Two staples of American culture, of our collective mythology, go to battle on the strip in Pigeon Forge each day in a fight to the finish for your tourist dollar.
In one corner, we have venerable veteran Dolly Parton’s Stampede, a legend in the tourist dinner theater game.
The former Dixie Stampede has weathered the times.
Born in 1988, today it is part of the still relatively recent partnership between tourism business powerhouse Herschend Family Entertainment, Sevier County legend angel-on-Earth Dolly Parton and Fred Hardwick, chairman of the board of World Choice Investments.
World Choice Investments is also the company that manages the Stampede and other dinner attraction venues in Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Over the years, the Stampede led to a sister facility in Herschend’s backyard of Branson and endured some amount of controversy as national attitudes about the light-hearted Civil War theme shifted.
The Stampede with its horse tricks, musical numbers and down-home comedy survived, flourished and remains the king of the mountain when it comes to Pigeon Forge dinner theater.
But several challengers have arisen, including one particularly formidable one from the same ownership group.
The Pirates Voyage set sail in Myrtle Beach in 2010, ironically, for the purposes of this completely made-up battle, replacing the South Carolina version of the Stampede.
In 2019, World Choice Investments brought the Pirates to Pigeon Forge.
Though the money ultimately ends up in the same pot, it doesn’t mean there’s no competition to be the best dinner theatre show in town. Let’s say you’re visiting for the weekend. You can only do one of the two shows, which one is best?
Let’s break it down scientifically with a tale of the tape.
The main difference between the two shows is theming
The Stampede, despite having shied away from Civil War themes, remains a “friendly” competition between North and South.
It features riders performing thrilling stunts on horseback, special effects, large and frequently patriotic-themed musical productions and the comedy styling of a gentleman who goes by the name of Skeeter.
There have been many Skeeters over the years, it’s a title that gets passed down like the Dread Pirate Roberts or Batman.
Speaking of Pirates, Blackbeard and his quartermaster Calico Jack are the stars of the Pirates Voyage, a show featuring daring acrobatic stunts on land, on deck a full-sized pirate ship and in and above the indoor hideaway lagoon, which also features mermaids.
It’s bright and colorful and your buckles will be swashed. Think of it as a little bit the Goonies meets Peter Pan meets Esther Williams. It’s a trip. Don’t try to tackle the show on edibles.
Winner: Gotta be the pirates. Sometimes you need the newer attraction, and the Pirates are the new kids on the block. Also, and I’m sure it’s just me, but eating a four-course dinner while horses are riding around doing horse things and kicking up dust is not my thing.
What food is served at Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede?
Both shows serve a four-course meal. Since both attractions are owned and managed by the same folks, neither strays too far from the corporate template.
They both offer chicken and pork dishes. The Pirates enjoy cracklin’ pan-fried chicken and sugar-cured ham.
For the Stampede, it’s a whole rotisserie chicken and BBQ pork loin. The rest of the menu is pretty much identical. There’s creamy vegetable soup, corn on the cob, herb-basted potato, a biscuit and a turnover.
For dessert, Pirates get peach turnovers while the Stampede offers apple turnovers.
This round is a draw.
Is Pirates Voyage or Stampede all-you-can-eat?
Neither venue’s meals are all-you-can-eat, however, offerings are ample and sure to sate the largest of appetites.
If I’m being honest, I’m bothered that the Pirates meal isn’t more nautical. I’m sure pirates had cured ham, but there’s no way they’re frying chicken at sea. God knows if there’s one thing I want when eating a four-course meal and watching flying pirate acrobats, it’s authenticity.
Both offer vegetarian and gluten-free options as well as Coca-Cola beverage options.
This round is also a draw.
Is there alcohol at Pirates Voyage or Dolly Parton’s Stampede?
Pirates Voyage does have a pre-show bar where you can get a pint of ale or a bit of rum to get in the mood.
There is no alcohol at Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
Winner: Pirates Voyage. I prefer the Stampede’s pork loin to the Pirate’s ham, but Pirates has a pre-show bar, and nobody sings about what to do with a stone-cold sober sailor.
Do you get silverware at Pirates Voyage or the Stampede?
Despite what you may have heard, both Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede now utilize silverware to keep those fingers grease-free.
Again, this round is a draw.
Which show has better animals?
Stampede has horses while Pirates has birds. Parrots are fun and exotic. But give me a horse jumping through a ring of fire and I’m a happy guy.
Winner: Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
Which show is funnier?
Listen, your mileage may vary on old Stampede Skeeter. Some people love him. Some hate him.
Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the efforts. Sure, Pirates offers a lot of fun puns, but ultimately, there’s only one dinner theater comedy G.O.A.T. and it ain’t Blackbeard.
Winner: Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
How much does it cost to attend Dolly Parton’s Stampede or Pirates Voyage?
The ticket prices are the same at both venues. $59.99 for adults, $29.99 for kids.
Speaking of cost, how much should you tip at Pirates Voyage or Dolly Parton’s Stampede?
Tipping is always suggested at Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede. We recommend 20% in cash.
Which dinner show is better? Pirates Voyage or Dolly Parton’s Stampede?
So there you have it. When you break things down scientifically it eliminates the middleman or at least it usually does.
In this case, it’s a tie.
I think, it really just comes down to whether you prefer pirates or cowboys.
Although, the alcohol at Pirates Voyage may tip the scale for some.
Personally, I’m all in on the pirates. But I’m waiting for the next-level genius that puts the two together. Pirates and cowboys together at last.
Come on World Choice, give the people what they want.
Have you been to the Stampede or Pirates Voyage? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.