by Anne Braly
Lights twinkling from treetop to treetop; buildings and rides outlined with holiday lights and trimmings’ the smell of freshly baked cinnamon bread wafting through the air; and familiar Christmas tunes have you humming along as you walk through Dollywood signals it’s time for Smoky Mountain Christmas.
Dollywood is strikingly beautiful dressed in her winter finest. Shades of green and gold, red and silver bedecked with glitter and baubles — the park is a coat of many colors when Smoky Mountain Christmas gets underway each holiday season. It’s a time for families, friends, feasting and simply being together — the perfect recipe that helps the park come alive with holiday spirit.
This season, Smoky Mountain Christmas runs through January 2, 2022, resplendent with the glow of more than 5 million gleaming holiday lights outlining theaters, shops, restaurants, the trees — everywhere you look. Even the magnificent Dollywood Express, a 110-ton coal-fired steam engine, is decked out in colorful lights as she chugs around the park carrying her load of passengers on a five-mile ride through the foothills of the Smokies.
For many, a visit to Dollywood is a family holiday tradition. For first-timers, it’s a chance to create new memories.
“I had so much fun, I’m going to dream about it tonight,” says five-year-old Madeleine Shapero after her first visit. Then, looking up at her parents, she asks, “Can we come back next year?”
In her all-too-familiar cheerful Southern drawl — one that you can even hear in a written press release — Dolly Parton says, “I hope that everyone who visits Dollywood this season experiences the love and joy of a traditional Smoky Mountain Christmas. During their time here, we hope they’ll laugh, love and linger as they enjoy the light of the season. We also hope they create those new memories and family traditions that they’ll share for many years to come.”
Here’s a little of what you can expect at Smoky Mountain Christmas this season — something new and some things you’ve seen before, but all things you’ll remember for years to come.
For The Family
With such a short window of time left in the Dollywood season — the park’s last day is January 2 and will reopen for the 2022 season on March 12 ahead of the Flower & Food Festival on April 22 — it’s important to make the most of your visit. That may mean waiting in a couple of lines at the beginning, but it will pay off in the end. If you need a stroller, book one in advance at dollywood.com if you don’t want to pack one when you leave home. Then, have your child measured to see what rides are best-suited according to height, and he or she will be fitted with a color-coded wrist band. At the entrance to each ride are color-coded signs to match their wrist bands, and this means no tears and sad faces after waiting in line only to find out your child is not big enough yet. Just move on to the next ride and happy faces will abound.
Here are some other suggestions from Dollywood when you have little ones in tow:
* You don’t necessarily need to show up right when the park opens. If your younger children get tired or won’t make it through an entire day, go a little later so that they won’t be too tired when it gets dark. After dark is when the five million lights really glisten and create a winter wonderland. You can even see snow at Wonderful Christmas, an LED light show that happens at The Plaza in Wilderness Pass and tells a story through images.
* Merry & Bright is the nightly Christmas fireworks show and begins at 9 p.m. each night. It’s a great way to end the day for your family. If you stay for fireworks and have a drive home, bring your little ones’ Christmas pajamas along so you can change them into their PJs before you head home. Transfer sleepyheads from the car to their beds, and it’s time for moms and dads, grandmas and granddads, aunts and uncles — the whole family — to take a well-earned break!
* Don’t forget to pack plenty of coats, hats and gloves. The Smokies at Christmas can be quite cold, particularly after the sun goes down. Another good way to warm up is by enjoying one of the indoor shows or visiting the indoor play area, Hidden Hollow. It offers a collection of kid-friendly activities, and there’s a separate area for toddlers to safely explore.
* Purchasing TimeSaver Passes is a great idea during Christmas. It means less time waiting in lines for rides and seats for the shows can be reserved at the time of purchase. It truly is a timesaver. Decide in advance what shows you want to see and the times you want to see them, then reserve your seats.
* Kids can get impatient when hungry — don’t we all? So plan to eat at off-times when the waits are shorter or make reservations at the full-service restaurants — Front Porch Cafe and Aunt Granny’s Restaurant — in advance.
Just For Fun
No trip to the Smoky Mountain Christmas is complete without a visit to Santa, and this year, he’s found a new home in the Heartsong Theater. Children will be escorted into the theater where they will write letters to Santa, get a sneak peek inside his Smoky Mountain cabin and find out if they made the naughty or nice list. This is a good experience to hit early in the day before the line gets longer.
Most of the rides for young children are found in one of two areas — Wildwood Grove where children can take their first roller coaster ride, and Country Fair where the lines for Busy Bees and Lucky Ducky are filled with happy faces.
Dollywood has roller coasters that will take you on some of the wildest rides in the Smokies — and the most crowded. This is when you’ll wish you’d gotten that TimeSaver Pass or be glad that you did. Tennessee Tornado takes you on a loopy trip, but not the most heart-pounding of Dollywood’s coasters. Leave that to Lightning Rod, a coaster with a hybrid track of wood and steel that goes from zero to 45 miles per hour in seconds before it launches you more than 40 stories high, then back down to Earth at a heart-stopping 73 miles per hour. You might think coasters and other rides that take you high in the sky above the park aren’t meant for wintertime night-riding. But Smoky Mountain Christmas might be the best time, as you can look down on the millions of lights in the park sparkling down below.
But there’s more to Dollywood than rides.
There are shows to be seen. “T’was The Night Before Christmas” is a favorite indoor show for kids and adults featuring mischevious “mice,” Santa Claus and a true Christmas miracle. The festival’s headline show, “Christmas in the Smokies,” has been a must-see for families every Christmas season since it began more than 30 years ago. Families may also enjoy musicals such as “O’ Holy Night,” “Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs,” “The Mistletones,” and “Appalachian Christmas with the Smoky Mountain String Band.”
Craftsman Valley is the place for shows of another kind. See how blacksmiths use the same skills their ancestors did when forging metals to make gifts, home and garden decor and more. Or watch as artists blow through long glass tubes to make exquisite works of glass. Candlemakers make candles, bakers make that amazingly popular cinnamon bread, crafters hand tool leather. The Valley is awash with creativity, as is the entire park when Dolly and her elves get to work decorating and making sure everything is perfect for the annual Smoky Mountain Christmas festival, now in its 32nd year.
New On the Menu
Just as with all festivals at Dollywood, the restaurants, snack bars and bakeries do something a little special to celebrate the seasons. For the holidays, the two full-service restaurants, Front Porch Cafe and Aunt Granny’s Restaurant, beef up their menus with the addition of new dishes. Front Porch’s new items include Bush’s Three-Bean Chili, lobster bisque, smothered pork loin, Creole roasted turkey breast, Southern Cobb salad, and, for dessert, eggnog cheesecake and peppermint chocolate molten lava cake. Aunt Granny’s will be dishing out deep-fried turkey, spiral-sliced ham, and slow-cooked pot roast, in addition to creamed corn casserole, dressing, maple-glazed sweet potatoes and more side dishes to tempt your palate.
If vision of peppermints are dancing through your head, then stop by the Sweet Shoppe for a peppermint shake. Dollywood will make it like none other with vanilla ice cream, peppermint syrup and raspberry coulis with whipped cream, sugar cookies and a cherry on top. Or, visit Sweets & Treats for a hazelnut churro during Smoky Mountain Christmas. It’s dusted with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, then served with Nutella for dipping.
In Market Square, you’ll find that one of the guest’s favorites, the Savory Sausage Sandwich, has reappeared for the festival, along with the Market Square Steak Sandwich and Santa’s Chilled Cocoa with chocolate milk, chocolate sauce and a hint of peppermint. However, if you need a sip of warmth, hot chocolate can be found in spots all around the park.
Spend the Night
Your choices are many when it comes to overnight accomodations at Dollywood, and packages are available if you choose to stay at a Dollywood property. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins range from one to multiple bedrooms and are several miles from the park but are ideal for families. Many feature hot tubs and all have wi-fi and fireplaces, and most have stunning views of the Smoky Mountains. Full kitchens allow for making your own meals and sharing meals with your family, a great way to plan the day’s visit to Dollywood or relive the best moments of your day at the park when day is done. For information or to select a date, log onto dollywood.com/cabins.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa (dollywood.com/resort) is a large resort with dining venues, a full-service salon, shops, indoor and outdoor pools, and kids activities. During the Christmas season, the resort’s Camp DW expands its offering with a variety of festival-inspired activities for kids, such as wreath-making, building gingerbread houses, making Christmas travel pillows, letters to Santa and more. Camp DW also serves warm apple cider in the resort lobby from 4-6 p.m. daily. At night, gather the family around a large fire and make s’mores, then take the young ones for bedtime stories in the DreamMore barn. Camp DW is included in stays for DreamMore guests only. Guests at DreamMore can even request a fully decorated Christmas tree set up in their rooms upon arrival by choosing the Christmas Tree Decor package.
Smoky Mountain Christmas packages can be reserved when you make your reservation at either cabins or the resort. Resort Stay & Play and cabin’s Christmas Memories packages include Dollywood TimeSaver passes with each ticket. Passes, which shorten waiting times, can be used on eight select rides and unlimited daily shows. They also include transportation to and from the park (DreamMore guests only); priority access to the park; and reserved parking, a huge help and timesaver.
For a complete rundown of what’s happening at Dollywood as it wraps up its 2021 season with one of the most-spectacular festivals of the year, log onto dollywood.com.