Learn about Dollywood, the Great Smoky Mountains theme park.
Dollywood is a theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., that showcases the traditions of the Great Smoky Mountains. Country singer Dolly Parton owns the park in cooperation with Herschend Family Entertainment Corp.
The park that would later become Dollywood originally opened in 1961 as Rebel Railroad, a Civil War themed tourist attraction that boasted a steam train and a simulated 19th century Southern town. Later that decade, the name was changed to Goldrush Junction, and the theme reinvented to that of a Wild West outlaw town. Art Modell, then owner of the Cleveland Browns, bought this incarnation of the park in 1970, and expanded it with a few rides, re-naming it Goldrush Junction. Jack and Pete Herschend, the current part-owners of the park, purchased it in 1976, and renamed it Silver Dollar City Tennessee to establish a connection to the Silver Dollar City theme park the Herschends owned in Branson, Mo.
Dolly Parton bought into the park in 1986, and the site was renamed Dollywood. The park was immediately expanded with new rides and attractions, including the theme area Rivertown Junction and the whitewater rafting ride Smoky Mountain Rampage. The immediate improvements also included a family dining restaurant and a 450-seat theater. Over the next few years, several more improvements were added, the most significant of which was the theme area Daydream Ridge, complete with a water toboggan ride and a diner.
Dollywood has added new rides and features almost every year since Dolly Parton invested, and today boasts more than 40 attractions and nearly two million visitors a year. The park has maintained its Smoky Mountain theme, down to a one-room schoolhouse attraction that lets visitors experience mountain life as it was well before amusement park rides. Many artisans are also on hand to demonstrate popular crafts of the era, including hand-blown glass, blacksmithing and wagon making.
Themed shops around the park sell everything from Christian-themed apparel to dry goods. And the park's various restaurants specialize in traditional Southern favorites like ham and beans and pork barbecue. The park has also added an Adventures in Imagination theme area at a cost of about $10 million, complete with a fully operative doughnut factory. In 2001, Dolly's Splash Country, a 25-acre water park, opened near the original site. The price of admission to the water park is not included in the cost of a ticket to the Dollywood theme park.
Various shows are offered several times a day at the park's numerous theater spaces. Most of the acts are country music groups, though a barbershop quartet and a magic act are counted among the performances. Heartsong, a movie about Dolly Parton's life story and her relationship to the Great Smoky Mountains, plays several times a day at the Heartsong Theatre. The park also features seasonal food and music festivals, including Barbecue and Bluegrass in September and an elaborate Christmas celebration.
The most popular Dollywood ride is probably the Thunderhead roller coaster, which was voted the second-best wooden roller coaster in the country by Amusement Today magazine. It has a drop of 100 feet and the world's only fly-through station, meaning that the track curves around to send cars through the boarding area, zooming by only about eight feet above the platform where passengers are loaded. The newest Dollywood attraction is River Battle, a water-raft ride equipped with powerful soaker guns that riders can shoot at other passengers and various targets along the ride's course.
During the 2008 season, Tickets to the park cost $51.30 for patrons over 12 years of age. Children between 4 and 11 save 10 dollars; children younger than 4 get in free. Dollywood also offers bulk ticket purchases for a reduced amount. These tickets allow guests to return a certain number of times during the year.
The park is open from April to December, though many of the water-oriented rides close seasonally. To cut down on long waits in line, Dollywood provides a "Q2Q" reservation system, in which patrons can check in at popular rides and receive times when they can return to board the ride immediately, without waiting in line.
For more information on visiting Dollywood, go to the official park Web site, Dollywood.com.