Dollywood readies for “big” 2023 season

By | February 24, 2023

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Dollywood’s 2023 season has been called one of its biggest ever, and with two massive projects continuing toward their respective finish lines, guests soon will understand why it’s a monumental year for the famous Smoky Mountain family destination.

Media were invited to tour both construction sites—the Big Bear Mountain roller coaster and Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort—during the annual media construction tour on Wednesday. Both sites represent the first two major projects in the $500 million expansion plans announced by Dolly Parton and Dollywood Parks & Resorts President Eugene Naughton in June 2021.

“Over the last several years, Dollywood Parks & Resorts has elevated into the upper tier of theme park destinations in the country,” Naughton explained. “Just last season, we were named the #1 theme park in the United States by Tripadvisor based on actual reviews of guests who enjoyed time at our properties. With this increased attention comes even more guests whom we find are more frequently considering alternative destinations outside of the traditional family vacation spots that have been popular for several years. 

“We offer a truly different experience at Dollywood. When you combine what we offer here along with the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the most visited national park in the country, by the way— we’re poised for record growth over the next several years. Big Bear Mountain and HeartSong Lodge & Resort allow us to take care of our guests in a way only we can.”

Big Bear Mountain adds to Dollywood’s impressive portfolio of world-class roller coasters. At $25 million, the ride is the most significant single attraction investment ever at Dollywood, while its 3,990 ft. length makes it the longest roller coaster at the park. Guests on Big Bear Mountain board highly-detailed ride vehicles—which resemble four-wheel-drive SUVs—for an unforgettable expedition in search of the elusive “Big Bear” in the hills just beyond Dollywood’s newest area, Wildwood Grove. Wildwood Grove has been named the Best Kids’ Area in the industry since its debut in 2019. With the addition of Big Bear Mountain, the award-winning area grows even more extensively.

At a little more than ¾-mile long, Big Bear Mountain provides Dollywood guests with plenty of thrilling moments, including three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns and tunnels, including a pass behind a waterfall. Big Bear Mountain features a 39” height requirement and takes guests to a top speed of 48 mph. Officials today released reverse point-of-view footage of the ride to media.

“Big Bear Mountain is a game changer for us,” Naughton said. “First, it’s the longest attraction that we’ve ever built. Next, it features on-board audio that brings the terrific theming to life. Additionally, its height requirement means we’ll be able to bring even the youngest adventurers along for all the fun. That’s what is important to us; every family member can enjoy a thrilling ride together, and for many younger riders, it will be their first big roller coaster. It’s an important milestone for so many kids, and we’re proud they’ll be able to say it happened at Dollywood.”

Before visiting Dollywood theme park, the media contingent had the opportunity to tour the newest property in the company’s growing hospitality program, Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort. The resort is set to open this fall, and with its location in the rolling foothills of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains, it provides a space of awe and inspiration for guests thanks to thoughtful details that await around every turn.

From spacious accommodations to well-planned amenities, guests can enjoy a variety of spaces to recharge and relax within the 302-room lodge. Media were able to see the welcoming atrium—which features four-story, lantern-inspired windows—the two-story HeartSong Event Center, as well as a handful of guest rooms. Many of the rooms feature balconies that provide sweeping views of the resort’s vast property, as well as the surrounding beauty of the Smokies. HeartSong Lodge & Resort is the perfect complement to Dollywood’s first-in-class resort property, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa.

“Our DreamMore Resort and Spa has been voted the number one theme park resort three times since 2018 (2018, 2021, 2022),” noted Naughton. “Our guests tell us that DreamMore is the best resort in our industry. We’re taking what we’ve learned there and applying it to the experience of HeartSong. While each will offer its unique take on what Dollywood lodging provides our guests, one thing is for certain, both resorts will offer a level of detail and attentiveness that will continue to put them both at the forefront of the industry.” 

If growing Dollywood Parks & Resorts with a thrilling new roller coaster and a world-class resort isn’t enough to prove 2023 is the biggest season ever, the park operating calendar grows this year with an additional 21 days of operation as compared to the 2022 calendar. 

Also new in 2023, guests will be able to celebrate what has arguably become one of Dolly Parton’s biggest hits, “I Will Always Love You.” To observe the 50th anniversary of the writing of this monumental song, the I Will Always Love You Celebration takes place March 11-April 8, kicking off the season with a festive event commemorating the art of songwriting and the stories behind the songs.

Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival presented by Covenant Health (April 21-June 11) blooms bright with vivid, larger-than-life flower sculptures that feature more than half-a-million blooms during this stunning festival. In addition, Dollywood’s culinary team showcases their world-class abilities with a menu full of delicacies that highlight the tastes of spring in the Smokies.

Dollywood’s Sweet Summer Nights drone and fireworks show has become a guest highlight. It again takes to the skies above Dollywood in 2023 as part of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration (June 17-August 6). Another favorite—”Gazillion Bubble Show Aurora”—returns to deliver mesmerizing excitement to guests in DP’s Celebrity Theater.

A family tradition for many, Dollywood’s Harvest Festival presented by Humana (Sept. 20-Oct. 30) celebrates the beauty of fall with thousands of carved pumpkins, spirited performances from talented singers and the fun of Great Pumpkin LumiNights presented by Covenant Health. Great Pumpkin LumiNights, which previously has been named the best theme park harvest event in the world, features elaborate displays that are fun for every member of the family. Creative culinary items, accomplished artisans and fall fun in the Smokies make this a picture-perfect time to enjoy Dollywood.

The industry’s Best Theme Park Christmas event—Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana (Nov. 4- Jan. 6, 2024)—concludes the park’s 2023 season with 6 million lights, festive holiday shows and the warm Christmas atmosphere guests have come to expect during this joyous time of year. 

Dollywood’s 2023 season is so big that guests should consider a season pass to ensure they can experience all the fun! While Dollywood Diamond Season Passes have sold out for 2023, Gold and Silver Season Passes still are available and provide great options for every guest. The popular Pre-K Imagination Season Pass offers free season-long admission to any child born in 2018 or 2019.

The Gold Pass represents a tremendous value for guests thanks to Saturday Early Ride Time for the passholder, two Bring-A-Friend Free tickets, free general parking, a one-day unlimited refill mug per pass, and discounts on dining, merchandise and lodging. Both Diamond and Gold passholders also receive access to special “Golden Events,” exclusive events and activities just for them. Only the named passholder can receive the perks associated with each pass type..

Gold and Diamond passholders also can take advantage of another great perk; daily “Golden Hours.” During the first hour of every operating day, Gold and Diamond Season Passes operate just like TimeSaver passes, allowing the named passholder expedited boarding on Dollywood’s world-class rides and attractions.

Silver Season Passes also are available and include two Bring-a-Friend Free tickets and a discount on Dollywood lodging.