3 Surprising Things I Learned From My First Time at Dollywood

entrance sign to dollywood at dusk in pigeon forge, tennessee

Dollywood can have a lot of surprises during your first visit (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Now I live in the Smokies. But my first trip to Dolly Parton’s theme park surprised me

My first visit to Gatlinburg was in 2011. With every trip, my family and I always vowed to go to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. However, we would change our minds, or something would happen causing us to put it to the side yet again. When we finally made it there, I discovered that no amount of research and watching videos can really prepare you for your first time at Dollywood. So, with that in mind, here are three things that I didn’t expect on my first visit:

Dollywood was new to me until recently, and so my family and I learned a few things from our first time there. First, the food was as good as we had hoped. There are many different delicious Southern foods to choose from. While it is a theme park, we expected expensive prices for many souvenir items, but we were pleasantly surprised. Finally, the entertainers and performers were all very talented and well worth the price of admission.

cinnamon bread at dollywood
Dollywood is known for its authentic grist mill cinnamon bread (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. The food is very good

Yes, the hype is real. I can say without a doubt, the food lived up to expectations. Even though we didn’t sink our teeth into some regional Southern favorites for lunch, what we did have was delightfully delicious. My wife and son each ordered chicken fingers and fries from a local food truck, and they both agreed on the great quality of it. Despite their reservations for crinkle-cut fries, they devoured them, relishing the dusting of seasoning, along with the hand-breaded, tender chicken. I opted for the Klondike Katie Flatbread at Iron Horse Pizza. I loved the cracker-thin crust, which held up nicely under the cheese, sauce, pepperoni, sausage and bacon.

There were other food items we bought that we’d planned to purchase before we arrived. And yes, the cinnamon bread is one, and it’s every bit as delectable as everyone says. You likely will think it’s the best you ever had. The pork rinds also were a nice savory option that had our stamp of approval.

General Store T-Shirts Dollywood
The merchandise at Dollywood is reasonably priced when compared to other theme parks (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. The prices inside aren’t as bad as we thought

I think comparing Dollywood to Disney isn’t fair. But at Dollywood, prices for merchandise, food and drinks are typically less than at Disney. Fountain drinks and even bottled varieties are reasonable and easily under $5. For example, I paid $12 for my large flatbread pizza, and my wife and son paid $13 each for their hand-breaded chicken and well-seasoned fries. Souvenir T-shirts are between $20 and $30, which is pretty standard. There isn’t anything too extravagant, compared to what you can find anywhere else. So all things considered, for a theme park like Dollywood, I don’t think you’re getting squeezed in the least.

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain String Band
The Mountain String Band is a long-time favorite at the Dollywood theme park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. There are numerous entertainment options

Even though I had researched, we weren’t prepared for the amount of shows and live musical performers all around Dollywood. The Tones, for instance, are an amazing 5-piece acapella act. Forever Country was a nice listen as we ordered our cinnamon bread. Also, the Smoky Mountain String Band with a new female mandolin player was a very cohesive group. We simply ran out of time, otherwise we wouldn’t have hesitated to watch the remaining talent perform in the theme park.

Additionally, the Wings of America Birds of Prey is a much too short 20-minute learning and viewing session. There, you can see a vulture, a one-eyed Peregrine Falcon, a hawk and two small owls. Overall, the entertainment value was dazzling, and we can’t wait to see what we missed on our next visit! So this goes without saying, our first time at Dollywood was a pleasant surprise. My wife, son and I enjoyed it even more than we expected. We are already planning another visit sometime soon!

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