I bought our tickets in advance. The e-tickets said I needed to print them out however they were able to scan the barcode from my phone without any problem. I had looked at the dollywood map the day before so i was somewhat familiar with the layout. I intentionally picked a Wednesday for several reasons:
1. The middle of the week tends to have the lowest crowds since it is too early for a long weekend and too late for an extended weekend
2. We had walked a lot on Monday in the Smokey Mountains so I wanted to give my kids a chance on Tuesday to recover before all the walking at Dollywood
3. There was a forecast for intermittent rain showers that day although it would be around 90 degrees. I figured this would keep the crowds even lower and cool us off.
I decided to forgo parking at Patriot Park and taking the $0.50 bus ride since our experience at Disney Land. At DL, we always had to wait about 20 minutes to get on the bus and when you leave the park, the last thing you want to do is sit around. I figured worst comes to worst at the Dollywood parking lot, I could go to the car and pick up the family.
We got up at 8am (planned), got ready by 8:30am. Ate our pancake breakfast at the connected Pancake House. As I mentioned, the Rodeway Inn gives you a voucher for a free pancake breakfast and a drink. We did leave a tip so it was not totally free. The pancakes are plentiful (4 each) plus my kids will only eat about 2 each at the most so we had plenty to go around. We finished breakfast by 9am, went back to the room to use the bathroom and force them all to poop. Then we were off to Dollywood via our minivan by 9:20am reaching there at about 9:35am. We were able to park in the B lot, the Tram was waiting and we were in the park at 9:50am.
Once in the park, we first made a mandatory stop at the restroom and forced them all to pee. Then we headed back towards the county fair. We stopped on all the rides along the way except the water ride since I wanted to have it warm up first before getting wet. The kids loved the county fair as it had rides for all 3 including some pure adult ones and since it was pretty enclosed, we (Tara and I) could split up with the kids and easily meet up again. As we worked our way back, we then went on the water ride a couple times. we ate lunch at around 1pm and one of the standard/expensive restaurants that had chicken tenders. It started raining heavily so this worked out well and stopped about 20 minutes later. We then headed up the left side of the park and 3 of us went on the wooden roller coaster which was awesome.
We had planned to see one show and we decided to make the Amazing Bubbles show. This show was awesome and a nice break. I highly recommend it. We then went back up the hill and went through all the rides on the loop on that side of the park. Around 6:30pm it started to rain heavily so we ate at Ham & Beans. This place was covered and had surprisingly good food. They also brought mac & cheese for the kids even though it was not on the menu and all for $35.38 including pies for all the kids. As the rain was finishing, we hit all the water rides on the left side and then finished all the other rides.
Near the end of the night, we watched the fireworks at 9:30 and then left and got on the tram in seconds and were at are car in no time. We were in our hotel room by 10:30pm after a quick stop at taco bell since the kids were still hungry.
We did not do any of the craft stuff although we did puruse some of the shops before dinner while it was raining heavily. We would spend 5 minutes in shop, wait for the rain to let up and hop over to the next shop. We did go in the Dolly Parton museum and did go on her bus (that wait was about 20 minutes). I felt obligated to do so. The kids did not enjoy that part much but it was air conditioned.
Summary: We were able to ride most of the rides multiple times without any waits. On a couple water rides we did not even have to get out. The longest wait was for the new roller coaster that goes forward and backwards which took about 30 minutes otherwise our average wait time was probably about 5 minutes. The kids were asking if we could go again tomorrow. No such luck.
1. Get to the park before it opens and you can easily park in lot B for $10
2. Go on a wednesday if possible
3. Head to county fair first since it is not as popular and is a great way to start for kids of all ages
4. Watch the bubble show, it is amazing.
5. We brought in empty water bottles and filled them up once inside. Every restaurant/vendor will give you free ice water in a cup if you ask, so you use this. I told my kids I want them to pee frequently and not to worry if they pee their pants.
6. Use the air conditioned or seated items throughout the day to avoid having your kids get tired. We utilized lunch, dinner, the train ride across the park, the bubble show, the dolly parton museum and the water rides. Spread them out.
Enjoy Dollywood! It is a lot of fun. There is nothing special in this park compared to other amusement parks except for having more arts/crafts places. But as far as amusement parks go, it was a normal park, which for us, is all we want. It had lots of rides for 5 year olds and adults and adults who are afraid of roller coasters (Tara).