Dollywood 101: Guide to Planning a Family Vacation to the Smokies

Some of my fondest memories growing up center around our family vacations…family road trips, fighting in the backseat with my sister, while our dad completes the white-knuckle voyage around the mountains…all while semi-synchronously yelling the lyrics to “She’ll be coming around the mountain.”  Okay, so looking back on it, the drive TO our vacation destination probably wasn’t the best experience for my mom. Sorry, mom!

However, the destination itself was well worth the journey. So what was our favorite vacation spot? The Great Smoky Mountains, of course! To this day, there is something in the mountain air of the Smokies that immediately takes me back to those trips as a child. Days spent hiking and picnicking in the woods, the excitement of an occasional black bear sighting (as my dad would say, “Look closely for bears because you can “beeeaaaarrrrly” see them”… #dadjokes), and of course mine and my sister’s #1 favorite place to visit… drumroll please…DOLLYWOOD!  

When we were kids, a day at Dollywood included multiple rounds on the Blazing Fury (which is a ride still in operation, although I think now we would consider it “vintage”), entertaining shows, a trip around the park on the coal-fired steam engine train, and fresh kettle corn (yes, please!).  There was something about a day at Dollywood that created lasting memories for our family. Actually, we loved going so much that, 5 years ago my sister and I started an annual tradition of bringing our families to Dollywood each Fall for a weekend getaway. And now that we live in Atlanta, the road trip to Dollywood is only a few hours, which means fewer backseat sibling quarrels, which means happier mamas!

Dollywood Fam JamThis year, we are spending an entire week in the Smokies! I’m excited to mix in some new and old experiences into the trip, including staying at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa!

We LOVE Dollywood. It is the PERFECT spot for Atlanta families to visit. We’ve put together this guide to help plan your next getaway to the Smokies! Take a look below at why moms and kids love it!

DreamMore Resort and Spa

Why Kids Love It

    • Rooms with bunk beds! While there are many styles of rooms to select from, we are booking one with a king bed and bunk beds. My kids squealed when I showed them a picture of the room we will be in…who knew bunk beds mattered so much?! #easywin
    • The pools! This detail should truly fall under both the “Kids” and the “Moms” section, because honestly, everyone in the family will love the pools. The DreamMore has 2 of them – both are heated and supervised by an award-winning lifeguard staff. The “Swimming Hole” is a beautiful outdoor pool which features a cascading waterfall and an interactive family splash pad for your littles! If you are looking for an indoor option, check out The Garden House for year-round swimming fun and a beautiful floor-to-ceiling view of the Smoky Mountains. 
    • Family-friendly activities! Each day, the resort schedules a variety of activities your kids will be excited about. Activities include warming up with a cup of hot apple cider in the lobby each afternoon, roasting s’mores by a campfire, and listening to nightly bedtime stories around a wood burning fire pit. PS: These activities are included at no extra charge with your stay!
    • Camp DW! For an extra small fee, kids love making arts and crafts with their parents and the Camp DW staff. Different crafts are scheduled each day and can include ceramic painting, watercolor canvas painting, making your own sun catchers, etc.

Why Moms Love It

    • Free trolley transportation to and from the parks! Not only does the trolley save you from the hassle of fighting for a parking spot, but it also drops you off at a special Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort guest-only entrance! 
    • The spa! Because it wouldn’t be a complete vacation with a little downtime for us mamas, the charming onsite spa is a great place to unwind. For this trip, I am opting for the Touch of the Season mani/pedi for me but have also invited my daughter to join for the perfect girl’s morning out. She’s excited about her “Bedazzled mani/pedi,” which was specifically created for her age. No judgement if you choose to visit solo though – the massages, facials and body treatments are all hard to pass up.
    • The dining options! There are multiple dining options onsite, including Song and Hearth which is a delicious family-style restaurant (their breakfast buffet is a must!) and DM Pantry which is perfect for a quite bite or coffee (hello, Starbucks) on the go.  And if you are enjoying family time at the outdoor pool, ordering food and drinks off the Poolside Dining menu is an easy, breezy way to feed your fam!


Why Kids Love It

  • The rides! Today’s Dollywood has expanded from the Dollywood of my past – however, the park is proof that not all change is bad. Dollywood still hosts the nostalgic rides I remember experiencing as a kid (i.e. Blazing Fury, a wooden roller coaster, and the train), but now the park has expanded to over 150 acres and more than 40 rides! The variety of rides make for a fun day for my extended family with ages ranging from 2 to 60. My favorite ride? Well, if you aren’t too afraid of heights, be sure to hit up the Drop Line before you leave. The ride lifts you more than 20 stories high and gives you an incredibly peaceful bird’s eye view of the Smoky Mountains…before it plummets you back down to the ground.
  • The themed areas of the park! The park is broken up into several themed sections, each decorated differently and hosting rides and activities that seem to fit. Long-time favorites of my kids are the Country Fair (this fair-themed section includes rides for all ages, but specifically has a few for your traveling toddlers) and Jukebox Junction (which holds their FAVORITE ride, the Rockin’ Roadway…now that they are over 42” in height, they can take their own classic car out without a parent tagging along… sweet freedom!). Last year though, Dollywood opened the new Wildwood Grove area, which was so much fun to explore during our trip last fall. My elementary-aged kids LOVED all of the rides and the fun, whimsical design of this new section. What did I love about Wildwood Grove? The indoor playground, Hidden Hollow – it was a perfect place to warm up from the cold weather in November, a perfect place to “wait out” a small rain shower in the spring, and a great escape from the heat of the summer. 
  • The extra stuff! The team at Dollywood has strategically placed playgrounds, fun hands-on play areas (think homemade musical instruments, etc) and splash pads throughout the park. These small design touches are fun for kids as parents are taking a quick break to plan their next ride or show.

Why Moms Love It

  • The family friendly atmosphere! Dollywood is equipped to help mamas with kids of all ages, stages and abilities. The friendly staff at the Ride Accessibility Center can help answer any questions you might have regarding ride requirements and recommendations to help plan your day. If your 7 year old is experiencing sensory overload, be sure to ask the staff about access to the Calming Room. It’s designed to be a quiet relaxing space and is equipped with items such as a weighted blankets to calm the senses.  Check out the “Tips for Visiting with Children” section of the FAQs.
  • The restrooms! Have you ever been to a theme park with horrible restrooms? Eww, no thank you! Dollywood not only has clean restrooms throughout the park, but many of their restrooms have a specific Family Restroom entrance and Nursing Stations included. Be sure to check out the Baby Care Center which has a private nursing area furnished with 6 gliders with foot stools.
  • The entertaining shows! In between rides throughout the day, I always plan for our family to attend 2-3 of their awesome variety of shows. Although you can spend practically an entire day watching shows alone, 2-3 in a day seem to be the perfect number to keep my kids captivated, while also allowing a bit of rest time. The shows rotate based on the season, but if you are there around Christmastime, our family’s favorites are ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Christmas in the Smokies.  
  • Last, but not least…the festivals! For our Spring Break trip, we will get to experience the “Festival of Nations”. I am SO excited about the Namaste India Bollywood performance (hello, Bollywood at Dollywood!) and the Drumstruck performance too. This will be a first for us because our trips are usually in the fall/winter (the Harvest Festival and Smoky Mountain Christmas never disappoint). This year though, they are adding a new festival from May 8 – June 14…it’s the Flower & Food Festival. The planned décor looks beautiful for this festival and the food menu is outstanding (their lavender honey lemonade is quite an upgrade to most theme park drinks!). Be sure to check out the Festivals page on their website to plan your visit.

Other Attractions

  • Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park – although I have never actually been to the water park (which is visible from the DreamMore resort!), my kids visited with their grandparents last summer.  When I asked about their experience, they gave it a “100 thumbs up”, so that’s a raving review if you ask me! Lazy rivers, lots of slides, play areas for little kids – there are enough attractions for all age groups to make up a full, fun family day out.
  • Pink Jeep Tour – take your family on an awesome open-air ride in a bright pink jeep! Choose from multiple trip options that vary in length of time and experiences. It’s a great way to see the Smokies without taking the wheel!
  • Anakeesta– for a newer adventure, check out this authentic, outdoor experience. This mountain top park is nestled in the heart of Gatlinburg and offers fun for the entire family. Along with the great views, you can enjoy shopping, delicious restaurants, zip lines, and even a mountain coaster.
  • Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Café – y’all, I can’t wait to take my kids here!  Be sure to come and check out this family-oriented restaurant’s singing animatronic chickens. Cheesy? Yes. But still hilarious! Not only do you get to see Kim KardashiHEN and WINGo Starr, but their breakfast won’t disappoint.  
  • Skybridge Gatlinburg – take a ride up the SkyLift to the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.  Walk across the 680 foot bridge with your family and be sure to capture amazing panoramic photos of the mountains along the way.
  • Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Show – there are no shortage of shows to see in the Pigeon Forge area, but if you are looking for a family-friendly dinner show filled with great music and slapstick humor…this is your place!
  • Great Smoky Mountain National Park – did you know that this is the #1 most visited park in the US? Don’t miss out on a day of hiking to various overlooks while you are in town. And be sure to try and spot a black bear while driving around the mountain!

What are your tips and tricks for the perfect vacation in the Smokies?

Have you been to Dollywood or the Smoky Mountains for a family vacation? If you haven’t, it is one to add to your list – especially with the short 3.5 hour drive from Atlanta.

Share your favorite things to do and tips to planning the perfect vacation in the Smokies below!

We are grateful to Dollywood for hosting us for a weekend at the DreamMore Resort and to partner with them on this post. All thoughts and opinions on this guide are 100% our own.
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Jessica is an adventure-loving, over-committing, and previously organized mother of 2! She and her husband (high school sweethearts) moved to Atlanta in 2006 after graduating college, ready to start their life in the “real world”. They have experienced so many wonderful life milestones while in Atlanta – lived in Buckhead pre-kids, bought a house in great Smyrna neighborhood, had their first child in 2011 (a spunky little girl, Vivian), welcomed their second child exactly 18 months later in 2012 (a creative and crazy little boy, Harrison), and most recently added a Golden Doodle named Winston into the mix. Jessica and her family have since moved to the burbs of Milton where you now find them past 2 horse farms on the right. Jessica has always loved being part of a community, so when the opportunity to join the Atlanta Mom executive team presented itself it was a no brainer! She loved it so much, in fact, that in 2021 she and Natalie joined forces to lead the team and continue connecting with awesome moms across the ATL!