5 Reasons Why Dollywood Is Better Than Disney World

dollywood sign contrasted with disney world castle at magic kingdom

Dollywood often ranks higher on theme park lists than Disney (photos by Morgan Overholt and James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

It’s easy to take the Dollywood theme park 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 Dollywood 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. 

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 holds its own against these parks. And in many ways, it outperforms them. I don’t have anything against Disney or Universal. I revert to my childhood every time I step inside Diagon Alley. But each time I go to one of these other parks, I find myself reminiscing about the theme park I love back home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. 

RELATED VIDEO: Dollywood vs Disney World

Is Dollywood cheaper than Disney World?

Yes, Dollywood is more affordable than Disney World. A one-day ticket to a Disney World park, for example, ranges from $109-189 depending on the park and date selection for ages 10 and up. When I was pricing the park tickets for comparison, a two-day ticket for Disney was $112 per day. But let’s say I want to go to a Disney park soon because I’m a poor planner. Looking at the calendar, every day for the next month is $180. Dollywood, by contrast, is $92 per day, every day, for ages 10-61. If you visit the park for two days, the price is about $60 per day if you average out a two-day park ticket. So yes, Dollywood is quite a bit more affordable than Disney.

dreammore resort at dollywood
At the time of this writing, Dollywood has one resort tied to the hotel, but there are more on the way (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is Dollywood bigger than Disney World?

No. Dollywood has its main theme park and a waterpark located nearby. Disney World has four theme parks and two waterparks. Plus, Disney World has more than 25 resort hotels to choose from if you wish to stay on-site. Dollywood has DreamMore Resort but the company is growing. Its new resort, HeartSong Lodge, will open later this fall.

How big is Dollywood compared to Magic Kingdom?

Let’s compare Dollywood to just one of the Disney parks, like Magic Kingdom. Surprisingly, Dollywood, at 160 acres, is bigger than Magic Kingdom, which depending on who you ask is either 107 acres or 142 acres. However, EPCOT is a whopping 305 acres, almost double Dollywood and Magic Kingdom.

So which is better, Dollywood or Disney World?

In 2022, Dollywood was ranked number one in the Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Amusement Parks in the United States. But Disney’s Magic Kingdom at Disney was ranked third, behind Universal’s Islands of Adventure. On the list of top worldwide parks, Dollywood is the first American park on the list, coming in at number eight. 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 the top ten this year. Ouch.

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 a few reasons I think Dollywood is so consistently highly rated as a top vacation destination:

lightning rod coaster entrance
Dollywood has some of the best coasters in the nation, including the record-breaking Lightning Rod hybrid coaster (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 (soon to be Tiana’s Bayou Adventure), 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, for the most part, simply hasn’t innovated enough to keep up with the changing times. Many of the big-name rides and coasters popular in the 1990s are the same rides and coasters that are popular today. Improvements are being made as evidenced by the retheming of Splash Mountain and new additions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. But there’s more work to be done still.

Universal, in my opinion, has kept up with the times a bit better than Disney. However, it seems to be relying far too much on 3D simulation rides with only a handful of true coasters remaining in the entire park.

Dollywood, on the other hand, has eight major roller coasters and none of them rely heavily on 3D motion or special effects. These coasters include Mystery Mine, Tennessee Tornado, Blazing Fury, Dragonflier, Thunderhead, FireChaser Express, Lightning Rod and Wild Eagle. And also the recent Big Bear Mountain’s opening. The Lightning Rod roller coaster is a record-breaking, 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.

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 (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Dollywood has better lines, shade and cubbies

True story – last time I was at Disney, a woman 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 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 ride any single Dollywood attraction, and almost every queue has some sort of shade available. Dollywood posts its live wait times on large screens throughout the park in addition to being posted on the app. Why is this important? Because it’s an amusement park – and 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 a line-skipper called the “TimeSaver” when needed.

Additionally, Dollywood 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 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.

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 can 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 and crowds are thick. People are also 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, and greet you with a genuine smile and a “How y’all doing” while simultaneously keeping the park immaculate. 

pink tree at chasing rainbows museum at dollywood during christmas
Dollywood features fan-favorite festivals each season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Dollywood has amazing 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 at a media event at one of the Dollywood resorts (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

1. Dollywood has 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 musical talent and sense of humor. But more importantly, we love her because she consistently gives back to her community. Her namesake park honors her life and legacy through its theming and features, including a replica of Dolly Parton’s childhood home in Tennessee. It’s hard for other theme parks to compete with a force of nature like Dolly.

Are you planning a trip to Dollywood? Remember to check Tripster for deals when you book your tickets online. The two-day ticket is one of the best values for your theme park dollar.

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

2 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Dollywood Is Better Than Disney World”

  1. Dollywood is better than Disney World. I have been to Disney World 17 times, in my opinion, Disney has made many changes over the past few years that take all the fun out of the adventure. Dollywood is my new go-to amusement park. The climate is cooler, the lines are shorter, and the guests and workers are friendlier. You get one bottle of water, and you can refill it all day long, the food is better and less expensive. The rollercoasters are much better. The best part of all, you don’t need to reserve your park or your rides and be on your smartphone all day to enjoy the park. You can walk through and enjoy the day without planning every minute in advance, making for a more relaxing and enjoyable day.

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