Pros: Plenty of rides, attractions, crafts, music and food for everyone of all ages.
Cons: Expensive in price; long waits on rides during the peak summer season.
Many fans and non-fans alike of country music are at least somewhat familiar with the singer/actress as well as successful business owner Dolly Parton. Poorly raised in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevier County, Tennessee, she eventually moved herself and her family out of poverty and became a very popular country music star. Once she became a famous music legend in her own right, Dolly Parton purchased a large piece of land near the small country home she grew up in all those years ago, creating the heavily visited and highly popular theme park appropriately named Dollywood in the process. That was over 16 years ago, and while there has been a steady growth of visitors from the beginning as the park gradually grew and expanded, only recently in the past few years has Dolly's theme park shown an even larger growth in attendance and popularity. For as many years as I can remember, my family and I have made at least one annual trip (usually many more) to this fun-filled mountain getaway as it seems something new is added to the park every year, making it bigger and better than ever before. So any vacation spent in East Tennessee is not complete without spending at least one day at Dollywood, which is now the most visited attraction in the state of Tennessee after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
~~~The Theme Park's History~~~
Before Dollywood opened for business for the first time in 1986, the theme park was previously a much smaller and less visited tourist attraction called Silver Dollar City. I can remember visiting here many times as a child before the park's transformation took place and have many fond memories of summer days spent there. While it has now doubled in size 16 years later and has added new rides and attractions every year since Dollywood originated, this highly recommended tourist destination has also seen a phenomenal growth in attendance and popularity as a result. And by 1998, it became the 27th largest theme park in the USA while also reaching the top 50 list in the world according to attendance numbers. Part of the reason why Dollywood is so popular is because new and interesting things to do and see are added every year, making repeat annual visits a common occurrence for many as it is for my family. Chances are, past visitors will feel like they are visiting a whole new park if it has been a few years since their last attendance. We never fail to find something new and different each time we visit Dollywood, and my kids are just excited now when we go as their very first time.
~~~New in 2002~~~
Replacing the old Thunder Road action simulator ride that previously was the main attraction in the Jukebox Junction section of Dollywood (which is full of 1950's music and memorabilia) is the new Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure, a 4D action simulator adventure ride that is certain to thrill tour goers (but bring some Tylenol!) with Dolly herself as your guide. Located inside the new Adventures in Imagination section of the park, which celebrates the magic of dreams and imagination and features a state-of-the-art interactive Dolly Parton museum called Chasing Rainbows, this world's largest turbo ride will keep riders tightly hanging on with every move. Golf fans will enjoy the new addition found in the Country Fair section of the park called Bubba Golf (additional charge required). The new Heritage Hall contains lots of Coca Cola artifacts and memorabilia on exhibit, and personalized snapshots of your party may be taken as you enter Dollywood, which make a great photo memory of your fun-filled day.
~~~Music Concerts & Shows~~~
Country music fans especially will enjoy the traditional music and concerts located in various theatres throughout Dollywood. From contemporary country and pop to gospel to bluegrass to 1950's Rock 'n Roll, chances are most visitors will find something to satisfy their own musical tastes. Many forms of live entertainment can be found at every corner, including many music theaters and even a comical magical performance that will tickle your funny bone and amaze the kids as well as yourself. For an extra price of $18.99 and $24.99 plus tax, visitors may attend the Showcase of Stars Concerts located inside the Celebrity Theater with many big name stars featured on weekends during the summer months only. There is certainly something for everyone here at Dollywood as far as entertainment goes: from the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary containing the country's largest presentation of non-releaseable bald eagles to the Heartsong Theatre, which features a musical film experience dedicated to the life of Dolly Parton.
Located throughout Dollywood are many specialty restaurants and food stands so that visitors will not possibly have the chance to go hungry. Everything from bakeries and sandwich shops, to traditional hamburger, hot dog, and pizza joints line the streets of the park. A few not-to--miss places include Aunt Granny's Buffet found inside Rivertown Junction for traditional country cooking (dieters beware!) and the Backstage Restaurant located on Showstreet for full service dining. Many visitors enjoy the funnel cakes, homemade lemonade (yummy!), freshly made pork rinds, and the barbeque meats that are served throughout the park. For me, a visit to Dollywood is never complete until I have a serving of their delicious Dippin' Dots, which are proclaimed to be the ice cream of the future. And don't forget to visit the Sweet Dreams Candy Co. before you leave and purchase some freshly made salt water taffy created as you watch.
Craft lovers will find a large variety of traditional country homemade items located throughout the park at Dollywood. Craftsman's Valley, one of the oldest sections found here, has many booths and shops featuring "ole timey" apprentices, including wagon makers, lye soap makers, blacksmiths, candlemakers, seamstresses (who make the popular lil' Dolly dresses), and wood carvers, just to name a few. In October, the Harvest Celebration takes place while the trees are full of leaves boasting beautiful fall colors, which is easily one of the best times of the year to visit the park. Purchase personalized prints, t-shirts, custom glassware, handcrafted leather items, vintage pianos, and many other "old timey" antiques while you are here. Dollywood is full of so many shops and boutiques that sell souveniers to suit every taste that it's highly unlikely that tourists will leave the park empty handed.
~~~Rides & Attractions~~~
No review about Dollywood would be complete without describing a few of the thrilling rides and attractions found throughout the park, many of which will refreshingly cool riders off on a hot summer day. One of my favorites since childhood is the Blazing Fury, a relatively calm yet fun indoor roller coaster that was the biggest attraction here when Silver Dollar City was the owner many years ago. Up the hill from this "you will get wet!" ride is a much larger and faster roller coaster that the faint at heart might want to consider skipping. Built in 1999 is the famous Tennessee Tornado, a triple loop roller coaster that takes riders straight down the side of the mountain and is thankfully a mere 60 seconds in length so this 70 mile per hour intense ride is over with before it begins. Such thrill seekers are sure to love Daredevil Falls, which is the highest, fastest waterfall ride in America. Down the hill to the right is Dreamland Forest, which contains America's largest interactive treehouse the younger kids will surely love as well as another one of my favorite rides here at Dollywood: the Mountain Slidewinder, where riders will most certainly get splashed with cool water as they slide down the mountain in a boat holding up to 6 people. And no trip to this theme park is complete without taking a relaxing 5 mile train ride on the Dollywood Express on the coal fired steam engine train, which is located in The Village section. Inside the Country Fair area of the park is the Country Fair Falls, a somewhat tame log flume ride as well as many games and classic fair rides, including the Wonder Wheel, a 60 foot nostalgic Ferris Wheel. And for one last water ride if you aren't wet enough already, find the Smoky Mountain River Rampage inside the Rivertown Junction area of Dollywood and go on a white water rafting adventure sure to please the entire family.
With the current 2002 season, a one-day admission ticket that includes most rides and attractions to the Dollywood theme park is $37.55 (including tax) for adults and $27.65 for children ages 4 to 11 (children 3 and under are admitted FREE!). Parking for cars will cost an additional $5. Local residents often choose to purchase a season pass, which allows unlimited access to the park until the end of the year. Since my husband's company picnic is held annually here every spring, we trade our admission tickets in for season passes (which costs less than paying for a one day ticket) and usually come back a few times a year. Depending on traffic as well as other seasonal factors, we can drive to Dollywood in anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours from our home here in East Tennessee, so owning season passes gives us the opportunity to make a day trip into Pigeon Forge whenever we get a chance to go back.
~~~Dates & Hours of Operation~~~
Usually open early April through late December, Dollywood features many seasonal activities which keeps the local residents coming back month after month. In the spring, we have the Festival of Nations which brings the world to the Smokies, while in the summer we have the Showcase of Stars featuring many big name country music performers (Sawyer Brown, Keith Urban, The Charlie Daniels Band, Jessica Andrews, Tracy Lawrence, and Mark Chesnutt just to name a few) and the Southern Gospel Jubilee. The Harvest Celebration takes place during the fall, which includes live craft demonstrations with beautifully corresponding autumn decorations and a Woodcarving Showcase. And starting in early November through the end of the year, the not-to-be-missed Smoky Mountain Christmas consists of millions of lights and breathtaking decorations to get visitors in the holiday spirit. During the peak summer months, Dollywood is open to visitors from 9AM until 9 or 10PM. Early and late in the season, the park is closed on selected weekdays but is open every weekend with varying hours of operation. Check the website listed below for a complete listing of dates and times on the 2002 calendar.
Always beautifully landscaped with colorful plants and flowers according to season and staffed with friendly and helpful country people to make your visit as pleasant as possible, Dollywood is certainly the place to visit when vacationing in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Full of foot stomping live entertainment, delicious food, interesting live craft demonstrations, as well as thrilling water rides to cool you off on a hot summer day, this theme park certainly has something for everyone, whether you are 1 or 100. While traditionally more crowded during the peak summer months, especially on weekends, leading to long and tiring waits to ride the more popular rides as with most other theme parks, off season and middle-of-the-week trips to Dollywood usually offer a more enjoyable and much more relaxed experience, especially for first time visitors as there is certainly too much to do and see in just one day otherwise. So come to Tennessee this year and visit the highly recommended Dollywood theme park today. We'd certainly LOVE to have you! And as Dolly would say with her Great Smoky Mountains accent: ya'll come back now, ya hear??
For more information or to order tickets for Dollywood, the Entertainment Capital of the Smokies, check out their official website online at:
Questions or comments?
1020 Dollywood Lane
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
**The Dollywood Foundation: established in 1988 by Dolly Parton and the Dollywood Company, this public foundation supports educations programs, whose signature program is Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, encouraging the love of books and reading by mailing a book each month to preschoolers in participating communities.
For more information on the Dollywood Foundation, please call (865) 428-9606.
**Spend an extra night in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and take the opportunity to cool off and visit Dolly's new water park (featuring several water slides, a lazy river float, and a large wave pool) which made its grand opening in May 2001: Dolly's Splash Country. Trust me, the kids will love it! Mine certainly did :-)