January 5, 2024, 2:03 PM ·
The winter holiday season has become big business at theme parks around the country. We typically stick to our local parks in the Mid-Atlantic region during the Christmas season, but planned a trip to Nashville over Winter Break that included a stay at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and a visit to Dollywood.We’ve been to Dollywood a number of times, including a couple of years ago, but this was our first time staying at Dollywood’s original on-site resort. Compared to standard chain hotels in the area, DreamMore has a premium price, but is comparable to other luxury resorts in terms of both amenities and cost.
Additionally, guests staying at DreamMore can package their stay with theme park tickets that include Dollywood’s Time Saver service. Since we were visiting during a time of the year that typically sees pretty heavy crowds, it was a big plus for us to stay at DreamMore for the value that the included Time Savers provided.The DreamMore is themed like many of the southern-style mountain lodges in the Smoky Mountain region with a bit of a modern twist. A fountain greets guests near the main entrance, and the main lobby has plenty of spaces to relax or enjoy a snack from the DM Pantry, the resort’s quick service dining location.For the holidays, the DreamMore’s gorgeous lobby is decked out with a huge Christmas tree, wreaths, bows, and ribbons with live musicians filling the space with festive songs scheduled throughout the day.The main space definitely lacks the grandeur of places like the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, and Animal Kingdom Lidge, but for me felt like a scaled down version of those iconic lobbies. It was striking to me how much the DreamMore felt like a deluxe Walt Disney World resort. While DreamMore is about the third of the size of the Disney World Resorts, the layout, quality, and overall attention to detail was very similar.The rooms are well appointed and the resort as a whole as plenty of amenities including indoor and outdoor pools (with a splash pad), exercise room, arcade, playground, meeting/conference rooms, and both a quick service and a full-service restaurant.Like many of the Disney and Universal resorts, there are activities throughout the day at the DreamMore. During our visit, some of the activities included: gingerbread house building in the lobby (for an extra charge), bedtime stories, S’mores making, and apple cider tasting. Since we checked in on Christmas Day, we noted that the resort’s full-service restaurant, Song & Hearth: A Southern Eatery, was hosting Christmas Dinner, but we instead booked a reservation for breakfast the next morning.
Breakfast at Song & Hearth is served buffet style with a custom egg station (including omelets). The dining space is a gorgeous mix of southern charm and modern hominess. We were seated in the main octagonal dining area with the focal point being its massive fireplace accented by a vaulted ceiling with exposed wood beams.Smaller dining rooms radiate from this main dining area, but none of the tables are too far from the buffet area. The food includes a number of southern style options including biscuits and sausage gravy, prime rib hash, and fresh grits. You’ll also find plenty of familiar breakfast items like waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, and different varieties of sausage. There’s even a cabinet full of various kinds of doughnuts and a station specifically set up for guests with gluten allergies.One of the items I really enjoyed was the waffled potatoes, which were like latkes cooked on a waffle iron. Breakfast is a bit on the expensive side at $22.95 for adults and $11.95 for kids, but on a day when Dollywood didn’t open until 11 AM, it offered a filling morning meal to get us through the first part of our bust day at the park.One of the other perks of staying at the DreamMore is that the resort has a free shuttle, shared with Dollywood’s newest resort, Heartsong Lodge and Resort (opened in 2023), that takes guests straight to the parks. The shuttles run every 20 minutes, but do take a bit of a windy, circuitous path through the adjacent parking lots to reach Dollywood’s front gate.Dollywood’s holiday overlay is called Smoky Mountain Christmas, and like other theme parks, there are lights and decorations throughout.However, unlike other regional theme parks, the entire park and almost all of the rides (except for the water rides and Lightning Rod, which is down to convert to a chain lift) are open. Dollywood also heavily leans into the religious and more wholesome themes of Christmas with their entertainment. We took time out of our day to watch T’was the Night Before Christmas and Christmas in the Smokies. The former was centered around a family trying to gather at home for the holidays, but the family’s military son and eldest college daughter were unable to catch their respective rides home for Christmas. The youngest daughter makes a wish for her siblings to make it home, which is magically answered by an older white-hair bearded gentleman. Throw in a b-story about some mice trying to sneak into the family’s house to eat the cookies that are conveniently set out on Christmas Eve, and you’ve got a cute, funny, and heartwarming show that will bring a smile to the audience. The later show is a constant barrage of carols from beginning to end, including an impressive rendition of Carol of the Bells with the cast spread across the full width of the massive stage. In passing, we also caught parts of a few of the shows staged outside. As you would expect, Dollywood presents some of the most musically talented performers as you’ll find in any theme park in the country.In addition to all of the holiday themed shows, the park has plenty of lights and other decorations spread around the park.We were also hoping to see Joyful: Season of Light, which is the Christmas-themed version of the park’s popular nighttime show featuring drones and fireworks. Unfortunately, inclement weather caused the show to be cancelled, so we missed out on it. We dd have a chance to sample a number of the holiday foods with a Smoky Mountain Christmas Tasting Pass, which allows guests to pick 5 items from the special holiday menus featured around the park. The first item we tried was Pot Roast Mac and Cheese, which is exactly what you think it is, savory pot roast and veggies on top of hearty macaroni and cheese. Zach gobbled up most of this dish, but the bite and a half I managed to snag before he devoured the plate was quite good.Our next dish for the night was the Christmas Toastie Sandwich, which was like a full holiday meal, complete with brussel sprouts, served in a panini. This item was even a hit with Zach, who claims high disdain for brussel sprouts.Next up was a Pork Belly Skillet. Dollywood (and Silver Dollar City) are famous for their skillet entrees that contain meat, potatoes, and vegetables cooked in giant cast-ironed skillets. This holiday version featured pork belly as the main protein, which had a sweet glaze. The skillet was quite good but didn’t feel especially Christmassy or feel substantially different from the park’s normal skillet meals.Next up was the Stuffing Stacker. This was a massive portion of mashed potatoes, herbed stuffing, pulled turkey and gravy with a side of cranberry sauce. If you love Thanksgiving, this is for you. My wife thought the stuffing was a bit over seasoned, and I felt that the texture of the pulled turkey was tad odd.Our final dish for the night was Three Bean Chili. The portion size for this was a bit on the small side compared to the other dishes, but it was still full of flavor. Also, I probably would have rather had a piece of cornbread to the cornbread crumbs sprinkled on top. The chili has a decent amount of kick without being too spicy for the average guest.One of the other reasons we wanted to go to Dollywood on this trip was to finally ride the park’s newest roller coaster, Big Bear Mountain.I unfortunately was unable to cover the media event earlier this year, but we were able to get two rides on the Vekoma family coaster before the lines got unbearable (our Time Saver passes were not good for this coaster). Big Bear Mountain is located in the park’s newest land, Wildwood Grove, and is well themed with trains that look like off road vehicles, complete with working headlights and taillights. The trains also feature an on-board soundtrack, a first for a Dollywood coaster. Riders blast through three LSM launches with a top speed of 48 MPH yet Big Bear Mountain is still accessible to guests who are just 39” tall. For a family coaster, Big Bear Mountain packs a decent punch, and the nearly 4,000 feet of track offers a much longer and more complete experience than you typically find on your average family attraction. The layout has a number of airtime hills, twists, and turns, including through an artificial canyon with a waterfall, that will satisfy even hard-core thrill seekers.Big Bear Mountain is an excellent addition to Dollywood’s already impressive coaster collection that includes Mystery Mine, Thunderhead, Wild Eagle, Tennessee Tornado, Firechaser Express, Dragonflier, Blazing Fury, and Lightning Rod.We had an amazing time at Dollywood, even though we were just in Pigeon Forge for a day and a half. While staying at the DreamMore resort was a bit of a splurge compared to what we would normally spend on a hotel, it turned out to be far better than I expected. Our visit to Dollywood was also great despite the inclement weather at the start and end of the day, which actually kept crowds manageable throughout the day. Big Bear Mountain might not be good enough to warrant a trip to the park if you’ve been in the past few years, but it is an excellent addition to the park.* * *
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