park was easy and Dollywood had plenty of trams on hand to bring people back to their cars. We walked out just as a new tram was pulling up. The tram driver made a few dad jokes as we drove along, ensuring that my kids were still laughing as we left the park.
The Big and Middle Little gave the park two thumbs up and added it to the list of places they want to go again. After seeing Dollywood and knowing how much I love waterparks it made me want to give Splash Country a try on our next visit.
If you have more days to spend in the Smoky Mountains you might consider getting a combo ticket for Dollywood and Splash Country for best value. We were out of time for our visit though and will have to come back to give it a try.
I don’t think you can go wrong with a day at Dollywood!