Attractions

Downtown Flavortown in Pigeon Forge: An honest review with menu, photos

Guy Fieri’s Downtown Flavortown, a new mixed-use entertainment venue, restaurant and bar is now open in Pigeon Forge.

But Downtown Flavortown isn’t just another Guy Fieri themed restaurant.

This 43,000-square-foot, 300-seat restaurant and entertainment center features food, state-of-the-art arcade games, a 14-lane duckpin bowling ally and a full premium bar.

Think of it along the same line as Dave and Busters, but Guy Fieri themed.

Who owns Downtown Flavortown?

The flagship attraction is owned and operated by FACE Amusement Group in partnership with Guy Fieri.

If FACE sounds familiar to locals, it’s because Downtown Flavortown is FACE amusement’s seventh establishment in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Additional properties include Arcade City, Rockin’ Raceway, Big Top Arcade and 7D Dark Ride Adventure. It also includes Chicken Guy Gatlinburg and Arcade City Gatlinburg, both of which opened in 2021. 

Inside the huge venue, an iconic 1968 Chevy Camaro is on display for a photo opportunity. There’s also a gift shop and several entertainment options to explore. Additionally, the entertainment center offers several options for private parties.

Read Also: Chicken Guy Gatlinburg is now open in downtown: A look inside

The arcade at downtown flavortown
The new Downtown Flavortown features over 10,000 square feet of state-of-the-art arcade games ranging from redemption to virtual reality (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

“This is the perfect pairing of a chef-focused restaurant with a family entertainment center, and a natural extension of our relationship with Guy Fieri and his team,” said Bucky Mabe, CEO of FACE.

“Only the ultimate explorer of all-American flavor could mash up this ridiculously exciting range of unexpected combinations that will be sure to turn a family night out into lifelong memories.”

Support for this project was provided by John Morgan, entrepreneur and owner of WonderWorks.

Read Also: What is the upside-down house in Pigeon Forge?

Spaghetti Waffle at Downtown Flavortown
Downtown Flavortown offers Guy Fieri’s famous culinary combinations which include this Spaghetti Meatball Waffle (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What does Flavortown mean?

First of all, Guy Fieri is an American restaurateur, author and award-winning television presenter from the Food Network.

He coined the name “Flavortown” after an off-the-cuff comment about a pizza that looked like a manhole cover.

That one-liner took off. Before he knew it, he had built an imaginary world in his own mind called “Flavortown”, frequently making jokes and references to the fictional land during his shows.

Eventually, he started referring to himself as “Mayor of Flavortown”.

The name would later become the inspiration for Flavortown Kitchen – a delivery-only restaurant concept with multiple locations across the United States and eventually, Downtown Flavortown in Pigeon Forge.

“No matter where you go in this great country, I can put ya on the road to Flavortown, real-deal food and good times, that’s what I’m all about. But there’s one experience that I’ve been saving for a special time and place.”

“I’m talking next level, go big or go home, the ultimate party … Scratch-made food, craft cocktails, tiki bar, bowling, gaming … you name it, we’re bringing it!” said Guy Fieri in a press release.

Trashcan nachos at Downtown Flavortown
The highly stacked Trash Can Nachos at Downtown Flavortown have melty cheese and a sweet BBQ flavor (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

What is on the menu at Downtown Flavortown?

Pigeon Forge visitors will undoubtedly get a unique dining experience at Downtown Flavortown.

Some of the worldwide bestsellers include a wide selection of sandwiches, burgers and waffles.

For starters, the famed chef offers Trash Can Nachos, served in a tin tower stuffed with corn tortilla chips, smoked pork, cheddar, black beans, jalapenos, sour cream, pickled red onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and bourbon brown sugar with Motley Que BBQ sauce.

Other famous starters include the Dragon’s Breath Chili Cheese Fries (crispy fries with chili, cheddar, sour cream, pico de gallo, crispy onions and bacon) and Cheeto Dusted Chicharrones (crispy chicharrones with cheddar cheese powder, sea salt, chopped bacon and crispy jalapenos).

Main menu items at Downtown Flavortown

For your main meal, Downtown Flavortown offers some huge burger creations, like the Bacon Mac ‘N’ Cheeseburger with crispy applewood bacon, SMC (short for Super Melty Cheese), lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle with crispy onions and a garlic butter brioche bun.

The Motley Que Pulled Pork sandwich has pulled pork shoulder, signature bourbon brown BBQ sauce, American slaw, pickle chips, aged cheddar, crispy onion straws and signature donkey sauce on a toasted pretzel bun.

This menu item was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”.

There are also creations here you won’t find anywhere else. For example, we tried the Spaghetti Meatball Waffle, which was certainly one of the most unique dishes we’ve ever had.

Downtown Flavortown offers an extensive selection of liquors and craft cocktails. Craft beers are also available at the full-service tropical Tiki Bar.

Be sure to try Guy’s Famous BBQ Bloody Mary, the Tattooed Mojito, the Caliente Margarita or Flavortown’s Long Island.

For the more adventurous, they offer Bubblin Bowls, which are made for parties of three or more to share.

Lastly, desserts include selections such as cheesecake and layered chocolate whiskey cake.

Chicken Avocado Flatbread at Downtown Flavortown
The Chicken Avocado Flatbread at Downtown Flavortown (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How is the food at Downtown Flavortown?

It’s different.

If you’re looking for a restaurant experience, there may be no better place than Downtown Flavortown.

If you’re a meat and potatoes kind of guy, it may not be your jam.

These culinary creations combine some pretty unique flavors. The BBQ is sweet. The marinara was a little spicy. The food combinations are something you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

For example, in case you skimmed over it, I just mentioned that I ate a waffle with spaghetti on top. Spaghetti. On a waffle. Actually, it was in the waffle.

Honestly? It wasn’t bad. Would I eat it again? Probably not.

Did it make for a good conversation piece? Absolutely.

One of our favorite items we ordered was probably the Chicken Avocado Flatbread. But if your goal in life is to combine Southern foods like shrimp and grits on top of a waffle, this is your place.

The bowling ally
The impressive 43,000-square-foot family entertainment center has a 14-lane duck pin bowling alley (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

Where is Guy Fieri in Pigeon Forge?

Downtown Flavortown in Pigeon Forge opened on March 8, 2022.

It is located at 2655 Teaster Lane, Suite 100 in Pigeon Forge, TN 37863 at the Mountain Mile shopping complex.

Finally, what do you think about Guy Fieri’s local stamp on the area? Have you tried Downtown Flavortown?

Let us know in the comments below.

View the web story version of this article here.

Is the Gatlinburg aquarium worth it? A review of Ripley’s with coupons

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is one of the crown jewel attractions in Gatlinburg, Tenn., featuring over 350 species of aquatic life in its massive facility.

But when you’re planning out your precious vacation dollars, budget and time, a question commonly comes up: Is the Gatlinburg aquarium worth it?

While “worth” is different for different people, we believe this review will help you determine if an aquarium visit is right for you and your family.

Let’s start with the basics.

A diver at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg
Visitors might see live dive shows inside the tanks at Ripley’s (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How much does it cost to get into the Gatlinburg aquarium?

At the time of this writing, an adult ticket (12 and up) is $39.99. Children (6-11) cost $24.99 and children (2-5) cost $9.99.

Didn’t see the price of admission for toddlers? That’s because children under age two are free!

Now, shelling out (turtle jokes) $40 on an aquarium ticket might seem a little steep.

But, for comparison sake, I looked at two nearby competitors: The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Chattanooga currently costs $34.95 for adults and $21.95 for children.

The Georgia Aquarium is $39.95 for everyone except for children under 2.

So, Ripley’s is actually quite affordable when you compare.

For example, let’s say you have a family of four with two kids between the ages of 3-10.

A day at the Georgia Aquarium would cost roughly $160 (pre-tax). A day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga would cost about $114, and a day at Ripley’s would cost about $130.

However, if your children are younger than five, it would make Ripley’s the most affordable option of its competitors.

But here’s where the vacation math really gets exciting. If you get combo tickets with Ripley’s, you can save up to $30 per person when you visit two other Ripley’s attractions, or up to $40 per ticket if you visit three other Ripley’s attractions.

In my opinion, this makes Ripley’s the best deal of the three.

Ripley's interactive elements on the inside of the aquarium
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has several interactive areas for the younger members of the family (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How long does it take to go through Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg?

Google says that most people spend an average of about 2.5 hours here. However, I can easily spend about half my day exploring the aquarium.

Honestly, if you stop to read everything, do everything, touch everything, you could easily spend several hours here.

To me, the longer I stay at an attraction, the further my vacation dollar goes. Aquariums are a place to slow down and appreciate the wonders of aquatic life.

Could you speed walk through it and see it in less than two hours? Probably. But you might just be missing that one giant fish in that one tank.

Read Also: Is Anakeesta worth the money? An honest review

A penguin at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
The Penguin Playhouse is one of the best areas to explore at the Gatlinburg aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium)

Is it cheaper to buy Ripley’s Aquarium tickets online?

There are clear advantages to buying your tickets online before you go.

The first of which is that you can skip the line upon arrival, saving valuable vacation time.

And if you are interested in seeing any other Ripley’s attractions, or playing some mini-golf in the area, you can save even more by bundling your tickets with some of the other attractions.

The more you buy, the more you save per attraction.

And it’s worth noting that Gatlinburg has more Ripley’s attractions than anywhere else in the world.

The other attractions may not be quite as popular as the aquarium, but the mini-golf alone makes the deal worth it, in my opinion.

The additional attractions in the Smokies area include:

  • Believe it or Not! Odditorium
  • Haunted Adventure
  • Mirror Maze
  • Moving Theater
  • Old Mac Mini Golf
  • Davy Crockett Mini Golf
  • Super Fun Zone

Read Also: Ripley’s in the Smokies: A breakdown of each attraction (with discounts and coupons!)

A cownose ray at Ripley's
The cownose ray gets its name because of its distinct cow-shaped nose (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies)

How long are Ripley’s Aquarium tickets valid?

When you buy a ticket online, your ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase.

At this time, reservations are not required for general admission. However, we recommend buying in advance to save yourself some time upon arrival.

Is Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg worth it?

In my opinion, the aquarium is very well done.

And my vacation math, especially for a family of four, also checks out.

Certainly, I have not personally been to every aquarium in North America (unfortunately), but I’ve visited some of the big ones, including the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans.

I even had a brief stint as a volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

And not to hate on those guys, because they are all great in their own right.

Still, Ripley’s remains one of my favorites.

Even though it’s still a large aquarium, it doesn’t get quite as crowded as the aquarium in Georgia. Plus, Ripley’s does a great job offering hands-on experiences, such as touching the gentle stingrays at Stingray Bay.

How big is the Gatlinburg aquarium?

According to Ripley’s, the aquarium is an 85,000-square-foot facility with two levels full of interactive experiences.

Two of my personal favorite features of this aquarium include the 340-foot underwater tunnel with a glide path. And of course, there’s the Penguin Playhouse. The adorable creatures enjoy both an indoor and outdoor habitat.

Popular areas to explore include the coral reef, the tropical rainforest, Gallery of the Seas and the Discovery Center.

In fact, being face to face with jellyfish, a giant sea turtle, sawfish, octopi, moray eels, tarpons, cuttlefish, squirrelfish, giant stingrays, garden eels and even flounder is an experience not soon forgotten.

The glass-bottom boat that travels over the Shark Lagoon is a family favorite as well.

If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, you can even do art projects with playful penguins and take the art home as a souvenir.

For more information about special events such as pirate sleepovers, camps and penguin art, visit the aquarium events page. Group discounts and special promos are also available.

Special combo attraction promo tickets are available as well.

Green sea turtle at Ripley's
Sally is a green sea turtle at Ripley’s Aquarium (media photo courtesy of Ripley’s Aquarium)

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is located at 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

For more information and to plan your visit, visit the website or book your tickets here.

The Gatlinburg aquarium is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly.

What do you think of Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg? Is it worth it? Let us know in the comments!

How much is Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg? Review, prices and photos

Hillbilly Golf is definitely an “I’ve been to Gatlinburg” checklist item. If you haven’t been there, have you really been to Gatlinburg?

Admit it, even the most high-brow among you have curiously looked at the incline as it climbs the mountain, wondering what exactly was on top.

Go ahead and hop on – you’re on vacation! It’s okay to do something a little outside your normal entertainment standards. You can always blame it on the kids – or the moonshine samples.

Locals may think it plays up our Appalachian heritage in the wrong way, but Hillbilly Golf is my favorite outing when my out-of-town relatives visit. 

There may be lots of places to play mini golf in Gatlinburg, but Hillbilly Golf offers a unique adventure with its mountaintop experience.

Read Also: Best mini golf in Gatlinburg: 6 attractions, ranked [2022]

Hillbilly Golf plinko style hole
Hillbilly Golf offers unique challenges, like this “plinko” style hole that can be played two different ways (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

When did Hillbilly Golf open?

Hillbilly Golf is a classic mini golf course in Gatlinburg that opened more than 50 years ago.

But what makes it stand out from the other mini golf courses in the area is the location and the method of transportation.

An incline railway transports guests “up a mountain” to the attraction.

You may think that “mountain” might be an overstatement, but “up” is not. If this was any steeper, you might blast off into space at the end.

But don’t worry, it’s a smooth and steady ride up. The trip is short. You won’t have time to be nervous about the ride.

Each cart holds about 6-9 people. At the top of the hill, there are two 18-hole courses to choose from.

Along the courses, you’ll see many Appalachian stereotypes and obstacles. For example, the courses feature moonshine stills, farm equipment, wagons and decoration outhouses. My aunt once compared it to visiting the set of “Hee Haw”.

If you do have a serious fear of heights, you might want to choose a more grounded mini golf course in the area. Both courses start on top of the mountain and are completely outside.

Even though you’re on top of a mountain, help is never far away. There are signs posted throughout to call a staff member if you see a bear or if you need additional golf balls.

The burnt tree at Hillbilly Golf
This tree is “keeping watch” over the golf course. The sign says, “This 160+ year old Hemlock Tree was here prior to the Civil War and stood proudly over Hillbilly Golf for 45 years. Sadly, it was uprooted during the wildfires of 2016. Due to the efforts of the Hillbilly Golf team, its roots still watch over us!” (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Did Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg burn down?

Hillbilly Golf almost burned completely during the 2016 fire, and the incline was replaced. We are happy to say that it is still open and operating in Gatlinburg.

Owners wisely worked some of the damage into the landscaping for the course. For example, the root of a downed tree has been integrated into the course. 

Read Also: The real story behind the Gatlinburg fires of 2016 

An incline cart at Hillbilly golf
An incline railway takes riders to the top of the mountain to play mini golf (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How much does Hillbilly Golf cost?

The cost of admission for Hillbilly Golf is $13.50 per person for adults. Children 4-12 are $9.50, and children under 3 are free. These prices do not include tax, and prices are subject to change.

Discounts are offered for:

  • Seniors (60 and older)
  • Military and first responders (with ID)
  • Local residents (with ID)
  • Groups (15 people or more, one transaction)

Spectators are charged the same price as players. Strollers and pets are not allowed.

Guests who play a second game can also do so for only $5.99, which is good for three days after the first visit if you keep your scorecard.

Outhouse mini golf obstacle at Hillbilly Golf Gatlinburg
Hillbilly Golf has Appalachian-themed courses and challenges (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Hillbilly Golf open year round?

Hillbilly Golf is open from March through November from 9 am-10 pm, weather permitting.

During the early spring and fall months, the ride is dark and the course is lit. Visitors are treated to a view of the Gatlinburg lights that can’t be topped.

If Hillbilly Golf ever closes due to weather, guests will receive a raincheck. 

Parking is available for golfers for free, but space can be limited.

There is additional parking near the restrooms, but for a fee. The last time we parked in that lot, it was only $2.

Read Also: Parking in Gatlinburg: Prices, maps and free parking tips

Plan on spending at least an hour for one course and 90 minutes to two hours for both courses.

Snacks are available, but don’t arrive super hungry – offerings are limited. 

Hillbilly Golf is located at 340 Parkway, Gatlinburg TN 37738.

Have you been to Hillbilly Golf in the Smokies? Let us know in the comments!

Land of Oz in NC: What it’s like to visit the once-closed theme park

There’s something about an old attraction that is really fascinating.

Many entrepreneurs bring their visions to the mountains, and sometimes only a handful of businesses survive.

While some are left to rust and be reclaimed by the mountains, others rise from the ashes and offer folks like me a rare glimpse into the past.

And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, that rare glimpse can be a fully immersive experience.

beautiful landscaping surrounds the yellow brick road
The landscape of Beech Mountain, North Carolina inspired the vision for the Land of Oz theme park in 1970 (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

What is the Land of Oz?

The Land of Oz is a privately-owned theme park in North Carolina that is open only on special occasions. 

The park is located within the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and offers an immersive experience inside the Land of Oz.

Just like you can explore Harry Potter world at Universal Studios, or the Star Wars universe at Disney.

In North Carolina, you can walk down the yellow brick road and explore the Land of Oz.

Why is the Land of Oz abandoned?

This is a frequently asked question. However, the short answer is, it’s not.

Still, the Land of Oz is open only for events or on special occasions.

During the rest of the year, it is under 24-hour surveillance and heavily monitored by park management.

Alaina poses with Glenda the good witch
Land of Oz was a fully functioning theme park in the 1970s, and today it is open to the public on special occasions (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The fascinating history behind the Land of Oz

The Land of Oz was built by the Carolina Caribbean Corporation. The Robbins Brothers hired Charlotte-based designer Jack Pentes to bring tourists to the mountains in the summer and fall.

Pentes said the area reminded him of The Wizard of Oz, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The park officially opened in 1970. Pentes hoped to have Judy Garland at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but she, unfortunately, passed away prior to the opening.

So, he designed an overlook in her memory and had a sculptor create a bronze likeness of the actress as Dorothy.

In its first season, the Land of Oz welcomed 400,000 guests and was named “The Number One Tourist Attraction” by the Washington Post.

The theme park had one ride, a ski lift that was designed to look like a hot air balloon. Guests could visit a real-life Land of Oz, yellow brick road and all.

The natural landscape of the area reminded the park designer of the Wizard of Oz (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)
The natural landscape of the area reminded the park designer of the Wizard of Oz (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

But then the park experienced hardships

By 1975, Carolina Caribbean went bankrupt due to other failed investments.

That December, the Emerald City Amipitheater stage was set on fire.

Many of the attraction’s prized possessions were stolen, including props, costumes and even the Judy Garland bronze bust.

To date, these items have never been recovered.

Despite all odds, the park reopened in 1976, but was poorly maintained. Character houses and Emerald City were in bad enough shape that they had to be demolished, and the Balloon Ride was dismantled.

The Land of Oz ultimately shuttered in 1980.

dorothy and the cowardly lion dance
Throughout your visit to the Land of Oz, you’ll meet characters from the story as they perform songs (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

The resurgence of the Land of Oz

In 1988, a group of original employees held a small reunion at what remained of the park.

This was enough to spark interest in the old theme park, and in 1991, Oz hosted a special one-day event.

A couple of years later, the event was moved to the fall. Today, that event is known as Autumn at Oz.

Can you visit the Land of Oz?

Yes, but only for private tours and the Autumn at Oz festival.

The festival features arts and craft vendors, food vendors, pony rides and, most notably, a walk-through of the park, which includes live musical performances along the way.

Land of Oz also offers private guided tours, available seasonally.

Read Also: When will Ghost Town in the Sky reopen: The latest 2021 update

the wizard is exposed behind a curtain
The journey ends at Emerald City, where the characters finally meet the man behind the curtain (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is the Land of Oz worth it?

In all honesty, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect when I bought my tickets for the Autumn at Oz event this year. But, I was pleasantly surprised.

The musical journey begins in Kansas, just like the story and movie.

While characters are staged throughout your walk-through adventure, you can stroll through leisurely at your own pace. As the tornado comes, you make your way through the storm cellar and then come out on the other side in Oz.

Along the way, you meet your favorite characters including the cowardly lion, scarecrow, Glinda the good witch and the wicked witch of the West. And you ultimately end up in Emerald City.

Overall, I was really blown away by the singing, dancing and costumes. It is clear that the current ownership is investing back into the park to make this event a high-quality, memorable experience for the guests.

the emerald city at the land of oz
Today, the park has an Emerald City section, even though it isn’t the original (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

And even if you’re not the biggest Oz fan, the attraction is located in a gorgeous setting with beautiful scenic views that will pull on your nostalgia-loving heartstrings.

I loved walking along the yellow brick road and thinking about everything the theme park has endured over the years. And how lucky I was to be able to experience it.

Read Also: Fun Mountain Gatlinburg: What remains of the abandoned park today

Can you dress as a character at the Land of Oz?

Yes, dressing up in character is encouraged at the park.

When I was there, I saw several folks dressed up in costume. But, keep in mind that the weather can be much cooler when you reach higher elevations.

Try to incorporate a jacket when planning your outfit.

the over the rainbow overlook at land of oz
The Over the Rainbow Overlook was added in 2021 (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How much does the Land of Oz cost?

PrIces and availability vary by season at the Land of Oz.

However, At the time of this writing, general admission is $55 to enjoy the park during the Autumn at Oz festival.

VIP tickets are offered on select seasons (but not all) and start usually start at around $68.

Add-ons are available, like the Scenic Lift Ride or Over the Rainbow Overlook access. It’s only a $5 add-on and offers beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 5,506 feet above elevation.

Of course, prices are subject to change. Be sure to visit their website for the most up-to-date information on pricing and events.

Where is the Land of Oz today?

The Land of Oz is located at 2669 Beech Mountain Parkway in North Carolina.

Beech Mountain, not far from Banner Elk, is best known for the Beech Mountain Resort, which offers skiing in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the winter season.

The Land of Oz is about a 3-hour drive from the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Read Also: Are the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoky Mountains the same?

Because of the uneven paths and walkways and stairs, the area is not currently wheelchair or stroller-friendly.

For more information about the seasonal events at the Land of Oz, please visit their website.

Did you know about the Land of Oz? Have you ever visited? Let us know in the comments below!

Click here to view the web story version of this article.

Soaky Mountain vs Splash Country: Which water park is better?

Let’s admit it, there are a ton of attractions in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville competing for your vacation dollar nowadays. Thus, the competition can be quite fierce.

We’ve written about several of these head-to-head battles in Sevier County before – including The Peddler vs Alamo, Anakeesta vs Ober Gatlinburg, Pirates Voyage vs Dolly’s Stampede and Lumberjack Feud vs Hatfield and McCoy. Just to name a few.

But today, we want to compare two of Sevier County’s most popular summertime attractions: Dollywood’s Splash Country and Soaky Mountain – the area’s two largest outdoor water parks.

First, we break down several key factors including rides, slides, shade, cabanas, food and drink and affordability.

Then, we will answer a few of the internet’s most frequently asked questions about the two attractions.

Finally, we will declare a winner.

Splash Country is Dollywood's sister park (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country is Dollywood’s sister park (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain: A comparison

1. Who owns the two parks?

Let’s begin with the topic of ownership and overall operations.

Dollywood’s Splash Country, like Dollywood itself, is operated by Herschend Family Entertainment in partnership with Dolly Parton.

Soaky Mountain is owned and operated by Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks (who also own and operate Wilderness at the Smokies).

The winner in this category: Splash Country. All hail the queen.

Soaky Mountain is the newer of the two parks having just opened in 2020 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain is the newer of the two parks having just opened in 2020 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Which park is newer?

Next, let’s take a look at which is newer.

Splash Country is the older of the two parks. In fact, it originally opened in 2001. In other words, Soaky Mountain is considerably newer having just opened in 2020.

While, in our humble opinion, both parks are doing a great job of keeping things looking up to date, Soaky Mountain’s newness is noticeable. Everything is just a little newer, a little brighter, and a bit more modern than its Splash Country counterpart.

And as a relatively new waterpark, semantics also feel a bit more well thought out at Soaky Mountain.

For instance, one of our biggest complaints about Splash Country is the scorching hot floorboards that surround the lines and the dismount areas. They actually keep signs posted throughout the park warning riders to keep their shoes and sandals on until they are ready to board.

Soaky Mountain simply used heat-resistant materials that don’t get quite as hot in the sun on their ride queues. One can easily stand barefoot while waiting to ride the Avalaunch Watercoaster without a care for their bare little tootsies.

The winner in this category: Soaky Mountain.

Soaky Mountain has more slides and attractions than Splash Country, but its variety of attractions is what really makes them special (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain has more slides and attractions than Splash Country. But it’s the variety of attractions that really makes them special (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

3. Which has more water slides?

Now, let’s talk about slides and rides.

While Soaky Mountain is bigger – coming in at 50 acres vs Splash Country’s 35-acre blueprint – the two are actually quite similar in the rides department.

At the time of this writing, Splash Country has four float slides (two family-style), a water coaster, three body slides, three water mat slides, two children’s play areas, a regular pool, a wave pool and a lazy river.

It is also important to note that some attractions at Splash Country and Soaky Mountain have multiple tubes listed under the same attraction. But for the sake of simplicity, we will just count multi-tube attractions as one.

Not to be outdone, Soaky Mountain, at the time of this writing, has six float slides (two family-style), two watercoasters*, one boogie board surf simulator, two children’s play areas, one wave pool, one not-so-lazy river, a water obstacle course – Slippery Salamanders – and one regular pool.

And also for bonus points, one of the children’s play areas at Soaky – Boomer’s Bay – features pint-sized smaller versions of some of the adult slides including Mini Mayhem and Lil Rattlers. Our staff thinks this is a very nice touch. In particular, it’s a great way to make the whole family feel included.

However, again, for the sake of simplicity, we aren’t adding those mini slides to the slide count as they are really just a small part of the kid’s play area.

Soaky Mountain also has multiple tubes listed as the same attraction, so to keep things fair, we will count those as one just as we did for Splash Country.

*Soaky Mountain’s latest water coaster, The Edge, is still under construction and is set to debut in summer 2022.

Attractions at Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain
Attraction TypeSplash CountrySoaky Mountain
Float Slides46
Mat Slides32
Surf Simulator01
Body Slides32
Water Coasters12
Kid’s Play Areas22
Wave Pools11
Lazy Rivers**11
Wave Pools11
Normal Pools11
Obstacle Course01
Attractions at Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain

In total, Splash Country has 17 separate attractions. Soaky Mountain has 20.

And finally, Soaky Mountain also boasts a better variety of unique water attractions.

The winner in this category: Soaky Mountain.

Avalaunch is Soaky's original water coaster (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Avalaunch is Soaky’s original water coaster (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

4. Which has better slides and rides?

This one is a bit of a toss-up as we think slide preference is really very subjective.

Do you prefer float slides? Soaky Mountain is going to be your jam.

Or perhaps you prefer high-intensity body slides or a good head-first mat racing challenge. If so, you’re better off at Splash Country.

If you have little kids, we recommend Soaky Mountain for their mini slides.

But if you like lazy rivers that are actually lazy, you’ll prefer Splash.

Or if waves are more your thing, you’re going to love Soaky Surge – Soaky Mountain’s gigantic 35,000 square foot wave pool.

So for this category, we are just going to go with the overall staff opinion on which is better.

Winner for this category: Soaky Mountain. By a hair.

Splash Country has a true lazy river, whereas Soaky Mountain's is more of an thrill ride (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country has a true lazy river, whereas Soaky Mountain’s is more of a thrill ride (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Which has a better lazy river?

Again, this is going to come down to personal preference. However, I cannot stress enough that the “lazy” rivers at Soaky Mountain and Splash Country couldn’t be any more different.

Splash Country’s lazy river is everything you’d expect out of a traditional lazy river attraction. Surely, no explanation is needed.

Conversely, as Soaky Mountain clearly states in all of their marketing materials – their river is not a lazy river.

In fact, their river attraction is more like rapids. Thus the name, Black Bear Rapids.

It starts just like any normal lazy river might. Riders grab a float and begin their peaceful journey down a cool, calm mountain stream via tube. That’s when all heck breaks loose.

Specifically, every few minutes, a wave machine produces a monster wave that creates a massive ripple effect that spans nearly the entire length of the 24,000 square foot ride.

Of course, it’s fun. But it’s definitely not lazy.

We kinda wish that Soaky Mountain had followed Universal’s Volcano Bay suit by having two rivers – one lazy and one not. So again, we are just going to go with our personal preference on this one.

Winner in this category: Splash Country. We prefer to be lazy.

Soaky Mountain recently added more shaded areas to their park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain recently added more shaded areas to their park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Which park has more shade?

We think you will find this one to be a bit surprising.

Soaky Mountain has more shade. In fact, there is no comparison.

Certainly, Soaky Mountain, on the surface, looks like a concrete jungle. Especially compared to Splash Country’s lush mountain landscape.

But this is just one of those things that Soaky does best – they focus on the guest experience. And it shows.

At Soaky, there are giant-sized umbrellas covering almost every lounger. And also, there are loads of shaded areas to relax and enjoy.

Splash Country only has a couple of shaded pavilions – mostly near the kid splash pad area – and when those are full your only option is upgrading to a private cabana. Boo.

Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. By a landslide (mountain joke).

Splash Country's deluxe cabanas are nothing short of bougie (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country’s deluxe cabanas are nothing short of bougie (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Which park has better cabanas?

Here, we wanted to automatically deduct points from Splash Country because they make us feel forced to upgrade to cabanas for shade on a sunny day due to their lack of shaded rest areas.

But we will strive to be impartial here.

Soaky Mountain has two main cabana-style options. Each comes at an extra cost to admission.

Soaky Mountain's clamshell cabanas provide simple shade (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain’s clamshell cabanas provide simple shade (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain Clamshell Cabanas

The first option is the Clamshell Cabana. Clamshell Cabanas are nothing special. Additionally, in our humble opinion, mostly a waste of money. They are nothing more than little pop-up tents that fit over two loungers with a small table in between.

The biggest benefit to renting these loungers is the host drink service that’s included. These loungers start at $50 per day, but we more often see them run between $75-$99. Yikes.

Soaky Mountain's Tents include food and beverage service (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain’s Tents include food and beverage service (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain Tents

The second option at Soaky Mountain is the Soaky Tent, which comes in three sizes with seating for 8-16 guests. The smaller tents start at $129.99 per day. The largest tents start at $169.99 per day. But just a warning, we frequently see both going for nearly double those introductory prices during peak season.

Each tent is equipped with:

  • comfortable seating
  • a table and chairs
  • food and drink host service (cost of food and drink not included)
  • a ceiling fan
  • power outlets

If you have a lot of people in your group and are planning on spending the entire day at the amusement park, we think these tent cabanas at Soaky Mountain are absolutely worth every penny.

Soaky Mountain Cabana Comparison
Soaky Mountain Cabana TypeClamshell LoungerTent Cabanas
Drink ServiceYesYes
Food ServiceYes
Secure StorageYes
Ceiling FanYes
Power OutletsYesYes
Dining TableYes
Cost$50+$129+
Soaky Mountain Cabana Features

After you’ve been pressured into buying a cabana for lack of shaded options at Splash Country, you’ll be glad to know that there are three primary options from which you can choose.

Splash Country's Luxury Liners are similar to Soaky Mountain's Clamshells (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country’s Luxury Loungers are similar to Soaky Mountain’s Clamshells (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country Luxury Loungers

First, we have the Luxury Loungers – which are similar to Soaky Mountain’s clamshells.

These are nothing more than little pop-up tents that fit over two lounge chairs with a small lockbox. But unlike Soaky Mountain, they do not include beverage service. They start at $45 per day.

Splash Country's Canopies offer an affordable mid-priced option (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country’s Canopies offer an affordable mid-priced option (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country Canopies

Next up, we have the Canopies. The Canopies resemble mini wooden sheds. Each provides 65 square feet of shade and features two chaise lounge chairs with a lockbox.

These Canopies offer actual privacy vs the loungers but are still rather tiny and do not include drink service. Prices start at $65 per day.

Splash Country Retreats are for Smokies guests who prefer laps of luxury to laps in the pool (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country Retreats are for Smokies guests who prefer laps of luxury to laps in the pool (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Splash Country Retreats

Finally, we have the Retreats. The Splash Country Retreat Cabanas come in two different varieties: A Basic Retreat, and a Deluxe Retreat.

The Basic Retreat features 200 square feet of shaded space and a 100 square foot sun deck. Retreats can house up to 8 people with a maximum occupancy of 10 (you have to pay extra for persons #9 and #10).

Retreats start at $210 per day and again, we think are absolutely worth the price, especially if you have a big family.

All Retreats include a:

  • satellite television
  • ceiling fan
  • dining table and chairs
  • lounge chairs
  • secure storage
  • food and drink service (cost of food and drink not included)

ADA accessible Retreats are also available.

The Deluxe Retreat is just like the Basic Retreat only it also includes:

  • additional seating
  • additional lounge chairs
  • bar counter
  • a refrigerator

Deluxe Retreats start at $325 per day.

Personally, we don’t really see the value for the extra $100. As a result, we would recommend just sticking to the Basic Retreat.

Splash Country Cabanas Comparison
Splash Country Cabana TypeLuxury LoungerCanopyRetreatDeluxe Retreat
Drink Service (Bottled/Dry)YesYes
Food ServiceYesYes
Secure StorageYesYesYesYes
Ceiling FansYesYes
Dining TableYesYes
FridgeYes
TelevisionYesYes
Cost$45+$65+$210+$325+
Splash Country Cabana Features

If we had to pick a winner in this category, overall it’s a tough call. We think Dollywood’s Retreats are more comfortable than the tents.

Splash Country also has more options in this category. Not entirely helpful options, but more options all the same. After all, who is really going to buy the Luxury Lounger over the Canopy?

But then again we also like the fact that all of Soaky’s options feature beverage service which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as y’all know, waiting in lines at waterparks just to get a drink is no fun.

It’s also helpful to add that Soaky has adult beverages too. Splash Country is dry.

However, this category isn’t about who offers better service or better food. This is about who has the better cabanas. And for that, there is, we believe, a clear winner.

Winner in this category: Splash Country.

Food and drink are not permitted in either park. But Soaky Mountain does allow sealed water bottles, and there are plenty of great food and drink selections available at each park for an extra charge (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Food and drink are not permitted in either park. But Soaky Mountain does allow sealed water bottles. And there are plenty of great food and drink selections available at each park for an extra charge (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

8. Can you bring your own food and drink?

You cannot bring outside food and drink to Soaky Mountain. Nor can you bring outside food and drink to Splash Country.

But you can, however, bring one sealed bottle of water or an empty plastic water bottle (to refill as needed) to Soaky Mountain.

Likewise, you can bring empty water bottles to Splash Country.

And also, both parks provide free tap water in disposable cups to guests.

But never fear, there are plenty of other food and drink options available at each park – for an extra charge.

Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. Thanks for the bottled water.

We love Splash Country's Beavertails. However, Soaky Mountain has more food options overall (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
We love Splash Country’s Beavertails. However, Soaky Mountain has more food options overall (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

9. Which has better food?

Both parks have solid food options, ya know, for a water park. Long gone are the days when your theme park food was limited to hot dogs and a bag of chips (looking at you Ogle’s Waterpark).

We particularly enjoy the Beavertails at Splash Country, which are fried on location as you order so they are always warm and fresh.

But Soaky, as we said before, also has its fair share of sweet treats (shoutout to the Soaky Shake Shoppe – YUM) including adult beverages and specialty food trucks like Philly Up and the Tacolicious.

Who doesn’t love specialty tacos after a long day in the water?

We also love Soaky’s Base Camp Bistro.

In fact, we almost hate to say it, as we’ve given them so many points already, but we think Soaky Mountain overall has the better food options.

Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. Cheers!

Soaky Mountain is the more affordable of the two waterparks. Plus, at Soaky, you get to wear your season pass on your wrist (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain is the more affordable of the two waterparks. Plus, at Soaky, you get to wear your season pass on your wrist (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Which is cheaper?

Finally, let’s talk about affordability.

At the time of this writing, daily admission to Splash Country costs $54.95 per adult (ages 10-61). And a 2-day water park ticket runs at $74.95 per adult, and a 3-day water park ticket runs at $84.95.

Multi-park tickets and season passes are also available.

Sometimes you can also save a bit of money by purchasing your Splash Country tickets on Tripster.

Soaky Mountain’s pricing is all over the place because they run so many specials throughout the year. But on average, daily ticket prices run between $39.99-$47.99 per adult.

Check the Soaky Mountain website for current specials.

And of course, season passes are available at both locations. Prices vary seasonally.

As a general rule of thumb, if you plan to go more than twice to either park, a season pass is probably going to be a good idea.

Winner in this category: Again, Soaky Mountain.

oaky Mountain is a seasonal outdoor waterpark that's usually open between May-September each year (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Soaky Mountain is a seasonal outdoor waterpark that’s usually open between May-September each year (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Frequently asked questions about Splash Country and Soaky Mountain

1. Is Soaky Mountain indoor?

No, Soaky Mountain is not an indoor water park. However, its sister attraction, Wilderness at the Smokies across the street is partially an indoor water park.

2. Does Soaky Mountain have a lazy river?

Sort of. Soaky Mountain has a river attraction, but it is not lazy. It is actually more of a thrill ride. They call it an adventure river instead of a lazy river.

3. Does Dolly Parton own Splash Country?

Splash Country is owned and operated by Herschend Family Entertainment in partnership with Dolly Parton.

4. Can you do Dollywood and Splash Country in one day?

Anything is possible. However, we would recommend against doing Dollywood and Splash Country in one day. There’s a lot to see and do in each park. Personally, we consider Dollywood to be a 2-day park, and Splash Country a 1-day park.

Trying to cram both parks into a single day isn’t advised.

5. What’s the best ride at Soaky Mountain?

Our favorite rides at Soaky Mountain are Rainbow Revenge, Blue Mountain Mayhem and Avalaunch.

Rainbow Revenge is a five-person raft ride. As is Blue Mountain Mayhem. Avalaunch is a water coaster.

We also suspect we will fall in love with The Edge coaster when it opens later this year.

Honestly, we are just suckers for water coasters and thrill rides in general.

6. What’s the best ride at Splash Country?

Our favorite rides at Splash Country are the Raging River Rapids, RiverRush and the Downbound Float Trip.

Raging River Rapids is one of two family-style rides in the park. RiverRush is Splash Country’s only watercoaster. Furthermore, the Downbound Float Trip is a classic lazy river ride.

Nice and relaxing as God intended.

7. Is the water heated at Splash Country and Soaky Mountain?

The water is not heated at either Splash Country or Soaky Mountain. With nary a hot tub in sight at either location.

Therefore, on a cool day, prepare to freeze your tush off. It’s all part of the Smoky Mountain experience.

In conclusion, we really love both parks. It's hard to choose just one. I mean how can you say no to this cute little beaver face? (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)
In conclusion, we really love both parks. It’s hard to choose just one. I mean how can you say no to this cute little beaver face? (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Conclusion: Which water park is better?

If we were going off of points alone, Soaky Mountain would be the clear winner here.

Indeed, our staff mostly tends to prefer Soaky to Splash for all of the reasons mentioned above. Specifically, it’s a modern park, with a better variety of rides and food options. It’s also a park that really caters to the guest experience.

However, it is important to note that we also genuinely love Splash Country.

All in all, the parks are very similar, but also very unique.

If you only have one day to dedicate to a water park on your next visit to the Smoky Mountains, consider going to Soaky Mountain. However, if you have two days, go to both. We think your entire family will have a great time either way.

And don’t forget to check Tripster for discounts.

Splash Country is located at 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.

Soaky Mountain is located at 175 Gists Creek Road, Sevierville, TN 37876.

Which water park do you prefer? Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments below.