Pirates Voyage Vs Dolly’s Stampede: One is a Better Show, Says a Local

pirates voyage and dolly partons stampede storefronts

At the end of the day, it really comes down to whether or not you prefer pirates or cowboys. But as for me, it's Pirates all day long (photos by Morgan Overholt and Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

A Smoky Mountain local compares Dolly’s Stampede to Pirates Voyage in Pigeon Forge, TN

Dolly Parton’s Stampede is a legend in the tourist dinner theater game. Born in 1988, today it is part of the 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. The Stampede with its horse tricks, musical numbers and down-home comedy has flourished and remains the king of the mountain when it comes to Pigeon Forge dinner theater.

But 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 this completely made-up battle, replacing the South Carolina version of the Stampede. In 2019, World Choice Investments brought the Pirates to Pigeon Forge. It was also recently announced that Dolly would be expanding her Pirates Voyage franchise to Panama City in Florida. Though the money ultimately ends up in the same pot, it doesn’t mean there’s no competition. But if you are visiting and can only do one of the two shows, you will need to know. – which one is best? Let’s break it down scientifically with a tale of the tape.

the cast of pirates voyage
The Pirates theme is new, exciting, and fresh. Plus, who doesn’t love opportunities to make Pirate-themed dad jokes while on vacation? (media photo/Pirates Voyage)

Which show has better theming?

Winner in this category: Pirates Voyage

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.

The winner here, for me, has got to be Pirates Voyage. Sometimes you need the newer attraction, and the Pirates are the newer 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.

a plate of fried chicken, soup, mac and cheese and a biscuit
Both shows offer a four-course southern-inspired meal (media photo/Pirates Voyage)

Which has better food?

Winner in this category: It’s a draw

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. Both offer vegan and gluten-free options. 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 and a biscuit. For dessert, Pirates get a “specialty dessert” while the Stampede offers a flaky apple turnover. This round is a draw.

The horse stunts at Dolly Parton’s Stampede are quite impressive (media photo/Dolly Parton’s Stampede)

Which show has better animals?

Winner in this category: Dolly Parton’s Stampede

Stampede has buffalo, horses and pigs while Pirates has fish, dogs, birds, and sea lions. Parrots are fun and exotic, as are sea lions. But give me a horse jumping through a ring of fire and I’m a happy guy. Winner for me: Dolly Parton’s Stampede.

aerial performers with horses at dolly partons stampede in pigeon forge
Overall, there’s more comedic relief at Dolly Parton’s Stampede (media photo/Dolly Parton’s Stampede)

Which show is funnier?

Winner in this category: Dolly Parton’s Stampede

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.

two pirates touch swords
Both shows are similarly priced (media photo/Pirates Voyage)

Which show is more affordable?

Winner in this category: It’s a draw

The tickets start at the same price at both venues, $59.99 for adults, $29.99 for kids. But do note, that prices vary for both seasonally. And tipping is always suggested at Pirates Voyage and Dolly Parton’s Stampede. We recommend 20% in cash. By default, this one has to be a tie. After all, they are owned by the same company. What did you expect?

Even the pirates get a little festive at Pirate's Voyage in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (photo courtesy of Pirates Voyage)
At the end of the day, Pirates Voyage is just a bit more entertaining then Dolly Parton’s Stampede (media photo/Pirates Voyage)

Which dinner show is better overall?

Winner in this category: Pirates Voyage

So there you have it. When you break things down scientifically it eliminates the middleman or at least it usually does. You might think I was about to pick Dolly Parton’s Stampede as the overall winner as they did come out ahead in more categories. However, I’d argue that theming is the real deciding factor when choosing between the two shows. Especially considering how similar the food and price are for each. With that in mind, I’d pick Pirates Voyage for the better overall show. But I’m waiting for the next-level genius that combines the two. 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.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

1 thought on “Pirates Voyage Vs Dolly’s Stampede: One is a Better Show, Says a Local”

  1. I have been to both of the shows and loved each one! Food is great at both. I liked the fact you could have a pre show drink at pirates and it was a more intimate setting. Stampede is a much bigger venue and a more exciting show. If you have the chance to see the Christmas show at Stampede, it’s wonderful!!!


Leave a Comment