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A Dad’s Guide to Dollywood

Full Disclosure: My name is Tom Hodges and I am and have always been head over heels in love with Dollywood. I am openly biased in my opinion that Dollywood is truly the world’s greatest theme park!

My love affair with Dollywood started in 1988 during my family’s first visit to the park. It was then and there that a gravitational pull began and that same pull continues to this day. One of the coolest experiences of my life has been to share the same experiences with my children that I had when I was their age. Seeing this come full circle and being able to enjoy Dollywood then as a child and now as a parent is exactly what “Creating Memories Worth Repeating” means.

Our family’s approach to Dollywood is equal parts planning and spontaneity. We love Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country greatly and count each visit to the parks as a blessing. Because we cherish these times so much we try to have a plan for how we are going to ‘attack’ our day and make the most of the time we have. Below are my top-five tips on how to get the most out of your day at Dollywood. Read these suggestions through the perspective of a dad.

#5 – Script the First Five Moves


We started scripting our first five moves in the park a few years ago and the kids had a blast doing it – they become impromptu trip coordinators without much prodding. This has now become a competition on who can design the best opening itinerary. We will switch it up from time-to-time and give each child three selections each out of the gate to give us some variety. Before we commence with our scripted fun, we like to take a family picture as soon as we enter the park in front of Showstreet Palace Theater. While the Dollywood photographers are lining us up, you can feel the anticipation of getting our day started right!

Insider Tip

Purchase an Ultimate Photo Card and place all of your pictures for an entire year onto your own digital download site by visiting this link. Once you have taken a picture around the park or a ride, sync them up with your Photo Card at the Flashbulb Photo booth located at the front of the park beside the Emporium.

#4 – Effective Use of Timeouts

Having coached college basketball for a number of years and marrying a basketball coach, our house uses a lot of sports terminology. For us, “Timeout” is a positive thing when we are at Dollywood. Everybody enters the gates with two timeouts – a ‘60’ (full hour) and a ‘30’ (half hour) that they can use whenever they want.  So, our rules go if someone calls a ‘timeout’ then they have that opportunity to go on whatever ride they want or see whatever show fits in that schedule. We all must follow along and participate if necessary during that person’s ‘timeout.’ Sometimes we give the matriarch of our family a couple of extra timeouts that she uses for a break from her children – young and old.

#3 – High Quality H2O

“Hydrate to Dominate” is a phrase we use a lot in our house – Dollywood is no exception to this rule. Sitting on about 160 acres, your day is full of opportunity to get those steps in. Plan on drinking plenty and scheduling in some ‘cool down’ activities for when your group starts getting a little warm. From consuming liquids to riding the park’s water attractions, prepare yourself for liquid intake by both ingestion and osmosis. There is nothing better than cooling yourself down on the Smoky Mountain River Rampage or Daredevil Falls on a sweltry Dollywood day.

Insider Tip

If you know you will ride on one of Dollywood’s water attractions, pack yourself an extra pair of socks or a pair of sandals so your shoes can remain dry. You can purchase a locker for all-day use throughout the park that ‘floats’ along with you so you don’t have to have your hands full with anything but fun.

Insider Tip

Invest in a refillable mug and you will be able to keep yourself hydrated with soft drinks, frozen concoctions or complimentary ice water throughout your visit to the park. Check out the orange-topped, limited-edition 35th anniversary cups for FREE soft drink refills for the remainder of the year after purchase.

#2 – TimeSavers for the WIN!!!

You know you live in a Dollywood house when the absolute highest prize and reward you can offer your children is a TimeSaver on our next trip to the park. TimeSavers provide unbelievably strong incentive when it comes to chore motivation for us – we also like the fact that our kids feel a small investment in our trips to Dollywood. Skip the regular lines on your family’s favorite attractions – this benefit will get you on up to four times more attractions in a single day. For our family of four, we usually will purchase a maximum of two TimeSavers and rotate them accordingly depending on the attraction. Learn more about TimeSavers here.

Insider Tip

Upgrade to a Gold Season Pass for a discount on both the regular TimeSaver and the TimeSaver Unlimited. You may purchase your TimeSavers online prior to your trip or once inside the gate at the TimeSaver pavilion adjacent to Dreamsong Theater.

#1 – Have Fun

We’ve all been there – when things go off the rails a bit, the sun is beaming down directly on you, and nothing is seeming to go your way. Remember that Dollywood is a place built for families and friends to enjoy and to “Create Memories Worth Repeating.”  I am preaching to myself on this, mostly out of the stance that I want our Dollywood days to go exactly according to the plan I have laid out in my head.  Spoiler Alert: they usually don’t! In times where I feel myself getting uptight or anxious about some minor thing that may have just occurred, it’s always helpful to walk through Dolly Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home or have a quick trip to checkout the Robert F. Thomas Chapel. These are good anchor points for our family to re-center. The question we always end up asking ourselves during these times: “What would Dolly do?”  The answer always gets us on the right track.

By | 2020-07-29T09:37:32+00:00 July 18th, 2020|Trip Planning|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tom Hodges (Dollywood Insider 2019-Now) is a Middle Tennessee native who currently resides in Christiana, Tennessee, with his wife Hillary and two children, Cooper (age 7) and Isabelle (age 4). Tom and his family make the three-hour journey to Dollywood once a month to enjoy the entire park. After fifteen years as a college basketball coach serving various universities, Tom recently transitioned into their family business of trucking and warehousing. Tom serves as the president of Goggin Cold Haul Services, LLC, a refrigerated transportation company based out of Smyrna, Tennessee, and a sister company to Titan Transfer Inc. and Goggin Warehousing, LLC. A thrill-ride enthusiast and lover of all things Dollywood, Tom would most likely be found riding on the front row of Wild Eagle, riding multiple times on FireChaser Express with his son Cooper (personal record of 17 times in one day) or enjoying a family lunch in Wildwood Grove at Till & Harvest. Dollywood is a special place to Tom and his family, as many milestones and family traditions have become sacred in their house because of Dollywood and the hosts who make it so special.
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