A Day at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas 2016

Yesterday, I embarked on my annual trip to Dollywood for the park’s Smoky Mountain Christmas event, which features a slew of holiday-themed shows, a billion lights (maybe less, maybe more?), festive eats and, of course, most of the park’s rides.

Before we jump into the holiday cheer, I’ll start with the bummer of the trip: Lightning Rod was closed for the day.

The ride was listed as “temporarily closed” throughout the day, so I remained hopeful that I would get one last ride in during the coaster’s (rocky) inaugural season.

The employees stationed outside the ride’s entrance told me that crews were working on the coaster and hoped to have it open later in the day.

Unfortunately, that opening never came.

I checked the Dollywood app obsessively throughout the day, ever ready to make a mad dash to the ride. But around 7:45, the “TC” (temporarily closed) changed to a “CD” (closed for the day) on the park’s app.

Sure, I was disappointed. I may have wept internally. But alas, I’m grateful for my many rides on Lightning Rod. Hopefully I’ll ride it again in 2017.

Thankfully, Dollywood has another awesome wooden coaster by the name of Thunderhead, which was running beautifully.

I’m not sure how much weather affects the coaster, but my rides (front and back) were hands down the best of the season.

With so many of the trees free of leaves, rarely seen views of the coaster appeared.

Not far from Thunderhead is the former Timber Tower platform, temporarily in use as the stage for the “Timber Canyon Festival of Lights” tree.

But in 2017, this will be the home of Drop Line, a 200-foot-tall drop tower.

Also joining Drop Line, the Whistle Punk junior coaster is believed to open nearby. I couldn’t see any signs of construction, but that’s understandable as both are (relatively) small in scale.

I do hope they keep these fountains.

I wasn’t terribly upset that I missed a ride on Mystery Mine. It had one of the longer waits of the day, and I’d rather get more rides on Wild Eagle, Thunderhead and Tennessee Tornado, all of which had shorter waits.

I still hope that Mystery Mine will someday be gifted with lap-bar only restraints. They would make a world of difference.

With the measurable rainfall the region has received in recent weeks following last month’s devastating wildfires, the park’s iconic Dollywood Express train has been able to operate without the risk of a floating embers causing any trouble.

There’s something about the scenery, cool air and Christmas music that makes this train ride very special.

If you’ve been to Dollywood without trying a bite (or loaf) of cinnamon bread, then you’ve really never been to Dollywood.

The Grist Mill (where the cinnamon bread is made) might as well be the park’s Cinderella Castle.

We dodged a bullet with the weather, as the following day, a bitter cold front and swath of heavy rain covered the region (which is most certainly welcome after the wildfires).

The temperatures actually warmed even after the sun set. The crowds were light earlier in the day, likely because of the mid-morning rain prior to the park’s 11 a.m. opening.

But as expected, the crowds grew throughout the day as nighttime approached.

But with many guests only there for the shows, wait times for the coasters didn’t surpass 30 minutes.

As dazzling as the park’s light displays are, some of the smaller, more intricate decorations are just as fun to look at — but they’re easier to miss.

But the strings of twinkling lights covering nearly every surface of the park are indeed breathtaking.


I tip my hat to the many souls who spend hours upon hours making this park look so beautiful at night.

No terrible iPhone photos will ever do these sights any justice. You have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate the depth and intricacies of it all.

With Lightning Rod closed, I opted for a front-row ride on Wild Eagle to cap off a spectacular 2016 coaster season. But with the longer wait for the front, I was stuck with a very limited view of the Parade of Many Colors.

New this holiday season, the parade maneuvers through the Showstreet area of the park. The parade begins at 8 p.m. nightly during Smoky Mountain Christmas nights.

Please excuse the lack of photos, but you can see a Parade of Many Colors promo video from Dollywood below:

Watch a video of the entire Parade of Many Colors here.

The parade was good, but in my mind I envisioned larger floats. Its scale is smaller and more intimate — you’ll definitely want to be as close to the action as possible, especially if you have little ones in your group.

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is open daily through January 1, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Dec. 24 and 25).

And remember, there’s still time to donate to Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund.” 100% of your donation will go directly to families affected by last month’s wildfires.

Have you visited Dollywood this holiday season? Share your thoughts about Smoky Mountain Christmas in the comments section below.

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