Most people go on vacation with a certain budget in mind. Everything you choose to do takes a piece of that pie.
A fancy meal? That’s “x” percent of your budget.
A shopping trip to stock up on salt-water taffy and ninja stars? That’s “y” percent straight out of your budget.
And so, planning becomes a game of deciding what activities are worth taking and which ones don’t offer the bang for the buck.
And the question invariably arrives, what about Dollywood?
On one hand, you have one of the top rated theme parks in the world. Massive roller coasters and lots of shows, Dollywood offers something for nearly everyone in your traveling party.
On the other hand? Cost.
How much does a day at Dollywood cost for a family?
Depending on the size of your vacation budget, Dollywood can eat up the majority of the money you’ve set aside.
For instance, I priced a random Tuesday in the park for my family of five. At single day prices, it would cost about $425 just to get into Dollywood.
That price doesn’t include parking, food, drinks, games and souvenirs. A day at Dollywood for my family could easily get into the $650 and up range.
So is Dollywood worth the price?
Is Dollywood worth it for us? Yes. Yes, it is.
Dollywood is freaking awesome, man.
I’m a theme-park guy. I grew up going to Cedar Point, Kings Island, Disney and yes, Dollywood.
In the 80s, when I first crossed the Dollywood threshold, the experience was quite different. The park leaned heavily on the themed side of things.
The rides back then were relatively few and far between and often, a little wanting. In all aspects, honestly, it was far behind those other parks.
That’s also why I’m so pro-Dollywood now. I’ve watched over the decades as management has invested in the park, recognized shortcomings and worked to rectify them.
Dollywood’s coasters may not keep up with Cedar Point, but they’re respectable. You can have a great day at Dollywood just hopping from one coaster to the next.
But also, you can have a great day at Dollywood and never set foot on a coaster.
My favorite part about the Dollywood theme park
My favorite part of the park now is Wildwood Grove. It’s just so intelligently designed.
There’s room to spread out. Places to sit down. There’s shade. And rides for all ages.
It only took decades but theme park designers have realized that if people are comfortable, well-rested and relatively free of heat exhaustion, they’ll have more fun, spend more money and be more likely to return as customers.
Probably my least favorite thing at Dollywood, except for the at-least temporarily defunct Festival of Nations, is the shows. The performers are quite talented and the shows are well-designed, but the music itself is mostly not for me.
I’ve never been a big country music guy, and I’m very specific about the types of bluegrass I enjoy.
I’ve long advocated for Dollywood to add a Southern Rock show or two. Some Allman Brothers, Black Crows and even some Skynyrd would be an epic addition.
And while I’m not holding my breath, the way management at Dollywood listens, invests and grows, I’m not ruling anything out.
Another area Dollywood has improved is the County Fair. In the past, winning prizes was quite difficult and some games remain that way.
But Dollywood’s management realized a small prize goes a long way to keeping kids happy, and happy kids equals happy parents.
During our last trip to Dollywood, our 8-year-old went on a bit of a prize-winning run.
Our 5-year-old managed a win and our teenager got some big, stuffed Pikachu-thing.
You’d have thought we’d just cleaned up at the Oscars.
There were acceptance speeches made. Little people were thanked. It was a whole thing.
Now, months later, when they talk about Dollywood and our trip, they talk about winning prizes. That memory was worth the price of a few games.
The result of the vacation math: Keeping it budget-friendly
The math of planning a vacation is fairly straightforward. What kind of memories can I buy for my vacation dollars?
Dollywood’s costs are certainly significant, but the bang you get for your bucks is significant as well.
Is Dollywood worth it?
There are a lot of ways to make memories in the Smokies. My suggestion is to balance the expensive with the inexpensive.
Going to spend a day at Dollywood? Spend another day picnicking the mountains.
That makes the two-day average more budget friendly and it gives you and your family a nice representative sample of what the best of the Smokies has to offer.