Article by Kathleen Walls
Photos by Martin and Kathleen Walls
You're greeted by Louisiana Woman and Tennessee Man when you enter Dollywood
If you're in Tennessee and you're looking for a good time, who do you go see? Dolly, naturally. The biggest, best street party in the state can be found at Dollywood. Some things just get better with age and Dollywood is one. This year it is celebrating its 25th anniversary with no signs of slowing down. It is now the number one ticketed attraction in Tennessee, the largest employer in Sevier County and annually hosts nearly 2.5 million visitors.
To understand this success, you have to understand Dollywood. It's a visit to not only to a theme park but another time and another way of life. When Dolly Parton became involved with the operation in 1986, she explained, "I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area."
Blacksmith at work
More than that, she wanted to celebrate her roots and her culture. So Dollywood is and has always been first and foremost, a celebration of the Appalachian way of life. Life in the mountains was not easy. early settlers learned to make almost everything they needed. Those crafts are showcased here in Craftsmen's Valley , where you find blacksmiths, glassblowers, candle makers and other artisans. Of course there are rides, shows and stores here like The Dollywood Grist Mill, The Valley Theatre, Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, Wings of America Theatre, Robert F. Thomas Chapel, Calico Falls Schoolhouse, the Tennessee Tornado coaster, Blazing Fury coaster and Daredevil Falls flume ride. For me this is one of the best places in the park.
One of Dollywood's rescued eagles
A raptor returns to his trainer in Wings of America Theater
Here in the Wings of America Theater, learn about one of Dolly's pet projects: protecting our living American symbol, the American Eagle. You can watch these majestic predators and other raptors in free flight. Don't forget to visit the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary and view some of these magnificent birds who can no longer fly free but are protected and cared for here. Their stories will break your heart.
A scene from Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Land of Blue Smoke.
No matter how hard life was, mountain people always had time for music. Dolly herself is a living testament to that. Showstreet showcases the musical heritage that is part of mountain life. The is where you find most of the musical theaters: Showstreet Palace Theatre, Friendship Gardens, The Celebrity Theatre, and the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame. If you can only see one show make it Sha-Kon-O-Hey!?Land of Blue Smoke! at the Celebrity Theater. The play has eight songs specially written by Dolly for it. The story protrays the adventures of one 1930s family forced to seek a easier life away from their beloved Smokey Mountains when it becomes part of the national park. A leprechaun-style storyteller shows them, and the audience, the folks who inhabited this great land, the settlers, the rail and lumbermen, the Native Americans and the shiners. He promises young Jabeth, the son of the family, one wish but cautions about being careful what you wish for.
The songs are poignant; the costumes gorgeous and the acrobatics and dancing out of this world. The special effects have to be seen to be believed.
Some of Dolly's Family Reunion.
Dolly's Childhood Cabin
Rivertown Junction showcases Dolly's family background. The Tennessee Mountain Home is a replica of her childhood home. Then gather at The Back Porch Theatre for Dolly's Family Reunion where her family members make music and tell of growing up with the superstar. Afterwards, you can cool off on the Smoky Mountain River Rampage whitewater rafting ride.
Heartsong, Dolly's movie about the Smokies and people who inhabit them, narrated by her in a theater that comes alive as you watch is located in The Village , a recreation of a mountain village of yesteryear. And what can be more nostalgic than the lonesome whistle of the Dollywood Express steam train and memories of riding a colorfully painted carousel. We felt we had been magically carried into the past as we rode the Dollywood Express past moonshine stills and old log cabins nestled into cozy hollers in the mountain. The engineer did a wonderful job of explaining the passing scenery then he was silent for a moment and the strains of Wabash Cannonball broke out loud and clear over the speakers. It was over the top.
Dolly's home on wheels
Adventures in Imagination is where you find Dolly's home on wheels, her fabulous tour bus. Have a peek at how a star travels in style then drop in at Chasing Rainbows and see the awards her talent has earned. You and ride the White Lightning simulator here
The Country Fair as its name suggests, is where you find many "fair type" rides the kiddies love including The Dizzy Disk, the Amazing Flying Elephants, Lemon Twist, Shooting Star, Sky Rider, Veggietales Sideshow Spin Kid's Rollercoaster, Waltzing Swinger, Piggy Parade, Busy Bees, Lucky Ducky, Dolly's Demolition Derby, The Scrambler, and the Wonder Wheel.
For the more thrill rides that appeal to the older kids, Timber Canyon is the place to find Mystery Mine coaster, Timber Tower, the Thunderhead coaster, and Lumberjack Lifts.
Just a taste of Jutebox Junction
Jukebox Junction is a trip in a time machine headed for the 50s. The drive-in and antique cars are a perfect prop for Rockin' Roadway car ride and The Pines Theatre.
Wilderness Pass is where you find the hard core adventure stuff like the River Battle water ride, the SkyZip, ( the only ride with an additional charge) and Adventure Mountain, Americas largest rope course.
Dreamland Forest will be renamed Owen's Farm , after some of Dolly Parton's relatives. in 2011. The Barnstormer, a high velocity thrill ride will be the featured ride here.
Whether you are a roller coaster junkie, a music lover, someone seeking the nostalgia of Appalachian Mountain life, a huge Dolly Parton fan or any combination of these, you will leave a part of your heart at Dollywood.
For more info: http://www.dollywood.com
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.