Why You Should Add Dolly Parton's Dollywood To Your Bucket List

Dolly Parton is a beloved figure in the country music industry, but did you know her empire extends beyond the music scene? Parton hails from East Tennessee and has always cared about the people and the place that helped shape the person she is today. Her multiple business ventures have made her a massive success, and she loves to give back to her fans and her Tennessee community. Outside country music, she has grown her business to include dinner shows, cookbooks, a signature fragrance, and even an amusement park. Yes, you read that correctly. Dolly Parton has her own theme park. 

Located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the Dollywood theme park is nestled snugly into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. In 1961, the first entertainment area built on the land now occupied by Dollywood was called Rebel Railroad. In the early 1970s, the park's name changed to Goldrush Junction when it was purchased and re-imaged as a wild west theme park. The Herschend family purchased the park in 1976 and renamed it Silver Dollar City, Tennessee. They had established a successful Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, before purchasing Goldrush Junction, and they were eager to expand their business in Tennessee.

How Dolly Parton changed a theme park for the better

Silver Dollar City, Tennessee was in business for about six years when the Herschend family learned of Dolly Parton's desire to open a theme park in her hometown. The Herschends subsequently proposed a partnership. According to Dollywood, "On May 3, 1986, Dollywood opened its door and welcomed 1.3 million people that first season as Dollywood. That was more than double the number of guests Silver Dollar City, Tennessee, had seen the year before."

Why is Dollywood worth a visit? What makes it different from other theme parks around the country? First and most importantly, Dolly Parton is a beloved cultural figure, and she continues to be very involved in many aspects of the Dollywood theme park. Whenever a new season or ride opens, you can count on Parton to promote it in and out of the park. She also greets fans in a "parade" down the main avenue of Dollywood whenever she is in the theme park. Being accessible to her fans while at Dollywood makes visiting Dollywood attractive to guests who might not otherwise consider the theme park a worthwhile vacation destination.

Dollywood is an affordable theme park vacation

Not only is Dollywood a great place to visit because of Dolly Parton herself, but it is also relatively affordable. One-day tickets to the Tennessee theme park are currently $89 per person for ages 10-61. Children 3-10 years old and adults over 61 can receive a discount on ticket purchases. Dollywood also offers group rates, military discounts, and ticket cost savings for visitors who stay at its hotel, DreamMore Resort and Spa. 

The location of Dollywood is also an important feature in helping guests decide to plan their visit. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee experiences typical seasonal changes each year, so guests who don't want to visit when temperatures are extreme or when inclement weather is expected in the area have alternate choices to accommodate their preferences. Additionally, being situated in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains provides natural shade and protection from other weather elements due to the abundance of trees throughout the theme park.

Thrills and entertainment at Dollywood

Another reason Dollywood is worth a visit is its abundance of rides and attractions. From thrilling coasters to slow-moving rides perfect for children, Dollywood is truly a family-friendly destination. One of its most popular roller coasters, Lightning Rod, propels guests right out of the gate at a speed of up to 45 mph. The coaster's top speed is 73 mph, and as Dollywood describes, " ... [It] gives riders nearly 20 seconds of airtime across its unique hybrid track structure, which includes both a wood stack 'Topper Track' and a steel 'Ibox' track atop a massive wooden frame." Dollywood's newest ride, Big Bear Mountain, boasts new technology to enhance its thrills, including onboard audio, and it is the longest coaster in Dollywood, coming in at just under 4,000 feet.

On the tamer side, smaller guests may feel more at home in the kid-friendly areas Country Fair and Wildwood Grove. These areas include attractions such as bumper cars, a carousel, and a slow-moving ride through the "woods" on the back of a "bear." Music also plays a big role in the theme park's entertainment offerings. Various shows, from concerts to musicals to comedies, play throughout the day at several locations throughout the park.

Festivals and food are worth planning your visit around

Recently, theme parks across the U.S. have grown beyond the usual offerings of cheeseburgers and French fries. Many now host seasonal festivals and events, with food and drink taking center stage. Dollywood has taken its cue from other theme parks, and it now offers a different festival during each season of its operating year. In the spring, Dollywood's Flower & Food Festival highlights "mosaiculture," sculptures made of flowers and plants, as well as food and drink that reflect the time of year.

Other yearly festivals include Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration, Harvest Festival, and Smoky Mountain Christmas. Between festivals, visitors can enjoy other limited-time special events. Rock the Smokies is a one-day Christian music event held at Dollywood, usually at the end of summer. Recently, a special event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the famous Dolly Parton song "I Will Always Love You" invited singers and songwriters to share their talents and experiences writing songs and producing music throughout the years. Guests of Dollywood should always be able to count on hearing live music at some point during their theme park visit.

Don't forget about Dollywood's second park

If you are planning a visit in the summer, don't forget to add Dollywood's Splash Country to your to-do list. Opened in May 2001, this water park includes multiple slides, a wave pool, two kid-friendly splash and play areas, and a lazy river. Because it does get cold a few months out of the year in Tennessee, the water park is only open seasonally from the end of May through early September. When combined with admission to Dollywood, a one-day, two-park ticket costs $99 plus tax for visitors ages 10-61. Adding admission to Splash Country onto a Dollywood ticket is less expensive than parking at some major U.S. theme parks!

Theme park fans who have not experienced Dollywood are missing out on a true gem of a theme park. Not only is it one-of-a-kind, but it is affordable, family-friendly, and reflects many of the aspects of Dolly Parton we have all come to love and adore. The employees, or Hosts as they are known in Dollywood, are welcoming and helpful and will make you feel right at home.