In June 2009 my husband and I took my daughter and boyfriend to the USA for two weeks. We spent time in Virginia (Williamsburg) and Tennessee (Gatlinburg) mainly but drove 3,000 miles during this time. Before we went we did quite a lot of research and one of the places that was near Gatlinburg was Dollywood and my daughter suggested we visit.
WHERE IS IT AND HOW MUCH DOES IT COST ?
Dollywood is Dolly Parton's theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. She is very proud of the venture as it has created jobs for a lot of local people of all ages; indeed the lady who served us our corn dogs (well, when in Rome...) looked about 102 at least and service was a tad slow. The theme park is a little way out of Pigeon Forge but there is a free trolley bus which will take you to the Park from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg with several trolley bus stops. We drove there which was a mistake because for the pleasure of parking your car we had to pay $8 which I thought was a little steep considering the price of entry - £40 each for the day depending on exchange rate on the day. I'm not sure how much children were and there was a reduction for over 60s of a few dollars but again as I paid on the credit card I forget the actual amount.
Something that is useful to know is that if you pay for a day ticket and go in after 4pm on one day you can go all the next day with the same ticket - getting a day and a half for the price of a day. The park has various opening times and dates and it is best to look at the website before you go - it is far too complicated to go into here.
In support of her local area Dolly has created a season pass which is about just over double the price of a day pass so if you live in the area then that is good value for children and indeed the senior generation that enjoy the shows.
Dolly was brought up in a huge family in this area and in her autobiography 'My Life and other Unfinished Business' she describes how her family lived , happy but very poor . It was her uncle who felt she had a future career as a singer and drove all round with her to auditions and concerts. She was very determined and focused with her career. She is also very religious and family orientated and she has many of her musical family members performing in Dollywood in the 'Family Reunion' performance.
DOLLYWOOD - THE PARK ITSELF:
Obviously this is a huge park and it would be boring to list everything that is available. If you are interested then this is the website:
Dolly has tried to create a park that captures the feeling of the Smoky Mountains area. There shops and eateries are built of wood like a log cabin and a lot of these have craftsmen/women showing their skills and then of course you can buy your souvenir. Examples include glassblowing and wood cutting. I have to say that I thought the prices were rather high and the items on offer of little interest but each to his own. There was even a Dolly clothes shop with items in Dolly's style available for purchasing, again I was not tempted and if I had been the price would have put me off. There are apparently 40 themed shops ready to relieve you of your money throughout the park.
There are a great number of the usual theme park rides and roller coasters but they hold little or no interest for me though we did go on the authentic 110 ton steam train into the Smoky Mountains. I naively thought we would go into the Smokies but it was a five mile circuit around the park with staged scenes as you steamed through. It was quite pleasant but not a ride into the Smokies as advertised.
The other rides and experiences include a mix of roller coasters and water rides, some rides aimed at younger children and a number of exhibitions relating to the area of Dolly such as a reconstruction of her childhood home, an old school house, her caravan she toured in and also a display of her outfits and awards.
I think that one of the most interesting aspects of this theme park is the live entertainment shows and judging by the age of the clientele (I felt very young as I looked around) I think most of them were heading for the shows and attractions rather than the rides. These shows are all very different and run virtually all day at different times. The website offers a 'Plan your visit' section where you can decide what you want to do and when by using the timetable of events for the day you are going. We did use this to choose what we wanted to see and then filled in the rest of our time by wandering around and waiting ages at the photo shop where you could dress up in costume and have your photo taken - my daughter not me.
Sha -Kon -O-Hey
The first show we went to was Dolly's own show , Sha-Kon-O-Hey she wrote to tell the story of a hillbilly family who had to leave their home in the Smokies during the 1930s to find work elsewhere. Again, being very honest here, I really cannot remember a single tune .It was a new show for this season and was pleasant enough but certainly not amazing. I think she has written better songs with catchy tunes and these were very forgettable. During the show we meet various inhabitants of the area, the settlers, the railwaymen, the timber loggers, the Native American Indians. The name Sha Kon-O-Hey is Cherokee for Smoky Mountains. Dolly wrote the musical to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is the most visited National Park in the USA.
Dolly's Family Reunion
Some of Dolly's musical relatives sing her songs and tell stories about growing up with their famous relative which lasts about 20 minutes and was quite nicely done without being too cheesy and sentimental ; also keeps the family in work too!
The Gem Tones
This was my personal favourite. A group of 5 young people dressed in 50's style sang a medley of songs from the 50s within a bit of a story. They sang with no musical accompaniment at all - a bit like a Barber Shop Quartet but there were 5 of them performing songs from the 50s. They were not on a stage but in an area that was set up like the 50s with a diner, a gas station and several old American classic cars. It was a true delight and lasted a very quick 15 minutes.
The Kingdom Heirs
This was my husband's choice though he is not religious in any way. The Kingdom Heirs is a quartet of male singers performing gospel songs. Their voices ranged from a really very deep, like Johnny Cash through to an extremely high Frankie Valley sound. I'd never been to a gospel performance and while it was very clever I find church and religious music is not my thing. This group are big in the States and if this sparks your interest they have a website;
There were other shows and some are only available on certain days but those were the ones we selected to see.
As this was Dolly's Theme Park we felt we had to see the attractions that were about her so we popped in to see the reconstructed version of Dolly's Smoky Mountain Home. This is a tiny, two roomed house and Dolly had about 14 brothers and sisters so it must have been a really tight squeeze. In her book dolly mentions that she liked it when her parents re-wall-papered as she had something different to read; the wall paper was newspapers.
Our next stop was Chasing Rainbows where you could see a number of Dolly's outfits, listen to her music and see the numerous awards she's won. It was really interesting as I'm not really a fan, I've heard of her and enjoyed her performances in films but had no idea she was such a big star in the world of Country Music. It was an impressive array of silver, gold and platinum discs and different awards. Within the exhibition there were comments from Dolly and facts about her life. There were also hundreds of photos of Dolly with other famous people and handwritten notes from Dolly stuck beside them.
It was possible to visit her touring caravan too but there was a huge queue so we decided not to bother. A small chapel named after the doctor who delivered Dolly was also within the park and services are held there on Sundays. Throughout the park and while reading her life story you are left in no doubt as to Dolly's religious faith and what this means to her. There is also a Christian bookshop in the park which is certainly unusual for a theme park.
I enjoyed our day but I do think it was expensive for what we got out of it. We went as the park opened at 9.30 and left at about 5ish as we were tired. We could have stayed longer but there was nothing we wanted to do. Food and drink were VERY expensive and we were desperate for a cup of tea and a sit down. I know theme parks do charge a lot for food but generally in the States eating out is cheaper than here and the food on offer was not gourmet stuff - corn dogs and hot dogs are pretty naff and I think we paid about £10 for two corn dogs and a small container of curly fries. It was certainly not the best or cheapest meal we had while we were in America. You are NOT allowed to take any food or drink in yourself either. Water fountains are dotted around, usually near the toilets and we made good use of these as we refused to pay about £4 for a drink of coke filled with a ton of ice.
So well done Dolly for providing a lot of employment for local people, including some quite elderly folk and many of your relatives but I would suggest that non-locals might feel a bit ripped-off when the entrance fee is high and ten on top of that all food and drink prices in the park are also steep, the final insult was having to pay to park the car on top of the entrance fee.
However if you are in the area it does give you an insight into one of the local celebrities as well as the chance to see a variety of shows which ranged from excellent ( Gem Tones ) to interesting and unusual.
As I wrote at the start I have no intention of listing all the rides, attractions and shows and have given you a taste of what we experienced in our day in Dollywood. Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed our day out.
This review may be published on other sites under my name
The amusement park spans over 125 acres and is nestled in the lush foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.