Dollywood Prepares for Great Pumpkin LumiNights 2020
Dollywood is preparing to kick off its annual Harvest Festival, which includes the very popular Great Pumpkin LumiNights nighttime event. The festivities kick off this Friday, September 25, 2020. The event runs daily (except Tuesdays and Thursdays) through Halloween, October 31st.
In addition to Great Pumpkin LumiNights, Harvest Festival features more than 800 concerts ranging from Southern gospel to bluegrass on eight different outdoor stages. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Dollywood event without delicious food. I’ll let a news release from the park make your mouth water:
The smells of smoked beef brisket, turkey legs and sausage pair nicely with the fresh tastes of fried green tomatoes, fire-roasted corn and sweet potato casserole. For sweet treats, the ever-popular pumpkin spice is in full supply with items ranging from pumpkin spice milkshakes and cinnamon rolls to a twist on the park’s beloved cinnamon bread. Pumpkin praline funnel cake, hot wassail and harvest kettle corn are perfect to carry and enjoy while admiring the beauty of Dollywood in the fall.
I visited the park earlier this month and was able to get a glimpse at some of the jaw-dropping pumpkin creations already being set up. Dollywood sent us some amazing previews of these directions at night, so I’ve included those throughout my update.
The Great Pumpkin LumiNights event, in its fourth year, features more than a dozen colossal pumpkins, ranging from 800 to more than 1500 pounds each.”
The giant pumpkins are sourced from growers across the East Coast who share their prize pumpkins with Dollywood.
The centerpiece of the event is this 40-foot-tall pumpkin tree, located at The Plaza at Wilderness Pass.
But before diving further into the pumpkins, I’ll switch gears and get the bad news out of the way first — Lightning Rod was closed and has been for a few weeks.
Of course, there is no shortage of speculation about the cause of Lightning Rod’s ongoing issues. However, the launching wooden coaster’s reliability seemed to have improved over the past couple of years.
I’ve read a couple of claims that the coaster is closed for the remainder of the season. But given that Dollywood’s season lasts until the first weekend of January, I’m skeptical of that claim.
Time will tell. For now, the park has listed the ride as “temporarily closed” on its website.
Thunderhead, on the other hand, was running extremely well — especially the retracked sections.
The Great Coasters International (GCI) coaster is in the midst of a four-year total track replacement which will cost roughly $800,000 for each phase. I’d estimate that half of the coaster’s 3,230 feet of track have been replaced.
Learn more about Thunderhead in our climb to the top of the coaster’s lift hill feature from last summer’s Thrills in the Hills coaster enthusiast event.
One of the more noticeable differences at the park was the stripped-down Mystery Mine trestle bridge.
This was likely caused by a falling chain (decoration) that injured three guests in July. I’m sure this is only temporary while the decorative pieces are reconfigured.
I’m amazed by how level you are with the coaster’s dive loop finale when viewing it from Wildwood Grove.
This is a coaster that doesn’t need too many extra decorations — its theme is quite Halloween-y as is.
Tennessee Tornado was only running one train, so the line was a bit longer than usual — all the more reason to invest in a Timesaver skip-the-line pass. I highly recommend investing in one, especially if you’re visiting the park during Great Pumpkin LumiNights.
Due to it being so family-friendly, FireChaser Express also is subject to long lines, especially during Great Pumpkin LumiNights.
Unfortunately, TimeSaver passes do not work to bypass the line for the park’s world-famous Cinnamon Bread at the Grist Mill. However, it’s now available at the Spotlight Bakery near the front gate as well as the DreamMore Resort. But for me, nothing beats getting a loaf from the Grist Mill.
Although fall has technically arrived, you still may have a few days where a ride on Smoky Mountain River Rampage is refreshing rather than frigid.
Now, let’s get back to the pumpkins.
I found these pumpkin frogs to be quite adorable.
They’re scattered in the water surrounding Drop Line.
And of course, they’ll glow once the sun sets.
This “pumpkinfall” — what I’m calling this waterfall of pumpkins — will be beautifully illuminated at night, judging by the lights covering the rocks.
Nearby, don’t miss the slightly unsettling pumpkin disco.
The pumpkins in this display are simultaneously cute and creepy. ‘Tis the season!
There are plenty of cleverly titled tombstones scattered throughout.
At night the party will come to life thanks in part to a disco ball.
And you can’t throw a rock (or pumpkin) without hitting a fun photo opportunity (please don’t throw the pumpkins).
These pumpkin cats are up to no good.
Not far from the pumpkin disco party is a pumpkin campsite.
This contraption is an old-fashioned sorghum press set up for demonstrations. As part of the Harvest Festival event (geared more toward the daytime), artisans from around the country will share their handmade crafts and other goods.
Finally, the pumpkin butterfly in Wildwood Grove has made a triumphant return. It’s one of my favorite pumpkin sculptures in the park.
While we’re on the subject of butterflies (Dolly Parton’s favorite insect), Dolly herself had some words to say about the event:
“This year has been challenging for everyone, but we hope the comfort they feel from coming and visiting us gives them that warm, familiar feeling they’ve shared with their friends and loved ones for so many years here at Dollywood. We have a few surprises planned this year, and I think everyone will agree this is that special escape ‘back home’ we all need right now.”
If you’re planning to ride the Dollywood Express during your next visit, get to the station extra early as capacity is very limited due to social distancing protocols. Trains (typically) depart at the top of each hour, and people start lining up 30-45 minutes early. I’m someone who usually gets to the station 15-20 minutes before departure — that’s not feasible this year.
My day was sidetracked for a couple of hours thanks to a late summertime thunderstorm (typical for this time of year).
However, waiting it out was well worth the delay. The park was significantly less crowded once the storm passed.
Walking through a near-empty Dollywood is one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had in a theme park.
I trekked up the hill to see the old Mountain Slidewinder water toboggan ride site. Unfortunately, not much has changed since it closed last year.
I was so disappointed to see that the Smoky Mountain Christmas Cottage store was closed. A visit in September or October is typically how I kick off the holiday season (I start early).
Perhaps the unexpected highlight of my day was an extended pause at the top of Wild Eagle’s lift hill — on the front row. Those 10 minutes of an unobstructed view of the Smoky Mountains was worth every penny I’ve spent at Dollywood. Honestly, I’d pay for that experience. Thankfully the ride was restarted and we completed the course without any other issues.
Dollywood is open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. each day of operation (September 25- October 31) during the Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights. The park is closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the festival. Visit the park’s website prior to your visit for any updates.
While Dollywood is no longer requiring reservations (as of this posting), season passholders should make a reservation to ensure their entry. Due to the popularity of the event, I’d recommend making a reservation if you have a season pass. A daily ticket guarantees your entrance.
Have you visited Dollywood’s Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights? Share your experiences at the events in the comments section below.