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Best Tips for Visiting During Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival

Even though the number of shopping days left until Christmas is dwindling, the days that you can enjoy my favorite holiday place – Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas – last into the New Year! However, planning is a must with the business of the season in full swing here in December, so here are some tips for making the most of what will be a wonderful family memory of the 2021 holidays.


First on your Dollywood To Do list: pick a date to load up the sleigh or SUV. Second on that list: go to Dollywood.com and make a reservation for everyone that’s going with you. Reservations are required, so go ahead and do that as soon as you can to secure the date that best fits your schedule! If you have questions about reservations, read this blog. Reminder, pre-purchased dated tickets ARE your reservation.

Dress for the Weather (and Where to Warm Up!)

While I love all things Dollywood, I don’t love all things winter. So when my family and I are going to enjoy all of the five million twinkling lights on a holiday outing, the first thing I do is check to see how many layers I need to wear, especially if I’m starting in the daytime when it often can be seasonably warm. I bring extra layers, a scarf and some gloves for the crisp evening air – and even more if I’m going to enjoy Wild Eagle after dark!

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas Is the Must-See Holiday Theme Park Event | The Active Times

The park offers great options for warming up, too – from heaters located throughout the park to toasty indoor theaters with great shows to hot chocolate and a warm gingerbread cookie when there is a chill in the air. Those great options make getting a little cold worth it.

Christmas Offerings

Once a year experiences at Christmas are such a big part of what makes Dollywood so special at the holidays. Always topping my list are the five million lights and the hue of twinkling colors found in the park’s different areas. My favorites are the cool blues, whites and silvers of Glacier Ridge and a classic return of the red and white striped glow in Peppermint Valley (the holiday version of Country Fair).

For the kid at heart in all of us, Santa’s List: Naughty or Nice shouldn’t be missed. No matter your age, the experience of making a Christmas list, talking to Santa’s elves and seeing St. Nick hard at work on “the list” are pure Dollywood magic. (But you better watch out – Santa’s only in residence until Dec. 23. He’s really busy after that!)

Other than Christmas cookies, carols and music have been my favorite part of the holidays since I was little. And I’m not sure I feel like Christmas time’s a comin’ until I see “Christmas in the Smokies” at Celebrity Theater. It takes me back to special Christmases past and makes me so thankful to have this Christmas tradition to share with my family. Then it’s time to make the rounds to the rest of the favorite shows – from the Nativity (“O Holy Night”) to the Mistletones to the Candlelight Carolers – and the show schedule (pick up when you first enter the park or better yet check out show times on the Dollywood app) helps us plan exactly what to do and see when as far as holiday entertainment is concerned – and schedule the best time to warm up at an inside show!

Meal Strategy

All that walking to see the five million lights, the adrenaline from wilding a roller coaster in the chilly air, and doing some much needed shopping to finish out your holiday shopping list has probably made you hungry. There’s a strategy for tasting all those delicious holiday treats – from experience, here’s what I suggest!

First, figure out where you want to eat. For the restaurants that take reservations, go ahead and put your family’s name in early for your preferred time and then enjoy a show or rides until it’s time to eat. Also consider eating at “non-peak” times for both lunch or dinner; see family favorite show “Twas the Night Before Christmas” during peak dinnertime, then enjoy your meal together after the show.

Your group may not want to slow down long enough to visit a restaurant, and Dollywood offers some amazing options for eating on the way to the next fun holiday attraction. If you’ve headed up Craftsman’s Valley to see the park’s version of the Northern Lights, check out the variety of food trucks by Tennessee Tornado and in The Plaza at Wilderness Pass. The options change through the festival, but the deliciousness of the food selections does not! Other great “Grab and Go” locations can be found throughout the park or you might just opt for a gingerbread cookie or some cinnamon bread. That’s what I’ll probably be doing!

Plan Your Day

Planning is the key to making the most of your Dollywood holiday day, so here are my top five things to consider for those “don’t miss” attractions and experiences this year:

  •  If you have little ones who need to check in with Santa and see where they are on that all-important list, consider doing that first or early during your visit. Then it’s on to more holiday fun!
  •  Even during the winter, the Smoky Mountains are a breathtaking sight, and taking in the view from one of the exciting coasters is an exciting way to do that! So take in the views and the thrills before the sun goes down – then try it again after dark to get a new view of Dollywood’s five million lights. Plus, once the sun goes down, the temps may drop below manufacturer guidelines for our coasters to run. Do it early while it’s an option!
  • Dollywood’s one-of-a-kind shows are the best way to put you in the holiday spirit, so you need to do more than one. Check out all the show descriptions and show times at Dollywood.com when you know what day you’ll be here – then you can plan around that.
  • Another big decision you’ll need to make is when to take that special train ride on the Dollywood Express. Similar to the park’s coasters, you’ll need to figure out if you prefer to see the mountains or the lights? Here’s another fun tip: ride twice and then you don’t have to choose. And no reservations are required to ride the train – just Christmas cheer and childlike wonder required to board!
  • At the end of the day, enjoy one more memory maker with your family and look for the final show of the day in the Smoky Mountain sky, where everything is Merry & Bright with the colorful excitement of a fireworks show. You’ll end the best Dollywood holiday experience with a bang!

So, it’s time to round up the family, pick a date, make that reservation at Dollywood.com, figure out which gloves and scarf to take, and dream about that first bite of cinnamon bread and pack the car. See you in Peppermint Valley!

By | 2021-12-08T11:35:52+00:00 December 8th, 2021|Trip Planning|0 Comments

About the Author:

If it has anything to do with East Tennessee, this Dollywood blogger loves it. Ellen Liston was born in Kingsport and grew up in a rural environment that she says has many similarities to the Sevier County area and the beautiful Smoky Mountains here. When she’s not at Dollywood or enjoying the multitude of activities and attractions in these mountains, Ellen can usually be found cheering on the Tennessee Volunteers, particularly at football and Lady Vols basketball games, or hanging out with her family – sometimes cheering on the Vols together! Some of her favorite things are reading almost any kind of book imaginable, history, crime dramas (especially Perry Mason and Forensic Files), old movies, ‘80s music, and most anything to do with her Scottish heritage, including kilts and bagpipes. She and her husband Scott live in South Knoxville on 6 acres with their yellow labs, Charlie and Rudy, and a Maine Coon cat with a major attitude, Sam.
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