Our Budget-Friendly Weekend in Pigeon Forge (And How We Went to Dollywood for Free!)
Last Sunday was my husband Ty’s birthday, and since we happened to have a gift card for Choice Hotels, it seemed like the perfect time for a quick weekend getaway.
In my previous two-part blog series, I talked about how we’d keep things under budget in Pigeon Forge, and we hit our mark – for the most part. Here are the details:
I already said we were splurging on a king room with a two-person hot tub. This wouldn't have been possible without our $250 gift card, and I go into how we were able to earn it in this post.
The rates for this weekend were high because Dolly Parton was in town, so that meant two nights in our amazing room came to over $300. Craziness! I’d never spend that much on a weekend getaway no matter how nice the room looked, but our gift card made it possible. All in all, we paid about $60 out of pocket for the room, and I enjoyed every minute in that luxurious hot tub!
Cheap (and Free!) Eats
As I mentioned before, our breakfasts were free for the two mornings we were there. Comfort Inn on Dollywood Lane has a decent hot breakfast buffet with biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausages, and pastries. Ty’s pretty picky about how his food is prepared, so he went for the make-your-own waffles.
It wasn't out of this world or anything, but it was filling and – most importantly – free!
Sadly, our favorite local deli in Sevierville had gone out of business. :( It was a little hole-in-the-wall place my aunt and uncle had frequented for years, so that made me want to cry. Since I had planned on eating lunch there on Saturday, we were pretty much left wandering around the Sevierville end trying to figure out where to eat that wouldn't break the budget. Ty suggested Chinese because that boy can seriously eat Chinese food every day of the week if he was allowed.
I got on my phone and searched Chinese restaurants (there’s a surprising lack of them in the Pigeon Forge area), and came across Sakura Japanese Buffet. They had mixed reviews online, but the draw for me was that on Wednesdays and Saturdays they have an all-day $6.95 buffet special. With drinks and tax, I think our total came to around $16, so not bad. The most surprising part was that this little rinky-dink buffet had the best, and I do mean the BEST, Southern fried chicken. Weird. I wish I had some right now.
We did sit down at nicer restaurants for dinner on Friday and Saturday night. Friday night, we ended up going to Huck Finn’s Catfish. There was a little bit of a wait, which usually means the food is good, and the décor (like most places in Pigeon Forge) is countrified. We had an amazing server who suggested I have the hot and spicy grilled shrimp, which turned out to be great, but all the side dishes you get from the moment you sit down turned out to be the best part for me (they call them vittles). I think our dinners were about $13 each, plus drinks, tax, and tip – and it was definitely worth every penny.
Saturday night we ended up driving around after dark looking for a decent place to eat. Neither of us were super hungry since we’d had a late lunch at the Japanese/Chinese restaurant, but we both wanted something. Now, normally, I avoid eating pizza because it doesn't agree with me and I just never like how I feel after having it, but this was my hubby’s birthday weekend, and pizza is his favorite food of all time, so I suggested we find a pizza place and sit down to eat rather than have it delivered. We ended up at Big Daddy’s Pizzeria in Pigeon Forge and, to save money, ordered one pizza with half cheese (for me) and half pepperoni (for him). I also indulged a bit and got a glass of Blue Moon, which I never do. In fact, I think this was my first time ever getting a beer on tap. Yeah, I’m not much of a drinker, but it was delicious.
Although we considered these two dinners our “splurges” for the weekend, they were still affordable options and kept things within budget.
An Expensive Round of Putt-Putt
We had already planned on playing some mini-golf during our weekend getaway, and I had hoped to keep it reasonable since I’d seen online coupons touting $5 rounds of putt-putt. Unfortunately, we found ourselves driving through Gatlinburg on Friday afternoon before I’d picked up a coupon book, and Ty really wanted to try the Davy Crockett-themed course, so we went ahead and pulled in, expecting to pay full price.
The course is gorgeous. It’s hands down the nicest, most well-maintained mini-golf course I've experienced.
It also wasn't crowded, which is always a plus for us. We’d pretty much decided we were going to play there no matter how much it cost, but when we walked up to the counter, the cashier quoted a price of over $30 for just the two of us. "It includes both courses, the easy one and the hard one," she persuaded, "and you can play your second one anytime within the year – just keep your ticket." Ty was already handing the money over before I had a chance to process the information, but I guess, if you think about it, the cost does come out to around $8 per person, per course, so maybe it wasn't so bad.
We enjoyed ourselves, and I snuck some cute pictures of the birthday boy thwarting gophers and attempting an impossible shot down some kind of water gutter (or is that a chute?). Plus, we kept our tickets so we can go back to play the harder course next time we feel like a day trip to Gatlinburg, so everything worked out.
Our Free Day at Dollywood
You’re probably assuming we already had season passes and that’s why this visit to Dollywood was free. Nope!
As it happens, Dollywood occasionally has these Bring-a-Friend specials, which means if you buy season passes by a certain date or at a certain store, you get free friend passes. The only catch is that the friend has to accompany you through the entrance.
Before we left for Pigeon Forge, my husband happened to mention to his boss that we were going there for the weekend. Well, whadd'ya know – his boss was taking his family to Dollywood the Saturday we were there, and he happened to have free friend passes we could use. All we had to do was meet him and his family at the front gates and walk through with them.
Ty and I caught the earliest trolley at Patriot Park. It’s free to park at the trolley center and only .50¢ per person to ride to Dollywood (just remember to have another .50¢ a piece to ride back). Unless you have a Gold Season Pass, parking at Dollywood is a whopping $12 for standard vehicles and $18 for RVs and trailers. Even if you've purchased an admission ticket, it makes sense to park at Patriot Park and ride the trolley. It’s also more convenient since the trolley drops you off right in front of the entrance. When you park at Dollywood, you have to catch a tram anyway to get you the rest of the way.
All in all, we spent 2 bucks for our day at Dollywood. You can’t beat that!
Not only is a budget-friendly weekend in Pigeon Forge doable, but it’s incredibly easy if you know what you’re doing. We happened to be there when Dolly herself was in town, appearing in her homecoming parade Friday evening and then at Dollywood on Saturday, the day we were there (although we didn't stick around to see her).