On July 8 and 9, Dollywood will host one of my favorite theme park events: Thrills in the Hills. While this sounds like it might be only for the bravest of thrill seekers, that is not the case. It’s true that exclusive ride time (ERT) on some of Dollywood’s thrilling attractions is always a part of the event, it is so much more. The event caters to all levels of theme park fans, and the mix of attendees usually reflect that. Some clearly are roller coaster enthusiasts (you will almost certainly hear someone talking about American Coaster Enthusiasts, or ACE), but some attendees won’t even ride the attractions. I fall in the middle somewhere, because while I love roller coasters, the experiences I have had in the past two years have been so much more than gravity-based thrills.
During my first time attending, just standing in line to get our swag was exciting. I met several people that year that I talked to about everything Dollywood, roller coasters and theme park trains. I could tell it was going to be quite an experience.
Thrills in the Hills is the most reasonable theme park tour I have encountered when it comes to cost. For just a little bit less than a 2-Day Dollywood ticket (and even less if you have a Dollywood Season Pass), you get to come to the park Friday mid-afternoon and then again all-day Saturday. You get to park in the preferred parking lot both days, and lunch and snacks are provided. Also, my favorite swag is a new exclusive Dollywood t-shirt. Mine from last year has become one of my favorite theme park t-shirts ever, and not just because I am a big fan of the Tennessee Tornado.
In addition to the t-shirt, you will also get a bag of swag, including some Dollywood merchandise. Hats, umbrellas, tin signs and other goodies have all been in our bags the last few years.
If it isn’t just for thrill seekers, what all do you get to do? Friday night there is a gathering of everyone who is participating. At this gathering, there are the best snacks! In past years, they provided us with an array of Dollywood’s famous snacks like cookies from Spotlight Bakery, kettle corn, and pork rinds, all made at Dollywood.
Afterwards, you get an hour of ERT on an attraction. My granddaughter rode Lightning Rod five times last year before deciding she had had enough.
The year before, I rode Thunderhead 10 times in our hour of ERT. Another great feature of the tour is that the ERT is after the park closes, so it is the only time you can ride these attractions after dark for several months, and a time when you see an attraction with very little waiting!
Saturday, there is a continental breakfast followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of one of Dollywood’s attractions. The past two years have been in-depth tours of the most classic attractions at Dollywood. Two years ago, it was the Dollywood Express maintenance shop, and last year it was inside of Blazing Fury with the lights on! And this is not a tour with a person who has memorized a script they were given.
The people leading the tours are chosen because they work on the attraction being featured and know it inside and out. Most likely, they will go back to work at their “regular” job on the park after the tour ends.
Then, you enjoy a nice lunch and then you get time to explore all the rides and food Dollywood has to offer on your own (including the awesome culinary booths from the Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration this year). After a full afternoon in the park, everyone gathers again for the greatest snack ever… fresh Dollywood Cinnamon Bread (thankfully calories don’t count on theme park tours!)
Last year, after the drone show concluded, we all gathered one last time for ERT at another Dollywood attraction. I look forward to doing the same this year.
Experiences like these are special opportunities. I’ve already bought my tickets for this year to see what is planned.
The schedule was just posted on the Dollywood Blog.
Hope to see you there, too–just follow the link to sign up for Thrills in the Hills!