This theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, focuses on old-fashioned fun and offers special holiday programs that fill the air with music.
By Phil Bowie
When singer Dolly Parton performs, she radiates energy. Her voice is angel-pure and strong, her smile is infectious, and you get the notion that she could stand alone on a Smoky Mountain ridge, far from sound studio trickery, and still captivate everybody within hearing distance.
Like another American country-music icon, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Rebecca Parton came from humble beginnings. She shared a two-room cabin in the Tennessee hills with 12 sisters and brothers. You can’t listen to her song “Coat of Many Colors” “” about a small coat that her mom once fashioned for her from colorful rags and simple love “” and not be touched.
She has always been a dreamer of big dreams and, by her own admission, a chaser of rainbows. In 1986, one of those rainbows drew her to a little amusement park called Silver Dollar City near the town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She partnered with the brothers who owned the place. They renamed it Dollywood, and in the first year under the new name the place attracted 1.3 million visitors.
Since then the park has grown to include 20 thrill rides, such as the old-fashioned wooden roller coaster called the Thunderhead, billed as “the wildest ride in the woods,” and a modem screamer called the Tennessee Tornado “” a 70-mph spiral coaster with a 128-foot drop. The Dollywood Express steam locomotive pulls old-time cars filled with guests through the forest around the park’s perimeter. A bevy of rides for small tots, a fantastical carousel, and enough swingers and slingers and twirlers and dippers are at hand to make anybody a little dizzy.
A 25-acre water park nearby called Splash Country also is part of the complex, but it has a separate admission fee. You can combine your admissions to Dollywood with Splash Country, if you like. The park has water slides, a “lazy river,” and a 25,000-square-foot wave pool “” now, that’s a swimmin’ hole.
But all of that is just fun frosting on what the place is really all about “” Dolly’s musical heritage. A half-dozen country and gospel music shows are offered most any time; on occasion, Dolly herself performs at the park. (She has her own dressing room secreted beneath the park, its walls decorated with 71 of her albums.)
You also can watch as master crafters carve wood, blow glass, weave baskets, build wagons, dip candles, and strike sparks from an anvil while working iron “” just the way they used to do things in these parts a generation or more ago.
Unlike the sprawling theme parks in other parts of the country, which are tons of fun but hardly personal, Dolly’s own touch is everywhere in Dollywood. “I’m the ambassador for Dollywood,” she said enthusiastically. “I have to be involved in everything about it. You’ll see a lot of butterflies around here, for example; that’s one of my things.” There are butterflies in the flower garden designs and painted gaily on the signs and crowded into the gift shops to help brighten visitors’ days. The main pool in Splash Country is shaped like a butterfly. Every spring during the grand opening week for the parks, Dolly herself leads a parade through Pigeon Forge. She also stars daily in a four-dimensional movie that took 60 people three years to create “” a funny, exciting, and educational Smoky Mountain adventure ride in which the seats are programmed to move in six different directions to enhance the action on the screen.
Dollywood has tributes, too. Smoky Mountain Home is a two-room replica of Dolly’s first house in Locust Ridge. The Chasing Rainbows museum has memorabilia from throughout Dolly’s literal rags-to-riches saga “” school and family photos; childhood toys; elaborate costumes; awards … priceless treasures pertaining to her life.
Among the 2,000 Dollywood staffers are several dozen of Dolly’s relatives, including her brother Randy Parton and her uncle Bill Owens, both singers, pickers, and grinners. They share Dolly’s boundless enthusiasm. Uncle Bill, for example, has planted thousands of seeds of endangered chestnut trees in the forest surrounding Dollywood.
Dolly has always had an interest in birds, and in addition to the Wings of America bird show at Dollywood, she has established the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, where injured eagles are nursed back to health and eaglets are pampered until they’re old enough to fend for themselves. So far, more than 65 eagles have been released to the wild. A tamed eagle named Challenger performs at events around the country, proudly flying free during the playing of the U.S. national anthem.
A mile away in Pigeon Forge is yet another example of Dolly’s rainbow chasing. Dixie Stampede, an arena-sized restaurant, features a four-course feast “” eaten with your very own hands “” accompanied by a full-scale equestrian show, Dolly-style. In the past, the program has included wild pig and ostrich races, plenty of music, trick horseback riding, and a North-versus-South competition. The grand finale features flying doves of peace, fireworks, and a spangled patriotic tribute called “Color Me America,” which Dolly wrote. “I personally guarantee you’ll enjoy this show,” Dolly said.
For the holiday season, the Dixie Stampede show includes some special Christmas excitement.
I don’t think I’m alone in happily feeling the warmth of Dolly’s personality just about everywhere in Dollywood, Splash Country, and Dixie Stampede. These are fun, wholesome experiences for the family, just as Dolly meant them to be.
Dollywood is open until December 30 this year; see the sidebar on page 126 for information about the holiday programs offered in November and December. The park opens again for the 2006 season on April 1. It is open daily except Tuesday in spring; during the summer season, after Memorial Day, it is open every day.
Other special events at Dollywood include a spring Festival of Nations, a summer KidsFest, a fall Harvest Celebration and Music Festival, and more.
For more information, contact:
1020 Dollywood Lane
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863-4101
The Dixie Stampede dinner and show in Pigeon Forge (other Dixie Stampede theaters are located around the country) is open year-round, with a lighter schedule in winter. Dixie Christmas! showtimes and more information are available by contacting the theater: (800) 356-1676 or (865) 453-4400, or by visiting www.dixiestampede.com.
Other Pigeon Forge Attractions
While you’re in Pigeon Forge, you might also be interested in …
- The Veterans Memorial Museum, which has thousands of exhibits covering conflicts from the American Revolution to the present day, including a nicely restored P-51 Mustang fighter.
- The Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, with a vast collection that includes Marilyn Monroe’s accidentally airlifted white dress and a pair of ruby slippers from the film The Wizard Of Oz.
- Darrell Waltrip’s Racing Experience, a NASCAR fan’s dream (opening in 2006).
- Shops and specialty stores that offer Western wear, teddy bears, etc., and more than 200 outlet stores.
- Other music theaters featuring noted entertainers such as Louise Mandrell, the Blackwood Brothers, and the Smith Family.
For more information about these and other attractions, contact:
Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism
P.O. Box 1390-I
Pigeon Forge, TN 37868
Many quality campgrounds are located in and near Pigeon Forge. The following is only a sampling, but all on this list are open year-round. For additional listings, check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Wears Valley Road
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Creekside RV Park
2475 Henderson Springs Road
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
King’s Holly Haven RV Park
647 Wears Valley Road
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
(888) 204-0247, reservations
(865) 453-5352, information
Riveredge RV Park & Log Cabin Rentals
4220 Huskey St.
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
(800) 477-1205, reservations
Twin Mountain Outdoor Resort
304 Day Spring Road
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
A Smoky Mountain Christmas
From November 5 to December 30, 2005, Dollywood will be ablaze with more than 3 million outdoor Chrtistmas lights and echo with the warm music of the holidays.
Visitors who enjoy musical shows will be in their element, as performances will be offered all around the park. Special programs will include:
- The von Trapp Children, who continue their grandparents’ enchanting musical legacy with family stories and songs, highlighted by pieces from the musical “The Sound of Music.”
- Canada’s Vinok Worldance, an international repertoire of world dance music celebrating a variety of Christmas traditions.
- The “Christmas in the Smokies” musical, with a 12-member cast and seven-piece band performing hometown favorites.
- A musical called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” that features a 12-member cast and a five-piece band.
- The Moscow Boys Choir, a longstanding tradition featuring heavenly voices.
- “A Celtic Yuletide” with Michael Londra, the star of Riverdance, who brings Irish Christmas stories to Dollywood.
- Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs, a Southern Gospel group that presents favorite hymns and songs.
These are not all the musical programs. Please note that some programs, such as the von Trapp Children and Michael Londra, are offered only on a limited engagement basis, so contact Dollywood for schedule information. The holiday experience also includes a Santa’s Workshop, a Parade of Lights, a talking Christmas tree, and a German Christmas pyramid.