Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
By Hope S. Philbrick
“Are you a Dolly Parton fan?” asks the therapist massaging my back at The Spa at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort.
I answer: “How could you not be?”
Because, seriously, whether you love her music or not, her movies or not, her humor or not, it’s impossible not to love what Dolly Parton has done for her hometown—creating an empire of employment opportunities, among other things—and for kids just about everywhere. The woman makes sure kids of all income levels have access to books through her Imagination Library. Even if you sincerely dislike children, it’s impossible not to melt a little when learning about Dolly’s thoughtful, generous commitment to education. (Though, to be honest, if you don’t find her sense of humor downright hilarious you may need to see a doctor about your broken funny bone.)
Dollywood is home to the Dolly Parton museum “Chasing Rainbows,” a must-see stop for fans—as we just covered in the paragraph above, if you’re not already a fan then visit the museum to be won over. Inside the museum you’ll find recorded interviews and performances, costumes and awards, insights into Dolly’s life story, reports on her charitable works, album covers, quotes, lyrics, and much more.
“Chasing Rainbows” is one venue among dozens. Overall, Dollywood has an old-timey laid-back vibe, but it is comprised of several areas with distinct themes, such as Showstreet (where stages abound), Rivertown Junction, Owens Farm and more.
Dollywood’s several stages and theatres stage shows by talented musicians and performers throughout the day and evening. (About once a year, according to Dollywood’s publicist, Dolly Parton herself visits the park to perform.) Entertainment options include ’50-‘60s, bluegrass, Southern gospel, comedy, country and more. Current shows have a Smoky Mountain Christmas theme, but other seasonal themes include “Festival of Nations,” “Barbecue & Bluegrass,” “Southern Gospel & Harvest,” and other inspirations. There’s always something to watch, listen and tap your feet to. Some shows are targeted at children, others not; review performance details online or check with an agent at the park. Admission to shows (except certain special performances) is included in the Dollywood ticket price, so you could spend your entire visit watching shows if that’s your favorite thing.
It’s worthwhile to take time to stroll around, especially through Craftsman’s Valley, where works by glass blowers, blacksmiths, pottery pros, leather and candle makers, and other artisans are on display. You may find the perfect something for someone on your gift list.
Whether or not you take time to watch a birds of prey show, don’t miss the bald eagle sanctuary.
There’s no reason to skip a meal: Dining options abound.
The park is also home to traditional carnival rides, roller coasters, boat expeditions, zip-line, with more to come—including the world’s fastest wood roller coaster, opening in 2016.
Don’t miss the more leisurely paced Dollywood Express (pictured above), a five-mile train pulled by an authentic 110-ton coal-fired steam engine. Riding through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll pass some spectacular vistas.
During the holiday season, Dollywood is most well-lit in the evenings. “We put lights on everything!” says the publicist. Though the mood throughout Dollywood is always festive, the place is especially charming when lit up.
It’s impossible to feel like a Scrooge at Dollywood.
@21plusTravel Tip: Make a day of it! If visiting during the winter holiday season, as we did, plan to arrive when Dollywood opens at 2 p.m. Tour the museum, catch some shows, stroll through Craftsman’s Valley, eat whatever you can’t resist. Be sure to ride Dollywood Express before the sun sets, to take best advantage of the views. Then linger until after dark to see the park all lit up. Treat yourself to some s’mores. Before you leave, stop by a sweet shop to buy some tasty stocking stuffers.
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.”
Dollywood Theme Park
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd.
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
– Photos courtesy Dollywood
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