Everything You Need To Know About Dolly Parton's Holiday Food Festival At Dollywood

You'll be singing "Have a Holly Dolly Christmas" as you make your way to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee this year. With music icon Dolly Parton as its dreamer-in-chief, Dollywood is a premier amusement park with over 40 attractions, including a family-friendly water park, welcoming cabins, and a luxe resort and spa. The most wonderful time of the year to visit? The holidays, of course. As the temperatures cool and the fog cascades down the rolling mountains, many descend upon one of the largest and most awarded holiday celebrations in the world, Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas.

There won't only be visions of sugar plums. In addition to millions of twinkling lights, stunning décor, and captivating entertainment, the reason for the season is the incredible bites found throughout the property. Oh, what yum! Drawing from regional specialties and Southern traditions, Dollywood's already stellar food and beverage program is given a holiday twist with delicious sweet and savory items found throughout the park and resort.

Here is everything you need to know about Dolly Parton's Holiday Food Festival at Dollywood.

Smoky Mountain Christmas takes place every year from November through January

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas kicks off each year in November and runs through early January. The festival transforms the already charming park into a winter wonderland that you would swear looks straight out of a movie. A long-running tradition, this festival is near and dear to Dolly Parton, who has been hosting it since its debut in 1990 (via Yahoo!). In addition to delicious bites, the sounds and sights of our favorite season come to life with several stage shows, interactive light exhibits, nightly fireworks shows, and more. Plus, most of the park's attractions stay open late, giving guests the unique experience of riding one of their famous roller coasters amidst a sea of glistening lights.

The celebration extends beyond just the park, bringing Christmas flair to Parton's award-winning dinner theatre show, Dolly Parton's Stampede, and to the luxe DreamMore resort located next door to Dollywood. This ensures you'll be cozy and warm in your holiday bubble throughout your entire visit.

Admission is included with your Dollywood theme park ticket

Many will be pleased to know that Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas is included in your regular park admission fee. If you have ever visited the Smoky Mountains during the colder months, you can attest to the wintery haven that the area turns into. Thanks to the cooling temperatures, you won't have to combat Tennessee's notorious summertime humidity, and you may even get the chance to frolic in the snow.

Dollywood tickets range from 1-day to 3-day passes, with the ability to bundle with a stay at their on-site resort, DreamMore. Guests staying at the resort are also given TimeSaver passes that offer expedited entry to attractions and shows, ensuring more time for the important things — like scarfing down all the holiday goodies.

As part of admission, guests get to experience all the stage productions found throughout the park, as well as the nightly fireworks show, Merry & Bright, Holiday Light. Specialty bites are available from festival-exclusive holiday kitchen booths as well as some of Dollywood's year-round favorite eateries.

The festival has been awarded countless accolades

Since the festival's debut in 1990, it has only grown in terms of its number of offerings, attracting multiple generations of families year after year. Its yearly Christmas display has earned Dollywood several accolades, making it a theme park industry leader. They are the 13-time (and only) winner of Amusement Today's Golden Ticket award for Best Theme Park Holiday Event (via Yahoo!). They also rank highly in the polling for USA Today's 10Best Readers' Choice Award for Best Theme Park Holiday Event.

This is all in addition to their year-round accolades, which according to BusinessWire include over 40 Golden Ticket Awards, 27 Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment — the most of any theme park in the world — and being named a top theme park in the United States by Insider. Dollywood clearly racks up the awards, much like Parton herself, who has 50 Grammy nominations to her name.

The park is totally decked out with more than 5 million lights

Dollywood gets covered in lights for Christmas, and these aren't your standard, white blinking lights a la "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Over 5 million lights illuminate the park, with each area showcasing unique, vibrant hues — from icy blues and cool whites to classic greens and reds. Preparation for something of this magnitude begins with conceptualization as early as the Christmas prior. Once planning and the acquisition of the many lights are complete, installation begins in the summer months ahead of the celebration. The crew members — playfully known as "lightning bugs" — work around the clock putting up lights overnight, in the early mornings before park opening, and even during park hours hidden away from guests' view (via Attractions Magazine). It takes up to several thousand string lights to outfit each building throughout the 160-acre park. The latest in lighting technology is used to illuminate the hundreds of Christmas trees found throughout the park, including a 50-foot-tall tree that comes to life with a synchronized light show.

Family favorite attractions — like the Dollywood Express, a 110-ton, authentic coal-fired steam engine train — are also given a holiday overlay, becoming fully festive with seasonal lighting packages. The train serves as a scenic way to get an eagle-eyed view of all the park's décor.

All of their roller coasters are open during the festival

If you are looking for peak holiday vibes with a dash of thrill, this is also the perfect opportunity to ride one of Dollywood's nine globally-recognized roller coasters through a flurry of sparkling lights. You will feel like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer gliding over the lit-up houses on Christmas Eve as you wind and fly through the millions of lights from a unique vantage point. Serious thrill-seekers will love the highly-awarded Lightning Rod, a launch-style coaster that gives riders up to 20 seconds of airtime.

If Lightning Rod sounds a little intense for you, Dragonflier is located in the park's newest (and most kid-friendly) area, the whimsical Wildwood Grove. Mimicking the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly, you will twist through an adventure where even the most timid of kids will be distracted by all the surrounding lights and holiday cheer.

You can eat all of Dollywood's award-winning food

It is absolutely undeniable that Dollywood is dishing out some of the best theme park food in the country, hitting the mark with its focus on traditional Southern specialties. The food is a true celebration of mountain heritage. Guests can have their pick of award-winning barbecue like Dollywood's famous pulled pork sandwich, as well as recipes from Dolly's own family, and even homemade pork rinds cooked right before your eyes.

One of Dollywood's most storied treats is the park's now-iconic cinnamon bread. Delivering a sugar rush as potent as the adrenaline rush from one of the rollercoasters, this sugary adventure features pull-apart-style bread that is pillowy, soft, and bursting with flavor. The best part is that it is basically dipped in a vat of butter and cinnamon before being served to the throngs of people waiting in line. It is sheer decadence, but an absolute must when visiting the park ... and many would agree, as the park claims that over 200,000 loaves are sold each and every year. There are a few locations to grab this, but we think the original, The Grist Mill — a quaint little bakery in the park — is the absolute best.

There are also many festival-exclusive foods

So, we have now made it to the main reason you are coming to Dollywood for the holidays: the exclusive festival food (via Dollywood). Dollywood's food festivals are second to none, including our other favorite, the springtime Flower & Food Festival. Guests can sample both small plates and larger format bites to share (or not). The focus at the Holiday Food Festival is a spin on classic Christmas and holiday traditions. Sweet and savory work in perfect harmony, with dishes like red wine-braised beef short ribs with the creamiest whipped potatoes holding their own alongside desserts like the luscious, peppermint-adorned molten chocolate lava cake.

One of the most popular dining locations in the park, Spotlight Bakery, is known for its year-round selection of goodies, like their crave-worthy snickerdoodle cookies and even a 25-pound apple pie. During the holidays, they add a downright sinful selection of Christmas-inspired chocolate-covered Oreos, candy apples, cookies, and cupcakes that taste just as good as they look. Santa will not argue with you if you pick him up a little something from here for his big night (milk not included).

There's also plenty of other sweet treats to be found throughout the park, like Santa's chilled cocoa, a hazelnut churro, and a Liège Belgium waffle sandwich with maple pecan ice cream. FYI: The same rules apply for riding coasters after eating as they do for swimming.

A bear-themed funnel cake may be the most popular item this year

The sweet treats at this festival know no bounds, and one of Dollywood's most popular sugary snacks is quite literally taking the cake for the best treat of the festival. The park is no stranger to pushing the limits of what they can whip up next in the funnel cake department. They have perfected this theme park staple. Their wildly inventive culinary team wows those who are accustomed to the standard funnel cake with innovative varieties like red velvet, Reese's peanut butter, and s'mores (via Smoky Mountains). 

The chef and his elves outdid themselves this year with the Bear Country apple cinnamon funnel cake (via Dollywood). Available from Crossroad funnel cakes and Splinter's funnel cakes, the funnel cake is cooked to perfect brown perfection and topped with a whole apple fritter, powdered sugar, whipped marshmallow, and adorable mini bear cookies, making for one of the most delicious and photogenic goodies from the festival.

A traditional holiday dinner is available as well

Two of the most beloved sit-down dining options in the theme park also receive a holiday makeover for the festival (via Dollywood). Front Porch Cafe is a cozy eatery that transports you right to Mama's kitchen with Southern-style dishes in a welcoming environment. Its holiday menu sees the addition of creamy lobster bisque, creole-roasted turkey breast, and pork loin with smoked collards and roasted sweet potatoes. While our grand finale of choice is usually their addictive strawberry shortcake with fresh-made biscuits, for the holidays we will be having their eggnog cheesecake that features delicate Chantilly cream and a gingersnap crust.

Aunt Granny's is another favorite location, with visitors heading there visit after visit for a taste of their all-you-can-eat options that place the emphasis on good old-fashioned down-home cooking. Awarded as the top 10 best theme park restaurants in the United States by USA Today, they pull out all the stops for the holidays. Their family-style options are reimagined with entrée selections of deep-fried turkey, Southern fried chicken, spiral-sliced ham, and pot roast. The sides are also given a winter makeover and feature traditional dressing, green beans, maple-glazed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, creamed corn casserole, honey-glazed baby carrots, and macaroni & cheese.

Don't miss the Christmas-themed dinner show

After a day at the parks, the fun continues in Pigeon Forge. For those not ready to call it a day and head back to Dollywood's DreamMore resort, dinner theatre shows are a rite of passage for anyone visiting the area, with the most popular being Dolly Parton's Stampede. My Pigeon Forge calls it "The Most Fun Place to Eat in the Smokies," and the year-round dinner show lives up to its name by serving guests a multi-course meal as they are wowed by a live stage show in a 35,000 square-foot arena complete with dozens of galloping horses (via Facebook). For the holidays, it is transformed into a heartwarming holiday show with Christmas décor, Santa Claus, a full-scale nativity scene, actual snow, and most importantly, a four-course holiday-style feast.

As the sounds of The Nutcracker enchant you in the background, the true stars of the show are a whole rotisserie chicken, hickory-smoked barbequed pork loin, corn on the cob, herb-basted potatoes, and homemade ultra-buttery biscuits. Nothing warms our souls more in the winter than starting with a bowl of the signature creamy vegetable soup. This indescribably good, savory soup is a true bucket-list must-try for a visit to the area.

Plus, there are vegan-friendly options

We have gone on and on about all the delicacies of the holidays, but we don't want our vegan friends to feel left out. Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas is actually vegan-friendly. In the parks, two beloved festival beverages are totally a-okay: the fan-favorite hot apple cider and the cranberry spritzer. The spritzer is the perfect refreshing treat during a park day and features cranberry juice, Sprite, and mandarin oranges. Per USA Today, over at the Front Porch Café, they serve an ultimate vegan burger that is topped with chipotle vegan mayonnaise, red onion marmalade, and avocado. It will surely satisfy you after those miles you've clocked in running around the park.

Since the park made the recent move to operating with two executive chefs  — with one solely dedicated to the festival offerings — they have been conscious about improving upon their already outstanding food program (via Attractions Magazine). As part of this evolution, dietary arrangements can be made in advance of your visit to the park, and they have buffed up their everyday vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Entertainment features Parton's own family members

Entertainment has been a cornerstone of the park since its opening in the 1980s. On any given day, guests can partake in a number of productions across several indoor and outdoor stages found throughout the park. Bringing in both national and local gospel, bluegrass, and country acts, the entertainment program during the holiday season has become a beloved tradition for many. Perhaps one of the most special shows is the Heart of the Holidays, which features Parton's own family members. The show stars her niece Jada and cousin Shelley as they perform songs from Dolly Christmas album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, as well as some of the family's favorite holiday numbers.

Full-blown stage productions are also a major draw during the holidays, including the popular yearly tradition, Christmas in the Smokies. With performers returning year after year, you may even spot a familiar face on your own next visit (via Dollywood).

The festival extends to the DreamMore resort

Before the children are nestled all snug in their beds, it is a holiday must to explore Dollywood's 4-star luxe DreamMore resort. A year-round beauty, this wilderness-inspired property receives the holiday treatment with plenty of seasonal décor, in-room celebrations, specialty dining options, live entertainment, and more (via Dollywood). The centerpiece of the festivities is a two-story Christmas tree in the grand lobby. The resort's décor features lots of Hallmark Channel-esque touches, including gorgeous wreaths adorning the walls of this sun-soaked, sprawling property.

Camp DW will entertain the kids with hot apple cider, s'mores, and elf storytime, while adults can partake in a variety of holiday-themed spa experiences. The resort's acclaimed restaurant, Song & Hearth: A Southern Eatery, will play host to both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner with Southern twists on holiday favorites, like a slow-roasted rack of lamb with mint bearnaise sauce, a honey-glazed pit ham with pineapple cherry chutney, and a caramel bread pudding with bourbon glaze. When visiting, a trip to their lounge is our preferred way to relax after a park day thanks to its menu of martinis using locally sourced honey. 'Tis the season!