Dollywood offers an authentic theme park experience, complete with roller coasters, mouth-watering eateries, and an old fashioned main street full of cute shops. Visiting Dollywood can seem like a pipe dream when you have tiny children, but there’s actually quite a bit catered specifically for the under 36 inches crowd.
Here are tips for visiting Dollywood with toddlers:
- Take the big stroller. It can be tempting to want to use an umbrella stroller, but the storage and comfort of a larger stroller will be appreciated during nap time and throughout the day. We didn’t come across a single ride without stroller parking, and none of our belongings were bothered.
- Stay hydrated. Bring along your little one’s beloved sippy cup, and take advantage of Dollywood’s free water policy. Anywhere that has a soda fountain will give you complimentary ice water! Simply pour that water into your kiddo’s favorite cup, and you can avoid thirst-induced grumpiness.
- Plan in advance. If you’ve got bigger kids that want to do the more exciting coasters, look for a nearby playground for the smaller and/or less adventurous ones. Dollywood has several little playgrounds and splash pads scattered throughout the park, often near big coasters. My two-year old loved the firetruck themed splash pad near the Fire Chaser rollercoaster, which big brother wanted to ride. We packed sunscreen, a towel, a swim diaper and swimsuit for little brother, and he didn’t feel like he was missing out. We tucked all the necessary splash pad supplies in the basket of the big stroller, and it made me grateful for bringing it.
- Get the free app. The free Dollywood app includes show times, ride wait times, and a map. It’s really handy to know which rides you’re interested in, and check the app before walking to them to find out the wait time and double check that they aren’t temporarily closed. The app will also let you know if the ride is closed for the day, closed due to weather (lightning shuts down rollercoasters), or just temporarily closed.
- Pick up a free paper park map, too. The map in the app is handy if you’ve lost your paper version (which we did…twice. Water rides and paper maps don’t mix!). But the paper map includes a magical chart that tells you how tall your kid needs to be for each ride and where it is.
Toddlers are their own special breed, with their own special needs. Each child is different, but in general they need ample snacks, play time, and rest time. Waiting in line can be hard, but the smaller kids’ rides tended to have shorter waits. The longest we waited in line for our two-year-old was probably fifteen minutes at the Flying Elephants, but it was absolutely worth it. Our little guy is also completely fearless, so keep in mind your little one’s adventure-seeking level before choosing rides. My toddler is very vocal about what he wants, pointing and saying “That! Please that!” on repeat.
Here are a few tips on the best experiences for toddlers:
- Get measured! Jukebox Junction offers a measuring station. Instead of your child getting measured at each ride with a height requirement, they get measured once here and get a color-coded bracelet that lets ride operators know this kid has met the height requirement. If you miss this station, each ride with a height requirement has two measuring stations: one before the line, and one at the point where you get on.
- Country Fair offered the most under 36″ tall rides in one area. Two ground-based rides, Lucky Ducky and Piggy Parade, just gently go in a circle. Busy Bees takes them up in the air, and my four- and two-year-old rode it together. They loved it. It’s like a smaller flying elephant ride. Adults have to ride with under 42″ on the Amazing Flying Elephants, but it’s super fun. It’s not too fast, not too slow, and I didn’t get dizzy (I can get dizzy pretty easily, so I avoid the scrambler rides that go in lots of circles).
- Rockin’ Rodeway was one of our two-year-old’s favorite rides. He got to ‘drive’ a car, with fun oldies music. The wait is usually short, because they have two lanes of cars on two parallel tracks, but the ride is a decent length. Bonus: my four-year-old also loved it.
- Take advantage of rider swap. If your child is too short to ride, and older siblings or parents want to, you don’t have to wait in line twice! For quite a few rides, our four-year-old (41″) could ride, but only with an adult. Since both my husband and I wanted to experience the ride with him, we stood in line with both kids, one of us boarded with the four-year-old, while the other waited to the side with the two-year-old. When the first group returned, the four-year-old stayed seated, the parents swapped who was with the two-year-old, and off we went.
- If your little ones love trains, check out the Dollywood Express. It’s a real, coal-powered train. Try and sit in the middle to avoid the ash, or plan to do a water ride after. The ride itself is educational. I wouldn’t do it again with my two-year-old, because he was too antsy for it. There aren’t doors, so he and the four-year-old had to sit between my husband and me. We tried to board late, but we still ended up sitting and waiting for five to ten minutes before departing. It didn’t go fast enough to cool us down, and I was wrestling the toddler, so unless your kid is a good at sitting and being still and/or train obsessed, maybe save it for when they’re a little older.
- If you’re there in the heat, get wet. It’ll cool you down, your kids will love that you’re all getting soaked together, and everyone gets to act like a kid. River Rampage has a height requirement of 36″, but River Battle doesn’t. River Battle will get you SOAKED if it’s busy. Most people shot at other boats, instead of targets, but it only made it more fun. This was also a huge hit with our water-loving toddler.
- Another heat-tip: try and hit a show during nap time. My toddler fell asleep during the Gazillion Bubble Show, because it was nap time, but my four-year-old thought it was the coolest thing ever. The Little Engine Theater also had a great show; we saw Pretend. They put on shows based on books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, so your little one might recognize one of their bedtime stories being acted out on stage! All the shows are air-conditioned, but strollers can’t be in the theater. You can carry or wear your sleeping little one in, though. I love the Mei Tei, because it’s compact to pack and easy to put on. I still wear my toddler in it!
- Most bathrooms had a separate nursing mother’s room, with a changing table, sink, and two rocking chairs. These are noted on the paper park map.
- Most restaurants have kids’ meals. We ate at Red’s Diner, which specializes in hot dogs, hamburgers, and milkshakes. We had our two- and four-year-old split a kids’ meal, and bought an extra chocolate milk, because the servings were pretty large. There’s a toppings bar, so you don’t have to worry about asking for a plain burger, or just ketchup, etc.
- The park is 150 acres, so I’m going to say it twice: plan in advance. Think about what you want to do, and prioritize. Then tackle each section of the park piece by piece, so you can make sure to do everything you want.