This trip to The Overlook contained a few minor projects, but mostly we booked it to have some fun with the kids. They’ve been such troopers coming back and forth to the area while we got this property and Sweet Home Bearolina up and running, that we promised them a trip just for enjoyment. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have SO much family-friendly fun to offer, and we knew we wanted to kick these off with what is probably the most well known- Dollywood! Especially in October so we could visit during Dollywood Harvest Festival.
If you aren’t familiar with Dollywood, you need to be. Dollywood is known for it’s down-home charm. Nestled in the east Tennessee mountains of Pigeon Forge, the theme park was named Dollywood when Dolly Parton stepped onto the park’s board in 1986. Her mission was to enhance the economy of her native Sevier County. And boy, did she! Today Dollywood boasts “rides, slides, music, fun, and laughter” with something for everyone, from thrilling roller coasters to a plethora of shows and music, and so much in between.
We chose to visit the park on Monday and invited Mema to join us. We were thrilled she agreed and we all headed to the park after lunch. We sprung for preferred parking and it is worth it. You walk right into the park instead of waiting for a parking tram, and you’re also the first to be able to exit at the end of the day.
The fun thing about the visit is that we really had no clue what to expect, so we were all immediately tickled when we entered and immediately were surrounded by pumpkins. SO MANY pumpkins. Pumpkin lined the streets, carved pumpkins were themed and lit up around every corner, and pumpkin themed characters even made appearances. If you are a fall lover, this is the event for you.
We spent the first hour just wandering around and giggling at all the festive decorations and checking out the rides. If we learned anything at Disney, it is that Hailey and Kaitlyn are not big thrill ride seekers. I was hoping they’d still find some fun, so we eased into the rides with some simple attractions, like the Lumberjack Lifts and the acorn ride.
Well, we found their speed. They loved the simple rides, so we headed over to the County Fair section of the park, which is fabulously designed for younger guests, or those that prefer the more gentle rides.
We took our time on the walk over, admiring the millions of mums, checking out blacksmiths at work, listening to live music, seeing how horses can help grind sugar cane, and picking up some cotton candy. I would have voted for the cinnamon bread, but their eyes lit up at the idea of a bucketful of cotton candy, so we went with it.
They could have spent the whole day at the County Fair. From the swings to the scrambler, they were in their element and darted from one ride to the next. The nice thing about Dollywood is that even on a beautiful and busy day, I never saw a single ride (even the big coasters) that had a wait over 30 minutes, and most were closer to the 15 minute mark, with some being no line at all.
We finally dragged them away from the County Fair in search of food. We headed to the food truck section of the park where the girls got burgers and the adults got burritos. It’s not cheap (what park food is?), but I appreciated that the portion was hearty. We devoured our meals as we watched the sun start to set. As dusk settled in, the harvest festival area came even more alive with sparkling lights and fog machines. The kids LOVED it.
Unlike my children, I love roller coasters. David is down for whatever, so Mema generously offered to take the kids back the pirate ship ride they had eyed earlier while David and I took on a bigger roller coaster, the Wild Eagle. This ride is so cool, as you can’t see the track because you are sitting off the either side of it.
There was no line (at prime time on a busy day… seriously, amazing) so we walked ride on. I screamed the whole time and loved every second of it. I could have ridden it several more times, but instead we snapped a picture in front of the eagle to commemorate our coaster experience, and headed over to join the kids and Mema on the pirate ship (which the kids rode 5 times in a row because it was their favorite ride of the day).
The only down part of the day was how quickly the time ticked by. Soon it was dark and we realized we were running out of time to ride the Dollywood Express. The steam engine has a cool history, as it was used in Alaska during World War II. Now it takes guests on a 5 mile loop through the park and the surrounding mountains.
The last trip departed and 8:00 and when we realized that we made a mad dash across the park and made it just in time to snag seats before it left the station. It was neat to see the park all lit up at night and made for a festive and fitting way to end our day at Dollywood.
We got off the train and Kaitlyn was begging for more rides, but it was clear both kids were exhausted, so we headed out of the park close to it’s closing time of 9:00. And, poetically, Kaitlyn ended up leaving the park in the same style she did when we visited Dollywood in 2017 with my mom, dad, bro, SIL, and my nieces- asleep on her dad’s shoulder.
Thanks for the sweet memories, Dollywood Harvest Festival- you are a special place!