What’s New and Different at Dollywood in 2022
Last month, I kicked off my 2022 coaster season in the best way possible — with a trip to Dollywood. While there are no new rides or attractions opening at Dollywood in 2022, there were still plenty of updates and changes to see. These are just a few of the things that are new or different at Dollywood in 2022.
Parking and Transportation Changes
One of the biggest changes you’ll notice isn’t even inside the park. Over the off-season, Dollywood completely revamped its parking lot and transportation infrastructure.
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) April 13, 2022
Upon pulling up to one of the parking toll booths, I was given this helpful diagram illustrating the new setup:
For a more thorough walk-through of the changes, this blog post from the park does an excellent job of explaining it in detail.
The new system isn’t drastically different if you’re entering the parking lot by car. You’ll be directed a lot, park and then board one of the many parking trams. There are fewer tram pick-up locations, but that seemed to shorten the length of time it took to arrive at the front gate.
The new transit hub is where guests will board the tram when they want to return to their vehicles. The hub is also used by the Dollywood DreamMore Resort trolleys.
Digital Season Passes, Tickets and Timesaver Passes
You can now (at least on iPhone) add tickets and passes to your digital wallet.
As someone who worries about every aspect of trip planning and logistics — including losing my season pass and other tickets and forms of identification — being able to add my pass to my phone is a huge plus.
TIMESAVER CAN BE ADDED TO APPLE WALLET! No more lanyards or screenshots needed. pic.twitter.com/SpYqOjTZlV
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) April 13, 2022
As I was visiting the park during spring break season, I splurged on a TimeSaver pass (added to my phone!) not knowing how long the lines would be. I didn’t use all 10 “skips,” but it definitely saved me from waiting in lines at all of the major coasters.
Historic Tunnel Removed
Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room — the removal of the old mine tunnel.
One of the biggest changes inside the park from an infrastructure perspective is the removal of the tunnel that connects The Village area to Craftsman’s Valley. According to the park, the wider path will help with improved pedestrian flow and an overall better guest experience.
The tunnel (shown below) dated back to the park’s early days when it was known as Silver Dollar City.
The building on top of the tunnel was called the “Inventor’s Mansion,” a walk-through attraction that had been closed many years prior to the building’s removal during the 2017-2018 off-season.
The inside of the tunnel was largely unused. However, it did house a temporary exhibit from the National Roller Coaster Museum in 2012.
That exhibit featured one of the cars from the park’s former Thunder Express mine train coaster, which was removed to make way for Tennessee Tornado.
However, the tunnel was rarely used following that exhibit.
The new concrete path is wide and open. It will certainly be able to handle the influx of guests that follow a Dollywood Express train arrival.
Depending on the time of day, the retaining wall along one side of the tunnel does provide some shade.
Of course, I wish the park had kept the tunnel — it provided a cool reprieve on hot days and was just fun to walk through. But change is inevitable, and at the end of the day, this is a change the park believes is necessary.
Perhaps this is not the final product. Maybe the park will add some form of a shade structure over at least a portion of the walkway. But that is purely speculation on my part.
But for now, we will have to enjoy the tunnel that welcomes guests into Wildwood Grove (if you can call it a tunnel).
On the bright side, the exposed path does offer a new view of Lightning Rod, at least until the trees fill in. So that’s something.
Lightning Rod in 2022
Speaking of Lightning Rod, it was of course my first coaster of the day. I was so excited to see it operating when I arrived at the park just after opening.
Or perhaps I’ve just become accustomed to its intensity. Regardless, while it may not feel as relentless as it once did, it’s still my favorite coaster in the park.
The coaster still seems to be running only one train, which results in lines that can exceed 2 hours during the busiest times of the day.
While I had a TimeSaver pass in hand, I found that the single rider line moved faster, at least earlier in the day. So if you’re at Dollywood solo or don’t mind being separated from your group, that might be the way to go if you don’t have a TimeSaver.
Hopefully the park can work out whatever issues plague the ride when operating two trains and shorten the wait times.
Thunderhead Retracking Nears Completion
With Lightning Rod now technically a wood-steel hybrid coaster, Thunderhead is now the park’s only true wooden coaster.
Thunderhead received more new track over the off-season, primarily the stretch immediately following the station fly-through.
This is one of (if not the) last segments of track to be replaced since the park began a significant retracking a few years ago.
The new track is visible from Wildwood Grove. The retracked sections are, as expected, refreshingly smoother. But fear not, wooden coaster purists — it’s still a wild ride.
After 18 years, it’s still an incredible coaster and now rides better than ever.
As I’ve said many times, I commend the park for investing in its upkeep.
Mystery Mine Celebrates 15 Years
I realized halfway through my visit that a celebration was in order — Mystery Mine opened 15 years ago to the day, April 13, 2007.
So naturally, I had to take a ride (and a lot of photos).
Ok, well the entire coaster isn’t 15 years old — but much of it is.
The coaster marked a turning point for Dollywood in my mind.
While Thunderhead was certainly a thrilling coaster when it opened in 2004 (and still is), Mystery Mine was an immersive, heavily themed coaster with a relatively extensive back story and a significant marketing campaign.
The coaster may not be my favorite in the park, but I try to ride it at least once each visit.
Nothing has changed at Tennessee Tornado, but I don’t think I could start a new season at Dollywood without showing my favorite quirky Arrow looper some love.
It was running both trains, so lines were relatively short.
This time of year — before the trees are fully grown in — offers the most unobstructed views of the coaster.
I hope Tennessee Tornado is around for many years to come. It truly is a gem of a coaster and a throwback to Arrow coasters of the past (but much better and smoother).
Chasing Rainbows is Closed in 2022
Chasing Rainbows, the park’s Dolly Parton museum, is closed for the 2022 season.
The park’s website states: “Chasing Rainbows Museum will close for the 2022 season as we take time to reimagine future possibilities for the attraction.”
The museum is fascinating — it has a Dolly hologram — and offers a nice escape from the heat or cold, so I’m sad to see that it won’t open this season. It will be interesting to see what the park is planning for the space.
Hopefully the museum is renovated or revamped. As long as Dolly is the focal point.
In the meantime, those who need a Dolly fix can take a look inside her tour bus/home on wheels.
For the most part, food operations were still on the slower side but were definitely better than the 2021 season.
I waited about 30 minutes for lunch at Red’s Diner — that included a 10ish-minute pause to allow the kitchen to catch up on orders. I could see how quickly the staff at the counter and kitchen were working, so I didn’t mind the wait. I’ve waited far longer than 30 minutes for food at other parks.
There were a few restaurants and food/drink stands closed. I assume those will open once the summer season kicks in.
I was surprised to see a few unmanned souvenir mug refill stations. I suppose the park is going on the honor system for these. I can imagine that with the ongoing staffing shortage, something like this frees up staff for other jobs.
Iron Horse Pizza
The former Victoria’s Pizza quick service location in The Village (across from the Dollywood Express station) has been renovated and renamed Iron Horse Pizza.
I didn’t get to try the pizza, but it appears to be of the thin, flatbread-style personal variety.
While the interior of Victoria’s was cramped with serving lines and limited seating, the building is now used exclusively for serving.
A building housing an antique photo studio was removed to allow for a spacious outdoor seating area.
There’s another seating area, sans shade, behind the building. It will be perfect for the chilly days where every ray of sunshine is needed to stay warm.
Food Truck Park Returns
“Food Truck Park” has returned, offering guests the opportunity to try four regional food trucks’ menus. Dollywood’s website lists six, but I only saw four.
Two of the food trucks I saw are located near the base of Tennessee Tornado’s towering “spiro” loop and two others are located between Wild Eagle and FireChaser Express.
Each of the locations includes one stand where all orders are placed, as seen above at the Tennessee Tornado ordering location.
The second location is using one of the buildings that typically sells hotdogs. These allow the food truckers to focus on cooking and fulfilling the orders rather than handling payments.
The two food trucks at Tennessee Tornado included one selling Greek food and another selling snow cones and baked potatoes (what a combo!).
The other two included one selling soft pretzel and chocolate chip cookies as well as one serving po’boys and chicken tenders.
I love the idea and hope to try one when I return to the park.
New Water Feature at the Former Mountain Slidewinder Site
The park has installed a water feature in front of the entrance of the former Mountain Slidewinder toboggan ride, which closed in 2018.
I check in on the area frequently as I’m very interested to see what the park will do with that hilly, heavily wooded area. But with construction seemingly focused in the Wildwood Grove area (more on that later), I doubt we’ll see any movement in this area for a couple of years at least.
Flower & Food Festival Returns
The annual Flower & Food Festival didn’t begin until the week after I visited, but plenty of the bright, colorful decorations were already on display.
The Umbrella Sky art installation is back and one of the first things you see when entering the park.
As of this posting, the park is now covered in more than 1 million along with a plethora of floral and topiary displays.
To get an idea of what to expect at this year’s Flower & Food Festival, take a look at our report from the inaugural event in 2020.
2023 Construction in Wildwood Grove
Yes, dirt is moving around the Wildwood Grove area likely in preparation for a new-for-2023 (likely) roller coaster.
Dollywood Emporium Renovation
The last big change you’ll see at Dollywood in 2022 will be when you exit the park. The massive Dollywood Emporium received a significant renovation over the off-season.
No inch of the Emporium seemed to be left untouched. It’s more modern, spacious and inviting.
Rather than multiple checkout counters scattered throughout the Emporium, there is now one single line that feeds into a row of registers. Guests are called to the next available register, which prevents one line from moving slower than another.
Overall, the new Emporium has resulted in a much more pleasant shopping experience. And it’s much easier to move through if you’re just passing through to exit the park.
Inside the Emporium are new (to me, at least) CoasterDynamix models of each of the park’s major coasters.
— Coaster101.com (@Coaster101) April 13, 2022
You’ll find miniature models of Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, FireChaser Express, Thunderhead, Mystery Mine and Tennessee Tornado. It took every ounce of self-restraint I had to not buy them all. Learn about how these models were designed on the latest episode of the Coaster101 podcast.
The day was terrific from start to finish. Despite the ongoing staffing shortage, the employees were working quickly while not sacrificing the friendliness that they are known for.
I was able to ride most of the park’s major rides with little-to-no waits. Sadly, Blazing Fury closed early so I was unable to ride it during this visit. It will be a priority during my next trip.
I look forward to many more visits to the park in 2022.
Have you visited Dollywood this season yet? Let us know about your visit in the comments section below.