“If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” —Dolly Parton
Adults-oriented amusements abound, including a new thrill: “Drop Line.”
By Hope S. Philbrick
A few years ago, before I’d ever set foot in the place, if you’d told me that after going to Dollywood I’d be eager to return, I’d have thought you didn’t know me very well. Then I went to Dollywood and was completely won over. It’s no ordinary theme park.
Yes, even after visiting Dollywood on two separate occasions, I look forward to returning for more fun and discovery. That’s high praise considering that I’m not what you’d call a ‘theme park person’. But Dollywood—which has been named “World’s Friendliest Park” for five consecutive years by Amusement Today—is no ordinary mashup of carnival rides and hyper children. There really is something for everyone here, even grownups.
Among the elements with adult appeal…
Craftsman’s Valley is a collection of art studios and boutique shops that showcase an array of crafts: leather works, candy making, wood carving, blacksmith, pottery, blown glass, goats-milk soap, candle making and more. You can see masters at work and buy whatever strikes your fancy. Some items are available consistently, some are seasonal, and new items are frequently added; for example, the pottery shop has introduced new egg plates this year, perfect for serving a dozen deviled eggs.
“We try to keep all the crafts to the late 1800s era ,” says Wes Ramey, media/public relations manager. “It’s amazing to watch these artisans’ skills. It’s great fun and you don’t even realize you’re learning at the same time. What the master craftsmen are able to do amazes everyone. In fact, lots of times there are more people watching demonstrations than are in lines for some of the attractions.”
New this year, you can get in on the creative action in the glass blowing shop and help make a keepsake ornament (for $29.99). The master craftsman will handle the hot glass and fire, but you pick the colors and then inside a designated safe zone you’ll be handed a tube and clean nozzle and given instructions of when to blow—getting the just-right amount of air going is harder than it looks! You’ll be able to take home your creation after it cools down in a couple hours, along with a certificate of completion to legitimize your bragging rights.
With six theaters, plus additional performers strolling around the park, there’s always somebody singing, dancing, acting, strumming, and/or doing something amazing that’s worth watching and listening to at Dollywood. All shows are included in park admission and, with different performances scheduled at various times throughout each day and season, on any given day you could occupy several hours simply by taking in different shows like The Smoky Mountain String Band, which mixes music and homespun humor, and The Kingdom Heirs, an award-winning Southern gospel quartet.
Enter the museum of all things Dolly and a hologram of Dolly Parton herself appears to welcome you. There she is, almost, standing on stage in sparkly clothes chatting away for a minute or so. It’s an impressive feat of engineering…as are some elements of her costumes, which you can inspect up close in several wardrobe displays. Other exhibits showcase awards, interactive video clips, home goods, and memorabilia celebrating the life and career of Dolly Parton. If you walk through this museum and don’t fall in love with Dolly at least a little bit more, there is something seriously wrong with your heart and sense of humor.
This historic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine travels a five-mile loop around the park in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The conductor narrates the tour with a mix of American history, Dolly trivia and homespun humor. Even when all the seats are packed, I find the ride bumping along on the tracks to be relaxing.
Eagle Mountain Sanctuary
Dollywood is home to Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, operated by the American Eagle Foundation, the largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles in the U.S. (“Balde” is an Olde English word meaning “white.”) The bald eagle, our national bird, is one of some 59 eagle species in the world.
In a netted area that climbs up the side of a steep wooded hillside, the sanctuary is home to bald eagles that are permanently disabled and would not be able to survive in the wild. You can get a good look at these birds any time Dollywood is open, but for an educational look at some of America’s birds of prey take in a Wings of America show at the open-air theater. The show offers an up-close look at eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and vultures along with informative insights from a professional handler.
Drop Line: New ride officially opens Saturday, May 6
Two new attractions are opening for the summer 2017 season: Drop Line and Whistle Punk Chaser (a kiddie coaster). Drop Line is a 230-foot tall tower: You sit down, get strapped in, and gracefully ride up to appreciate the sights of the surrounding mountains until the ring of seats is dropped more than 20 stories for a thrilling free-fall experience.
The carousel is more my speed—the horse is as real as you want it to be! and, no, it’s not just for kids!—but for the more daring types Dollywood offers an impressive assortment of spectacular roller coasters. Ride a coaster to get pulled 90-degrees straight up, tossed 360-degrees around and around, flip 180 upside down, rush downhill, zoom indoors and outside, go forwards and backwards, and more surprises. If coasters are your thing, you don’t want to miss Dollywood’s thrilling assortment, including the world’s fastest wood roller coaster that opened just last year.
With its wide range of offerings, a day at Dollywood can be whatever you want it to be.
When To Go…
- Barbecue & Bluegrass, May 26-June 4, featuring Steep Canyon Rangers and “the tastiest barbecue in the South!”
- Summer at Dollywood, June 17-August 6, with nightly fireworks
- Casting Crowns Rock the Smokies, September 2
- Harvest Festival, September 29-October 28
- Smoky Mountain Christmas, November 4-January 1
Special Offers and Add-Ons…
- Buy a TimeSaver Pass to bypass the regular lines for rides and shows.
- Arrive after 3 p.m. and the next day is free with a one-day admission ticket. (Offer valid through October 27, 2017.)
- 3 Days, 2 Parks. For $33 per day when buying online, you can get three days at Dollywood and/or Dollywood’s Splash Country water park. (Offer valid May 13-September 4, 2017.)
More To Do…
- Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction
- Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures, a new high-energy dinner attraction with a story inspired by the time Dolly’s parents met and fell in love
Where To Stay…
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort
2525 DreamMore Way
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Where To Eat…
DM Pantry at DreamMore Resort is a coffee bar, pastry shop and grab-and-go deli.
Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans serves Southern country fare inside Dollywood.
Song & Hearth is a country sit-down restaurant inside DreamMore Resort that serves Southern-style breakfast buffet, a la carte lunch, and dinner buffet.
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Odds of Encountering Children: Inevitable, but they must abide by the rules: “Children must be 13 years old or older to enter Dollywood without an adult. Children 12 years old and younger must be accompanied by a chaperone 16 years old or older. Unescorted children will not be admitted to Dollywood.” For the best odds of an adults-oriented experience, visit during the weekday when school is in session. Dollywood offers the following recommendations to avoid crowds: “In the spring, Thursdays are less crowded. In the summer, try for Wednesday or Thursday. In the fall, you might consider weekdays. During the Christmas season, weekdays are your best bet.”
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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