5 reasons why Dollywood is better than Disney World

Dollywood entrance next to Magic Kingdom castle

Dollywood often ranks higher on theme park lists than Disney (photos by TheSmokies.com staff)

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It’s easy to take Dollywood for granted for those of us who grew up with the beloved amusement park practically in our backyards. 

This is why, for years, I assumed my affinity for the Dollywood park was likely more biased than anything else.

However, I’ve gotten older and expanded my theme park horizons. I realize there’s much more than a little hometown preference going on here. 

Over the course of the past couple of decades, I’ve had the fortune to visit just about every single major amusement park in the United States. My theme park excursions include multiple trips to Universal Studios, Disney, Six Flags and Busch Gardens – just to name a few.

And I have to say, Dollywood not only holds its own against these parks, but in many ways, outperforms. 

I don’t have anything against Disney or Universal. I revert back to my childhood every time I step inside Diagon Alley, and my husband would probably move in to the new Star Wars section at Disney if given the chance. 

But each time I go to one of these other parks, I find myself reminiscing a bit about the theme park I love back home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

And as it turns out, I am not alone.

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National rankings for Dollywood, Disney World

In 2022, Dollywood was ranked number one in the Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Amusement Parks in the United States.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom at Disney was ranked third, behind Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

On the list for top worldwide parks, Dollywood is the first American park on the list, coming in at number eight.

In 2022, the rankings are as follows:

The worldwide top 10 list:

  1. Siam Park (Adeje, Spain)
  2. Puy du Fou (Les Espesses, France)
  3. Beto Carrero World (Penha, Brazil)
  4. Puy du Fou Espana (Toledo, Spain)
  5. The Milky Way Adventure Park (Clovelly, United Kingdom)
  6. Hot Park (Rio Quente, Brazil)
  7. Waterbom Bali (Kuta, Indonesia)
  8. Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  9. Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida)
  10. Parque Terra Magica Florybal (Canela, Brazil)

Notice that Disney didn’t make top ten this year. Ouch.

The United States top 10 list:

  1. Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida)
  3. Magic Kingdom Park (Orlando, Florida)
  4. Universal Studios Hollywood (Los Angeles, California)
  5. Universal Studios Florida (Orlando, Florida)
  6. Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)
  7. Funland (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware)
  8. Fun Spot America (Kissimmee, Florida)
  9. Santa’s Village (Jefferson, New Hampshire)
  10. Busch Gardens (Tampa, Florida)

Here are some reasons why Dollywood is so consistently highly rated as a top vacation destination:

The Mystery Mine is one of the best thrill rides in the park at Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Dollywood has the best rides

First of all, Dollywood has truly amazing rides.

As a kid in the 1990s, I remember being blown away by Disney’s Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

But upon my last visit to Disney, I had to say some of the magic had, for lack of a better term, vanished.

Disney just hasn’t innovated to keep up with the changing times. The same big-name rides and coasters that were popular in the 1990s are the same rides and coasters that are popular today – unchanged, no longer unique and aged with the times.

Go ahead, ask your grandkids to name a single one of the chipmunk “rescue rangers”. Yet, there’s still a Gadget-themed coaster in the kid’s section at Disneyland. 

“Who’s Gadget?” you ask. 

I rest my case. Although I will admit, this has improved in Hollywood Studios with the Star Wars expansions.

Universal, in my opinion, has kept up with the times a bit better than Disney. Still, it seems to be relying far too much on 3D simulation rides with only a handful of true coasters remaining in the entire park: The Hulk, Rip Ride Rockit, The Mummy and Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure.

By comparison, Dollywood has eight major coasters: The Wild Eagle, Blazing Fury, Dragonflier, Lightning Rod, Thunderhead, FireChaser Express, Tennessee Tornado and Mystery Mine.

And honestly, the Lightning Rod roller coaster is a thrilling ride that provides the absolute best guest experience for adrenaline seekers … when it runs. Being the first of its kind comes with a few growing pains.

Read More: Dollywood rides ranked: 10 best coasters and rides in the park

Pack tank tops, shorts and tees if you're planning on a lot of outdoor activities or visiting outdoor attractions like Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Dollywood offers many amenities for guests in mind (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Lines, shade and cubbies

True story – last time I was at Disney, a woman actually passed out from heat exhaustion while in line behind us. 

Disney’s rides and wait times are noticeably longer than other theme parks. Even with the Genie+ system, which has been met with some complaints, my husband and I often find ourselves waiting anywhere from 1-3 hours for rides at Disney – often in the hot sun with minimal shade.

Even Universal Studios has a better queue system than Disney. The Express Passes actually work and there are plenty of indoor lines and shade where the Express Passes aren’t an option.

But Dollywood does it best.

Even on a busy day, it’s rare to wait over an hour to get on any single Dollywood attraction, and almost every queue has some sort of shade available.

Dollywood posts live wait times on large screens throughout the park in addition to being posted on the app. Why is this important?

It’s an amusement park – you won’t always have your smartphone on hand. The airport-style queue screens allow guests to easily plan out their day, no matter where they are.

Dollywood also has their own form of a line-skipper called the “TimeSaver” when needed.

Speaking of rides, Dollywood also offers free ride cubbies on most major attractions, which not only saves quite a bit of money, but also saves quite a bit of time.

For instance, every time I visit other major theme parks, a large portion of my day is spent on going back and forth to the lockers to retrieve my miscellaneous wear.

At Dollywood, my bag waits for me in a cubby while I am on the ride. It’s waiting for me as soon as I’m done – the way God intended. But for those who prefer a locker, they are still available at Dollywood.

Read Also: Dollywood insider’s guide: 9 tips and tricks to know before you go

Employees serve cinnamon bread at Dollywood
Dollywood hosts are known for being very friendly and helpful (photo by Dr. Candi Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Dollywood is the friendliest theme park in the world

Dollywood has won a Golden Ticket award for being the Friendliest Theme Park in the World for several years in a row since 2012. It’s an award that’s well deserved.

I’m not quite sure how Dollywood is able to consistently find and employ some of the kindest human beings on the face of the earth year after year, but they seem to have unlocked the magic formula. 

At nearly every other theme park, I’ve been scolded at some point or another about doing the wrong thing, walking the wrong way, not storing my items properly while on a ride, etc. For example, food stations are dirty, crowds are thick.

People are constantly bumping into each other as they dart off to be the 345th person in line for Slinky Dog Dash.

“Relaxation” and “amusement park” are two terms that are often not synonymous with each other. Other theme parks leave you feeling more stressed out than when you walked in. This isn’t the case at Dollywood. 

Dollywood is the kind of place where people hold the door for you. People take a moment to say, “Oh no please, YOU go first … right this way … thank you!”

Dollywood employees pay attention to detail, greet you with a genuine smile and a “How y’all doing” while simultaneously keeping the park immaculate. 

Drone show at Dollywood Summer Celebration
Visitors love the drone show at the Dollywood Summer Celebration (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

2. Seasonal festivals

Dollywood does a great job of keeping everyone entertained while visiting the theme park. It’s the perfect balance of entertainment and thrills.

Year after year, they deliver exciting new treats and features with their seasonal festivals, which include the Food and Flower Festival in the spring, the Summer Celebration in the summer, the Harvest Festival in the fall and the famous Smoky Mountain Christmas event in the winter.

Dollywood shows a strong commitment to giving guests the best experience in each season.

Dolly Parton performs HeartSong
Dolly Parton sings HeartSong at a media event at one of the Dollywood resorts (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

1. Dolly Parton

Finally, Dollywood has the great honor of being backed by one of the great human beings on earth, Dolly Parton.

Dolly, born and raised in the hills of Sevier County, uses her talents and a keen business sense to rise to levels of fame that only a few reach.

We love her because of her talent as a musician and her sense of humor. But more importantly, we love her because she consistently gives back to her community.

It’s hard for other theme parks to compete with a force of nature like Dolly.

Read Also: Dolly Parton accomplishments: 6 reasons why we love her

Are you planning a trip to Dollywood? Remember to check Tripster when you book your tickets.

Do you think Dollywood is better than Disney? Which of these iconic parks is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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