Dollywood remains as charming as ever

Posted 7/7/19

In the midst of a nine-hour drive from

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina back to Jasper last summer, my

then-fiance suggested that we do something other than a beach trip in

2019. While I …

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Dollywood remains as charming as ever


In the midst of a nine-hour drive from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina back to Jasper last summer, my then-fiance suggested that we do something other than a beach trip in 2019.

While I enjoy the beach, particularly how easily entertained small children are when there is sand and an ocean, I agreed that her point had some merit. It didn't take me long to realize that, for me, there was only one option.

Luckily, Maggie agreed.

Growing up, many childhood vacations were spent in the Great Smoky Mountains, or simply called “The Mountains” within our family. So when she suggested doing something other than our yearly trip to the beach, I knew immediately I wanted to take all of my memories of The Smokies and pass them down to my daughters. More specifically, I insisted we had to go to Dollywood.

Dolly Parton's theme park remains much the same as it always has, with very little change in aesthetic and appearance. Unlike other parks around the country that are seemingly going through endless renovations, Dollywood has stayed true to itself.

I've been to Walt Disney World, and while it certainly lives up to its nickname of “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” there is something distinctly special, and dare I say Southern, about Dollywood. It does not rely on Hollywood branding like Universal Studios or Six Flags, but has instead become a brand in and of itself, standing out as a place far more relaxed and catered toward the slower pace of life synonymous with southern small town living.

After spending months hyping the theme park up to my daughters, Ava and Rebekkah, both Dolly's Splash Country and Dollywood certainly lived up to the hype. Splash Country has never had the same feel as its theme park counterpart, but a water park seems inherently incapable of producing the same atmosphere. Dollywood itself, however, took me back to my own childhood as I witnessed the same amazement I once felt in the eyes of my daughters.

From the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, to what was my - and now my eldest daughter's - first big roller coaster, the Tennessee Tornado, so much was exactly as I remembered. The shops nestled together resembling a small town more so than a theme park. The rides, big and small, disguised and themed as relics from a time long forgotten. The Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, located next to Dollywood's oldest roller coaster (Blazing Fury – 1978), is every bit as enchanting as the girls saw the majesty of a bald eagle with their own eyes for the very first time.

But even the new feels old.

Last month, Dolly Parton herself was on hand to unveil the park's latest addition: Wildwood Grove. While this space doesn't seem as “old country” as the rest of the park, the abundance of magical essence found here is a perfect addition to what the rest of Dollywood has to offer. From the first moment after passing under the arched tree at the entrance, you are greeted by mechanical galloping bears, high-flying acorns, enchanting fairies and butterflies galore. In the eyes of my daughters, it was an otherworldly experience straight out of a storybook.

As the day came to an end and we were “on the clock” before closing time, it became a mad dash for all four of us to squeeze in as many rides as possible. Ava, as weary as she might have been, became distressed at the thought of having to leave. I had to reassure her that we had fit as much as possible into our day. (Did you know they sing the national anthem to begin each day at Dollywood? I didn't. But I do now after having been in line 45 minutes before the park opened!)

Once the fun of the theme park was over, we decided to make some new memories for both the parents and children alike. My family and I went on a 5-mile hike to eat lunch overlooking the mountains, something even I had never done. After returning to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the young ones took their oaths as Junior Rangers of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It's memories like that that will last us a lifetime. I, being the sentimentalist that I am, live for those moments.

Maggie's suggestion of something different proved almost prophetic now that I look back on it. The beach is fun, but we would not have found a young black bear walking down the road in Panama City Beach. There would have been no listening to the crickets and watching fireflies from the hot tub from a Myrtle Beach Hotel. I'm not implying anything negative against a beach vacation, but I am grateful to have a wife that will break my often times stubborn habit of sticking to a routine.

It seems inevitable that anytime anyone in Walker County is asked where they are going on vacation, the answer is almost always “the beach” or “the mountains.” So it may be cliched to take a family trip to Pigeon Forge, but for my family it was perfect this year. Nothing compares to taking experiences I had with my parents only to now share them with my daughters.