A Sweet Way To End A Day At Dollywood
Category: Family Visits
Date: February 1, 2017
The end of any great Dollywood day is always a bit sad. Even after long days of fun at Dollywood, my kids often want to stay and experience “just 1 more!” and don’t want it to end. So, we started a tradition that makes the walk out of Dollywood almost as exciting as the walk in- visiting the Sweet Shoppe!
Dollywood's Sweet Shoppe sits on Showstreet not far from the main entrance and exit. The Shoppe is full of delicious treats to enjoy or take home, and my family likes to make it the last stop of the day and we each choose a treat. It’s a large store with a working kitchen, and if you're lucky you might see master candy makers dipping beautiful apples or mixing brittle on a stainless steel table, or making fudge on a large marble slab. There’s much to choose from and usually my treat is a huge piece of fudge. Fudge holds a special place in my heart and I’ve never met a flavor of fudge I didn’t like. As a girl, my great grandmother used to make a special penuche fudge each Christmas, and it was a treat we looked forward to all year. Like Nana’s, Dollywood's fudge does not disappoint and they have more than a dozen flavors to choose from.
My kids head to the novelties where they sell fun Pucker Powder sticks they can fill themselves, penny candy and crazy-sour things my kids love. My husband usually chooses the ice cream counter. He’s a vanilla kind of guy, and a thick milkshake is his thing. Dollywood serves us Mayfield's ice cream, and they bake their own waffle cones and bowls. Truth be told, more than once I’ve bought both ice cream and fudge!
In addition to the chocolates and candies you might expect, confectioners create regional favorites including potato candy, something called divinity which is made with egg whites and nuts, and a chocolate concoction called Smoky Mountain Mud. As it turns out, Smoky Mountain Mud was an accident. A confectioner messed up a recipe, but kept going to see how it would turn out—and it was a hit! It’s made with milk, Rice Krispies, marshmallows and peanut butter. Dollywood’s Sweet Shoppe also offers packaged gifts and goodies to bring home including taffy, jams and apple butter.
It’s a sweet way to end a day. Want to take a closer look at the Dollywood Sweet Shoppe?
The master craftsman at the Sweet Shoppe is Linda Rice. She’s been making candy for 35 years—longer than Dollywood has been around! She trains all park confectioners in the art of making taffy, fudge, candied apples, apple butter and countless other decadent creations. Stop by this Dollywood treasure to watch your favorite sweets being made—and be sure to take some to go!
A Cabin Retreat [Dollywood Style]
Date: March 06, 2017
When you travel, where do you usually stay? A hotel or motel? A rental by owner? If you’re planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains, consider hanging your hat in a Dollywood cabin. I’ve rented cabins with other families on multiple occasions and found them not only to be more enjoyable and comfortable than other options, but cost effective, too.
Ample space. There are more options than a hotel room! Dollywood cabins are designed to allow even large groups to spread out. There are more than 100 cabins to choose from that accommodate between 2 and 30 guests. Most have 3 floors plus outdoor space to ensure everyone has ample room. With up to 10 bedrooms plus multiple common areas, you’ll find Dollywood cabins that allow the night owls and early risers to avoid disturbing one another, and give the kids space to play while grown-ups relax!
Built-In Fun. Each cabin has its own personality, but they all include built-in fun and pampering. Want to host a game or movie night, or soak away the day? Most of Dollywood’s cabins are equipped with luxurious extras, such as outdoor hot tubs, pool tables, home theatres, on-suite jacuzzi tubs, wrap-around porches with rocking chairs and more. A game room with a pool table is a favorite with our group of tweens and teens, and some include foosball, video arcade, ping pong and more. Some cabins even offer swimming pool access in the summer months, or an indoor pool on the bottom floor! (Check out The Grotto!)
Enjoy the kitchen. Dollywood cabin kitchens come fully equipped with dishes, cookware and appliances including a microwave, toaster, coffee maker and dishwasher. We find eating even a few meals at the cabin saves us money and is more enjoyable than waiting for seating for a large party at the nearby restaurants. Consider preparing meals ahead of time like casseroles, when you get back from a busy day, just take your dish from fridge to oven for a no-hassle dinner. One of the most enjoyable cabin moments for us is when the kids take the initiative and make breakfast for everyone while the adults sleep in; it’s such a treat!
If you need a break from cooking, you can always order from numerous restaurants who deliver right to your cabin. Or, make it a treat and visit Song & Hearth Restaurant at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. Cabin guests often get a discount! Check with them when you stay.
Comfortable home-base. Does someone in your party need to take a nap or get some work done while the rest of group is on an excursion? A cabin provides a comfortable home-base that includes Wi-Fi, cable TV, and washing machine and dryer combo. Some models are wheelchair accessible and offer home-office amenities; just ask in advance.
Park Privileges. Did you know that guests of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins are invited to park free in special designated areas close to the entrance of Dollywood? Cabins guests also get special early-access to the park on Saturday; enjoy the rides and amenities one hour earlier and avoid a wait. My favorite perk to share with people who stay in one of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins is to purchase a Length of Stay Ticket. If you come for a week or just a long weekend, buy one of these tickets, exclusive to Cabin Guests, and you’ll pay a little more than what it costs for a 1-day ticket, but can use it the whole time you’re here! Come and go as you please. It’s a great deal! And new this year—the Length of Stay ticket comes with a Length of Stay TimeSaver pass!!
Bring your pet. Some Dollywood cabins allow pets, just search for the pet-accessible feature when making your reservation. If you’re headed to one of Dolly’s parks, you might even choose to bring your dog to Doggywood for the day! Space is limited at Doggywood and reservations are highly recommended.
Save Money: I’ve found cabin rentals cost less than hotel stays. Because we split the cost with other families, there are substantial savings immediately. We add further saving from not eating each meal in restaurants or feeling the need for constant entertainment.
Depending on when you visit, you might be eligible for special discounts during your cabin stay for area attractions and meals and spa services at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort. And packages are available certain times of the year that bundle lodging, attractions and more.
Enjoy views like this:
Have you ever sat in a rocking chair and enjoyed the great Smoky Mountains? Smoky Mountain views really feed your soul, and my favorite thing to do at a Dollywood cabin is to enjoy a leisurely morning coffee on the wrap-around deck. No matter which season you visit, you will not be disappointed.
You can choose cabins that are a bit more secluded, or you can even overlook Dollywood! Here’s a look from a cabin where you can see and hear Tennessee Tornado, Wild Eagle, Lightning Rod and more popular attractions!
Dollywood's "Secret Sauce"
Category: Family Visits
Date: April 12, 2017
Did you ever notice how some people appear more approachable than others? Think of who you’d look for when you need to ask for directions. That’s the kind of people that work at Dollywood. I’ve been a Season Passholder for years, and many times I’ve enjoyed a conversation with a friendly Dollywood employee—called hosts.
It became apparent on our first visit to Dollywood as our children panned for gemstones in the Lucky 7 Gem Shop. The woman working there was fantastic and took great care to help them sort through the treasure and share characteristics and names of the gems. She was able to create as much interest in the outcome of “mining” as the process itself, and sent the kids home excited about their collections.
Later in the Sweet Shoppe, I was offered a candy sample from a man who sounded like my New England roots. Come to find out, he was from New Hampshire like me, and we chatted a bit. Encounters between guests and hosts like this happen all the time at Dollywood.
But what makes the people at Dollywood so friendly? I spent some time with the Sweet Shoppe’s Master Craftsman Linda Rice and asked her what she thinks is that “secret sauce” that makes Dollywood hosts so pleasant. Linda has worked at the park for 36 seasons—longer than the park has been Dollywood! She started with the theme park at the suggestion of her husband whose own Dollywood career spanned 25 years. They are one of a handful of married host couples. Linda grew up making candy with her mother, and was a natural fit for this position. On the day we met, she was busy making caramels.
Linda and I talked about the kind of person who is likely to work at Dollywood. Dolly Parton fans, certainly. Dolly’s friendly, approachable appeal is notable, and perhaps she attracts hosts who follow suit.
We discussed Dollywood’s family values. Dollywood believes the world is a better place when families spend more time together. They have created a wholesome and loving environment where families enjoy one another and make lasting memories. Dollywood is guided by Christian values and ethics, and perhaps this culture attracts employees who are also guided by love.
Linda told me Dollywood is one large family. Hosts, guests, and visiting entertainers are all part of this family. Loving families are ready to help, ready to listen, and might even enjoy creating things from scratch—like the confections Linda and her team make in front of guests in the Sweet Shoppe kitchen every day. I asked another long-time employee Thelma Ham (an 18-year Dollywood veteran) what she thought about the family aspect of Dollywood and what makes the employees so friendly, and she replied, “There is not one person working here unwilling to bend over backwards for another person—host or guest!”
I’m not the only person who finds the employees friendly. Dollywood has won the popular vote five years in a row for the Golden Ticket Award for Friendliest Park! These awards are the amusement industry’s version of the Grammy Awards. It’s apparent Dollywood attracts hosts who truly enjoy people.
But as I sat and thought more about it, there’s no other theme park I’ve visited that has this many long-time, genuinely happy employees who want to spread that joy to their guests. Why is that? After years of visits and chats with people at Dollywood my conclusion is that the folks who work there truly love it. They’re proud of their park, they’re proud to showcase their Smoky Mountain hospitality, and they honestly enjoy welcoming people into their “home.” These hosts see Dollywood as so much more than a seasonal gig. This park put their hometown on the map. It provides jobs for thousands of locals. And, it’s the economic engine that helps drive their economy. Dollywood hosts are as proud of Dollywood as they are to claim their hometown hero, Dolly Parton. The way I see it, Dollywood hosts believe it is their role to ensure continued growth of their park—that they do their part to bring guests back again and again.
Maybe it’s not a secret ingredient. Perhaps the people of Dollywood are just genuinely pleasant people who enjoy what they do, who they do it for, and who they do it with.
Dollywood's Grist Mill
Date: May 01, 2017
One of my favorite aspects of Dollywood is watching the artisans. There is much to see and learn, and a majority of artists are located in an area of the park called Craftsman’s Valley. Here you can meet tradespeople working with a variety of materials, and care is given to preserving the regional heritage of the Smoky Mountain descendants- or as Dolly calls them- “My People.”
If you’ve ever walked by the Grist Mill you may have been lured in by the heavenly aroma of the famous cinnamon bread. You may have even noticed the water wheel on the building. But did you know this building is home to a working Grist Mill? I spent time learning about the mill and process from Dollywood Host Jerry Burkholder, who has worked in the Dollywood Grist Mill for 18 seasons.
If you’re not familiar with a grist mill, allow me to provide a brief introduction. A grist mill is an ancient yet efficient way to grind grains into flour. Water powered mills such as this one date back to about 85 B.C., and the process is largely the same now as it was then. Water running against large paddles produce a force that turns a large millstone, or “runner stone” against a stationary stone. Dried grains are shaken between the two stones from a receptacle called a “hopper” and crushed into smaller particles. The grain’s end coarseness can be altered by adjusting the distance between the two stones, and it’s a simple yet marvelous engineering process that used belts and pulleys.
Dollywood’s Grist Mill was built in 1982, making it the first fully operating grist mill built in Tennessee in more than 100 years! Great care was taken to build the mill in a manner that would honor tradition and utilize Dollywood’s craftspeople. Lumber was sawed in the park’s steam powers sawmill, logs and shingles were split by hand, blacksmiths forged the hardware, and glass blowers made the windows. Later an electric grist mill was added, and either or both mills might be working when you visit.
Dollywood’s mills are used primarily for three types of corn: yellow, white and popcorn. Each corn has a different taste and a distinct coarseness. Milled popcorn is slightly sweet and makes delicious corn bread, while white cornmeal is an excellent breading for fish. The yellow is probably best for the New England-style Johnny Cakes I’m fond of and hushpuppies served throughout the south. Jerry and other hosts will be happy to help you select the right product for your needs.
Over the course of a season, the Dollywood Grist Mill might ground 10,000 lbs. of corn alongside some buckwheat, and you can purchase some freshly milled and hand-bagged in cotton sacks to take home. Plan to poke around and check out the mill from two floors, and if Jerry is around he can tell you a bit about the mill. This is the best part of the artisan community at Dollywood. They are a pleasure to chat with, and the day I met with him, a Season Passholder stopped in looking specifically for Jerry. He wanted to share some recent photos of his own grist mill he started as a side business and talk about its progress. That three-way conversation summed up Craftsman’s Valley perfectly- an expert and guest sharing a meaningful exchange, while a novice learned something new!
The Dollywood Grist Mill is best known for the bread, enormous cookies and other baked goods, but also sells a variety of cooking tools including cast iron cookware of all shapes and sizes, gourmet mixes, jams and cookbooks. Be sure to stop in on your next visit to Dollywood!TIP: Fresh cornmeal is best kept in your refrigerator and has a remarkably long shelf life. Try replacing half the flour with cornmeal in your favorite pancake recipe.
And, for fun—here’s Dolly Parton’s recipe for Skillet Cornbread:
- Prep time: 10 minutes
- Cook time: 25 minutes
- Ingredients (in baking order):
- 2 tbsp. bacon drippings (extra needed for skillet)
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1-1 ½ cups buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Grab a skillet and cover with bacon drippings.
- Mix together the cornmeal, salt and additional bacon drippings in a big bowl.
- Add the buttermilk a little at a time and continue to stir until mixture rests into a thick yet smooth consistency.
- Pour the batter into the skillet and cook for 25 minutes or until the entire cornbread is set with no wet batter left.
- Take it out of the oven and eat while it’s hot!
My Favorite Dollywood Find: Furniture
Date: July 13, 2017
We had bought a newer home that needed a mirror above a lavatory sink. It was a narrow area, and visits to several home improvement shops had been unsuccessful. One day we were walking through Dollywood’s Craftsman Valley and spotted the perfect mirror plus a matching shelf on a sale table outside Valley Wood Carvers. It is beautifully made and fit the space perfectly, and even though it was clearance, I was still able to use my Dollywood Gold Season Pass to save an additional 20% which made it a real bargain. It’s lovely and we take pleasure in the fact they were made by Dollywood’s craftspeople.
Insider Tip: Request to have your packages sent to Package Pickup near the exit so you can enjoy the park hands-free!
One of my favorite facets of Dollywood is the way it showcases regional heritage. I appreciate that throughout the park you’ll find people working with their hands. Artists and craft people are hard at work blowing glass, stamping leather, dipping candles, forging metal, and in my favorite shop- carving wood.
Depending on when you go you might find Billy Orr at work carving a one-of-a-kind sculpture or figurine, or perhaps a burning a handsome landscape or design into a mantle. It’s an interesting shop to poke around in that offers everything from tiny wood frames to ornate grandfather clocks and rocking chairs.
If you need help choosing a piece or a gift, the staff is wonderful and can even ship your purchase for you. Dollywood host Miss Thelma has worked in the park for 20+ seasons and is a great storyteller and historian of Valley Carvers. She’s full of tales of artists and guests who were delighted to find a unique screen door, or the perfect gift. She explained to me that hosts are not paid commission, which eliminated any sales pressure, and I’ve found this to be true throughout the park. Browsers are welcome!
Take a peek inside Dollywood’s Valley Wood Carvers Shop. This clip below in in 360 degrees. Swipe it with your finger, or move your phone side to side to take a look around inside the store.
Learning Your Way Through Dollywood
Category: Family Visits
Date: Aug. 07, 2017
I find the older my children get, the harder it can be to keep them wanting to learn in the summer. Once school lets out, my kids prefer to sleep, visit the pool or hang out with their friends rather than follow my suggestions to read or complete a page or two in a summer learning workbook. When they were younger it was easier to sneak in activities to help prevent summer learning loss, but with teens I need to get creative and use daily activities. Changing the amounts called for in recipes, calculating purchases or the cost of sales tax, and trips to the library all help. And I look for learning opportunities in family outings.
Travel is ideal for summer studies, and no matter where you are headed, it presents ample opportunities for research and learning. We find visits to the Smoky Mountains are an enjoyable activity where we can all learn something without even trying, especially inside Dollywood.
Have you ever ridden a genuine steam engine and do you know how it works? A ride on the Dollywood Express might provoke conversation on space and energy conversion, the history of steam engines and even a desire to make your own miniature steam engine at home from a soda can.
Be sure to visit the eagles! Dollywood provides a year-round home for the largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles in the nation, and they are fascinating. The eagles build giant nests in the trees that can span up to nine feet in diameter and weigh up to two tons! Dollywood is also home to a variety of other birds, some of which perform in the Wings of America Birds of Prey show. Be prepared to learn more about these interesting creatures and what types of issues might make them unable to care for themselves in the wild.
Wherever your travels take you, enjoy an opportunity for learning!