Theme parks are magical worlds. They’re fun places where memories of laughter and the smell of funnel cakes linger in the mind for years to come. They offer a chance for children, families, or thrill seekers to escape the pressures of everyday life. Here the biggest worry is the sight of that rollercoaster towering above the midway, or perhaps the huge crowds who all had the same idea to get away for a day of thrills.
As the days grow longer and the air becomes chilled, the parks take on a dramatic transformation of their own. Cheerful melodies are replaced with the sounds of screaming, evil laughs, and dismal organs. What were once beautiful gardens become graveyards filled with zombies. Dismembered body parts hang from the trees. Around every corner and within every cloud of fog terrifying creatures wait to pounce on unsuspecting guests. Universal Studios has perfected this style of haunt with the legendary Halloween Horror Nights. Just down the road, Disney does things a little differently with Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Events closer to home include Six Flags Over Georgia’s Frightfest, Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt, and our absolute favorite, Scarowinds in Charlotte.
Despite the record-breaking crowds these events bring, Halloween has never played an integral part in the festivities at East Tennessee’s own theme park for many years. Dollywood’s autumn event was the family-friendly Harvest Festival featuring the Southern Gospel Jubilee. This amazing event has hosted dozens of top-name gospel groups including The Isaacs, Three Bridges, and Greater Vision. Friendly pumpkin families take over Showstreet and festive displays line the paths through the park. Check out Dollywood’s website at www.dollywood.com for this year’s concert schedule.
This October marks the return of Great Pumpkin Luminights, a wonderful new event which debuted last season. It originally covered a small portion of the park, taking over Timber Canyon and the western side of Wilderness Pass. If anyone had the opportunity to visit last year you probably remember the crowds more vividly than the pumpkin displays. Thousands of guests crowded onto the narrow pathway that leads from the park entrance up towards Thunderhead, resulting in soiled shoes and angry tempers. Of course, this is to be expected with any new event as the park works out the kinks.
No doubt taken by surprise by its popularity, park officials promised this year’s event would “Grow the Glow!” Not only did it double in physical size, now stretching from the entrance to Timber Canyon through Wilderness Pass and into Craftsmans Valley, but guests will have the opportunity to visit throughout the entire month of October until November 3rd. We had the opportunity to visit during opening weekend and absolutely loved it!
]The majority of visitors enter along the Timber Canyon pathway. If you’ve not been to the park recently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that the narrow walkway has been significantly widened over the summer months. While it was still very busy, the overcrowding issues we experienced last year were gone and we could enjoy the displays for as long as we liked. You’ll not want to miss the pumpkin disco party that’s taken over the graveyard here!
]Pumpkins are everywhere within Timber Canyon, with evil bats flying about Mystery Mine and pumpkin frogs croaking in the pond next to Drop Line. Walking up to Wilderness Pass, visitors will soon see the amazing Pumpkin Tree sitting in Wilderness Plaza. This open area features meet and greets with Harvey the Pumpkin and many of his friends. They can also be found wandering throughout Wilderness Pass from 4:00 to 9:00 P.M. each day. Be sure to snag a keepsake photo with them under the canopy before heading on. Nearby visitors will also find the Master Carvers station. Beginning at 1:00 P.M. daily, these artists showcase their amazing talents and transform ordinary pumpkins into beautiful works of art. Further on, Craftsmans Valley has several new displays this year including a giant pumpkin butterfly and an even larger guitar that plays some of Dolly’s famous songs.
Unlike other parks Halloween events, Great Pumpkin Luminights is included with park admission. You’re sure to spend some extra money though, whether its playing the games to win some pumpkin-clad Pikachus, sampling the amazing new food offerings, or snagging some of the cool merch the park has rolled out for the event. We repeat, do not leave the park without trying some of the specialty foods. These include pumpkin-spice funnel cakes, festive jack-o-lantern cookies, glow-in-the-dark candy corn cotton candy, and caramel apple sundaes. Merchandise can be found at the Mystery Mine gift shop, Volunteer Supply Company next to Firechaser Express, and the Dollywood Emporium.
Dollywood has some important tips for guests to make the most of their time at Great Pumpkin Luminights. Due to high demand, try to visit more towards the weekdays instead of the weekend. Friday and Saturday nights can see huge crowds. If you do decide to visit on these peak days, be aware that the festival area sees congestion peak between 7:30 P.M. and 8:30 P.M. It is recommended to enter the area from Showstreet and exit at Craftmans Valley when crowds are higher. In addition, officials may choose to make the pathways one-way during peak times to improve traffic flow. Guests entering the park should also remember that no costumes are allowed due to security reasons. For more information on Great Pumpkin Luminights, visit the park’s website at https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Entertainment/GreatPumpkinLuminights.