Ah yes, I remember it well! The year was 1986: Dollywood had just opened, and big hair and parachute pants were all the rage. I was a high school junior then, and I remember how much I loved visiting Dollywood with my church youth group, friends and family! Blazing Fury, Flooded Mine, Smoky Mountain River Rampage and Fun Country attractions (now known as County Fair) were just about the only rides and games at that time, but it was thrilling just to get to visit a theme park!
Since 1986, we’ve seen many amazing changes—both in teenagers and in Dollywood! Sometimes the changes are pretty astonishing. As parents and others who work with youth, we often find ourselves struggling to find ways to entertain teens these days. Between the fact that they always want to stay connected virtually to their pals (no matter where they are) and remain assured that they’re never missing out on whatever is going on with their friends, we have a really difficult time capturing their attention. Sometimes it takes a miracle to get them to raise their head out of their digital universe and live in the here and now.
So, if you’re planning a vacation to Pigeon Forge and the Smokies with teens in tow, you might legitimately be asking yourself, “Is Dollywood a popular vacation theme park choice for teenagers? Will they enjoy it? What would it look like to actually spend a day at Dollywood with my teen(s)?”
As a mom of three almost-teen and teen boys (ages 12, 14 and 17), my answer to you is a resounding YES! They will enjoy it, and I’m going to give you some ideas as to how your day at Dollywood will look with teens.
As I said before, Dollywood has grown. In fact, it has grown so much that I’ll even venture as far as to say that it is now one of the most thrilling theme parks out there with rides and attractions to capture the attention and imagination of even the most discerning teens.
I don’t want to give away ALL the exciting thrills that await you—you really must explore it for yourselves. However, I’d love to give you a head start by sharing a few of the things that still get my teenage guys and their friends excited about a day (or more) in Dollywood.
Thrill RIDES Galore!
Like I said, things have CHANGED at Dollywood since I was a teen. Now, there are tons of exciting rides that will thrill even the most experienced coaster fanatic. My guys are proud to let you know that Thunderhead, Mystery Mine, Wild Eagle, Lightning Rod, Tennessee Tornado, Daredevil Falls, FireChaser Express, Drop Line and Barnstormer are absolutely some of the most tummy-twisting rides they’ve ever experienced! There are also plenty of choices for those who prefer something less thrilling.
Fill Their Tank with FOOD!
Did you know another definition for “teenager” is “a hollow-legged being requiring large quantities of delicious food every time you turn around”? I’m pretty sure if you check the dictionary it says that, or at least it should.
Thankfully, you will find delicious, hollow-leg-filling food, literally, on every Dollywood corner. Whether your teens need fresh, hot cinnamon bread or flaky pastries for their sugar rush to get the day going, a Dippin’ Dots pick-me-up mid-morning, a pizza fix for lunch, corn dogs for a mid-afternoon snack, a full-on all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner, a bag of kettle corn for the walk out to the parking lot—or ALL of the above—there is no chance whatsoever that teenagers could possibly go hungry at Dollywood. Don’t tell them I mentioned this, but there’s also a 25-pound apple pie, made from scratch at Spotlight Bakery for the perfect dessert ending to the perfect day!
There are plenty of healthy choices throughout the theme park available for counter service or seated dining. I’m not sure what it’s like to have children who make healthy eating choices, but if you do, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know this.
Step Right Up for GAMES!
One of the things I usually don’t give a second glance in theme parks happens to be one of my teens’ favorite activities: classic carnival-type games. At Dollywood, you can find these in County Fair or the top of Craftsman’s Valley. There are classic options like ring toss and water squirting games, and the prizes can range from cute and cuddly to you’ll-need-to-rent-a-truck-to-get-that-stuffed-thing-home. Of course, our family hasn’t even really visited Dollywood if my guys haven’t exhausted every last dollar we have to win a new basketball. They’ll take all day—if we let them—shooting hoops for this coveted prize. This game is in both locations. Be sure to take/send extra spending money if you plan to allow your teens to play these games.
Entertainment Surprises (i.e., SHOWS)
Don’t let them fool ya’ – teens really do love the shows! From concerts with well-known performers, to the amazing variety of entertaining shows with acrobats, bubble-blowers and fabulous Broadway-style productions, I think you’ll be surprised to find out that live entertainment really does entertain and inspire today’s teens. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience all of the amazing shows and musical performances available at Dollywood with your teen. Who knows? You may end up inspiring the next Dolly Parton! Entertainment varies throughout the year. Check the show schedule during your visit!
Learn Something New: Arts, Crafts and Education
Shhhhh! Just don’t tell them they’re learning. We’ve been known to trick teens into learning things like the art of glass-blowing, blacksmithing, candle-making, leather-working and wood-carving at Dollywood! They can also learn all about birds of prey by visiting Eagle Mountain Sanctuary right in the heart of Dollywood and attending the show with live birds. In addition, Dollywood hosts exciting festivals throughout the year which provide many opportunities for experiencing and learning something new and inspirational.
We know teens love to post plenty of photos on social media so their pals will always know what they’re up to. There are tons of incredible photo opportunities throughout Dollywood—some of which are pointed out by helpful signs letting you know exactly where to pose or from where to shoot. Professional photographers are also located throughout the theme park in strategic locations to help you capture the perfect photo. Another great thing that I remember and still treasure from my days as a teen was the old-fashioned antique-type photograph my friends and I had made at Dollywood. We dressed up in authentic-looking 1880s costumes and posed for posterity. This experience is still available today at Ashley’s Antique Tintype & Photo, located in The Village, just across from the train depot.
I feel like I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even gotten around to telling you about how much our teens enjoy the festivals at Dollywood, such as Harvest Festival and Smoky Mountain Christmas! As you can see, there is so much for teens to do and enjoy at Dollywood. What are you waiting for? Plan your special trip to Dollywood with your teen(s) without hesitation right now!