The fun to be had at Dollywood is diverse. It’s not limited to heart-racing rides, incredible shows, and delicious food. There are plenty of hands-on activities that will expand your mind, create some friendly competition, or give you a sweet memento to take home. I have some tips if you want to enjoy a full day without stepping onto an attraction—especially if you have children.
When you first arrive at the park, your arms may be pulled in every direction by tiny humans who can’t agree on where to go first. Take charge and lead them to the Sweet Shoppe; you won’t have any complaints! Dollywood makes their very own taffy in the Sweet Shoppe, and you can watch them create it. The hosts are absolutely lovely, and will answer any questions your family may have. From the machine’s names (Sharlene and Charlie) to how taffy-making has changed through the years, the hosts are knowledgeable and delight in sharing their craft.
When you’re looking to take home a new-stuffed friend, head to Temple Mercantile (in The Village) and create a new bedtime pal. Ms. Barbara helped my little ones craft a new friend that they’ve been glued to since our last visit. She was patient with them, answering all of their questions and asking them to give their new lovey a test-hug to make sure he had just the right amount of stuffing. An adoption certificate and an entire wall of outfits for their new pal adds even more fun.
Country Fair is full of rides perfect for little friends, but there are also some games the whole family can get involved in. The prizes range from starry-eyed toys to favorite characters, including Paw Patrol, Mario, and even the unicorn from Despicable Me! The ‘Gone Fishing’ game is a perfect introduction for young kids to a midway-style game with a guaranteed prize; you don’t have to worry about alligator tears over not winning. At the Balloon Pop, my five year old was able to aim and throw well enough to pop a balloon. The hosts really make the games special, encouraging and cheering the little ones on.
As you transition from Craftsman’s Valley to Wilderness Pass, your older/taller kids may be wanting to head to Mystery Mine and the Tennessee Tornado. Your non-riders and smaller friends can still have loads of fun nearby. Around and under the Tennessee Tornado are more midway and arcade games for all ages. From old-school arcade games to your favorite fair games, there’s plenty for everyone to do. The whole family can compete for a prize!
For those who are looking for a keepsake with meaning, check out Mountain Blown Glass. This shop allows you to make your own blown glass memento! An expert craftsman walks you through the process: you choose your favorite colors, they remove molten glass from a furnace, add your colors, shape and heat it, and you blow the glass under their instruction. It’s great for all ages; my five and two year old have each crafted an ornament (with mom and dad helping a little) that we’ll treasure forever. The craftsman who guided us, Brad, taught them all about the process while they watched. Despite being easily distracted, they listened intently the entire time.
For the sports fans, head on over to Valley Wood Carvers. From pencils to signs to baseball bats, these master craftsmen are incredible to watch. Since my baseball-obsessed father passed away before my children were born, I’ve always wanted these bats for my kiddos. Now they each have one, and it’s been a great conversation starter as well as serving as a beautiful decoration and a small connection between my past and their future.
Old Flames Candles offers another opportunity for family crafting time. Kids can choose their favorite shape (mine chose trains) and then dip them into different colors of wax to color them. It’s a great shop to stroll around and enjoy all the elaborately designed candles, soaking in the air conditioning and taking a break from the heat. The ice cream sundae candles and the strawberry cupcake candles were two of our favorites. Watch out little ones don’t try and eat them up- they look and smell just like the real thing!
Panning for Gems
If you’re visiting with an aspiring archaeologist, head over to Lucky 7 Mine to pan for gems and fossils. Select and purchase what looks like a bag of dirt, and you’ll be instructed how to use the river to pan for gems and fossils that are in your bag. You’ll leave with an identification chart and bag of gems that your budding geologist can sort and identify.
Dollywood has something to offer for every age and ability. If the smallest members of your family love hands-on activities, there’s no shortage for them. We like to do a little bit of everything during our Dollywood days, enjoying rides, shows, and a hands-on activity or two. The day is full of variety, and it helps the kids to unwind and take a little break between activities so they don’t get overwhelmed.