Don’t make these 10 mistakes when visiting Dollywood at Christmas

The Dollywood Sign at Christmas next to soapy snow

Dollywood is a magical place to be during the holidays if you avoid some of these rookie mistakes (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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I can not emphasize enough how much I love Dollywood. 

I practically grew up next door to the park, I idolize all things Dolly Parton and I love theme parks.

And I especially love Dollywood at Christmastime.

Read Also: What not to do in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge: Our 6 tips

The twinkling lights at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas are a spectacle to behold.

The “animated” Christmas tree never fails to put me in the holiday spirit.

And there’s nothing quite like hot chocolate and some warm Grist Mill-made cinnamon bread on a cold day.

But after our most recent visit to the park, I also made an embarrassing number of rookie mistakes. 

Perhaps it was the Shine Nog. Or maybe my brain wasn’t functioning properly due to the unseasonably cold temperatures. 

It’s also entirely possible that my love for the park all too easily allows me to repress the “bad” and only remember the “good” every year. 

Revisionist history, if you will.

Whatever the cause, I only have myself to blame.

However, while these pain points are still fresh on my mind, I thought it would be helpful to pen this editorial on what not to do when visiting Dollywood this Christmas. 

Hopefully, this list will help you navigate the park this holiday season and prevent these easily-avoidable mistakes.

CJs taco truck at dollywood
Despite social media posts that complain that there is “no food available” at Dollywood, the theme park boasts over 30 food options in the park including seasonal food trucks like CJ’s Tacos (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

10. Listening to the haters on Facebook

I know you’ve seen them too. The negative nellies all over social media who try to scare you off from even going.

They are happy to tell you about everything that’s “wrong” with the park and usually have a laundry list of exaggerated downfalls. 

They complain of shops, rides and restaurants being closed, long lines and staffing shortages.

Allow me to quickly debunk some of these myths.

First, let’s start with the restaurants.

At the time of this writing, Dollywood has 14 restaurants, over 15 concession stands and/or bakeries and a handful of seasonal food trucks.

That’s over 30 food options in a 150-acre radius.

And at most this season, I’ve personally only seen one or two close at a time.

If the 28 remaining food spots aren’t enough for you, that sounds more like a personal problem.

Next, let’s talk rides.

Per the Dollywood website, rides may routinely shut down due to falling temperatures in the wintertime. And Lightning Rod is basically always shut down.

These truths are self-evident. It’s happened every year since the dawn of Dollywood time. And it will continue to happen because the Dollywood gods doth deem it so forever and ever amen.

Editor’s Note: I will inject sarcasm throughout this article when talking about Lightning Rod. It isn’t quite as bad as I make it out to be, but its track record (pun intended) isn’t great.

Finally, let’s talk about long lines and staffing problems.

Contrary to popular belief, Dollywood does not exist in a fringe universe detached from our own reality. They too are suffering from the same issues currently plaguing every business in America. 

But Dollywood, in my opinion, copes better than most.

Honestly, I barely noticed a difference this year versus years past.

I experienced that same southern-hospitality Dollywood magic from the world’s friendliest theme park that I’ve always known and loved. 

I even watched a Dollywood employee approach a mother whose small child had just thrown and spilled a freshly capped off souvenir mug. They offered to refill it for her before she even had a chance to pick it up off the ground. 

Tell me a time that’s ever happened to you at Disney, then you can complain about Dollywood’s customer service issues.

And yes, lines can be long on peak days, but again, with some careful planning, these too can be avoided (keep reading young padawan).

A sign that reads "closed"
This is not a sign you want to see (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

9. Forgetting to double-check that the park is actually open

Luckily, this is only a mistake you make once in a lifetime because the unique and painful sting of showing up at the park on a day they are closed sticks with you for years.

Dollywood is a seasonal theme park that operates on a limited schedule throughout the fall and winter seasons.

It is not at all unusual for the park to close 2-3 days per week. 

In an effort to avoid traumatizing yourself with the painful scenario of having to tell a mini-van full of crying hangry kids that they aren’t actually going to Dollywood today, check the Dollywood calendar before you plan your trip.

hot chocolate at dollywood
Sipping on a hot beverage, like hot chocolate, will also help you stay warm (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

8. Failing to dress for freezing temperatures

One of the other complaints I frequently hear about Dollywood is that it’s cold. 

Again, Dolly may seem like an ethereal being capable of moving the heavens and the earth. But alas, she cannot control the weather.

And y’all – it can get cold at Dollywood. 

Don’t let a mild sunny day fool you. By nightfall, average temperatures in November and December range in the 30s-40s. 

And it’s going to feel even colder if you happen to catch a ride on Lightning Rod during the two days a year it’s open while flying through the mountains at 73 mph.

Yes, you will need a coat. You will need gloves, a scarf, a hat and extra-thick socks. 

If you dress for Dollywood like you might take an unplanned detour to the arctic tundra, you may be wearing enough clothes.

Read Also: Does it snow in Tennessee? What months does it snow?

The Mystery Mine with the Wild Eagle in the background
Many rides will close at Dollywood when temperatures drop below 36 degrees (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Waiting ‘til dark to ride the rides

This brings me to my next point, don’t wait ‘til dark to ride the coasters on colder days. 

Sure, the views of the Christmas lights from high atop the Tennessee Tornado can be stunning. 

But at night, temperatures drop rapidly, which causes Dollywood to shut down some of its rides.

If you have your heart set on riding the rides, don’t wait until it’s too late and you’ve missed your opportunity altogether. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

And you can always re-ride your favorites at night if they happen to remain open.

According to the Dollywood website, the following are the temperatures that cause select rides to close.

At 36 degrees, Dragonflier, Shooting Star, Whistle Punk Chaser and Lightning Rod (if not already closed for being Lightning Rod) will close.

At 34 degrees, FireChaser Express, Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado, Thunderhead and Wild Eagle will close.

And at 32 degrees, Amazing Flying Elephants, Frogs and Fireflies, Barnstormer, Great Tree Swing, Lemon Twist, LumberJack Lifts, Treetop Tower and the Smoky Mountain River Rampage will close.

Daredevil Falls normally closes throughout the winter season. 

Editor’s Inquiry: Are people really riding the River Rampage in 33-degree weather? 

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

Soapy Snow
It’s all fun and games until you realize you might need a shower (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Overdosing on soapy snow

Speaking of Christmas lights, one of the most popular featured holiday events is the animated Christmas tree which is accompanied by light, music and even some “snow”.

The first time I saw the “snow” I assumed, falsely, that Dollywood had brought in a real snow machine. 

From a distance, it looks fairly legit. 

But upon further inspection, it’s actually a soapy concoction made to look, and accumulate, like the real white fluffy stuff. 

It’s a beautiful sight to behold. And it’s a blast for the kids. 

But I’ve also seen both kids and adults who look like they’ve been freshly shampooed after getting a full blast of it in their hair with no easy (or warm) way to wash it back out. 

Enjoy the effect. Just don’t stand directly in the line of fire.

the animated tree
Even grabbing a seat on the ground for the outdoor animated Christmas tree show can be a difficult feat on a crowded holiday weekend (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

5. Going on a holiday weekend

Next up, if you hate crowds and long lines, avoid going to Dollywood on a holiday weekend. 

Heck, if long lines and crowds aren’t your thing, you might want to avoid the Smokies altogether on the weekend before Thanksgiving or the weekend before Christmas.

Some of the longest lines I’ve ever encountered in the Smokies were during these two weekends. 

Read Also: Christmas in Gatlinburg: Top 10 things to do in the Smokies

Dollywood ride queues can be as long as two hours or more without a TimeSaver Pass. Food lines, where no TimeSaver Pass will save you, can take up to an hour at some of the more popular restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still have fun. Even when the park is crowded you’ll easily get a chance to ride a handful of rides or take in a couple of shows. Just be aware that you’re also going to get in a significant amount of bonding time with the people in the queue around you. 

Y’all are going to be there for a while. Might as well make friends.

Editor’s Tip: Bring cinnamon bread to the line, it helps with the friend-making process. It can also be used for bartering.

The TimeSaver Pass
The TimeSaver Pass (Dollywood’s version of the Fast Pass) comes in handy on peak days (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Skipping on the TimeSaver Pass when it’s busy

I rarely recommend upgrading to a Time Saver Pass. On normal days, Dollywood line queues are usually quite manageable.

But on a busy day, like those aforementioned holiday weekends, a TimeSaver Pass will be your best friend.

Glacier ridge
If you don’t want to risk getting turned away, get there early or make a reservation ahead of time (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Showing up near or after dusk, without a reservation

Do you want to know where we had to park the last time we showed up at Dollywood after 3 pm? 

Was it lot A, B, C, D, E or F? Was it all the way out in G?

No, it was Splash Country. That’s right, no letter … Splash Country.

And to be honest, we were lucky to get in at all. 

On busy days, Dollywood sometimes turns guests away if they show up without a reservation. 

He/She who shows up after dark puts his/her Dollywood life into their own hands.

And don’t even get me started on how long it takes to make it back to your car when you literally park at another theme park. 

Forget walking, you have no option but to queue up for the tram where you give people from lots A, B and C the evil eye for taking up precious space in line.

a long tram queue at night
If you think the tram ride is long from the Splash Country parking lot during the day, try waiting in this line to get back at night (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Queuing up toward the back of the tram line

Speaking of tram lines, if you do end up having to wait, try to get a spot towards the front of the loading area (located to the right, think of it like trying to nab a spot at the front of a roller coaster).

At peak times, it’s not at all unusual for the front part of the tram line to load 2-3x more often than the back of the line.

Look, some trams are shorter than others. When a short tram comes in, they generally pull forward, which can leave the back of the line out in the cold.

a line wraps around spotlight bakery
The line at Spotlight Bakery wraps around the building near closing time at Dollywood (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. Waiting ‘til closing time for Cinnamon bread

And finally, whatever you do, don’t wait until park closing to nab some fresh cinnamon bread or a warm tasty treat. 

Look, I get it, nothing sounds better than some fresh warm pastries after a long day at a cold park. 

And guess what, the other 2,000 park guests had that exact same thought on their way out too.

On peak days, lines for cinnamon bread at the Grist Mill and fresh pastries at the Spotlight Bakery can be as long as an hour or more. 

Even on less crowded days, lines have been reported as long as 20-30 minutes.

I’m not saying the cinnamon bread isn’t worth it. But I am sayin’ you can get that same bread when the sun is out without shivering your buns off in the cold. 

Have you made any of these rookie mistakes? Would you add anything to my list? Let me 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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1 thought on “Don’t make these 10 mistakes when visiting Dollywood at Christmas”

  1. We made the rookie mistake of going a week before Thanksgiving. Thankfully being season pass holders, we rode 3 coasters, snacked and left. We parked in D, but seen folks park in splash country. We thought the driver was joking then we actually saw the cars out there. Wow.

    Also. I think you should add, be on the lookout for UT homecoming Seveir County School fall break.

    It’s officially my 1 year anniversary of going to Dollywood for the first time and it’s so much fun. Also. Lightning Rod jabs. Totally legit, spot on.

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