In a game of word association, the phrase “country music” may seem like a good answer to “Dollywood.”
But after a visit to Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and the surrounding area earlier this month, it was quickly apparent that there are also dozens of other answers.
My family and I found plenty to occupy our wide range of interests both at the park and in Sevier County.
Dollywood is celebrating its 25th anniversary and features four festivals that run throughout the year. The Festival of Nations, which ended April 26, was ongoing during our visit and featured music from throughout the world.
The park’s unique mix of world-class entertainment, thrill rides and country crafts satisfied everyone’s sense of adventure. For thrill seekers, the Tennessee Tornado, Mystery Mine, Blazing Fury and Thunderhead rollercoasters offer plenty of twists, turns and gravity-defying drops.
If you don’t mind getting a little wet (OK, maybe a lot wet), then the park’s water rides are a great way to spend a warm afternoon. Our three daughters, ages 11 to 17, couldn’t get enough of the wet wonders so we went back several times. My favorite water ride is the Slidewinder – think bobsledding on a waterslide.
The newest attraction, Adventure Mountain, was a hit with our two older daughters. Billed as “America’s Largest Challenge Course,” it allows adventure seekers to navigate a rock cliff, swinging rope bridges, geysers, and walk a steel beam 50 feet above the ground, all while wearing a safety harness.
The Country Fair section of the park offers traditional fair rides such as the scrambler and other rides that are perfect for younger children.
And when you need some time off your feet, taking in one of Dollywood’s dozens of shows (both indoor and outdoor) is the way to go. I had a chance to catch the Canadian act “Drum,” which showcased Canada’s musical influences though the years with an emphasis on percussion, including Native American, country, Celtic, Scottish and gospel music.
The group entertained the crowd of about 1,000 by taking us on a journey through Canada’s musical history with mesmerizing percussion, haunting vocals and great musicianship that featured plenty of guitars, piano, a fiddle player and even a bagpipe player. It all was enhanced by a spectacular light show.
The show was part of Dollywood’s Festival of Nations, which included musical and vocal groups from Peru, France, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia and Ecuador, as well as gospel and a 1905s show.
The next festival is KidsFest, which runs June 11 through August. All of the shows inside the park are included in the price of admission. KidsFest features a juggling act, magic show, a ventriloquist and more.
And, oh yes, for those of you who may be Dolly Parton fanatics, one can explore her tour bus and visit the Chasing Rainbows museum, which features photographs and other memorabilia, and a collection of the county legend’s keepsakes through the years.
Before visiting Dollywood, we had a day to explore Sevier County, and to say the area is kid-friendly is an understatement. There’s an unlimited amount of things to do that both children and adults may enjoy.
We started off with a delicious lunch of fried catfish at the historic Applewood Farmhouse restaurant, which is a renovated 100-year-old farmhouse. Another restaurant, with the same menu, was built next door a few years ago to alleviate the massive Sunday afternoon crowds which generated four-hour waits. We were able to get seated right away on our visit.
The restaurants sit on a working apple farm where 14 varieties of apples are turned into pies, apple butter, candy and ice cream. I could have left the restaurant happy after the complimentary basket of melt-in-your mouth apple fritters.
After the lunch, we ventured to Rainforest Adventures, which is billed as one of the largest reptile zoos in the world. The hour-long animal show is worth the price of admission. A zookeeper allows visitors to pet or hold animals such as porcupines, snakes, tarantulas, tortoises and even a baby alligator, among other animals. There also is an Aussie Walkabout outdoor section that includes an aviary, sheep, llamas, wallabies and kangaroos.
If your sense of adventure is a little more tame, the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm and Stables is a petting zoo that includes deer, goats, donkeys, cows, camels, zebras, ostriches and kangaroos.
Other attractions in the area include Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum, NASCAR Speed Park, which features seven go-kart tracks, the Sevier County Heritage Museum and the National Knife Museum at Smoky Mountain Knifeworks.
The Great Smoky Mountains offers many outdoor excursions and there also are the Forbidden Caverns and helicopter tours over the mountains.
Our stay at the Resort at Governor’s Crossing added to our family friendly theme for the trip. The resort featured a heated outdoor pool and an indoor pool with two large waterslides that kept the kids busy and ensured a good night’s sleep.
All in all, more fun than can be described in a single phrase.