As we crawled into our hotel beds during our first night in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., we flipped on the TV to find Dolly herself appearing in “A Smoky Mountain Christmas,” which shares the same name as her 18th annual event at Dollywood. It was a sign.
It was a first trip to Dollywood for our little group, even though we had been lifelong fans of Dolly. We had thought for years to make the trek to the park.
With all of the water rides the park offers (a $5 million River Battle Ride is set to open in 2008), it makes a great summer getaway. But the park offers so much to do during the Christmas season, we couldn’t resist a holiday soiree in the Smokies.
Known first as Goldrush when it opened its doors in 1976 and later renamed Silver Dollar City, Tenn., the amusement park was finally called Dollywood in 1986 when the Herschend Family approached the country music legend, according to information provided by Dollywood.
Since then, Dollywood has embraced the same attitude of Parton herself — life should be enjoyed with your family.
It also keeps in mind Dolly’s Tennessee mountain home, making sure to highlight the artistic contributions of the Smokies with Craftsman’s Valley, which has artisans not only selling wares, but demonstrating them as well.
There was no need to wait when we arrived at Dollywood on a Sunday afternoon. To keep patrons safe, the park encourages visitors to use the trams to go to the park and back to the lot. It’s a chilly ride during the winter, but being cold is outweighed by the convenience.
Once we entered the park, we were in awe. For Christmas, Dollywood was lit up with a display of 3.5 million lights, along with reindeer and Santa figurines throughout the park.
Although we visited during the Christmas season, there were plenty of non-Christmas things to do. One was to ride the rides.
With a smaller crowd for Christmas, my brother had, at the most, a five-minute wait (some no time at all) to get on to the rides.
The newest ride is Mystery Mine, which resembles a 1900s mine and includes an 85-foot vertical drop.
My brother made sure to ride Thunderhead Wooden Coaster twice (without waiting) because a small drizzle had “quickened” the ride, and the Smoky Mountain fog helped to add to the scare factor.
My sisters and I enjoyed walking through Craftman’s Valley, where one of the glassmakers was blowing a vase. Another blacksmith was busy banging out his work for the day.
Using the old tactic of amusement park visitors of starting at the farthest point of the park and working our way to the front, I decided we were going to see “Heartsong.” Two of my siblings had a hard time being convinced of the multi-sensory music/film experience. But about halfway through the flick and being splashed with real water from what seemed to be the movie screen, they were fans. It’s something that needs to be experienced.
One of our favorite places we visited at Dollywood was the Chasing Rainbows Museum, which chronicles Dolly’s rise to fame.
Costumes, awards and the like can be seen in the tour. You can even sing with Dolly on a video and try on some of her notable wigs. It’s a must-stop for any Dolly fan.
There are plenty of things to keep all ages of Dollywood visitors happy. We regretted not taking a trip on the train throughout the park. But we did make a point to stop and see the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary in Craftsman’s Valley, which has bald eagles that can’t be returned to the wild.
All in all, Dollywood was all we expected — and more.
Country music star Dolly Parton has her own theme park at Dollywood.
? Located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
? Began operation May 3, 1986
? Situated on 130 developed acres
? $157 million invested since first season of operation
? Annually hosts nearly 2.4 million visitors
? Tennessee’s No. 1 ticketed attraction
? Key attractions include daily demonstrations of turn-of-the-century crafts, one-of-a-kind rides and award-winning entertainment
? Five annual festivals: Dollywood’s Festival of Nations, KidsFests, National Gospel & Harvest Celebration, BBQ & Bluegrass, and Smoky Mountain Christmas
? Home of the Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award winner Thunderhead, the No. 1 wooden coaster in the world
? Entertainment awards include IAAPA’s 2006 Heartbeat Award, bestowed upon the ’50s and ’60s musical revue Dreamland DriveIn that opened that same year
? One of three finalists, along with Denmark’s Legoland and the winning Universal Islands of Adventure, for the 2006 Applause Award, an international honor in recognition of foresight, originality and creativity, plus sound business development and profitability in the theme park and attractions industry
? Latest Addition: $17.5 million Mystery Mine steel coaster
? In the 1970s, the theme park now known as Dollywood was called Goldrush Junction and was owned by the Cleveland Browns’ football team.
? Dollywood’s Wardrobe Shop uses 24,000 feet of fabric to sew 7,650 costumes each season.