My friends always say that no one loves Christmas at an amusement park more than me. There’s something magical about swiping your ticket through the gates to see Christmas lights and hear music everywhere you turn. I think that’s why I love Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas so much. No matter where you are in the park, there are lights and smells and Christmas magic all around.
That’s particularly true in one of my favorite areas of the park at Christmas, Glacier Ridge. It begins at Timber Canyon and stretches all the way through upper Craftsman’s Valley, telling a story of an icy world full of blue, purple and white lights and polar bears dancing around.
But did you know there’s a backstory to all the lights in this popular area? One afternoon, a few weeks ago, I spent some time really paying attention to the elaborate light displays to understand the story of the area.
You get the basics of the story when you watch the nightly Christmas tree light show, “Wonderful Christmas.” While watching this, you learn that Glacier Ridge is actually the location where two cousins, Black Bear and Polar Bear, meet up to spend Christmas together in the Smokies after an ice storm randomly hits Tennessee. Polar Bear “hitches his sleigh” and goes down the mountainside to have a good old-fashioned Christmas with Black Bear in the snow.
The light displays throughout the area walk you through the journey of Polar Bear as he’s making his way to his family.
If you begin in Timber Canyon, you walk through the Arctic Passage tunnel, which acts as your family’s transition into the snowy world of Glacier Ridge. This tunnel is 130 feet of lighted Christmas goodness, and you are welcomed into the world of the bears through the coordinated sounds and music overhead. From there, you are ushered into the storyline as you make your way to the Drop Line Attraction. It’s here where you see Drop Line Bay, and you have your first encounter with Polar Bear.
You get a chance to see the bear cousins reunited in the “Wonderful Christmas” show, and pay special attention because you’ll see them playing together in the tree after they are reunited! There’s a lot of symbolism of the bears in Wildwood Grove, as Black Bear shows Polar Bear his home in the mountains. Notice Black Bear Trail and the character Benjamin Bear who is available for meet and greet experiences.
As you make your way to the upper Craftsman’s Valley end of Glacier Ridge, you reach one of the most popular spots in all of Dollywood during the holiday season: the Northern Lights. Polar Bear brought this with him during his visit so that friends of Black Bear’s in Tennessee could have a glimpse of the aurora borealis lights. This is the most stunning winter light display, and if you only have a few minutes to visit Glacier Ridge at Christmas, you must use them visiting this part of the park.
As you exit Glacier Ridge at Valley Falls, you’ll see Polar Bear playing in a sweet Smoky Mountain spring, and you’ll find he’s getting quite comfortable in the South for the season. These are the same polar bears that you met in Drop Line Bay, but this time, they are saying bye to you as you find your way back into the rest of the Dollywood light display.
It really is fun to notice the way the cousin storyline weaves in out and out of the themed areas, and looking for the fun backstory guarantees that every visit to Glacier Ridge will unveil a new part of the bear cousins’ Christmas story.