I wish I'd done more planning. I did research enough before we went to find out that if you go in after 3 pm, your ticket will be valid for the whole next day. Dollywood isn't cheap so we knew it would be great to get that extra time. That's my #1 tip for a trip to Dollywood, take advantage of that deal and go 2 days. Our chiropractor also gave us a $40 off coupon he found on some sodas so we were able to utilize that as well.
Now every time you go into the park there is a $12 parking fee. Using the 2 day deal, we had to pay the parking fee twice, but it was well worth it. Don't worry too much about where you park. There are trams constantly running from every area of the parking lot right up to the front of the park. The trams were fantastic and made life much easier. On the tram they said all kids need to be measured to get a bracelet with their height on it. We took our kids to the measuring station, but since they were both over 50" they didn't need a bracelet. Skip it if you know your kids are taller than 48".
When you go, you can buy your tickets in advance or there are kiosks to purchase tickets. That would save you some time standing in the ticket line. We couldn't use those options since we had an extra coupon, but it is there. If you go back the second day, there's no need to stand in the ticket line. All bags and purses are checked before entering and no weapons are allowed.
Now the first day we walked around the whole park. We rode a few rides but didn't worry about hitting them all because we were going back the next day. In our case, that was a mistake. Our first day was a Friday, and it was not crowded at all. The lines were short and we didn't have any trouble making our way around the park. When we went back on Saturday, it was insane. It ended up being full to capacity that particular day, and we later heard some people were even turned away in the middle of the day! I think we went on a day that was an exception. We would have utilized the first day more if we would have realized.
There are close to 30 rides in the park. In our 2 days there, we only rode a small fraction of the rides. Part of that was because of poor planning. Part of it was because of the size of the crowd. Some of it was because Dollywood now offers Time Saver passes to skip ahead of the line and of course that makes the regular line slower. We never priced the express passes because we weren't willing to spend any more money for riding rides. In the future if we go to any amusement parks, I will research all of the rides and have a plan of action. On the first day, we waited until we had been there awhile to go and ride the big train that takes you all around the park. When we got there, the final ride for the day was over. We did make sure to go back for the first ride the next day, and we all enjoyed it very much. If you go, find the train schedule and plan to be in line 20 minutes before the departure time.
The park offers refillable cups and buckets. The cups were 2 for $19.99 but can be refilled for .99 at many locations throughout the park. The buckets were around $5 the first time and could be refilled with popcorn or pork rinds for various prices around the park. They turned out to be a good deal because we got lots of refills for ourselves, and the 3 kids we had in tow. We also had lunch at a little Chicken Strip shop on Saturday. Like everything else that day, the line was insanely long and the sad chicken strips were extremely overpriced. You can't take in any outside food or drink, but I'd plan better next time and find a place serving better food.
There are water rides and those are some of the best in the park. Wear appropriate clothing and take extra shoes. Some rides don't allow flip flops so keep that in mind. The second day we took some towels and extra shoes in a backpack.
As with most parks, almost everything costs extra. Keep that in mind when making a budget for your trip. There are family dryers after each water ride, but there is a cost. Most rides offer lockers, but you must pay for each one. As you exit Dollywood you go through a HUGE souvenir shop. It's better to buy any there at the end so you aren't carry it around throughout the park.
Even my husband said we needed matching shirts on the Saturday because it was so crowded. It isn't a bad idea to at least match so you can spot one another in a crowd!
Dollywood was a fun place, and we enjoyed it even with the huge crowd. I didn't receive any type of compensation for this post, I just wanted to share some tips with you for your trip to Dollywood!