Discover more from Arthur's About Theme Parks
It’s a Holly Dolly Christmas
Dollywood and Silver Dollar City deck their midways like no other parks
Lots of theme parks have jumped on the Santa sleigh-wagon and are now offering holiday-themed events. None of them, however, quite compare with the over-the-top offerings at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Sure, the Disney and Universal parks, which have beaucoup bucks and access to some of the world’s most recognizable intellectual properties, offer wonderful holiday events. But the more homegrown presentations at Silver Dollar City and Dollywood (which are both operated by the same company) are overflowing with charm and good cheer. The sheer wattage of their bazillions of Christmas lights alone are enough to warm the frostiest hearts and make spirits bright. It’s no wonder they are both regularly cited in polls and by noted publications and outlets as being among the best–if not the best–Christmas events in parkdom. Here’s what the two parks have in store for revelers this holiday season.
Arthur's About Theme Parks is an ad-free, reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
You would even say it glows
When I said bazillions of lights, I wasn’t exactly kidding. To be more precise, there will be over 6.5 million flickering lights–that’s 680 miles worth–covering nearly every square inch of Silver Dollar City during An Old Time Christmas. Set to begin November 5 and continue through December 30, the displays are especially impressive in the park’s Midtown area where 1.5 million lights alone bedazzle the buildings and trees as well as festive light tunnels. Speaking of trees, there will be an 80-foot-tall behemoth at the front of the park that will come to life every 15 minutes with music and synchronized, programmed lights.
Broadway-caliber musicals will be staged in the park’s two theaters. Continuing a 20-year tradition, “A Christmas Carol” will retell the Dickens classic. New this year, Silver Dollar City will also present “Coming Home for Christmas,” a nostalgic look at the holiday that will include classic carols and other seasonal songs performed by a cast of 14. As if there wouldn’t already be enough lights, the bulb-festooned Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, featuring the stop-motion animation superstar, will step off each evening.
The park’s celebrated craftsmen, who demonstrate glassblowing, woodworking, and other trades as practiced in the 1880s (the era is the overarching theme of Silver Dollar City), also sell their wares. As such, you could pick up some one-of-a-kind, handmade presents to fill your loved ones’ stockings and give as holiday presents.
The food at Silver Dollar City is superb year-round (you gotta try the succotash prepared in a humongous skillet), but the park pulls out the stops for the holidays with a buffet featuring prime rib, turkey and dressing, and other hearty choices. There will also be caramel apples and other treats to savor as well as hot cider, wassail, and cocoa to keep you warm between rides.
Speaking of rides, many of the park’s wonderful attractions will be open. I once took a nighttime, lights-out ride on the incredible RMC coaster, Outlaw Run, during the holiday event. That alone was worth the price of admission.
“Christmas is believable here,” says Brad Thomas, Silver Dollar City’s longtime president, when asked why the park is often lauded for its seasonal event. “Our 1880s mining town lends itself to an escape from the hustle and bustle of Christmas today. We create an immersive experience.”
All of Branson goes bonkers for the holidays. There is a Trail of Lights and other displays throughout the tourist mecca, a festive parade, and, of course, holiday-themed shows at many of the city’s famed celebrity theaters and other venues.
Dollywood lights up the Smokies
Since they share a lot of the same DNA, there are many similarities between the holiday events at Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. (The Tennessee park was actually called Silver Dollar City before Ms. Parton lent her name and star power to it.) There are craftsmen hard at work here as well, for example. And while Dollywood’s 6 million lights at its Smoky Mountain Christmas event, which will kick off on November 5 and continue through January 1, will fall just shy of its sister park’s 6.5 million tally, it will make up for it with the “Merry & Bright!” fireworks show, which it will be presenting on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Probably because of the music legend’s influence, Dollywood has perhaps more live entertainment than any other U.S. theme park. During its holiday event, the park will present the long-running “Christmas in the Smokies” as well as “Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs,” “Heart of the Holidays,” “Holiday Wild Roots,” and a number of other shows, all featuring live musicians and talented performers.
The food is equally wonderful at Dolly’s park. Unique holiday offerings will include chicken pot pie in a bread cone, eggnog cupcakes, and gingerbread-infused funnel cake. Both parks lay claim to their famous cinnamon bread. While it is yummy any time of the year, the hot-out-of-the-oven treat is especially satisfying when there’s a chill in the air.
“I believe each season in the Smokies is a precious gift from above, but I also know there is no better time than Christmas to experience the magic of this special place,” says Dolly Parton in a release from the park. “It is my wish that our guests celebrate the light of the Christmas season while they are here with us at Dollywood.”
The on-property Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, which is one of the finest hotels offered by a U.S. theme park, will be decking its halls as well. Expect tons of garland and other decor, special meals in its Song & Hearth restaurant, craft making, and other ways to celebrate the holidays. I suggest you raise a toast (or two or three) to the season with a moonshine flight at the DreamMore’s lounge. That will certainly warm you up on a winter’s day in the Smokies.
Have you been to either Silver Dollar City or Dollywood during the holidays? Do you think the accolades the parks receive for their Christmas events are well deserved? Are you planning to visit the parks this holiday season?