There’s a reason they never booked Sugar Ray Leonard to fight Mike Tyson. In boxing, weight class matters.
Out here in the real world of the tourism business, where everybody is competing for your vacation dollars? It’s a little different.
In the Smokies, mom and pops and giant conglomerates are all competing for the same dollars in your wallet – or more accurately in your bank account.
If you spend $100 at the Salt and Pepper Museum, that’s money that’s not going to go to Paula Deen or Jimmy Buffet.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Soda Popinski or Mike Tyson – you’ve got to get in the ring and try to survive.
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But should you care about that? Should you base your vacation spending on weight class, making sure the small and weird and different survive?
You’ve got to spend those hard-earned vacation dollars you saved for your trip to Tennessee on the things that will mean the most to you and your family, the memories you can create that will last you and the kids – if you have them – a lifetime.
Sure, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is free, unless you want to park in it, but basically, everything else is gonna cost you.
And so when it comes time to decide which Sevier County theme park you want to spend your money at, Dollywood or Anakeesta, it’s best to break it down by category.
It turns out that all’s fair in love and war and tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Let’s go to the tale of the tape:
7. The history of Anakeesta vs Dollywood
Dollywood is a world-famous attraction in Pigeon Forge.
In the mid-80s, Sevier County native, country music superstar, living legend and queen Dolly Parton partnered with the owners of Silver Dollar City, a somewhat chintzy little theme park that started life as Rebel Railroad.
In the years since Dolly came on board, the former cheesy tourist attraction has become one of the premier amusement parks in the country. It has great rides, good entertainment and is judiciously growing. It is in all a measure a marvel of business success.
Anakeesta, on the other hand, popped up seemingly out of nowhere a few years ago, very well financed on top of a mountain behind the Arrowmont School in downtown Gatlinburg.
Billing itself as Gatlinburg’s theme park, it apparently put a significant dent in Ober Mountain’s business (previously known as Ober Gatlinburg). But compared to Dollywood, it’s the little engine that could.
6. Anakeesta vs Dollywood: The rides
Dollywood has some of the best roller coasters in the region. It has rides for little kids, big kids and adventure lovers of all kinds.
Anakeesta’s best competition is the chondola, mountain coaster and zipline. The chondola is basically the ski lift up and down the mountain, which is included in the price of your ticket. The zipline and mountain coaster are extra.
The dueling zipline adventure legitimately offers something Dollywood doesn’t. But you have to pay about $60 extra to do it.
Coming down the mountain at night on Anakeesta’s chair lift when it’s dark and a little quiet and there’s a nip in the air, it’s absolutely amazing.
But so is Dollywood’s Lightning Rod, which is consistently named one of the best coasters in North America.
Frankly, it’s hard to compete with Dollywood in the rides category.
5. Which park offers the best view?
Anakeesta was built high on a mountain overlooking the park and the city of Gatlinburg. Therefore, the views from the summit of Anakeesta itself are stunning. And then they added the AnaVista tower which gets you up even higher.
Dollywood doesn’t have much in the way of sweeping views. You get a few from the train ride or up on some of the coasters, but nothing as majestic as what you get at the top of Anakeesta mountain.
4. Which park offers the best value?
Look, on the surface, Anakeesta is cheaper. It costs less to get into the park. But once you get into the park, there’s not nearly as much to do. The rail runner mountain coaster costs more as does the zip line. Even gem mining is an add-on, as is the spectacular Astra Lumina light show.
There are only so many times you can walk on the Treetop Skywalk or visit the Vista Gardens.
In fairness, Anakeesta is expanding and growing and doing exceptionally well, it’s just going up against the 600-pound gorilla of Sevier County tourism.
Dollywood costs a lot more to get in, but there are many more things you can do without having to pay more.
3. Which park offers the best food and dining?
Dollywood is full of good restaurants, fine Southern options and a variety of places to eat.
Anakeesta has Cliff Top, a seriously good restaurant with great food, access to a full bar and some of the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life.
The menu includes steaks, burgers and more. The local craft beer and bar are just icing on the cake.
It’s a bit of a bummer to pay a $35 general admission ticket just to go up to the top and eat, but if you want the better dining experience, Anakeesta, which also has the Smokehouse and the Kephart Cafe, wins.
2. Which park offers the best shops?
Anakeesta has a variety of little shops in the Black Bear Village with a nice selection of items.
Dollywood has more stores as well as Craftsman’s Village where you can get authentically crafted mountain goods.
1. Which park has the best chance to see a celebrity?
Does Dolly ever show up at Anakeesta? Well, maybe she’d visit incognito, but probably not. Does she visit Dollywood? Sometimes she does!
And sometimes mid-level country stars sing at Dollywood and sometimes she brings Jimmy Fallon to film a Christmas special in June. I deducted a point for Fallon, but Dolly still wins easily.
Look, from the start we knew what this was going to be.
I love Anakeesta, which is a great little spot on top of a mountain in Gatlinburg. It’s fun with good food and atmosphere and it’s growing. It’s genuinely one of my favorite places in the Smokies.
But it’s not Dollywood. And that’s OK. There is room in Sevier County for both to thrive.
But if you find yourselves on vacation on the shores of the Pigeon River and you HAVE to choose one or the other, Dollywood simply offers more.
Hopefully, this guide can help you determine which is best for you.
What do you think? Dollywood or Anakeesta? Let us know in the comments!