Do you want to visit Dollywood with your family? Simplify your visit and save money with these large family Dollywood hacks.
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I have been so blessed to live my entire life just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. The mountains provide the perfect escape any time of year, especially in the fall when the seasons are changing and the fall colors are at their peak.
We also live within thirty minutes of all the attractions of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood, which is a favorite fun day destination of our children.
The Dollywood theme park offers something fun to do almost year round. You can cool off in Splash Country during or the main theme park water rides in the hot summer months. You can also enjoy some of the Dollywood Christmas shows with some hot cinnamon bread and apple cider in the winter while looking at the Dollywood Christmas lights.
Since we live in such close proximity, we visit Dollywood often. Even with a family as large as ours, Dollywood can be fun and affordable with just a few special hacks.
Large Family Dollywood Hacks
We have visited Dollywood with our family so many times over the last fifteen years that we have learned some pretty important hacks for surviving Dollywood and visiting on a budget. You can find my suggestions for what to bring to Dollywood here, in my Mom’s Guide to Dollywood.
Understand the Layout of the Park
Dollywood is designed like a grocery store; to encourage the flow of traffic in a particular direction without the use of signs. The natural flow of traffic moves in a counter clockwise direction with an offshoot to the Country Fair and Wildwood Grove.
It is important to know that the bulk of the crowd is at the heaviest at the beginning when the park opens and at the end of the loop at the end of the day.
Dollywood Park Admission
When you arrive at Dollywood and purchase a ticket after 3pm, your ticket is also good for the following day. This might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. On the shortest days, Dollywood closes at 7pm. This leaves four hours to catch some rides or a show.
Most people start leaving Dollywood well before the park closes. Rides do not stop running until after the park closes, and the Dollywood staff is amazing! They will finish the line of people waiting before they close the ride down. They do close the lines a bit earlier, but if you are in line, you will get to ride.
At the busiest times, you will get to ride at least two of the most popular rides before the park closes.
Choosing a late show may be the best option if you have small children. They will already be tired and may fall asleep during a later afternoon or evening performance of one of the popular Dollywood shows. Then, you can visit the country fair for some rides for small children the next day.
Dollywood Season Passes
If you plan to visit Dollywood more than one day, a season pass is the most economical way to pay for admission. There are, however, some better times of the year to purchase and use season passes, especially for large families. (There are also lots of other Dollywood season pass benefits!)
Four or More Season Passes
If you purchase four or more season passes at one time, you receive a discount of a percentage off each pass. This is significant for large families who will visit Dollywood more than once.
Early Bird Season Passes
Purchasing Dollywood season passes at the early bird rate (usually during November of the previous season allows members to finish have the Christmas season of the current season pass year and also the full next year.
In past years, Dollywood has included a free “bring a friend ticket” with the purchase of each season pass. This benefit may not always be included, but it has been for every year that we have purchased passes. This is a significant benefit for larger families in a couple of ways:
- Purchase passes for part of your family (the ones who might visit on more than one occasion) and use the free bring a friend passes for other members of the family.
- Allow teens to bring a friend or invite another family to come with you.
Purchase Passes Before or After a Birthday
One of my favorite large family Dollywood hacks is to carefully time the purcahse of season passes. Dollywood’s regular pricing for passes is for ages 10-61. Passes for children 4-9 years old are $10 off. Passes for adults (like grandparents) 62+ are $20 off the regular price.
If you purchase passes for children, get them before a birthday if the child is 9 years old. For grandparents and seniors, purchase the pass after their birthday for the best deal.
Dollywood offers a terrific payment plan option for the purchase of season passes. This is a great help for larger families. You can be enjoying all of the benefits of Dollywood season passes while making smaller payments on your passes.
Food at Dollywood
No matter where you go, feeding a large family can be expensive. Theme park prices for food and drinks are notoriously high. Though Dollywood has a bag policy does not allow outside food in the park, there are a few tricks that can still allow a large family to save money.
Dollywood vendors are happy to give you a free cup of water as many times as you like. This is a huge savings over purchasing bottled water or sodas.
Share a Meal
There are several places in the park where one meal is large enough to share, especially between small children. We like to do this with the corndogs and french fries at Dogs N Taters in Rivertown Junction.
Dollywood Souvenir Mugs
If you do want to drink Sodas, purchase a couple of souvenir mugs that can be refilled for one dollar, and ask for cups of ice water, then split the soda between the cups and mugs. This is a great way for older siblings to share with younger children.
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Eat Outside the Park
If you have season passes you can always plan to leave the park and eat lunch somewhere close by in Pigeon Forge. Yes, you will lose your parking spot, but the tram ride itself is always an adventure.
In the past, we have also enjoyed a picnic in the shaded, grassy areas of the Dollywood parking lot. There are a couple of places in particular that are shaded beside a pretty creek that runs along the edge of the parking lot. There is also a public park just a couple of miles down the road where you can certainly picnic.
- Pack your food in a Yeti Cooler like this one and it will stay cold all day, even in extreme heat.
- Pack a pop up canopy like this one for instant shade even if there are no trees available.
- Take along camp chairs and a small folding table to create a picnic site even if all the tables are taken.
Note: Picnicking is not expressly prohibited in any rules I could find on the Dollywood website, but it is also not expressly allowed.
How to Keep Track of Kids at Dollywood
When you travel with a large family, just keeping track of everyone can be difficult, especially in a crowded theme park environment. Here are some of my favorite tips for keeping up with everyone:
- Wear the same bright color to spot each other easily in a crowd.
- Use the buddy system pairing older siblings with younger children. (this also helps with carrying necessities. Older siblings can carry things in a backpack for their buddy.)
- Bring more than one stroller, even if you have a double. You can corral a toddler in a stroller if need be.
- Use a locator app like Life360 on phones.