There are some places that make the holiday season seem just a bit more magical, and the Smoky Mountains is one such place. Specifically, Christmas at Dollywood is not to be missed to help boost your sparkle for the season, especially if you feel yourself finding a bit Grinchy this year. We visited Dollywood twice during their holiday season - which runs November 10th through January 5th - to view the lights and enjoy all of the lovely decorations.
Stopping for a quick photo op outside of the front gates. They look like they're not too sure what to expect.
Waiting while daddy picks up our tickets. Jasper is exercising a good deal of self control here, because he was beside himself with excitement to get inside!
The Showstreet Palace Theater is the first thing you see once you enter the gates. During the holiday season you can stop by the theater to see the live show, It's A Wonderful Life.
Since Shelby is still a wee bit too young to sit patiently through an entire show, we skipped the productions during our holiday visits, though you can visit this link to see the holiday show schedule at Dollywood.
There's no shortage of silly photo ops in Dollywood. It seems like we find new ones during each visit.
The Showstreet area just inside the entrance is where you can find many snack shops and bakeries stocked with holiday goodies, like the Spotlight Bakery. You can smell the amazingness coming out of the doors!
We enjoyed seeing the garlands and wreaths that adorned every door and window.
Dollywood's Kettle Corn is a famous and well-loved treat in the park, so do yourself a favor and pick up a bag. During the holidays, you can get a festive red and green version! They also have a version that's sweetened with Splenda for those that don't want the added sugar, though I haven't tried it for myself. Kettle corn can be purchased at the Country Cookers stand in Rivertown Junction.
Near the water in Rivertown Junction is an area where you can feed the fish and ducks. The ducks are very friendly and used to having so many people around - some will even eat right out of your hand! There are coin-operated machines along the fencing that will dispense feed pellets.
The fall colors and freshly-fallen leaves created such a pretty atmosphere around the waterfront.
The insides of the shops, like Mountain Laurel Home, were also fully decked out for Christmas.
Visiting the park in the late fall gave us the unique advantage of seeing the last of the fall color against the Christmas displays. It was so beautiful!
It couldn't have been a more perfect weather day. We were lucky.
In the Wilderness Pass area of the park is the Firehouse Funyard, a small play area that's conveniently located at the opposite end of the park from most of the small-kiddo attractions, giving you a chance to give your little ones a reprieve while you are enjoying the rest of the park.
If I'm being perfectly honest, the play area is showing a bit of wear and tear and could do with a bit of an upgrade - replacing the old blocks would be a good place to start - but our kids still love it and have no complaints. In the warm months, this area turns into a mini splash pad with squirt guns and fountains to cool off.
Glacier Ridge is Dollywood's newest and largest Christmas expansion. It stretches from Timber Canyon to the top of Craftsman's Valley. This is a light display that we didn't want to miss and couldn't wait to see it at night. Keep reading below to see it in action!
We had lunch at Red's Drive-In, located in the Jukebox Junction area of the park. Red's serves up classic diner food like burgers, fries, and shakes, so it's pretty standard fare. There's also lots and lots of seating, which is a big plus.
There's a couple of healthier options on the menu like a salad and this turkey wrap.
The kids were getting pretty tired by then as it was past their usual naptime, but we were able to get some grub in them to help get them through the afternoon.
Have I mentioned yet what a beautiful fall day it was? Like wow... what an amazing day to be outside, even if it was a little chilly!
The Rockin' Roadway is an absolute favorite of both kids, and since there's no requirement they both can enjoy it! Classic colorful cars drive themselves along a track set to an upbeat soundtrack. We basically have to beeline it to this ride on each trip to Dollywood because it is the highlight of their day!
The County Fair area is where to go to find all the classic rides and games like the carousel, flying elephants, scrambler, and more.
It's also where you'll find all of the kiddie rides for the smallest of Dollywood visitors.
The Busy Bees is a miniature version of the flying elephant ride, though on Jasper's first try he was a little bit nervous - check out that death grip on the handle! Once he realized there was nothing to be scared of, though, it's now one of his favorite rides.
The Christmas Cottage shop in Rivertown Junction may be open year-round, but has a special appeal this time of year.
Up in the Owen's Farm section of Dollywood there is another couple of playground areas, Granny's Garden and Lil' Pilots Playground. Jasper and Shelby are ALWAYS up for a playground break!
Matt had gone down the hill to pick us up some coffee from the Grist Mill (don't forget to grab the cinnamon bread from there, too. Seriously.) so we could warm up, so I waited with the kids and let them play.
Since we were camping nearby and the kids don't sleep as well in the camper, they were already tired when we started our day at Dollywood. We had high hopes to stay and view the lights after dark, but Jasper and Shelby were really needing to get home and get some rest. So, knowing that we had upgraded our tickets to season passes and would be back soon (we only live an hour away!) we decided to plan for another visit in early December to properly see the lights.
And that's exactly what we did! On a Tuesday in early December we found ourselves in a nearly empty Dollywood and we were able to walk right onto any rides that we wanted!
I got him to go on the flying elephants this time, but he only let me fly them twice! Then I promised I wouldn't do it again, haha.
Daddy rode with Baby Sister, who is the fearless one, and she wanted him to fly those elephants sky high!
We took a ride on the Dollywood Express, the park's 110-ton coal-fired steam engine that takes you on a 20-minute ride. We enjoyed Christmas music and a sing-along on the way!
The carousel also had no line, which was crazy! Shelby picked herself out a big "horsey" and got strapped in.
She was a litttttle nervous when it started moving, but she did well.
Jasper adamantly refused to sit on an animal and wanted me to sit on the bench with him instead.
Back to the Rockin' Roadway, of course!
As dusk settled in, we decided to choose an indoor restaurant to warm up and get some vittles before viewing the light displays. We stopped at Granny Ogle's Ham 'n Beans which had enclosed their patio for the winter for a more comfortable dining experience.
The restaurant is located right next door to the Valley Theater where the holiday show, O' Holy Night, was playing. It's a unique experience if you can get a table on the theater side of the restaurant during show times, because you can dine while viewing most of the show!
A cast iron skillet of cornbread was brought to our table. We were starving and gobbled it up, though I have to say that I wasn't overly impressed with its flavor.
Matt and I shared the cassoulet and it was wonderful! Full of lots of smoky flavor from the ham and sausage. This is one of our favorite dishes to make at home (though we prepare ours a little differently) so we knew it'd be a good choice. The kids shared a large beef hot dog that came with barbecue potato chips and some goldfish.
When we left the restaurant the evening had set in and the lights were in fine form. It's amazing how the park transformed into a Christmas wonderland at night - literally millions of lights on every single building!
The new Glacier Ridge display is an icy fantasyland. The lights are primarily blue and white and you can hear whipping wind coming from hidden speakers. It's such a cool effect.
The lights were inspired by the aurora borealis and are synchronized to atmospheric music.
I could have stood there all evening!
The kids loved it, too.
Matt was impressed that every single inch of this tree and its branches were covered in lights.
Even the rides and buildings are washed in blue light.
Next we headed over to the Plaza at Glacier Ridge to view the 50-foot Christmas tree light show, which occurs every 30 minutes beginning at 6pm.
If you get there early enough, there are rocking chairs set up in the plaza underneath suspended heaters, which was SO nice!!
Getting reallllly close to bedtime, but still hanging in there!
The plaza was so beautiful!
The light show was spectacular. All kinds of colorful graphics dance along the tree set to a festive soundtrack. Jasper watched the whole thing silently with his mouth hanging open. Don't miss it!
The Arctic Passage is a 130-foot lighted tunnel of blue and purple lights. Jasper wanted to go through twice!
Have you visited Dollywood or the Smoky Mountains during the holidays?
What did you like/dislike?
Are you hoping to plan a trip to Dollywood in the future?
Leave a comment and let me know!
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