While the crowds are home for the holidays, catch shorter lines, Christmas carols, and a fun festival at Dollywood.

[INFO "OT - Celebrate in the Smokies"]Get a Taste of Christmas at Dollywood
Stay after the sun goes down, and enjoy the holiday lights.
| Credit: Amy Jo Young

Here's a little secret: Now 'tis the season to avoid the crowds at Dollywood and enjoy the park's two-month-long holiday festival, Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Tucked in the hills of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood is a popular place to celebrate any time of year. So popular, in fact, that the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development ranks this park the state's number one paid attraction. But now is a great time to go. The lights are strung, the carolers are singing, the lines are shorter, and the beauty of the park is at its peak.

Way Off Broadway
"Chocolate-covered peanuts! Kettle corn! Sweet corn!" hollers a vendor hawking goodies in a theater before the show. The lights dim, and the stage comes alive with a Broadway-style musical. Still a hit after 11 years, Christmas in the Smokies is Dollywood's longest-running show.

Like Dolly herself, who is the first to make a joke at her own expense ("People ask me how long it takes to do my hair," she once said. "I say, ‘I don't know, I'm never there!' "), the musical exhibits a sense of humor. The choreography may incorporate jugs, washboards, and other down-home instruments. Even the old two-guys-in-a-horse-costume number maintains its slapstick hilarity.

Sights, Smells, and Sounds of Christmas
Halfway through a chorus of "Joy to the World," a gust of wind rustles the skirts of the carolers and tosses a velveteen cape over the head of a man in mid-note. The singers stifle a giggle but carry the tune. It's a tough job, this spreading of holiday cheer, but Dollywood casts only experts.

As the smell of kettle corn, funnel cakes, and eggnog hangs in the air, remember that Christmas calories don't count. Indulge in German favorites from bratwurst to strudel--the culinary element of An Olde World Christmas, part of the park's annual festival. Warm up with a cup of wassail.

Don't stand still, or you might get draped with lights. Dollywood has decked the halls, walls, and trees with more than 3 million colorful bulbs. After dusk, check out the Carol of the Trees, a display of lights and fireworks choreographed to Christmas music.

Racing Through the Dark
The one place in the whole park that isn't strung with lights is Thunderhead, Dollywood's newest thrill ride. We recommend a night ride for an adrenaline rush that will burn off all that kettle corn. The wooden roller coaster roars clackity-clackity as it races through the dark, eliciting squeals from the most macho of men. Hang on to your wassail.

Dollywood: 1020 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863; 1-800-365-5996 or www.dollywood.com. Smoky Mountain Christmas admission: $39.05 adults, $21.20 ages 4-11. Dates: through December 30, 2005.

Have a Merry, Worldly Christmas
Get a taste of Christmas around the world. This month features a global lineup of free performances for the International Sounds of Christmas concert series.

  • December 3-4: Hear the Moscow Boys Choir sing carols in Russian.
  • December 8-11: See Riverdance star Michael Londra perform Celtic carols and Gaelic versions of classic songs.
  • December 15-18: Watch Canada's Vinok Worldance perform an international repertoire of cultural dance and folk music.

"Get a Taste of Christmas at Dollywood" is from the December 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.