Dolly Parton's amusement park in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains is charming, thrilling, and full of southern-style comfort food.
When planning a destination theme park vacation, one likely has grandiose visions of a marathon week in Orlando, deciding between a myriad of resort options with differing costs and benefits, securing competitive FastPass times months in advance, and snagging coveted dining reservations. Of course, this can pay off with a lifetime of magical memories, but if you’re looking for something a little lower pressure (and easier on the wallet) that still packs the charm, all signs point to Dollywood.
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee (the closest major airport is Knoxville, about an hour drive from the park), the picturesque setting that greets you portends wonderful things at Dolly Parton‘s family amusement park. Beyond the thrill rides that rival those of Six Flags—Dollywood is home to the Lightning Rod, the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster that is seriously no joke—there are live music venues and shows around every corner, unique souvenir shops that highlight the region’s local artisans, and some really, really great food along the way. All of these elements seamlessly flow into one another, creating a cohesive experience that’s immersive without being in your face about it.
From a culinary perspective, there’s a reason that Dollywood has been awarded the prize of Best Theme Park Food for multiple years in a row at Amusement Today‘s Golden Ticket Awards. As an amusement park food connoisseur, I have eaten everything from powdered sugar-dusted buffalo chicken sandwiches on Mickey Mouse-shaped beignet buns to a Dr. Seuss-inspired cotton candy bigger than two of my heads. But while Disney and Universal have trended toward the more outrageous, headline-grabbing new menu items, Dollywood’s cuisine is decidedly more understated (though there is a 25-lb. apple pie that might argue with that premise.)
Like the park’s shops and shows, the restaurants and food stands reflect the local surroundings, offering southern comfort food in charming, country-style settings. Below, I’ve outlined 10 can’t-miss Dollywood menu items I discovered on my recent trip that are worth the admission price alone.
This is without a doubt the most iconic food you will find at the park, and no trip to Dollywood would be complete without it. Located at the Grist Mill bakery, there are signs pointing toward it around the park, indicating that it’s the place to be. The bread itself is basically an oblong, pull-apart cinnamon roll that’s gloriously yeasty and pillowy. You can get it with a side of apple butter and/or icing, though to me it was sweet enough on its own. The move is to go first thing in the morning for breakfast, as they sometimes run out later in the day (plus you get a chance to watch them baking it fresh, creating a scent that is just…beyond.)
The Meatloaf Stacker
A slice of plain white bread gets topped with creamy mashed potatoes, a slice of meatloaf, followed by another heaping scoop of mashed potatoes, all covered in a rich, brown gravy. You can order this at both the Front Porch Cafe and Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans, though I tried each version and Front Porch’s came out as the clear winner.
Dog N Taters
For a grab-and-go option, head to the aptly named Dogs N Taters in the Rivertown Junction section of the park, which serves two things: foot-long hot dogs and foot-long corn dogs, each with a side of crispy, curly seasoned fried. Life hack: Put the taters on top of the dog, and eat it like so.
Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits (for Free!)
At the Front Porch Cafe, each table gets a complimentary basket of biscuits that are piping hot and perfectly salty, fluffy and garlicky. They’re clearly reminiscent of a certain restaurant chain’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits, though I might argue even better?
Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cake
Technically, this isn’t a permanent menu item at Crossroads Funnel Cakes, which regularly rotates specialty versions of the classic theme park snack. Purists can opt for the traditional, powdered sugar-dusted version, of course.
25-Lb. Apple Pie
Yes, really. The weight on this massive pie actually refers to the pounds of raw apples that go into the pie, so it actually comes out closer to 30 lbs. after it’s baked with the crust. Ambitious guests can get this at Spotlight Bakery near the park entrance, where one slice goes for $18.99, and the whole pie comes out to $189.99.
Pot Roast with Ham ‘n’ Beans
Obviously, Dollywood did not invent the pot roast, but they have near-perfected it. It’s the best thing on the menu at Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans, which serves a beautifully-seasoned, rich-in-flavor bowl of (you guessed it) ham and beans with nearly every entree. The tender beef along with gravy-drenched potatoes and a touch of cole slaw make for the perfect bite.
Okay, so it’s really no different than your standard theme park pretzel, but it’s in the shape of an adorable butterfly, the official mascot of Dollywood! A must-get if for the photo opp alone. You can find them at the Sit & Sip near the Cinnamon Bread shop.
Pork Rinds (of All Flavors!)
At the pork rind stand in Craftsman’s Valley, they fry up the pig skins right in front of you, so you can watch them puff up in mere seconds (see the mesmerizing video below). After that, they toss them in a seasoning of your choice, like Cajun, ranch, or salt and vinegar (my personal favorite).
Creamy Vegetable Soup
Outside the park, you can head to one of the nightly showings of Dolly Parton’s Stampede Show, a Medieval Times-style dinner theater show that is a truly wild experience. For a first course, the waiter pours what looks like piping-hot heavy cream into your bowl, fitted with a handle for direct sipping. Set all hesitation aside and go directly in for it: It’s savory, delicious and I have absolutely no idea what’s in it but I don’t care. They also give you a biscuit for dunking, which is not optional. The rest of the meal includes a whole chicken with a roasted potato, a handheld apple turnover, and some dazzling theatrics.
Of course, over the two and a half days of my visit, I couldn’t come close to eating everything—so please feel empowered to go off script on your own vacation! All I ask is that you please don’t skip the cinnamon bread.