OPINION: Dollywood is better than Disneyland and the internet agrees with me

This week, Dollywood was ranked number eight in the Travelers' Choice Top 25 Amusement Parks in the world list and placed number six on the Travelers's Choice Top 25 United States Amusement Parks (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
This week, Dollywood was ranked number eight in the Travelers' Choice Top 25 Amusement Parks in the world list and placed number six on the Travelers's Choice Top 25 United States Amusement Parks (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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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. 

Which is why, for years, I assumed my affinity for the park was likely more bias than anything else.

However, as I’ve gotten older and expanded my theme park horizons, I’ve come to 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. 

Dollywood's famous Showstreet (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Dollywood’s famous Showstreet (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

And as it turns out, I am not alone.

This week, Dollywood was ranked number eight in the Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Amusement Parks in the world list and placed number six on the Travelers’s Choice Top 25 United States Amusement Parks. 

On the list for top worldwide parks, Dollywood is the first American park on the list that is not part of the Disney or Universal families. American parks hold 12 of the 25 spots on the worldwide list.

On the list for top US parks, Dollywood beats out Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s California Adventure and even its own sister park – Silver Dollar City.

Dollywood is also “traveler ranked” as the number one thing to do while in Pigeon Forge. According to TripAdvisor, traveler ranking illustrates highly rated places of interest.

“We are working every day to ensure each member of the family has a world-class experience where they can spend time together making memories they’ll cherish forever,” said Craig Ross, The Dollywood Company President. “Feedback from our guests is critical to maintaining the environment we want to provide. This ranking from TripAdvisor reviewers is a testament to the extensive efforts we make to ensure the quality of the product we offer our guests.”

“To be included in the top-10 with the most iconic parks in the industry illustrates our strong commitment to delivering the absolute best guest experience. On behalf of Dolly and all of our hosts, we are thankful to be named in the company of these amazing parks. This truly is a great honor.”

Best Rides at Dollywood - The Tennessee Tornado
The Tennessee Tornado steel coaster at Dollywood (photo courtesy of Dollywood)

The worldwide top 10 list is:

  1. Disney’s Magic Kingdom (Orlando, Florida)
  2. Puy du Fou (Les Epesses, France)
  3. Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida)
  4. Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Orlando, Florida)
  5. Universal Studios Florida (Orlando, Florida)
  6. Universal Studios Hollywood (Los Angeles, California)
  7. Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen, Denmark)
  8. Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  9. Europa-Park (Rust, Germany)
  10. Paultons Park (Romsey, United Kingdom)

The United States-only top 10 list is:

  1. Disney’s Magic Kingdom (Orlando, Florida)
  2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida)
  3. Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Orlando, Florida)
  4. Universal Studios Florida (Orlando, Florida)
  5. Universal Studios Hollywood (Los Angeles, California)
  6. Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
  7. Disneyland (Anaheim, California)
  8. Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Orlando, Florida)
  9. Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)
  10. Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, California)

And honestly, as someone that has visited each park listed above Dollywood in the US rankings, I would have to say that I personally believe Dollywood deserves an ever higher ranking than it has received. I’ll make my case below.

Best Rides at Dollywood - Lightning Rod
Dollywood’s Steel/Wood coaster hybrid, Lightning Rod (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood has the best rides

As a kid in the 1990s, I remember being blown away by Disney’s Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Those rides were unlike anything I had ever experienced at the time. 

But upon my last visit to Disney in 2019, 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.

And Universal, while in my opinion has kept up with the “Joneses” a bit better than Disney, seems to be relying far too much on 3D simulation rides with only a four 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.

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

Ride cubbies at Blazing Fury hold loose items for guests while they ride (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Ride cubbies at Blazing Fury hold loose items for guests while they ride (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood thinks about the little things: 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 FastPass program, my husband and I found ourselves waiting anywhere from 1-3 hours – often in the hot sun with minimal shade – for almost every ride in the park.

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 also posts live wait times on large screens throughout the park in ADDITION to being posted on the app. Why is this important you might ask?

It’s an amusement park – you won’t always have your smart phone on hand. The airport-style queue screens allow guests to easily plan out their day, no matter where they are, without having to return to their locker or dig their phone out of a backpack full of snacks and sunscreen while your kids scream “MOM, what are we doing next?!”

Dollywood also has their own form of a line-skipper called the “TimeSaver.” The TimeSaver pass starts at $44 for 10, or $54 for unlimited. However, we’ve never used more than 10 TimeSavers on any single day at the park, so I really can’t imagine anyone would need the unlimited version. 

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. Every time I visit other major theme parks, I feel like a large portion of my day is spent on going back and forth to the lockers to retrieve my miscellaneous wears. At Dollywood, my bag just waits for me in a cubby while I am on the ride and is there for pickup as soon as I’m done – the way God intended. 

Rad More: Dollywood insider’s guide: 9 tips and tricks to know before you go

The TimeSaver pass starts at $44 for 10, or $54 for unlimited (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
The TimeSaver pass starts at $44 for 10, or $54 for unlimited (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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 eight consecutive years in a row since 2012 – 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. 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 and 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. 

Whenever I’m in the mood for a tranquil day at an amusement park – for me, it’s Dollywood every time.

Dollywood’s season concludes with the 12-time Golden Ticket winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Event, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana, November 14, 2020 - January 2, 2021 (photo by Laura Akens/TheSmokies.com)
Dollywood’s season concludes with the 12-time Golden Ticket winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Event, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana, Nov. 14, 2020-Jan. 2, 2021 (photo by Laura Akens/TheSmokies.com)

Upcoming Dollywood Fall and Winter Festivals

There are still plenty of great memories to be made during Dollywood’s 35th anniversary season. Dollywood’s Harvest Festival, presented by Humana, takes place Sept. 25-Oct. 31 and features the winner of USA Today’s Best Theme Park Halloween event in 2019, Great Pumpkin LumiNights, presented by Covenant Health.

Dollywood’s season concludes with the 12-time Golden Ticket winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Event, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, presented by Humana, which runs from Nov. 14, 2020-Jan. 2, 2021.

For more information about Dollywood’s 2020 season, please visit www.dollywood.com or call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.

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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