My wife and I took a few days over the Christmas break to embark on a driving vacation. We made several stops along the way, but perhaps the most interesting and enjoyable, was our day at Dollywood. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I don't drive a pickup truck, and I rarely listen to country music (forgive the stereotyping), but I wanted to check it out for myself. Dollywood was so gracious to offer ChristianMoney.com two media passes for our one day visit.
Being a financial guy, I did a little research on Dollywood as a business, and learned that it actually operated previously under two different names. The park originally opened in 1961 as 'Rebel Railroad.' In 1970 it was purchased by Art Modell (former owner of the NFL Cleveland Browns). Under Modell the park was renamed as Goldrush Junction. The park changed ownership again in 1976, being purchased by Jack and Pete Herschend and again renamed as 'Silver Dollar City Tennessee.' In 1986 Dolly Parton became a partner with the Herschend family, and that led to the present day name.
7 Things That Really Surprised Me About Dollywood
1. Dollywood Is Huge!
I expected a small theme park that I would be in and out of in two or three hours. After spending the entire day there, I did not even make one complete lap of the park. I didn't even realize until later in the day that there is also a very large water park within the complex (of course, the water park was closed for the winter season).
2. Dollywood Has So Many Shows To See
We could not believe the large number of shows on the schedule. We were able to take in just three of these shows, and they were all fantastic. My favorite was a stage adaptation of 'It's A Wonderful Life.' But we also really enjoyed a show called 'My People' which was put on by Dolly Parton's various family members.
We enjoyed a wonderful home style meal in a full service restaurant. The food was just incredible, and the bill even more so - less than $30 for everything. My wife and I were just stunned at how wonderful the meal was and the reasonable menu prices.
4. Dollywood Guests Are Nice!
I felt like I was in Mayberry. Everywhere we went in the park, the people were so nice. Whether we were standing in line, waiting for a show to start, or riding the tram from the parking lot, people smiled and said hello. I can't tell you how many times we were asked where we were from, if this was our first visit to the park, etc... In each case, we were given recommendations on what to see as well. I started getting a little paranoid wondering why everyone was being so nice. After all, living in Central Florida I am accustomed to the dog-eat-dog behavior of the theme park guests as Disney.
5. Dollywood Locals Return Again And Again
The park promotes an annual pass which is $98 (or discounted to $86 for children and $88 for seniors). This is less than a Disney one day ticket! So many of the people we met visit over and over again. While waiting for one of the shows to start, we were talking with a retired couple seated next to us. They said, "You are really going to like this show." I looked at them with a curious smile and they added, "We have seen it several times and it is really good!" I asked them how often they come to the park, and they explained that they come "all the time" as they have the annual pass. They also said that they have passes to the water park and they take their grandchildren there every year. They knew by first name many of the other people sitting around us, including the man working behind the counter at the popcorn concession. I started to think I was in the Twilight Zone. Can people really be this nice, have I been transported back to the 1950's?
6. Dollywood Is Not Ashamed Of Jesus, The Bible, Or Christianity
Whether you visit the Dolly Parton museum (called Chasing Rainbows) , or attend any of the shows, there is no attempt to whitewash the fact that Dolly Parton and her family are Christians. You can even see a replica of the small country church her family attended when she was a child (pictured below) The performers sing Christian songs, share their personal faith, I loved it!
7. Dollywood Has A Lot Of Christmas Lights!
Eat your heart out Clark Griswold, there are over 4 million lights at Dollywood for the Christmas season! We were having such a wonderful day, we had no idea that the best was yet to come as the sun went down over the surrounding mountains. Just seeing the beautiful Christmas lights at Dollywood was worth the visit by itself.
There is so much to do and see at Dollywood, we are already planning our return visit for next Christmas. I should also add that the town where Dollywood is located is quite a unique place as well. The streets are lined with all kinds of interesting attractions, dinner shows, and gift shops. Time did not allow on this trip to even scratch the surface.
In my view, this is an incredible vacation option for families and seniors alike. If you have kids, they will love the 27 rides, including 8 roller coasters. Although I just stayed in the area for one night, I found a wide array of accommodations (from motels to condos that can be rented by the week). Sorry Disney World, but Dollywood has created an experience much closer to the vision that Walt had for his own theme parks.
My only regret is that I did not discover Dollywood a few years earlier!
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