Tired of working 9 to 5 and need a true taste of Southern hospitality? Then head to Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s 130-acre amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., that turns 25 this year.
“I can’t believe it’s been so long, it feels like three or four years,” Parton said in an interview with amNewYork. Dollywood was something she hoped to do early in her career to draw people to the state’s Sevier County, where was she was born. “I hoped and dreamed about doing a tourist attraction in the Great Smoky Mountains, and I also realized that it was something that would fill a wonderful need for the county, where people need jobs.”
In order to preserve the spirit of the nearby mountains, the park has an active saw mill and a grist mill (that makes and sells cinnamon bread). Some workers even don period dress.
Since opening, Dollywood has paid around $750 million to employees and become the No. 1 ticketed attraction in Tennessee.
Dolly’s own Dollywood recommendations:
1. Dollywood’s Splash Country: “It’s a wonderful thing for families,” Parton said of this park, which has more than 30 water adventure slides.
2. Dixie Stampede: This dinner and wild-west show really entertains, with plenty of bluegrass and country music.
3. Sha-Kon-O-Hey!: Parton wrote eight songs for this musical, which opened last year, and explores the history of the Smoky Mountains and their national park. “I’m very proud of it,” Parton said.
4. Great food: “From country foods to funnel cakes to hot dogs to a ham and bean stand, we have everything,” said Parton. Aunt Granny’s Restaurant — named for the affectionate moniker Parton’s nieces and nephews call her, is a personal favorite, with “down-home country” food.
5. The surrounding area: Parton describes nearby Gatlinburg as “one of the most beautiful villages ever.” And of course, there’s the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park that’s worth exploring. “You can take a helicopter ride, go out to eat or stay at one of many hotels. You’re not going to be lacking for anything to do,” she said. Knoxville is also only about 30 minutes away.
Dolly-centric spots at Dollywood:
1. Dolly’s Home-on-Wheels: Guests can visit Dolly’s 1994 Prevost tour bus, which logged more than 600,000 miles.
2. Dolly’s Closet: This shop sells Dolly-style clothes — with sequins and beads galore. Ask for your change in “Dolly Dollars,” a unique currency accepted in all restaurants and shops at the park.
3. DP’s Celebrity Theatre: Parton recorded her Heartsongs album here. Since then, it’s been home to many shows, including “Sha-Kon-O-Hey!,” currently playing.
4. Dreamland Forest: Reflecting Parton’s love of tree houses (she has two in the backyard of her Nashville home), the landmark attraction here is America’s largest interactive tree house.
5. Tennessee Mountain Home: An exact replica of Parton’s two-room childhood home, built by her brother, Bobby.
Catching a glimpse of Dolly:
Parton is very involved in Dollywood, and makes sure to drop by at least four times a year, to kick off the following events:
1. Dollywood Festival of Nations (park opening through April)
2.KidsFest (June 11-Aug. 1)
3. National Gospel & Harvest Celebration, the largest Southern gospel event in the U.S. (Sept. 29-Oct. 30)
4. Smoky Mountain Christmas (Nov. 6-Jan. 1). This consists of seven holiday shows and a Christmas parade on every operating day.
Know before you go:
The park will open for the season on Saturday.
Admission: Tax inclusive, tickets are $55.90 for regular admission (age 11-plus), $44.70 (age 4-11) and $52.50 (seniors).
Accommodations: To book hotels or Dollywood cabins go to Dollywood.com and select Dollywood vacations. There are many other hotel partners in the area that sell Dollywood tickets.