Great Smoky Mountains Fun – Dollywood and Christmas Place

My Mom is in town visiting, so the five of us decided to indulge in a mini getaway last weekend. We enjoyed our 2014 Chattanooga trip so much (I just realized I never blogged about this!!!), we decided to head back to Tennessee, this time to the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area.

We drove in blocks and stopped multiple times for lots and lots of bathroom breaks comfort. In spite of leaving before 10 am, we arrived in the evening. The grownups unanimously decided to let Stinky and Blinky play in the resort pool and order pizza. Perhaps for the first time ever, there was no resistance.

The morning of Day Two, we headed to Dollywood, a theme park set in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is often referred to as The Ultimate Smoky Mountain Family Destination and that is not an exaggeration. I couldn’t have been more excited when we turned onto the parkway. (The DH was nice enough to lean out of the car window and take this shot just for my blog readers. All the heart emojis!!!)

Dollywood boasts 40 rides, 15 live shows, and five of the south’s largest festivals. The grounds are immaculately maintained and the staff is very polite and super helpful. We were rearin’ to go!!

First up, the four of us – sans Grandma – took on the coasters like Thunderhead and Firechaser Express. Have I mentioned in previous posts that I am deathly afraid of heights???

My eyes were closed the entire time, but I hear the views were spectacular!

Then Stinky and Blinky rode the new Drop Line, which descends 20 stories in less than six seconds. What?!? There was absolutely no way I was even going to attempt this, but I did enjoy watching.

Stinky is a little daredevil and loved it, but poor Blinky was terrified at the speed of the drop.

Apparently not for long though, as the kids headed straight to Wild Eagle, which they rode multiple times.

If that doesn’t make you dizzy, I snagged this photo from Pinterest, which shows the loops of the Wild Eagle ride from the highway!!!

Yeah, they don’t get their fearless spirit from me. Or from my Mom. This was as close as she got to any of the rides:

 I love you too, Mom!

We had a late lunch in the park. The kids had hot dogs on the go while the rest of us had chicken fingers and BBQ sandwiches from Hickory House BBQ. The food is decent and there are a few well-priced options, but not my favorite.

Just as we were leaving the restaurant to head to our first show, the bottom fell out. Major thunderstorm with torrential rains. We took shelter for a while but eventually decided to break out the ponchos and do a little window shopping during a pause in the rain.

This Christmas store had the most divine, intricately carved wooden Christmas ornaments.

Following this, we spent some time exploring the Chasing Rainbows Museum. My Mom loves old country music, so I am familiar with some of Dolly’s songs. But, I was never aware of her backstory. It was interesting filling in the gaps and learning about her deep-rooted ties in the Pigeon Forge / Sevierville community. She is fiercely loved and is the financial backbone of the area.

Upon leaving the museum, it started raining again, so we decided to get a rain check at Guest Services and visit another day. We headed to downtown Pigeon Forge and ended up at Christmas Place. It is a shopping center that has a quaint, European village feel. We shopped for personalized Christmas ornaments and even got to see Santa! He must have sprinkled a little Christmas magic in the air because by the time we left, the skies had completely cleared.

Sidebar: Least you think downtown Pigeon Forge is uninteresting, feast your eyes on these attractions:

Back to the trip… because the weather was clear and projected to stay clear, we decided to grab a bite to eat and head back to Dollywood. We arrived just in time to find a good spot to view the fireworks and make a few new friends:

After the fireworks show, we circled back to see some of the things we missed earlier like Dolly’s RV. The guide was very sweet and spoke fondly of Dolly as if they were old friends.

Then we boarded the Dollywood Express, “the authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine takes you on a breathtaking five-mile journey through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.”

It was about 10:30 pm when we boarded the train for our 20 minute mountain excursion. Some areas we rode though were pretty dark. Combined with a full moon and my Mom’s fear of heights, it was a thrill ride in itself!

By the time we disembarked, it was 11pm. The kids were wired, begging to go on more rides. After some shrewd negotiations, we decided on an encore performance of Thunderhead, after which we would call it a night.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the entire park experience. During my research, I had read good reviews about Dollywood and had high hopes for our visit. It exceeded all of our expectations. I can’t wait to visit again!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for a recap of our hike to Laurel Falls.

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