In a recent article published in Boston Globe Magazine, Massachusetts-based reporter Janet Wu posed the question, “Can a New Englander have fun at Dollywood?” The answer: a resounding yes!
When Wu’s mother suggested taking a Smoky Mountain vacation with the whole family, everyone was initially skeptical. Not much is known about the Pigeon Forge area in the faraway land of Massachusetts, so the Wu clan really didn’t know what to expect. However, after spending five days in the Smokies this summer, we are happy to report that the Wu family was completely won over by the charm of Sevier County.
Here at Visit My Smokies, we always love hearing about first-time trips to the Smoky Mountains, so we’ve decided to share a few excerpts from Wu’s account of her family vacation in Pigeon Forge.
For the Wu family, Dollywood was the main reason they visited the Smokies, and it did not disappoint! Despite being fans of the Magic Kingdom, Janet writes that “in many ways we liked Dollywood more” than Disney World.
What separates Dollywood from bigger theme parks in Florida is the lack of long lines. Wu recounts that during her family’s Disney vacation, they waited 45 – 70 minutes per ride, even with FastPasses. In contrast, at Dollywood, the longest wait was only 15 minutes.
Wu also felt that Dollywood didn’t feel as commercialized as Disney World. She writes:
“Dollywood is surely profitable, but you never feel profits are a driving force. Kids aren’t hopped up on some cartoon character or the latest movie release – our brood didn’t even end up buying a single souvenir during our visit. It was refreshing to ride a log flume, not a branded experience. And it was a joy to come giggling off a roller coaster to turn around and hop on again.”
With brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, the Wu family numbered 12 for their Smoky Mountain vacation. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find lodging for a big group in the Smokies! Janet and her family stayed at a three-story, six bedroom cabin that could sleep up to 18 people. With a hot tub, pool table, two game rooms, and a home theater, Wu writes that her cabin “was less about rustic living and more about luxury ‘glamping’”.
For the Wu clan, “staying in the cabin turned out to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of our trip.” Coming from New England, Janet and her family had never experienced the joy of staying together under one roof while being surrounded by nature. She writes:
“At the end of each day, we returned to a real (albeit huge) cabin in the real woods, abuzz with lightning bugs, not a cabin-themed hotel. I can still see my family sitting in that log cabin, talking and laughing.”
Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Finding the perfect cabin for your vacation is easy, especially when you browse the hundreds of Smoky Mountain cabin rentals listed on our website!
For Northerners, trying some authentic Southern cooking in the Smoky Mountains is a real treat. When they visited Pigeon Forge, the Wu family went out of their way to sample the local delicacies, including chicken-fried steak, collard greens, fried chicken, and biscuits. The food at Dollywood was a big hit with the Wu crew, especially the freshly baked cinnamon bread available at the Grist Mill!
In addition to the restaurants at Dollywood, the Wu family also enjoyed a delicious meal at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant & Grill. The complimentary apple fritters, homemade apple butter, and the non-alcoholic Applewood juleps were very well received. Wu recommends family-style dining, “in order to sample dishes like trout cakes, which are rarely found north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
While country music is growing in popularity across the country, it is still something you’re unlikely to hear on a regular basis in the North. When Janet and her New England family visited the Smokies, they got a great taste of real country music at Dollywood. In particular, the Wu clan really enjoyed the “Country Crossroads” show, which mixes classic and contemporary country.
Wu writes that “even if country music is not your genre, you’ll recognize the songs, know the words, and find yourself singing along. And there’s nothing like country music to remind even hardened Northerners that we all fall in love, get our hearts broken, and yet do it all over again.”
Besides Dollywood, other great places to hear live country music in the Smokies include the Country Tonite Music Show, The Ole Smoky Moonshine locations, and various shops and restaurants in downtown Gatlinburg.
Janet and her family were also impressed with how affordable taking a Smoky Mountain vacation can be. At Dollywood, they decided to upgrade their single-entry ticket to a season pass. This proved to be a great idea, because they ended up spending three days at the theme park, making their visit just $34 per day for adults and $29 for kids. The Wu clan is even thinking about returning to Dollywood this winter, so they can get even more value out of their season pass!
Lodging in the Smokies is also very reasonable, with a one bedroom cabin that sleeps four available for around $100 per night. Even larger cabins can be affordable when you split the cost with your group.
Whether you’re from the North, the South, somewhere in the middle, or outside of the U.S., you’re guaranteed to find something you love about the Smokies, just like the Wu family did!
To start planning your getaway, check out our complete listing of things to do in the Smoky Mountains.