Easy-ish Way to Make a Catio

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Catio with the door open

What on earth is a catio, you ask? A catio is a safe place for indoor cats to go outside, usually built on a patio. And yes, you call it a catio because a cat house has a whole ‘nother meaning. That means, it needs to have screened windows for ventilation, and be safe to keep the cats in and other animals out.

We needed to build a catio because we want to sell our house, which meant getting the cats outside.

My first thought was to scour the internet for easy plans on making one. So I figured if I could find really good plans that weren’t too difficult, I’d be happy to build something. I needed something that would be light enough that when we move I could have a couple guys lift it into the back of a friend’s pick up truck and take with us. But all the plans on the internet either cost a lot or were really complicated. I tried writing my own plans, but then popped something in my elbow and the idea of doing a lot of manual labor myself went out the window. We tried three different handymen and all three turned us down. I’m not counting the 4th who didn’t even respond. Sigh.

I needed an alternative. I looked at modifying chicken coops (some of these could have possibly worked, so if this catio idea doesn’t work for you, consider chicken coops from someplace like wayfair.com). I looked at modifying dog houses, sheds (ridiculously expensive), and even children’s play houses. Nothing really worked for what I wanted – something that was big enough for me to easily get inside to clean and that would hold a good-sized cat tree, was light enough to move, but also didn’t cost more than about $500.

Finally, I started looking at greenhouses. The problem with a greenhouse, though, is that they’re designed to keep heat in during cold weather and allow lots and lots of sunlight in. Great for plants, not so great when you want it for cats in Tennessee heat.

What I found was a Palram Greenhouse. It’s available at several stores, but I ordered from Amazon. To be specific, it’s a Palram Nature Series Hybrid Hobby Greenhouse – 6 x 4 x 7 Silver. Aside from the fact that the instructions are TERRIBLE, I’ve been pretty happy with this. It’s surprisingly sturdy and well-made and light. It weighs less than 70lbs. So it’s awkward, but easy for two adults to lift. It was also fairly easy to modify to create a catio.

Make sure you give the catio a good floor. Ideally, you’ll have a floor wider than the catio. Then be sure you attach the catio to the floor. Make sure the floor is raised so that water won’t pool under it. I used two sheets of 4×4 sanded plywood on top of patio pavers. I couldn’t fit anything bigger in the back of my car. Right now, it’s held down by bungees. If this were going to be stand-alone away from the house, I’d bolt it down. But since this is protected by the deck above, it doesn’t get a a ton of wind.

Two problems to solve when modifying a greenhouse to a catio:

Problem #1 – too much sun. I solved this by the fact that I built it underneath our deck. It will be in shade most of the time. However, I added a curtain on the inside that I can use to block even more sun. They do sell netting for these, so if you don’t have a deck above it, check that out. The cats are enjoying the curtain, though, because it just makes one more place for privacy. They tend to each stay on opposite sides of it.

Problem #2 – no ventilation. This was the most difficult problem to solve.

  • Buy 1/4″ metal rods (2 per panel, total of 6)  – Note, I tried bamboo first and it broke.
  • Buy heavy gauge thread for outdoor use
  • Buy a roll of pet safe window screen, 48″ wide, 96″ long

Step 1: During the building step where you insert the wall panels, don’t install three of the wall panels. Just a hint, make sure you leave two solid walls on opposite sides and make sure the panels you remove have the metal angle brace. That makes it much sturdier than if you remove too many panels or remove ones that the original walls are the primary support. I did one open panel on the front next to the door and two panels on the rear wall. Keep the side panels as-is since those do not have metal bracers to help with keeping it sturdy.sewsmall

Step 2: Using a sewing machine, make pockets for the rods on the 3 panels that you measure to fit, then insert the rods. You don’t have to worry about tops and bottoms of the screens.

Step 3: Insert the screen into the metal upright pieces where the wall panels would go. Use the included tool for your greenhouse to bend down the extra few inches of rod you don’t need.rod pocketsmall (If I had a way to cut the rod, that would have been better, but I wasn’t willing to buy a tool for that).

Step 4: Continue building the greenhouse following regular directions. Make sure when putting the upper cross braces in, that you tighten it through the top of the screen to hold it.2 catssmall

Step 5: After the greenhouse is built, use thin metal wire to thread through the bottom of the screen and attach the bottom to the greenhouse. Note: I left a couple gaps where I could put outdoor extension cords through so the cats could have their water fountain and, where in the summer, I could put a fan inside, if needed. Warning, I’m not very happy with the amount of wire this exposes to the cats. So I’ve used blankets and other items to cover the wire up so the cats don’t play with it. I may try to come up with a better solution for this in the future. It’s possible using the thread could work, but I felt like the wire held it more sturdily.

After this, I moved in their cat tree, litter, water, food and some blankets. The cats love it.

Final thoughts:

What I’d do differently if I could: I’d get a larger greenhouse. 4×6 sounds pretty large, but it really isn’t. I’d love to have gone with the 8×8 version. However, that would not have fit in the space I had or been easy to move. On the whole, I’m very happy with how this turned out.

What about rain? After these pictures were taken, I used two of the spare panels with some wood to create an overhang next to the wall of the catio on each side where the plywood extends. This will help prevent rain from pooling on that wood and getting inside. In the event of a big storm, I plan on using the panels almost as storm shutters and propping them up from the inside. And, of course, I will bring the cats inside.

Talk to your vet. We did talk to our vet before doing this. Our cats are now on flea/tick medicine because, even though this is screened, mosquitoes and other bugs can still get to them.

 

 

A Quick Review of Deadpool

Deadpool

Deadpool is not one of the characters I’d want to read about in Comic books. But for Valentine’s Day, Mike and I went to see it. Yes, we are so romantic.

Here are my VERY quick thoughts on the movie.

Surprisingly Awesome. I can’t believe that I really liked this movie. This was the perfect role for Ryan Reynolds and I think everyone making this movie realized that.

Definitely NOT a Kids movie. You would have to be insane to bring a child – and by that, I mean anyone under the age of 18 to this movie. This was an adult movie. Do not bring a child to this movie. Do not let your young teen go to this movie. I am seriously surprised this movie did not get an NC-17 rating. Don’t bring a kid to this movie! Too much torture, violence and sex for young eyes. Not to mention, kids won’t get the 80s and 90s pop culture jokes.

That being said, when The Boy is old enough, Mike has said he’d enjoy watching it with him. But again, not until he’s 18 and with the understanding he’d have to explain the jokes.

So weird seeing Morena Baccarin like this. Granted, she’s technically playing a sex worker just like she did in Firefly, but Inara was nothing like this. She does tough very well and I would like to see how they grow her character in the sequel.

Humor. Any movie that does not one but TWO Sinéad O’Connor jokes that are not mean-spirited and has so many jokes referencing 80s and 90s pop is just a winner in my book. I loved the humor in this. It’s what made the film for me.

Worth full-price and a re-see on matinee.

Star Wars The Force Awakens, it was actually good!

We got to see the new Star Wars movie the other day and it was amazing the relief I felt after seeing it. This was the Star Wars movie I’d hoped for with the prequels and was constantly disappointed. Was it a perfect movie? Definitely not. But it was a great Star Wars movie and even those, like Mike, who aren’t huge fans can go thinking it’s a pretty good movie. 

Spoilers follow. Big ones. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie. Seriously.

What I liked:

The humor! Finally, it’s back. Star Wars began taking itself way too seriously in the last few movies. They were boring and complicated. Though the politics of this movie were still overly complicated (Republic, Resistance, First Order, Senate, who cares) it wasn’t filled with interminable scenes of people we don’t care about debating. Here, we get humor not just from Han Solo and Chewie, but the next generation doesn’t seem as stupid and afraid to crack a smile as the grandparents of the prequels. 

The newbies. Finn and Rey have a good chemistry. They are both obviously special in some mysterious way that I actually care about finding out. I’m assuming Rey ends up being related the main folks in some way, but I’m looking forward to finding out more on the janitor turned hero. 

Han’s death. It was telegraphed like a neon sign as soon as you saw his son walk onto that walkway over a needless abyss. You’d think every major character would learn to fear those. Yeah, Obi Wan dies on one, Luke loses a hand, the emperor gets tossed off one, and here comes Han. He had to die. Harrison Ford could not continue as Han because he’d completely steal the movies from the next generation. They could give him one line in the movie and he’d still be what everyone talked about. All that being said, it was the best death Han Solo could ask for, on an important mission to save millions of people and trying to save one person he loved. 

What I wish had been better:

How did Poe end up back with the fleet all of a sudden, why did he not care about finding BB8, and why is he acting like he found a lost brother in someone he knew for all of twenty minutes before crash landing? It felt like a whole section of the movie had been cut and it was jarring. 

What is up with Captain Phasma? Please tell me she ends up being the one who somehow turned off Finn’s conditioning and she’s really a good guy. Otherwise, I’m going to be really disappointed in how she rolled over and completely gave up the codes that are responsible for keeping practically her entire army safe. And how she obviously didn’t follow through on making sure Finn was reconditioned or at least re-assigned back to garbage duty rather than continuing to walk freely around. Here’s the first female Storm Trooper we see and she’s…incompetent and willing to give up her codes at some minimally harsh words? And yet, we’re expected to see her as some great Storm Trooper leader? Maybe it’s because they have incompetents as leaders that they have such poor accuracy with their shots. Maybe they should spend more time drilling and less time standing in formation listening to a too-young general gloat about how big and bad his weapon is and how it’s better than the other two Death Stars because it’s bigger. How old is that kid anyway? He looks like a 12-year-old in his Dad’s uniform.  And he’s a general?

Finally, there’s Snoke.  I’m not complaining about his ridiculous size where he’s obviously over compensating for a lack of confidence, or ability, or something like not existing prior to this movie and coming out of nowhere. No, I’m complaining about his name. Really, the guy’s name is Snoke. Let’s think of what it sounds like, smoke- yes as in smoke and mirrors. Snope? For sure, obviously he’s told Ben Solo a pack of lies. Snookered him, if you will. Ah, there we have it. Snoke is a combination of Snopes and Snookered. Come on, pick a better name for the bad guy. This was just awful. 

But these are just nit picks. It really was a good movie and a great Star Wars film. I had pretty much decided to pretend that episodes 1-3 didn’t exist when it comes time to show The Boy the films. But at least I can include this movie in the rotation and be happy doing so. 

My thoughts, it’s worth full admission once. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with 3D, but I don’t like 3D anyway. We went to the RPX matinee and that’s the way I’d prefer it. 

The Santa Problem

Even before we had a child, Mike and I talked about how to handle The Santa Problem. Mike will tell you he was (and still is) traumatized by discovering his parents had flat out lied to him for YEARS about this. My family came at Santa more from the idea of whoever gave out the presents on Christmas morning was Santa and it was fun to pretend he existed. We always joked that it was Mrs. Claus who filled our stockings since it was our mom who did the work.

We decided when The Boy came along to go at Santa more from the perspective my family had. We didn’t want him to be That Kid who ruined it for everyone else, but we also didn’t want to take part in a lie that society seems to think is perfectly acceptable to do right at the age where we’re teaching kids that lying is wrong.

But here’s where the problem comes. The Boy talks to his friends at pre-school. These kids are indoctrinated by desperate parents who have told them to behave or they’ll end up on Santa’s Naughty List. (And believe me, there have been times I’ve wished to be able to use that.) But now, the kids have a go-to threat with each other. You make me angry; I’ll tell you you’re on The List.

We have been very careful to tell The Boy that we like to pretend about Santa; that it’s a fun thing to do. We’re not quite sure if he believes or not. He’ll make comments about pretending there’s a Santa or noticing that the Zoo Santa we saw this year was the same Santa as last year. But then, he’ll make comments about how all his presents come from Santa. We both shot that one down fairly quickly since we want him to understand that those come from family who need to be thanked when they give him a gift.

I’ve told him how much we liked pretending that my mom was Mrs. Claus and how I’m looking forward to being Mrs. Claus to fill his stocking. I’ve told him about the man, St. Nicholas and how that name eventually turned into Santa Claus. We’ll see how he does as he gets older. I don’t remember ever being surprised about Santa as a child. I’m hoping we’ll be able to walk the fine line between fun and truth a few more yzoosanta2015ears.

In the mean time, we’ll enjoy the fact that The Knoxville Zoo has an awesome program for meeting Santa. It’s a wonderful place to go where one parent can stand in line to meet Santa while the other watches as The Boy plays on the slide in the jungle cave or looks for dinosaur bones in the dig pit. And getting to see animals afterward around the zoo is just one more amazing benefit.

A quick review of “The Martian”

I am one of those annoying people who always read the book before seeing a movie. I usually end up comparing the movie to the book and finding the movie rather lacking. Sometimes, I’ll think the movie is a good movie on its own, even when it’s nothing like the book. In this case, I can definitely say that “The Martian” is a great movie on it’s own, as well as a pretty faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s book.

This review has spoilers. It’s a quick review and the movie has been out a few weeks, so I don’t want to have to figure out what might spoil it for folks. If you haven’t seen it, you should. We saw the movie at a matinee and I would happily re-see it in the theaters again. It is almost unheard of for me to say this because I’m a cheapskate.

So here we go… Spoilers below….

Continue reading

The Beaches of Charleston, SC

We got to take a last minute vacation recently and decided to visit Charleston, SC. I’ll probably write a couple posts on it, but today, I wanted to give a quick review of a couple of the beaches.

We visited Sullivan’s beach and the Isle of Palms.

Sullivan’s IslandSullivansBeachsmaller

Sullivan’s Island’s and Folly beaches are the most well-known of the beaches in Charleston. They are certainly large and Sullivan’s Island is a protected barrier island that has lovely sand, not many seashells and fairly tame waves compared to other beaches I’ve been to. Parking was fairly convenient and free. But you have to find it on the many side streets and hope to get within an easy walking distance of the beach. There were no restrooms that I could find. But after only going to this beach, I was seriously thinking it was one of the nicer beaches I’d ever visited. The only trash I found was a small piece that might have come from a cigarette filter, very little kelp washed up, the sand was smooth and easy to walk on. Just a lovely, restful place to spend a day. Sullivan’s also had more and possibly better restaurants than we saw at Isle of Palms. I can definitely recommend this beach. That being said, we tried Isle of Palms at the suggestion of a co-worker and again at another suggestion from the lovely lady serving us at Hello Deli in North Charleston (a deli so good, we ate there three times during our 5 days in Charleston) and that one became my favorite.

IsleofPalmssmallerIsle of Palms

Isle of Palms is smaller than Sullivan’s. But it is gorgeous. The beach was quiet– granted, we visited here on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, so I’m sure it was packed the day before. The waves here seemed slightly more intense than at Sullivan’s, perhaps just because of the day we came, but I got the feeling Sullivan’s always has comparatively tame waves. There were still very few shells on the very clean beach, but more than at Sullivan’s. On the beach was a beautiful pier that many people used for shade from the sun but also acted as a great little science show for The Boy on where seashells come from. The nicest thing about Isle of Palms, though, was the amenities. There is street parking for $1 an hour close to the beach, but because this is also a park, there was a public parking lot for $7/day extremely close to the entrance to the beach. Plus, the entrance to the beach included a large bathroom facility with separate changing rooms and an outdoor shower where people could at least rinse off the majority of the sand, and a lovely playground area for kids. To top it all off, the sand at Isle of Palms even made a much better sandcastle than Sullivan’s. This was a beautiful beach and we will definitely be back.

Truly, if you’ve got time to spend at the beach, either Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms would be great choices.

Cooking adventures with The Boy

apronOur son is 3.5 years old. He’s at the age where he wants to learn and do things “all by myself!” but still needs help. There’s one thing I love to have him help with and that’s cooking dinner. I want him to know that boys can cook. I want him to know how to make food for himself and be independent, and I want him to know what it takes to get his food prepared. He’s been helping me a lot lately and I realized something early on that makes me really encourage him to help me cook. He loves to eat the food he’s made himself. He’s willing to try new things. He loves going out with me to the container garden and picking a tomato and then (if it lasts that long and isn’t eaten first) seeing that tomato end up on the table in a dinner he’s helped to make.

One of our favorite things to make together is pancakes. He does everything once and then “lets” me take over. We talk about how much Bisquick mix we need. He gets to stir, pour it out on the pan and flip the pancakes when done. If we’re in the mood, he sprinkles chocolate chips on some of them.  I even let him flip the bacon the first time (before it starts to really sizzle and pop).

Yesterday, he got his first “burn.” We’d been talking about not touching hot pans. I’d just turned the pan on and it was beginning to warm up. I warned him several times to not touch. But, I also decided to step back a bit and see what he’d do. As I suspected, he reached out and lightly brushed the end of the pan with his finger. He jumped back to show me his “burn” and we dealt with it. The pan was just barely warm and the “burn” was not even a red spot. (By the time we turned around to the sink to run cool water over it and get the medicinal Mama kiss, neither of us could remember which finger was actually “burned.” We finally settled on the right since that had been closest to the pan). I hope it was enough for him to understand not to touch, though. He could tell that the pans continued to heat up. Considering they are talking about the five senses this week in daycare, I’m wondering if he’ll mention this incident for “touch.”

Yes, having my helper makes it harder to get dinner on the table. But it is so much fun. We are learning about hand-washing before food prep and washing after touching raw meat and eggs. We’re learning what food looks like cooked and un-cooked. He’s learning that there are ways to measure things and how to be careful so we don’t make too big of a mess – though some mess is required and the cooks definitely get to sample the chocolate chips. But he’s also learning that he’s part of the family and has responsibilities to help. All this and the memories are priceless.

Easy Homemade Donuts

chocolate covered donut
Chocolate frosted

My mother used to make us donuts at home. They were delicious. She’d mix the dough and spend the time to deep fry them. Then, we’d all choose our toppings from an array that she’d mix up from a base powdered sugar mixture. It’s one of my favorite memories from childhood. I decided this would be one of the memories The Boy would have of his childhood. But I don’t have the time or inclination to mix up donut dough from scratch. Thankfully, cans of Pillsbury Grands Homestyle Biscuits exist.

To make easy homemade (and delicious) donuts at home, you’ll need

  • The biscuit dough
  • Frying oil (I usually use the leftover peanut oil after I’ve made eggrolls)
  • Flavorings (like: maple, almond, vanilla)
  • Other toppings (like: cake frosting, cocoa powder, crushed nuts, sprinkles, etc.)
  • Milk (if you don’t have milk, you can use water, but the glaze tastes like it’s missing a little something)
  • Powdered Sugar

Making the Donuts

maple frosted donut
Maple frosted
  1. Open the can of Pillsbury Homestyle Biscuits
  2. Use a cap from a bottle, or a 1/4 cup measuring cup to pop a hole out of the center
  3. In a pan of hot oil, drop the donuts and donut holes a few at a time. Flip after they are golden brown on the bottom.
  4. After frying on both sides, remove from the oil and drain.
  5. While the donuts are still warm, dip them in your favorite toppings.

Making the Donut Toppings

array of donut toppings
From top to bottom: maple, powdered sugar, plain glaze, melted chocolate frosting

 

  1. Get a large bag of powdered sugar
  2. Split off a small bowl for just plain powdered sugar
  3. Mix the rest of the powdered sugar with milk to make a plain glaze. (This is what your Krispy Kreme donut is covered in)
  4. Split the plain glaze into several bowls,  depending on what flavors you like.
  5. Here is what we usually do:
  • Leave one bowl plane
  • On the second bowl, add a small amount of maple flavoring (or syrup if that’s all you have)
  • On the third, add cocoa powder (if you’re out of cocoa powder, a chocolate can of cake frosting microwaved for a few seconds until it’s melted makes an AMAZING chocolate frosting for donuts. That is what the chocolate donut above is covered in).
  • Line the bowls up into an assembly line and let everyone choose their own toppings.

Impressions of Ant-Man casting

We got to go see Ant-Man recently, thanks to getting a baby sitter after work one night. Here, I’m going to talk about the casting choices more than anything. I’m also going to give Marvel a pat on the back to go with the slap I gave them from the sexist issues they had with the last Avengers movie.

I liked that they did not have Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as Ant-Man but did show him as the original. I also thought it was good that they did address his anger issues at least partially. Pym is not a hero for today. Paul Rudd as Scott Lang was the perfect actor for the type of character Marvel is going for here after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. They are treating Ant-Man almost as a B-squad character, though really, he could easily be a greater hero than Iron Man. Because of that, he could get away with humor and bumbling sidekicks who still manage to beat the bad guy. Rudd definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously and that’s a good thing for the movie. And the suit was great. Loved the retro styling on it, though I hope for the next movie he gets an update to make it his.

I liked the little hints that they could possibly bring back Pym’s wife. Mike disagreed with me on that and said they were only going to have Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as Wasp, but I think they made too much of an effort to talk about what happened to the original Wasp, to point out that time and space don’t matter where she is, and to not show her face in photos, leaving open the possibility of choosing an actress to portray her in a future film. We’ll see.

Speaking of Evangeline Lilly as Hope, her character made me happy. Here was a self-assured woman, played by an actress who is not 20 years old. She is a full-grown, fully developed, fully aware of who she is, but still capable of growing emotionally and kicking-ass WOMAN, not a girl. I loved that they had an actress in her 30s play a character who was also about 35 years old. It was a breath of fresh air and I have to give Marvel a pat on the back for that. Especially after the stumbles they had in the latest Avengers. It was a great thing to see an older Hollywood actor have a more-than 20-something year-0ld-actress play his DAUGHTER and not his ridiculously too young wife. This casting was great.

The story was a bit campy. But it also fit with more of the worried about the world through the eyes of our family, rather than world-destroying super bad guys. That being said, Thomas the Train is scary enough when he’s little, let alone those creepy eyes the size of a real train. But I did like the growing little things big idea to lay the groundwork for a possible Giant-Man. Something Mike and I have discussed in the last two movies we’ve seen (the new Jurassic World and this) it is really bothering us both when kids are put into danger in these movies in ways that it would not have before The Boy came along. Guess we are starting to grow up too.

For me, I rate movies on whether or not they are worth full-price. Most movies are not. On this occasion, we even had to pay extra for the RPX (Regal’s version of IMAX) showing of the movie.

Most movies we see, are matinee that we catch before dinner on days when we’ve brought The Boy to stay with his grandparents for the night. Speaking as a parent to a young kid, I love date days like that since it covers much of his nap time and it guarantees we’ll be back before bedtime.

This was a good movie. I would rather have paid less to see it, but I did not feel like paying full price was asking too much, though I did think the price difference in the rudely sounding squeaky seats we got for RPX was definitely not worth it.

Rating: Worth full price, not RPX/IMAX

Dollywood and an unfair comparison to Disney World

Recently, we visited Dollywood with our family. We are new season pass holders. We had gotten passes at Christmas last year and thought we’d go a few times this year to make it worth it. We were extremely disappointed with Dollywood when we took family in May. We had Mike, Me, The Boy (3), Brother-in-Law, his 5-year-old son, and the two boys’ grandmother. I’m going to now, unfairly, compare Dollywood to Disney World.

Just a note: I use some patently unfair math below, but it’s to make a point about value for the dollar.

Reasons why it’s (possibly) unfair to compare the two:

  1. They are suppose to not really be in the same league and shouldn’t be compared.But why should they not be compared? USA Today even had one article that ranked Dollywood above Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. Dollywood is obviously trying to compete with the big boys. So shouldn’t it be fair to compare it to the bigger parks?
  2. Dollywood is cheaper on the surface, for a pass, it certainly is. Once you get in the park, not so much. And check out the value for the dollar math below.
  3. Disney World is the destination, Dollywood is a day’s distraction. Agreed. People go to Pigeon Forge for the shopping, Gatlinburg for the kitch and mountains and Dollywood is often a place to wear the kids out in between. Though locals, like us, do just plan on spending the day at Dollywood periodically as our only reason for braving the tourist traffic in Pigeon Forge.

So let me tell you about our recent experience and why we spent the day comparing Dollywood to Disney.

Rides

When we visited Dollywood, the park was open from 10a.m to 7p.m. Considering we were only interested in doing rides that small children could do, that limited us to about 1/2 of the park. That’s totally fine with us. Meant less walking. But here’s the problem. Many of these rides were either not working or had broken parts. We went on May 17, long after the website says the rides are to be open. Here’s a sampling.

The Carousel – broken. With no sign. It was spinning around and looked like it was working fine. People would walk up to the line only to be told by a half-hearted attendant that it was being maintenanced. There was nothing to indicate that the ride, which was spinning and playing music tempting little children to come to it was anything but functioning properly – until you walk through the line to discover it’s broken. The answer to the question of when would it be finished was a shrug. It was broken from before we took the train until after we left the elephants (a couple hours later).

Rockin’ Roadway – closed. At least the lady in front of it was nice about letting us know it was closed and should be working later in the day. But there was still no sign. And that didn’t help us when we were not going to be back in that part of the park.

Amazing Flying Elephants – several of the elephants were broken. Considering how long this stupid line was and the fact that some people seemed to decide they had to put their kids in one elephant and them ride separately, my brother-in-law and I spent most of our time at the park waiting in line for this low rent version of Dumbo with multiple elephants broken. If all of the elephants had been working, the line would have moved at a crawl rather than a snail’s pace.

This was the ride that really ticked me off. Why? Because Dollywood can’t do one simple thing that Disney does: Put up a sign that says how long your wait is going to be. How hard is it to do that? They could do it with a chalkboard.

So Dollywood has multiple popular rides either being fixed with no notice or in poor repair and broken and doesn’t post signs either about the fact they are broken or the times you’ll wait for poorly maintained rides. At least when Disney refurbishes a ride, they work on themeing the closure and their wait times and (free) Fast Pass + system are head and shoulders above Dollywood’s TimeSaver pass that costs $25 PER PERSON and just lets you put yourself in the line so you don’t have to stand there while you wait.

Winner: Disney

Food and Drink Prices

Drinks: We purchased the season pass beverage containers. They were running a special where the normally $20/each cups were on sale for additional ones. I think we ended up paying $20, and then $5 for three others. Something like that. Here’s the funny thing. The equivalent of these from Disney (which granted can not be used in the parks, only at your home resort) are $18 for your length of stay and then free refills. For Dollywood, each refill is $1, but the cup is good all season long. This kind of balances out for me. I might even give the winner here to Dollywood since the rapid refill mugs at Disney are only good at your hotel.

Drinks Winner: Dollywood

Since I went with a Gold Pass at Dollywood, we did get a 10% discount on our meal. I will say the food we got was pretty good for a theme park, though not as good as food at Disney sitdown restaurants. For this, I’m comparing Backstage Restaurant at Dollywood to Liberty Tree Tavern at Disney.

Positives for Backstage Restaurant – everyone can choose their own meal.

Positives for Liberty Tree – unlimited food, so many choices people can find something they like. YUMMY food. Awesome service

For me, Liberty Tree at Disney was much better for the taste. The food at Backstage was a bit uneven. Some was good, some not so good. Everything at Liberty Tree was great. Price wise, I’d say we came out slightly ahead per person at Backstage, but that included a 10% discount that we didn’t get at Liberty Tree (since we no longer have annual passes).

Split decision:

Taste Winner: Disney’s Liberty Tree Tavern

Price (with season pass discount): Dollywood’s Backstage Restaurant

Photos

We purchased the season photo pass for Dollywood. We purchased the Memory Maker for our Disney World trip. Mike and I both agreed that the $160 we spent on Memory Maker was the best thing we bought the entire time. Why? Unlimited photos from all the photographers around the parks. It was so easy to just scan our Magic Band and have the photos appear in our account. We got magic shots, we got posed shots, we even had photographers just come up to us during rainstorms to entertain The Boy and get great pictures. It was wonderful. And no, it is not expensive when you consider that for daycare school photos, we pay $150 to get 3 poses plus the digital image. We don’t care about the printed photos. We want the digital images. We got more than 100 photos on our trip and had so many good ones, I made a rather large photo book of the Memory Maker photos.

At Dollywood, the photo pass costs $50 annually and then you get to pay $2 per photo to get them to put it on your account. Considering that we have averaged exactly 1.5 photos per trip, that’s fairly expensive per picture, though granted, not daycare prices. We have both agreed it has not been worth the hassles for the quality of photos we’ve gotten.

Dollywood has very few places for people to get photos, so you are rushed constantly. On this trip, we got a photo before riding the train. Mike went to pay the $2 to get it added to our account while my BIL and I took the two boys to ride Elephants. Note: we were still in line for a 1/2 hour AFTER Mike got back from the ordeal of trying to GIVE THEM MONEY for our photo.

Mike was the first person in line for the photos since he didn’t need to stop and look at the photo to know he wanted to pay the $2. The attendant waved him back and said he had to wait until ALL the other people who wanted photos and who had NOT paid for the photo pass paid for their photo. So he was literally sent to the back of the line because he paid $50 extra for convenience. After he waited for an entire train’s worth of passengers to buy photos, he paid the $2 and was told it would appear soon. It was not there when we left. He had to stop at the window on the way out to ask about it. They said to give it 24 hours. He did. Called again. Give it another 24 hours. Called again, we finally had to go through the process of describing what we were wearing so they could manually go through the photos to find us. Surprisingly, they DID find our photo. So good on Dollywood for that. But this was a nightmare compared to the ease and customer friendly attitude you get with Disney.

Winner: Disney Memory Maker

Admission Price

For ease of comparison, I’m going to choose an annual/season pass for each park. I’m choosing the 2 park option for Dollywood since Disney’s pass gets you all 4 parks.

  • Disney Annual Pass: $654
  • Dollywood (2 park): $146

Looking at this, Dollywood wins. However, Disney is open 365 days a year. Dollywood is closed for nearly 3 months in January, February and March and an additional 45 days periodically throughout the year, when it has entire days in the middle of the week where it is closed. Be sure you check the calendar and not trust it’s open! So that means instead of getting 12 months as you do at Disney, you’re in effect getting 7.5 months where you can use the pass.

Let’s re-work our math:

  • Disney’s annual pass (per month): $54.50
  • Dollywood’s season pass (per month, this is assuming 7.5 months of usable time): $19.47

Wow, Disney is still nearly 3 times as expensive. But what do you get for the price?

  • Customer Service. No one can deny that Disney has the best customer service in the world.
  • Quality. Their stuff works. If it doesn’t work, they advertise it, they make it easy to know when it will be fixed, they handle it with style when things go wrong.
  • Choices: 4 parks to choose from compared to 2 for Dollywood.

Hey, let’s look at the per park math, shall we?

  • Disney Price per park per month: $54.50/4 = $13.63
  • Dollywood Price per park per month: $19.57/2 = $9.74

Prices aren’t looking too different now, are they? I’d say Quality, Customer Service and Choices are worth the extra money. That being said, it still is easier to go for a day to Dollywood than to run down to Orlando.

So there you go, for a difference of a few dollars per park, you get Disney. Is this math really fair when comparing the two? No, not really. But it sure does make me feel like I’m not getting the bang for the buck from Dollywood as I do from Disney. And that’s the important thing. My value for the dollar.

Value for the dollar: Disney wins.