Dollywood Different - The History Inside the Park
Category: Trip Planning
Date: February 1, 2017
Chances are when someone says “theme park,” you think of lots of different things: coasters, characters, maybe a funnel cake or two. But do you think of history?
At Dollywood they do things differently in the best of ways, pairing your favorite thrill rides and entertainment with the soul of the Great Smoky Mountains. Attractions are plentiful, you can get a ton of tasty treats, and you’ll find everything you love about theme park fun right where you’d expect. But at Dollywood, it’s all steeped in the legacy of the Smokies and the proud history of Appalachia. How do they wrap nostalgia around a park full of thrills? Let’s find out.
Ride the Rails
Dollywood’s roots lie in a small attraction that opened in 1961 called Rebel Railroad. Featuring a coal-fired steam train named Klondike Katie, the railroad took guests on a ride through the mountain wilderness. Those rails still exist today and now guide Klondike Katie and another coal-fired steam train named Cinderella up the mountain to give Dollywood guests a taste of Appalachia as they see the countryside. While the park’s newest roller coaster, Lightning Rod, is a wild ride, hearing the distinctive whistle of a steam engine as it chugs past is a thrill all its own.
See the Mill
Much of the Great Smoky Mountains’ heritage lives in the products and crafts of its people, whether it’s a mile-high apple stack cake, a handcrafted leather belt, or a tune picked on a set of strings. At the heart of Dollywood is the Grist Mill, the first working grist mill built in the Smokies in more than 100 years. Hosts at the mill handcraft the most incredible cinnamon bread along with other scrumptious fresh-baked goods. Guests use the extra energy from the warm, sweet bread to make their way to Craftsman’s Valley where a wide variety of authentic crafts like homemade jams, handcrafted linens, and handblown glass await, with daily live demonstrations. Nowhere else can you experience the heirloom legacy of this incredible region alongside the heart-pounding technology of the country’s most cutting-edge rides.
Hear the Songs
It wouldn’t be Dolly’s if it wasn’t wrapped in a melody. Dollywood is as steeped in music as it is in mountains. From the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame just inside the park’s gates to festivals centered around gospel and bluegrass music, to the incredible stage shows and regular performances, the park rings with the native music of the Smokies every minute that it’s open. You’ll hear everything from Dolly’s hits to true Southern Gospel and can even attend a church service in the park’s Robert F. Thomas Chapel on Sundays for a good dose of classic hymns.
These days it’s difficult to find a place that excites as much as it enchants. I call Dollywood “my” park for the fun, the heritage, and the feelings of home it brings when I visit. Come find out what “Dollywood Different” means for you and your family and make it your park, too.
Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort: Luxury in the Details
Date: February 15, 2017
I’ve been a guest in a great many theme park hotels. So many, in fact, that I don’t even take the collectible shampoos anymore. So when I first discovered Dollywood's DreamMore Resort, I was a little skeptical about its ability to measure up to some of my favorites. Now? I’m a big believer. Dollywood’s resort has become one of my favorite places to stay in a very short span of time. Service, comfort, a little luxury - they're all here. But at this resort, the difference is in the details.
Striking the balance between making guests feel they're at home and making guests feel special is a difficult thing for resorts to get right. Dollywood’s DreamMore is at the top of my A-list for acing this particular balancing act. The lobby is grand but cozy, the building and property are expertly maintained, and the rooms are posh without being fussy. Staff members (hosts, as they call them) always have a friendly greeting, but aren't pushy or hurried. It's as natural to relax on a cushy lobby sofa as it is to set up shop in a wingback to answer those e-mails. I regularly do both.
You'll find everything you need in the hotel shop and eateries, and while Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville are a stone's throw away from the resort, I guarantee you won't miss them if you become a hotel homebody.
Resort Rooms: Made for Families
Theme park hotels are big on calling rooms" />are. From really comfy built-in bunk beds, to sinks and mini fridges in family rooms and suites, to that few extra feet of floor space that accommodate the 4 p.m. sillies, Dollywood's hotel rooms go the extra mile to house your bunch comfortably. There are plenty of outlets for charging devices, the bunk linens are made for comfort and for staying on the mattress and the kids, and family suites even have an extra television for the kiddos by the bunks.
Eating and Playing at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort
You only get the "resort" title in my mind if I can walk through your doors for a weekend and eat, shop, and play without having to leave property. While this resort is a smaller property (300 rooms on 20 acres) compared to some theme park resorts, I never run out of things to do. I’m a huge fan of the hotel's market — DM Pantry — a cute little shop that packs a lot of mealtime punch. You can get Starbucks coffee, fantastic pizza, some really amazing baked goods, hand-scooped ice cream, and sandwiches and salads that are tasty and fresh. Don't forget to pick up a refillable mug (kid and adult sizes available) that gets you discounted refills whenever you use it at DM Pantry.
When you're done snacking, make use of the hotel's indoor and outdoor pools, excellent fitness facilities, rocker-adorned porches overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains, Kids' Camp activities, poolside fire pits, and full-service spa. I like to fill my day at Dollywood’s resort with a pedicure, a resort-sponsored activity like crafting or cookie decorating, a fantastic cocktail and a DIY S'more before turning in for the night.
Check the resort activity guide in your room packet or ask a friendly staff member for details on the events and activities at the resort. Or, if you're looking for peace and quiet, curl up in a book nook on the first floor and take in the special touches there.
Guests of Dollywood's DreamMore Resort who also have Dollywood tickets receive a fantastic set of perks including an exclusive resort-to-theme-park shuttle with special Dollywood park entrance, complimentary TimeSaver passes for each guest on the resort reservation, Early Saturday Entry, and complimentary in-room package delivery of merchandise purchased in the park. And if you're not planning a park visit, you'll still receive free Wi-Fi, complimentary parking, and so much more.
There are so many more wonderful details at Dollywood’s DreamMore that make each of our visits special. But we won't spoil them for you here. Instead, I’ll let you discover them on your own. Say hello if you pass me by on your visit. I hope to see you soon!
Don't Miss Dixie Stampede
Category: Dinner Theaters
Date: February 20, 2017
Nobody told me there would be horses. When I rave about Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede and people ask me why I waited so long to go, that's my answer — nobody told me there would be horses. Of course there are a ton of other reasons you'll love the Stampede and never miss it again once you've been, but here are a few of mine.
Dixie Stampede calls it the Horse Walk. I call it pre-ponying. It's a little like tailgating for football, but in my opinion, it's better. Take a walk around the Dixie Stampede building to the Horse Walk, a row of stalls where you can visit the show's performers, both horse and human. You'll see some of the awesome horses that perform in the show and you'll be able to talk to the riders who make the performances so incredible!
Be sure to ask the riders their histories - most have been around or on horses since they were little kids!
The Boot Stomping
One of the most awesome things about the Stampede is that you get a show before the show. Be sure to arrive at the theater early (around an hour before is great) to catch the entertainers in the Dixie Belle Saloon. These are no part-time pickers; these gents are some of America's most award-winning musicians. Some have even played in Dolly’s band! There's not much like hearing an entire show crowd sing along to Rocky Top, and these guys do a fantastic version, along with a bunch of other songs.
If all the clapping along makes you hungry, snack bars on both floors of the Saloon serve popcorn, nachos, and other snacks and drinks. The show's entrance is on the second floor, but there's no rush to get there and the staff will help you right along.
Once you're seated in your rows, your server will ask what you'd like to drink and ring off a spiel about all kinds of things from taters to tea. What it all comes down to is that you're about to eat the best meal in town with your hands. There's no silverware at the Stampede, but that won't stop you from digging into creamy veggie soup, warm cheddar biscuits, chicken, pork, corn on the cob, a potato wedge, and a dessert turnover.
Everyone in the audience does get the same awesome meal, but Dixie can rustle up vegetarian and gluten free meals upon request. Be sure to ask when you reserve!
While you're eating, you'll be entertained with one of the most original shows in the world. The state-of-the-art arena comes to life during the performance with horses and riders, western wagons, games and horsemanship, a little comedy, and this season you'll even see the Thundering Longhorns! It all begins with the introductions from your emcee and his beautiful white horse, Athena.
Next, you'll meet your teams, split into horses and riders from the "North" and the "South." There'll be some rooting for teams, some fancy riding patterns, and then the the horse and rider teams will take a break as the arena comes alive with the spirit of the Wild West.
When you're completely unable to blink due to amazement (Longhorn cattle? At dinner? Really?), the fun really starts. There's singing and dancing, a little fancy horsemanship, some comedic relief, some good old-fashioned competition, and some of the most incredible trick-riding you'll see this side of the Wild Wild West.
There are more surprises I won't spoil, and if this isn't enough to convince you to spend the price of a ticket, you're a harder customer than I've ever come across. Altogether, the experience that is Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede will bring your group together in laughter, amazement, wonder, and fun. If that's not worth coming back for again and again, I don't know what is. And hey - it's not every day you can say you watched kids chase the chickens around at dinner.
Tickets for Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede are available at DixieStampede.com or by calling 800-356-1676. Group reservations are always welcome and Dixie Stampede is happy to help with your accommodations. Many thanks to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede for welcoming me at their show recently!
Dollywood Different: Festival of Nations
Date: March 22, 2017
I have a theme park confession that may be a little surprising: I can’t ride roller coasters. What? Can’t ride coasters. Why? My old friend Mr. Motion Sickness shows up and it’s no Lightning Rod for Morgan. So what does someone who can’t ride most theme park rides do at a theme park? At Dollywood, the answer is, “So many things!” My favorite thing about Dollywood is that even if I never line up for a ride, I can spend the whole day having a fantastic time at all of the entertainment offerings at Dollywood. Right now through April 9, it’s Festival of Nations time in the park. What exactly does that mean? Let’s find out.
It’s spring in the Smokies, Dollywood is officially open, and the park’s springtime festival, Festival of Nations, is in full swing. Dollywood guests can not only experience the awesome coasters and rides, they can also look through a window to the dances and talents of the world. At most of Dollywood’s theaters and throughout the park, performers from around the globe present shows that represent the cultures of their nations.
Festival of Nations is comprised of eight different shows from the full stage production “Mother Africa” to the street performances of bagpiper Kelly Shipe. Each performance showcases the music, dance, and even traditional folk costumes of nations like Poland, Ireland, and Africa. There are also international food offerings (helloooo, tacos!) to get you from one show to another. Each performance runs several times daily so you can catch a ride or two and then a show, or take in the entire lineup one after another.
What will you see?
This vibrant stage show at D. P.’s Celebrity Theater combines skillful acrobatics, modern and traditional dance, comedy, and colorful costumes, all set to the music of a live African band. More than 30 minutes of incredible talent and music will leave you cheering.
The performers from this troupe come from all over Africa, so be sure to catch the traditional musical instruments being played by the band members and the regional dances between acts.
These masterful musicians share the history and culture of the Andes Mountains through beautiful traditional music, dance and fun. Atahualpa plays at the Showstreet Gazebo throughout the day.
One of Europe’s most prominent folk dance and music ensembles, Slask features more than 30 dancers in hundreds of richly embroidered, handmade costumes representing the various regions of Poland.
A title and description for each dance is displayed on the screens on either side of the Palace Theater and the dances range from lively group numbers to beautiful duets.
Dearbhail Finnegan and Robin Slater
Irish harp and flute duo, Dearbhail Finnegan and Robin Slater, are a charming husband and wife duo who weave together beautiful music and engaging humor at the Back Porch Theater to bring you an unforgettable experience.
Live the music and traditions of the Swiss Alps with this warm hearted and talented group of musicians, through unique sounds of the alphorn and other folk instruments, yodeling and stories of the Swiss mountain culture.
Invaders Steel Orchestra
This guest-favorite Festival of Nations act returns to the Valley Theater with the tropical sounds and amazing musicianship of one of the Caribbean’s most recognized steel pan orchestras.
Have a seat and listen to group favorites as well as Caribbean tunes on these amazing instruments.
Kelly Shipe shares her award-winning skills and extensive list of tunes as she fills the streets with the beautiful and haunting sounds of the highland bagpipes. Catch her on Showstreet throughout the day.
Whether you’re ready to launch up the Lightning Rod hill at high speed or not, Dollywood’s Festival of Nations is a full day of shows that will surprise, thrill, and entertain you and your family. And stay tuned to the Insiders through the rest of the year for new rides, new shows, and so much more during Dolly’s Year of the Family.
Get your Dollywood Theme Park tickets now by calling (800) 365-5996 or visiting their website. Dollywood Annual passholders receive special offers and discounts throughout the year, so consider becoming a park passholder for this and other benefits.
My Favorite Dollywood's Splash Country Tip
Category: Water Park
Date: March 27, 2017
Water parks can be a vacation’s Great Family Divider: kids love them, parents can see them as an endless stretch of sunburns, snack whining, and missed naps. I understand how some families don’t see the value in paying a full day’s water park admission, especially with smaller kids or older family members. Stay with me when I say that the value at Dollywood’s Splash Country is maximized by spending a little extra – I think you’ll see what I mean.
Dollywood’s Splash Country is a big water park. With more than 25 water attractions spread over 35 acres, it can absolutely be a full day of family fun. Splash Country’s variety doesn’t disappoint, either; the park has everything from a fantastic multi-level interactive attraction for the littles, to wild slides for the adventurers, and a lazy river for those looking to relax.
With all this fun to be had, guests who want to get the most out of their tickets need to be wise about finding places to hydrate, rest, recharge, and reapply sunscreen. And while finding a lounge chair and claiming it for the day is a good stopgap solution for all of these needs, the real secret to being a Splash Country pro is renting a retreat.
Tip: Rent a Retreat
First things first: What is it? A retreat is 200 square feet of shaded space and 100 square feet of private sunny patio that has a ceiling fan, a dining table with 6 chairs, four lounge chairs, a television with select satellite channels, and the option to have food and beverages delivered right to you. I recommend sharing the space and splitting the cost with family or friends. For around $200 for the entire day ($170 if you’re passholders!), your entire family can rest, relax, and recharge in a Splash Country retreat. From experience, I can tell you, it’s money well-invested.
Not sold yet? If you have kids of any age, a retreat is a lifesaver. You can pull the curtains around your building and take a little nap or use the patio as a lookout while the kids splash nearby. You can sit down together for lunch without waiting for a table somewhere and have your food delivered, knowing that you’ll all be able to sit together. You can visit your favorite rides all the way across the park and know that your valuables will be safe in secure storage and your chairs will be waiting for you when you return. You can cool down in your shaded retreat with a ceiling fan when temperatures soar, or watch a quick rain shower pass while you catch some cartoons. In short, you can use every minute the park is open to focus on having fun with your family instead of worrying about the logistics. How does that break down? Dollywood’s Splash Country is open for 8 hours a day during the season. That’s 480 minutes of fun with 0 minutes of worry.
It’s recommended (but not mandatory) that guests wishing to use retreats make reservations. Retreats serve up to 10 people, with extra guests adding $10 to the reservation price per guest. ADA-accessible retreats are available within ¾ of a mile of the entrance. Guests may not bring their own food and beverages into the retreats, but a phone is available in each building to make it easy to order snacks, meals, and drinks. You can even decide what you want for lunch when you first arrive and schedule when you want lunch to be delivered.
To make a retreat reservation, call 1-800-365-5996 or visit this link. My favorite retreats are those by the Cascades, marked with letters I through T on the map below. All the retreat locations are on the map below, with blue being ADA-accessible retreats and pink being standard layouts.
Traveling with just a couple of people? You can book a retreat, or go with a smaller Canopy option, which offers 65 square feet of shaded space, two lounge chairs, and personal secure storage space for $45 a day ($40 for passholders!). Either way, for a little extra money you can take your Dollywood Splash Country visit to the next level of fun for the whole family and be a total Splash Country Pro.
Book your Dollywood's Splash Country Water Adventure Park vacation by calling (800) 365-5996 or visiting their website. Dollywood Annual passholders receive special offers and discounts throughout the year, so consider becoming a park passholder for this and other benefits.