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The Island vs Dollywood – find out which you should visit in our guide!

Planning a family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and wondering whether to spend your time at Dollywood or The Island? Both attractions offer unique experiences and plenty of fun, but they cater to different kinds of adventures.

Having visited both with my hubs and four sons, I can tell you each has its own charm and set of advantages, as well as disadvantages. Let’s dive into the details of the Island vs Dollywood to help you decide which is better suited for your family’s vacation.

view of the Island in Pigeon Forge

History and Background


Dollywood, nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, is a theme park owned by the legendary Dolly Parton. It opened in 1986 and has grown to become one of the most beloved attractions in the Southeast.

The park combines the thrill of amusement rides with the rich cultural heritage of the region, offering visitors a unique blend of entertainment and education. From its humble beginnings, Dollywood has expanded to include over 40 rides, various live shows, and several seasonal festivals.

The Island

The Island in Pigeon Forge is a relatively newer attraction, having opened in 2013. It quickly became a hotspot for families looking for a mix of shopping, dining, and entertainment.

While it may not have the deep-rooted history of Dollywood, The Island offers a vibrant and modern experience with a variety of activities. The centerpiece of The Island is the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel providing stunning views of the surrounding area.

the author and her family at the Island in Pigeon Forge
Our family on one of our trips to The Island in Pigeon Forge!

Location and Accessibility


Dollywood is conveniently located just a few miles off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge. The park is well-signposted and easy to find. Parking is ample, costing around $25 for the day, but there are trams that take you from the parking lot to the entrance, which is a huge help if you’re toting kids and gear. The park also offers accessible facilities and services for guests with disabilities, ensuring everyone can enjoy the attractions. (See our guide to parking at Dollywood here)

The Island

The Island is located right in the heart of Pigeon Forge, making it incredibly easy to access. One of its biggest perks is free parking. You can park your car and walk right into the action. The layout is very pedestrian-friendly, with wide walkways and plenty of benches and shaded areas for rest. The Island is also fully accessible, making it a great option for families with strollers or wheelchairs.

Our eldest and a friend in the front of the Dragonflier.

Things to Do

One of the most common questions about the Island vs Dollywood is – what is there to do?? Let’s take a look!


Roller coasters and thrill rides: Dollywood is home to some of the best roller coasters in the country, including the Lightning Rod, the Wild Eagle, and the Thunderhead. There are also plenty of other thrill rides, such as the Drop Zone and the FireChaser Express.

Family rides: Dollywood also has a variety of family rides, such as the Dollywood Express, the Dragonflier, and Big Bear Mountain. These rides are perfect for families with young children, plus there are tons of toddler rides.

Live shows and entertainment: Dollywood offers a variety of live shows and entertainment throughout the day, including musicals, dance shows, and acrobatic performances. There are also several theaters on-site, showing movies and other special events.

Dollywood Splash Country (seasonal): This water park is a great place to cool off on a hot summer day. It has a variety of water slides, pools, and other attractions.

The Island

Retail shops and restaurants: The Island is home to over 50 shops and restaurants, offering everything from souvenirs and apparel to candy stores and ice cream shops. There are also several restaurants on-site, serving up everything from pizza and burgers to seafood and barbecue.

The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and other rides: This 200-foot Ferris wheel offers stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a great way to get your bearings and see the lay of the land. Plus, there are several other rides near the wheel that are great for smaller children.

Island Show Fountain: This water fountain show is a popular attraction, especially for families with young children. The show features music, lights, and water jets that dance to the music.

Arcade City: This arcade is home to a variety of games, from classic arcade games to modern video games. It’s a great place to spend some time if you’re looking for a fun and challenging activity.

Three of our kiddos enjoying a virgin drink at Dude’s Daiquiris at the Island!

Dining and Shopping


When it comes to food, Dollywood excels. The park offers a variety of dining options, from quick service stands to sit-down restaurants. Must-tries include the famous cinnamon bread at the Grist Mill and hearty Southern fare at Aunt Granny’s Restaurant. There’s something to satisfy every palate, whether you’re in the mood for BBQ, pizza, or sweets. (See our guide to the best food at Dollywood here)

Shopping at Dollywood is equally enjoyable, with numerous stores selling everything from handcrafted souvenirs to Dollywood-branded merchandise. You can find unique gifts and keepsakes that reflect the local culture and heritage.

The Island

The Island is a foodie’s paradise. It has a diverse selection of eateries ranging from casual spots to more upscale dining. The options are plentiful, and the atmosphere is laid-back, making it easy to enjoy a meal without the hustle and bustle of a theme park. (See our guide to the restaurants at the Island here)

Shopping at The Island is an experience in itself. With boutique stores and specialty shops, you can find a wide variety of items, from trendy apparel to unique home décor.

the author's sons at a Dollywood sign
Our boys at Dollywood. You can find this photo op at the back of the park.

Atmosphere and Environment


Theme park atmosphere: Dollywood has a festive and exciting atmosphere. It’s a great place to get into the spirit of the season, whether you’re visiting during the spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Themed areas: Dollywood is divided into several themed areas, each with its own unique charm. These areas include Craftsman’s Valley, Wildwood Grove, and Dollywood Village.

The Island

Relaxed and family-friendly: The Island has a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great place to take your kids to let them run around and burn off some energy.

Open-air layout: The Island is an open-air complex, so you can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.



Admission fees (one-day, two-day, season passes): Admission to Dollywood is not free, but there are a variety of ticket options available to fit your budget. You can purchase one-day tickets, two-day tickets, or season passes. If you’re going to be in the area more than once, go with the season passes (especially the one with free parking!).

Additional fees for some attractions (e.g., TimeSaver Line): Some attractions at Dollywood require an additional fee, such as the TimeSaver Line, which allows you to skip the lines.

The Island

Free admission: Admission to The Island is free, so you can browse the shops and restaurants without having to spend any money.

Pay-per-ride or attraction: You only pay for the rides and attractions that you use. This can be a good option if you’re on a budget or if you only want to do a few things.

Combination packages available: The Island offers a variety of combination packages that include admission to multiple attractions. This can be a good option if you want to save money and do a lot of things. This is the option we’ve used so that we get unlimited rides, especially of the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. The boys love it (and we do, too!).

Our boys and friends taking in the sights at the Dollywood Flower and Food Festival



Dollywood is a better choice for thrill-seekers, families with older children, and those willing to spend more. No matter how old our boys have grown, they still love Dollywood.

Pros: Unique rides and shows, immersive experience, well-maintained
Cons: Expensive, requires a full day commitment, can be overwhelming (especially if you try to do it all in one day)

The Island

The Island is a better choice for families with younger children and budget-conscious travelers. Now that our youngest is out of kindergarten, there aren’t as many things to do that our boys enjoy.

Pros: Free admission, flexible schedule, variety of dining options
Cons: Limited thrill rides, can get crowded, potential for additional costs (especially if you visit the arcade)

wildwood grove at christmas
Wildwood Grove at Christmas

Other Things to Consider

Time of year: Peak season (summer) is the busiest and most expensive time to visit both attractions. If you’re looking for a more affordable and less crowded experience, consider visiting in the off-season (spring or fall). We have always visited the Island in early March, before Dollywood opens, and it’s not busy at all (just the way we like it!).

Personal preferences: Do you prefer thrill rides and shows, or shopping and dining? This will help you determine which attraction is a better fit for your family. How old are your kids? Will they ride the larger rides? These are all things to consider.

Accessibility: Both The Island and Dollywood are accessible to guests with disabilities. However, Dollywood is a larger park and may require more planning to navigate, and it can get very crowded.

Final Thoughts on the Island vs Dollywood

Ultimately, the best way to decide which attraction is right for your family (the Island vs Dollywood) is to consider your budget, interests, and time constraints.

If you’re looking for a free and flexible option, The Island is a great choice.

If you’re looking for a full day of thrills and entertainment, Dollywood is the way to go.

Personally we have enjoyed both, but now that my boys are getting older we don’t visit the Island like we used to. Dollywood is still a hit, though, even with the oldest, so we plan on going there again soon!

Check out Dollywood or The Island here!

Happy Travels!

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