With Dollywood fast becoming one of our favorite parks, we were super-excited to get a media invite to the 2021 edition of the park’s Flower & Food festival. This was our first time getting to experience the park in “festival mode” and came away impressed with the obvious effort and care that went into making this a value-add for folks purchasing a Dollywood ticket.
With that said, I think the easiest way to cover the festival is to, well, walk through the park with you…
If you didn’t know you were visiting Dollywood during a special time before entering, you definitely do now. For the duration of the festival, you’ll find the classic Dollywood sign adorned with additional decor that makes for an especially colorful entrance to the park. Be sure to take a moment and grab a photo with the family.
Before leaving the entry plaza, pick up an extremely helpful festival guide. These will be located along with park maps just to the right after entering through the gates. Inside, you’ll find a list of all festival offerings and a cute sticker set for the children.
With the festival taking place in the Showstreet and Rivertown Junction areas of the park, you’ll want to briefly post-pone that ride on Thunderhead and continue east after getting your photo taken.
If you’re not sure exactly which way “east” is, simply head toward a display of 600 (I counted) suspended umbrellas covering a large swath of the Showstreet path.
While the topiaries (coming up) are great, this is my personal favorite festival edition to the park – I think because it’s so unique and so….Dolly. It also wouldn’t necessarily hurt my feelings if this display continued post- festival as a cool way to shade the path in the hot summer months.
Continuing on and in theme, we come to the first of many festival-exclusive topiaries – this one over 10 foot tall (I measured) is named “Topsy-Turvy”.
Actually, Dollywood refers to their topiaries as a creation of Mosaiculture – the horticultural art of creating larger-than-life, topiary-like sculptures with thousands of bedding plants covering steel armature.
…and who says you can only learn at Epcot?
From here we can head on into Rivertown Junction or cross the bridge into Jukebox Junction. For our purposes, we want to head over to Guest Relations in Jukebox Junction and pick-up a Festival Dining Pass.
Tell you more? I will.
Purchasing the Festival Dining Pass for $29.99 gets you five culinary festival creations – ensuring you get a good sampling of festival eats and saving you a few bucks in the process.
After grabbing your dining pass, it’s time to double back to Showstreet for a trip to Spotlight Ice Cream. This location is home is an assortment of to a delicious assortment of standard sweets and festival treats….I promise the rhyming wasn’t planned.
We low-key loved the festival waffle variations at Spotlight including –
You might also consider a trip across the street to the Spotlight bakery.
You could also save it for later when you need a Cinnamon Bread fix and the line for the Grist Mill stretches to Gatlinburg….your choice.
On that same topic, you really can’t go too wrong with anything food-related when it comes to Dollywood. I will say, however, the park really steps it up a notch when it comes to the festival offerings. We tried the following entries over the course of the day and loved each one…
Of course, we didn’t neglect the ol’ stand-bys –
While you’re enjoying eats, be sure to take in some of the additional festival-exclusive entertainment Dollywood offers. We enjoyed bumping into various walk-around characters and entertainment scattered through-out the festival.
While not a festival-exclusive, we especially enjoyed one of the new shows in the park, “A Brighter Day”, that featured an inspirational set and freshened vibe at the Back Porch Theatre location.
You’ll want to check the Spring Concert Series calendar for an impressive list of entertainers Dollywood is bringing in over the course of the festival.
Back in Jukebox Junction, you’ll find two cool festival additions – photo opportunities and in-progress Chalk Art…
If “in-progress” is too early “in-progress”, I’ll spoil it for you and tell you the artist is most likely drawing some type of flower. Seriously though, while Dollywood already feels like a living and breathing park on normal days, the addition of festival offerings like the one above only add to that vibe in a perfect way.
Like all park events, the Flower and Food festival has its share of exclusive merch available. We kept it simple and picked up one of the festival-branded bags because….well, you can never have too many theme park-related bags.
In addition to the festival merch, Dollywood had a few (new to us) lines that we thought were some version of cute / fun / stylish.
In the heart of Rivertown Junction, you’ll find the majority of festival topiaries. The centerpiece is a representation of Dolly’s mother carefully sewing every piece of Dolly’s iconic Coat of Many Colors. This is seriously one of the more impressive topiaries I’ve ever seen in person.
While the Dollywood topiaries will inevitably draw comparisons to those at Epcot Flower & Garden, the difference here is the setting. The animal topiaries situated in a space that would be their natural mountain habitat really elevates the presentation and sort of brings them to life more than what we typically see at Epcot.
For the record, we thought the raccoons where the cutest. Lightning Rod as a backdrop didn’t hurt either….
Decor and signage scattered about round out the festival offerings. While these are often overlooked relative to other components of the festival, they are none-the-less important in adding layers of depth and color in various areas around park.
Some additional thoughts –
The weather on the day we visited didn’t exactly cooperate and led to more muted tones in our photos than I would have liked. Rest assured, the 3.5 mins the sun did peek out gave us a glimpse at just how vibrant the array of festival-related flower plantings really bring the park to life this time of year.
While the festival is currently limited to Showstreet and Rivertown Junction, I would love to see it extended to the Wildwood Grove area of the park in future editions. It’s already a lovely section of Dollywood and would seem to be the perfect canvas for festival-exclusive plantings, topiaries, photo opps, and dining. It would also help to mitigate some of the food lines that tend to develop quickly at festival locations from lunch onward.
Would I book at trip around Flower & Food? Yes. I think the addition of color around the park and entertainment options alone are enough for me to choose this season to visit over another. That said, there is quite the show coming in a few months….
While Disney couldn’t quite pull it off, it looks like Dollywood will present a drone-based night-time show for the summer season. We couldn’t be more excited and hope to have the opportunity to see it. We’ve yet to see the park at night and look forward to that as well.
In non-festival-related news, we wonder what the park has plan for its next major addition. Personally, I’m hoping it’s an extension of Wildwood Grove with the addition of some type of high-capacity, all-ages dark ride. It seems to be the logical next step in the evolution of Dollywood as a major theme park player. I suppose we’ll find out together.
Until then, you’ll want to head over to dollywood.com and plan a visit before Flower & Food wraps on June 7th.
Special thanks to Amber with the Dollywood media team for arranging this trip.