The way we’ve built our society, summer is our reward.
We learn from a young age that the calendar doesn’t really begin in January.
It really starts in late August or early September with a long road of confinement and responsibilities ahead.
Summer is the carrot at the end of the stick.
Even as we get older and our lives are no longer built around school and most of us keep plowing ahead with obligations, summer remains a mystical, somewhat mythical time of euphoric release, escape and blessed freedom.
The summer of 2022 is not different, but somehow completely different.
The need to release months of pent-up stress may be greater than any summer in several generations.
In short, we need this summer. We need it something fierce.
That’s where Dollywood, located in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, steps in.
It’s clear that park officials spent the downtime in planning mode.
What’s new at Dollywood this summer? 
The leadership at Dollywood, which impresses each season with its vision and forethought, is at it again. The celebration continues this year with new surprises and former favorites.
For the first time in five years, The Gazillion Bubble Show Aurora is back in 2022 with more bubbles than ever before. This show was brought back by popular demand and features millions, billions and gazillions of bubbles.
This year, it will even feature a never-before-seen fantasy segment that pays homage to Dolly Parton and her mountain home.
Also in 2022, the drone and fireworks show will be even bigger and brighter with 500 high-tech drones.
Also, all-new interactive shows “Liquid Beats” and “Hydro Jive Junction” will have guests splashing and singing along during refreshing performances.
Guests will be able to cool off on a hot summer day in the wonderful garden hose fountain installation found in Market Square during “Liquid Beats.” The interactive performance brings together dozens of garden hoses to create a colorful fountain that delivers bursts of cooling excitement to guests of all ages.
A landscaping-themed percussion troupe maintains the natural beauty of the Smokies, as they bring this new entertainment vision to guests.
In Jukebox Junction, “Hydro Jive Junction” features a musical maintenance worker trying to repair a faulty, spraying fire hydrant. Dancing ensues as the fire hydrant turns into a refreshing sprinkler for guests to enjoy, as the cast sings and dances to familiar favorites such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Splish Splash.”
Dollywood’s Sweet Summer Nights Drone Show
Dollywood’s Summer Celebration is highlighted by the family-favorite Sweet Summer Nights Drone Show for guests who stay after sundown. The technological marvel features hundreds of drones that illustrate a unique Dollywood story.
Described as a multi-sensory drone light show that creates a symphony of lights in the sky above the Pigeon Forge park, the effect is something akin to living animation combined with a fireworks show.
Each night, weather permitting, Intel Drone Light Shows will launch hundreds of drones into the sky, each capable of producing a full spectrum of color. These drones will light the night sky in multiple formations that move in sync with a choreographed fireworks show.
This year, the park is bringing larger drones and new illuminated scenes.
The show is the centerpiece of several show offerings across the park this summer.
In a press release, Dollywood’s marketers called the effect “epic” and is one of the family-favorite shows.
And while I typically cringe at press-release hyperbole, having seen the drones sync up to form a butterfly flapping its wings to Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”, I think epic is the right word.
To be honest, the closing showstoppers have been one of the places Dollywood struggles.
The Dollywood parades have always felt, to me, a little chintzy. But this show seems to be part of a concerted effort, alongside the Great Pumpkin LumiNights, to create memorable night time events.
It truly is something to amaze the entire family.
If the drone show was the only new thing for the summer, it would be enough.
But there’s a lot more.
The Sweet Summer Nights Dance Party
That’s right, the dancing continues this year.
If you’ve ever been at Dollywood and thought, “It’s been a long, hot day. You know what I need? I need to DANCE!” then Sweet Summer Nights has the event for you.
Dollywood is once again bringing in a DJ and energetic dancers, which is significantly better than lethargic dancers, I suppose, to form a dance party on the streets of Wildwood Grove, immediately preceding the drone show.
Additionally, jumping water jets will be featured in Rivertown Junction.
The Summer Soundtrack
In addition to the Dance Party, Dollywood will have a line-up of entertainment and new show offerings to celebrate the perfect summer day.
Live performers will take to the streets and stages of Dollywood to bring the joy and sounds of summer throughout the theme park.
Be sure to look for musical gardeners who turn ordinary trashcans into musical moments, or the Singing in the Rain troupe who transform spontaneous rain showers into fun-filled performances.
Good Vibes will be at the Back Porch Theater. Guests are treated to a musical journey through the rhythms of classic and contemporary tunes.
“It’s about celebrating positivity, counting blessings, and simply enjoying life and happiness,” officials said.
The Valley Theater is home to Forever Country, an energetic look at the changing landscape of country music in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
Guests can expect to hear popular hits from artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, as well as a nod to several popular dance songs and classic hits, including Dolly’s “Romeo” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.
Sweet treats for summer
Last but not least, Dollywood’s Culinary Team is cooking up summertime favorites full of flavor.
Fried fish and hushpuppies, BBQ pork nachos, Southern fried corn and an open-faced grilled cheese are just a few of the savory items guests can enjoy during the festival.
Sweet treats include peanut butter candy liege waffles, s’mores funnel cake and an orange Fanta float. Guests also will be able to visit the Food Truck Neighborhood in Adventures in Imagination for a variety of road trip treats.
After the success of the Flower & Food Festival Tasting Pass, the tastes of summer are now available with a similar option for guests.
The tasting pass, which can be purchased in the park or online, is $34.99 plus tax or $31.99 plus tax for gold and diamond passholders. The tasting pass is available each day of the festival.
The crowds can be a bit heavier when the kids are out of school. In my experience, the holiday season is probably the most crowded at Dollywood. Try to avoid weekends and holidays if you’re trying to avoid the crowds.
Dollywood summer deals
There are two great ways to save on your next trip to Dollywood for the Summer Celebration.
Dollywood is currently offering a variety of specials including resort bundles and pre-purchased meal packages. For the latest deals, check out the special offers page on the Dollywood website.
Do you plan to experience summer’s best moments? Check out Dollywood’s Tripster page which sometimes offers deals and discounts on general admission tickets.
Have you been to this Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration? What did you think of the event? Let us know in the comments!
But today, we want to compare two of Sevier County’s most popular summertime attractions: Dollywood’s Splash Country and Soaky Mountain – the area’s two largest outdoor water parks.
First, we break down several key factors including rides, slides, shade, cabanas, food and drink and affordability.
Then, we will answer a few of the internet’s most frequently asked questions about the two attractions.
Finally, we will declare a winner.
Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain: A comparison
1. Who owns the two parks?
Let’s begin with the topic of ownership and overall operations.
Dollywood’s Splash Country, like Dollywood itself, is operated by Herschend Family Entertainment in partnership with Dolly Parton.
Soaky Mountain is owned and operated by Wilderness Resorts and Waterparks (who also own and operate Wilderness at the Smokies).
The winner in this category: Splash Country. All hail the queen.
2. Which park is newer?
Next, let’s take a look at which is newer.
Splash Country is the older of the two parks. In fact, it originally opened in 2001. In other words, Soaky Mountain is considerably newer having just opened in 2020.
While, in our humble opinion, both parks are doing a great job of keeping things looking up to date, Soaky Mountain’s newness is noticeable. Everything is just a little newer, a little brighter, and a bit more modern than its Splash Country counterpart.
And as a relatively new waterpark, semantics also feel a bit more well thought out at Soaky Mountain.
For instance, one of our biggest complaints about Splash Country is the scorching hot floorboards that surround the lines and the dismount areas. They actually keep signs posted throughout the park warning riders to keep their shoes and sandals on until they are ready to board.
Soaky Mountain simply used heat-resistant materials that don’t get quite as hot in the sun on their ride queues. One can easily stand barefoot while waiting to ride the Avalaunch Watercoaster without a care for their bare little tootsies.
The winner in this category: Soaky Mountain.
3. Which has more water slides?
Now, let’s talk about slides and rides.
While Soaky Mountain is bigger – coming in at 50 acres vs Splash Country’s 35-acre blueprint – the two are actually quite similar in the rides department.
At the time of this writing, Splash Country has four float slides (two family-style), a water coaster, three body slides, three water mat slides, two children’s play areas, a regular pool, a wave pool and a lazy river.
It is also important to note that some attractions at Splash Country and Soaky Mountain have multiple tubes listed under the same attraction. But for the sake of simplicity, we will just count multi-tube attractions as one.
Not to be outdone, Soaky Mountain, at the time of this writing, has six float slides (two family-style), two watercoasters*, one boogie board surf simulator, two children’s play areas, one wave pool, one not-so-lazy river, a water obstacle course – Slippery Salamanders – and one regular pool.
And also for bonus points, one of the children’s play areas at Soaky – Boomer’s Bay – features pint-sized smaller versions of some of the adult slides including Mini Mayhem and Lil Rattlers. Our staff thinks this is a very nice touch. In particular, it’s a great way to make the whole family feel included.
However, again, for the sake of simplicity, we aren’t adding those mini slides to the slide count as they are really just a small part of the kid’s play area.
Soaky Mountain also has multiple tubes listed as the same attraction, so to keep things fair, we will count those as one just as we did for Splash Country.
*Soaky Mountain’s latest water coaster, The Edge, is still under construction and is set to debut in summer 2022.
Attractions at Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain
Kid’s Play Areas
Attractions at Splash Country vs Soaky Mountain
In total, Splash Country has 17 separate attractions. Soaky Mountain has 20.
And finally, Soaky Mountain also boasts a better variety of unique water attractions.
The winner in this category: Soaky Mountain.
4. Which has better slides and rides?
This one is a bit of a toss-up as we think slide preference is really very subjective.
Do you prefer float slides? Soaky Mountain is going to be your jam.
Or perhaps you prefer high-intensity body slides or a good head-first mat racing challenge. If so, you’re better off at Splash Country.
If you have little kids, we recommend Soaky Mountain for their mini slides.
But if you like lazy rivers that are actually lazy, you’ll prefer Splash.
Or if waves are more your thing, you’re going to love Soaky Surge – Soaky Mountain’s gigantic 35,000 square foot wave pool.
So for this category, we are just going to go with the overall staff opinion on which is better.
Winner for this category: Soaky Mountain. By a hair.
5. Which has a better lazy river?
Again, this is going to come down to personal preference. However, I cannot stress enough that the “lazy” rivers at Soaky Mountain and Splash Country couldn’t be any more different.
Splash Country’s lazy river is everything you’d expect out of a traditional lazy river attraction. Surely, no explanation is needed.
Conversely, as Soaky Mountain clearly states in all of their marketing materials – their river is not a lazy river.
In fact, their river attraction is more like rapids. Thus the name, Black Bear Rapids.
It starts just like any normal lazy river might. Riders grab a float and begin their peaceful journey down a cool, calm mountain stream via tube. That’s when all heck breaks loose.
Specifically, every few minutes, a wave machine produces a monster wave that creates a massive ripple effect that spans nearly the entire length of the 24,000 square foot ride.
Of course, it’s fun. But it’s definitely not lazy.
We kinda wish that Soaky Mountain had followed Universal’s Volcano Bay suit by having two rivers – one lazy and one not. So again, we are just going to go with our personal preference on this one.
Winner in this category: Splash Country. We prefer to be lazy.
6. Which park has more shade?
We think you will find this one to be a bit surprising.
Soaky Mountain has more shade. In fact, there is no comparison.
Certainly, Soaky Mountain, on the surface, looks like a concrete jungle. Especially compared to Splash Country’s lush mountain landscape.
But this is just one of those things that Soaky does best – they focus on the guest experience. And it shows.
At Soaky, there are giant-sized umbrellas covering almost every lounger. And also, there are loads of shaded areas to relax and enjoy.
Splash Country only has a couple of shaded pavilions – mostly near the kid splash pad area – and when those are full your only option is upgrading to a private cabana. Boo.
Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. By a landslide (mountain joke).
7. Which park has better cabanas?
Here, we wanted to automatically deduct points from Splash Country because they make us feel forced to upgrade to cabanas for shade on a sunny day due to their lack of shaded rest areas.
But we will strive to be impartial here.
Soaky Mountain has two main cabana-style options. Each comes at an extra cost to admission.
Soaky Mountain Clamshell Cabanas
The first option is the Clamshell Cabana. Clamshell Cabanas are nothing special. Additionally, in our humble opinion, mostly a waste of money. They are nothing more than little pop-up tents that fit over two loungers with a small table in between.
The biggest benefit to renting these loungers is the host drink service that’s included. These loungers start at $50 per day, but we more often see them run between $75-$99. Yikes.
Soaky Mountain Tents
The second option at Soaky Mountain is the Soaky Tent, which comes in three sizes with seating for 8-16 guests. The smaller tents start at $129.99 per day. The largest tents start at $169.99 per day. But just a warning, we frequently see both going for nearly double those introductory prices during peak season.
Each tent is equipped with:
a table and chairs
food and drink host service (cost of food and drink not included)
a ceiling fan
If you have a lot of people in your group and are planning on spending the entire day at the amusement park, we think these tent cabanas at Soaky Mountain are absolutely worth every penny.
Soaky Mountain Cabana Comparison
Soaky Mountain Cabana Type
Soaky Mountain Cabana Features
After you’ve been pressured into buying a cabana for lack of shaded options at Splash Country, you’ll be glad to know that there are three primary options from which you can choose.
Splash Country Luxury Loungers
First, we have the Luxury Loungers – which are similar to Soaky Mountain’s clamshells.
These are nothing more than little pop-up tents that fit over two lounge chairs with a small lockbox. But unlike Soaky Mountain, they do not include beverage service. They start at $45 per day.
Splash Country Canopies
Next up, we have the Canopies. The Canopies resemble mini wooden sheds. Each provides 65 square feet of shade and features two chaise lounge chairs with a lockbox.
These Canopies offer actual privacy vs the loungers but are still rather tiny and do not include drink service. Prices start at $65 per day.
Splash Country Retreats
Finally, we have the Retreats. The Splash Country Retreat Cabanas come in two different varieties: A Basic Retreat, and a Deluxe Retreat.
The Basic Retreat features 200 square feet of shaded space and a 100 square foot sun deck. Retreats can house up to 8 people with a maximum occupancy of 10 (you have to pay extra for persons #9 and #10).
Retreats start at $210 per day and again, we think are absolutely worth the price, especially if you have a big family.
All Retreats include a:
dining table and chairs
food and drink service (cost of food and drink not included)
ADA accessible Retreats are also available.
The Deluxe Retreat is just like the Basic Retreat only it also includes:
additional lounge chairs
Deluxe Retreats start at $325 per day.
Personally, we don’t really see the value for the extra $100. As a result, we would recommend just sticking to the Basic Retreat.
Splash Country Cabanas Comparison
Splash Country Cabana Type
Drink Service (Bottled/Dry)
Splash Country Cabana Features
If we had to pick a winner in this category, overall it’s a tough call. We think Dollywood’s Retreats are more comfortable than the tents.
Splash Country also has more options in this category. Not entirely helpful options, but more options all the same. After all, who is really going to buy the Luxury Lounger over the Canopy?
But then again we also like the fact that all of Soaky’s options feature beverage service which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as y’all know, waiting in lines at waterparks just to get a drink is no fun.
It’s also helpful to add that Soaky has adult beverages too. Splash Country is dry.
However, this category isn’t about who offers better service or better food. This is about who has the better cabanas. And for that, there is, we believe, a clear winner.
Winner in this category: Splash Country.
8. Can you bring your own food and drink?
You cannot bring outside food and drink to Soaky Mountain. Nor can you bring outside food and drink to Splash Country.
But you can, however, bring one sealed bottle of water or an empty plastic water bottle (to refill as needed) to Soaky Mountain.
Likewise, you can bring empty water bottles to Splash Country.
And also, both parks provide free tap water in disposable cups to guests.
But never fear, there are plenty of other food and drink options available at each park – for an extra charge.
Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. Thanks for the bottled water.
9. Which has better food?
Both parks have solid food options, ya know, for a water park. Long gone are the days when your theme park food was limited to hot dogs and a bag of chips (looking at you Ogle’s Waterpark).
We particularly enjoy the Beavertails at Splash Country, which are fried on location as you order so they are always warm and fresh.
But Soaky, as we said before, also has its fair share of sweet treats (shoutout to the Soaky Shake Shoppe – YUM) including adult beverages and specialty food trucks like Philly Up and the Tacolicious.
Who doesn’t love specialty tacos after a long day in the water?
We also love Soaky’s Base Camp Bistro.
In fact, we almost hate to say it, as we’ve given them so many points already, but we think Soaky Mountain overall has the better food options.
Winner in this category: Soaky Mountain. Cheers!
10. Which is cheaper?
Finally, let’s talk about affordability.
At the time of this writing, daily admission to Splash Country costs $54.95 per adult (ages 10-61). And a 2-day water park ticket runs at $74.95 per adult, and a 3-day water park ticket runs at $84.95.
Multi-park tickets and season passes are also available.
And of course, season passes are available at both locations. Prices vary seasonally.
As a general rule of thumb, if you plan to go more than twice to either park, a season pass is probably going to be a good idea.
Winner in this category: Again, Soaky Mountain.
Frequently asked questions about Splash Country and Soaky Mountain
1. Is Soaky Mountain indoor?
No, Soaky Mountain is not an indoor water park. However, its sister attraction, Wilderness at the Smokies across the street is partially an indoor water park.
2. Does Soaky Mountain have a lazy river?
Sort of. Soaky Mountain has a river attraction, but it is not lazy. It is actually more of a thrill ride. They call it an adventure river instead of a lazy river.
3. Does Dolly Parton own Splash Country?
Splash Country is owned and operated by Herschend Family Entertainment in partnership with Dolly Parton.
4. Can you do Dollywood and Splash Country in one day?
Anything is possible. However, we would recommend against doing Dollywood and Splash Country in one day. There’s a lot to see and do in each park. Personally, we consider Dollywood to be a 2-day park, and Splash Country a 1-day park.
Trying to cram both parks into a single day isn’t advised.
5. What’s the best ride at Soaky Mountain?
Our favorite rides at Soaky Mountain are Rainbow Revenge, Blue Mountain Mayhem and Avalaunch.
Rainbow Revenge is a five-person raft ride. As is Blue Mountain Mayhem. Avalaunch is a water coaster.
We also suspect we will fall in love with The Edge coaster when it opens later this year.
Honestly, we are just suckers for water coasters and thrill rides in general.
6. What’s the best ride at Splash Country?
Our favorite rides at Splash Country are the Raging River Rapids, RiverRush and the Downbound Float Trip.
Raging River Rapids is one of two family-style rides in the park. RiverRush is Splash Country’s only watercoaster. Furthermore, the Downbound Float Trip is a classic lazy river ride.
Nice and relaxing as God intended.
7. Is the water heated at Splash Country and Soaky Mountain?
The water is not heated at either Splash Country or Soaky Mountain. With nary a hot tub in sight at either location.
Therefore, on a cool day, prepare to freeze your tush off. It’s all part of the Smoky Mountain experience.
Conclusion: Which water park is better?
If we were going off of points alone, Soaky Mountain would be the clear winner here.
Indeed, our staff mostly tends to prefer Soaky to Splash for all of the reasons mentioned above. Specifically, it’s a modern park, with a better variety of rides and food options. It’s also a park that really caters to the guest experience.
However, it is important to note that we also genuinely love Splash Country.
All in all, the parks are very similar, but also very unique.
If you only have one day to dedicate to a water park on your next visit to the Smoky Mountains, consider going to Soaky Mountain. However, if you have two days, go to both. We think your entire family will have a great time either way.