A "Wild Eagle" Soars in Tennessee
Dolly Parton Dishes on Dollywood
By Kathy Witt
What does country singer and songwriter Dolly Parton like to do at Dollywood, her 150-acre Pigeon Forge, TN, theme park nestled in the foothills of the Smokies?
Does she ride any of the more than 30 rides, take in the shows, browse the shops or watch the heritage artisans in Craftsman’s Valley?
Or does the country star just like to munch on edibles at the park's restaurants and concessions?
Simply put, inquiring minds want to know: "What does Dolly love most about Dollywood?"
A Wild Ride
“I’m very proud of everything in the park,” Parton said at the 2012 opening day launch of Wild Eagle, the park’s new $20 million roller coaster.
But while she was thrilled to add the country’s first steel wing coaster – a daring, floorless number that gives riders the sensation of experiencing flight – to the park, don't expect to find her anywhere near it.
"I just don’t do well with rides," she quipped. "I’m a chicken.”
And she's not alone. Park goers who look up -- and even those who choose to ride Wild Eagle (shown in the photo below*) -- will likely have to take a deep breath.
Wild Eagle's track climbs 210 feet skyward before plummeting 135 feet with the coaster’s first drop. Riders will also find themselves upside down plenty of times, as the coaster doesn't just dip, but also loops.
The thrill ride towers 21 stories above the ground and its eagle coaster cars reach speeds of up to 61 mph.
For coaster fans, it's a great new addition to the park. For those who prefer a more "grounded" park experience, just watching is fun.
Both coaster fans and those scared simply by the thought of riding can enjoy a fun virtual ride from their computer, though. Just visit www.dollywoodwildeagle.com for the video.
Parton acknowledges she's more comfortable with milder park experiences such as pointing out the Wild Eagle's impressive artwork.
Located at the ride's entrance, a new majestic flying eagle steel sculpture marks Wild Eagle's entrance.
Not surprisingly, Dolly also wrote the theme song, “The Sky is Not the Limit,” for the new ride. It reflects a positive and uplifting attitude.
She took inspiration from the scriptures when penning the tune: “Growing up in the church, I pull from the Bible, like ‘mount up with wings of eagle.'"
Near and dear to Parton’s heart is the Chasing Rainbows Museum, what she calls “the story of my life.”
The interactive showplace brims with the country singer's priceless memorabilia, awards, photographs, musical instruments, elaborate costumes and the songs she's written over her long and storied career.
Fittingly, outside in the park itself, entertainment is a key theme. Dollywood's visitors find their pick of live music including bluegrass, country, Southern gospel, mountain strings, jukebox hits from the fifties and sixties and more.
Adding to the fun are a magic show, kooky characters like Miss Lillian who runs the Chicken House and the Wings of America Birds of Prey.
(In the photo at left, park goers head for the Wings of America show.*)
Dollywood is home of the American Eagle Foundation, and injured birds are nursed back to health and cared for on site.
One of Parton's favorite shows is Dolly’s Family Reunion. It features her Uncle Bill – instrumental in getting her career off the ground when she was a little girl – as well as a couple of cousins.
Both songs and stories reach back into Parton’s Smoky Mountain upbringing.
Smoky Mountain Crafts & Shops
Dollywood visitors can watch artists demonstrate such Smoky Mountain crafts as wagon making, glass blowing and woodcarving.
(In the photo above*, Dollywood Hosts Jeanette Russell and Marie Kyler show off the new glass roses made in the Rainbow Glass Factory. Each is hand blown by master glassblower Joe Deanda)
As for the park's shops, these are stocked with goodies Parton loves, like totes for which she has an abiding affection.
“I just live in tote bags,” she said. “I’m a gypsy and I live on the road. I buy all this great luggage and it winds up in storage bins. I’m just one of those people that whatever fits, I grab it and stuff it in and go. But that’s how gypsies live.”
There is an array of Vera Bradley totes in Dolly’s Closet, plus smooth leather totes in a pastel palette that includes this year’s must-have color of tangerine.
Like all the park’s shops, Dolly's Closet (shown in the photo above*) focuses on quality, fashionable merchandise at affordable prices and a something-for-everyone philosophy.
Toys and souvenirs, wood and leather goods, pants and jackets can be custom-embellished on-the-spot.Down-Home Cooking
Food at Dollywood also reflects what its proprietress loves: Southern food like Mama used to make.
“My mother was the best Southern cook in the whole wide world and Mama did things for breakfast like biscuits and gravy and country ham," noted Parton. "We always had a pot of beans and potatoes on the stove. I can’t live without potatos.”
Aunt Granny’s All-You-Care-to-Eat Buffet has all these foodstuffs – plus plenty more. Visitors might chow down on crispy fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread muffins and pinto beans.
Plus, visitors can sample the dish that Dolly herself is famous for among family and friends: chicken and dumplings.
“I still cook like an ol’ country woman ‘cause I am an ol’ country woman,” she said. “I’ll find myself in the kitchen doing stuff and think, ‘I am just an ol’ country woman.’”
In addition to a proliferation of Southern specialties, Dollywood's many food outlets offer burgers, foot-long hot dogs, funnel cakes, cinnamon-glazed almonds, green fried tomatos, Kettle Korn, pastries, pizza and much more.
New at Dollywood this year is LumberJack's Pizza in Wilderness Pass.
At right, a sous chef removes a humongous, 12-pound pizza from the oven.
It's definitely designed for sharing -- best for a family group or a large gathering of friends.
Nurturing a Dream
When Dollywood opened 27 years ago, Dolly said she hoped and dreamed it would be successful.
“You hope it does good, but it has done so much better than I had even hoped, and I’m sure it’s even gonna do better still.Her perspective? “I just leave myself open and bless it and pray and am humbled by it and ask for guidance and thank God for all the wonderful people and partners I have, the great people who add so much to it.”
If you're planning to visit this summer, a first-time exhibit from the National Roller Coaster Museum and Archives is free to Dollywood guests visiting through Labor Day.
The NRCMA Museum at Dollywood is located near the entrance to the park’s Craftsman’s Valley.
This indoor museum features 20 displays chronicling roller coaster history, including a car from the park’s oldest coaster, the classic Blazing Fury.
For more information on Dollywood, visit www.Dollywood.com.
While many Dollywood visitors just drive in and out of the area for a full day of theme park fun, there's plenty to do beyond Dollywood.
Visitors wanting to see and do more in the Pigeon Forge-Sevierville-Gatlinburg area might stay a couple of nights.
One suggestion? We stayed at the gorgeous Dollywood Vacation Cabins (www.dollywood.com/vacations).
Here you'll find fully equipped kitchens, outdoor hot tubs, indoor jetted tubs and well-appointed and comfortable bedrooms.
Vacation accommodations also have games rooms complete with a pool table, arcade games, darts and board games.
And, of course, the cabins have stunning mountain views.
Other attractions in the area include the SplashCountry water park (www.dollywood.com/waterpark.aspx).
If you like your fun wet and wild, you'll enjoy a couple dozen water adventure slides and thrill rides.
Highlights include Big Bear Plunge and the Mountain Scream body slide, plus other family-friendly water rides and attractions.
If your family loves science and learning about our world, you might visit WonderWorks (www.wonderworksonline.com/pigeon-forge).
It's essentially an interactive “amusement park for the mind” with 100 hands-on exhibits in an upside-down building.
(Visitors won't miss the unique building that houses WonderWorks; it's shown in the photo at left.*)
Also in Pigeon Forge is Dixie Stampede (www.dixiestampede.com), and, yes, Dolly also owns this attraction.
It's oodles of fun with horse riding stunts, special effects, music and pageantry celebrating both North and South, and a four-course, finger-licking meal.
And not to be missed is Titanic (www.titanicpigeonforge.com), an attraction that's essentially a living theater. (The impressive exterior of this attraction is shown below.*)
Visitors learn about -- and actually share the experience -- of what the ill-fated ship's passengers and crew experienced onboard the liner.
To avoid crowds and long lines, it's a good idea to reserve and purchase your Titanic tickets in advance online.
For More Information:
For helpful attraction, hotel, dining and accommodations listings and information, visit the following official tourism sites online:
Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce: www.Gatlinburg.com
Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism: www.MyPigeonForge.com
Sevierville Chamber of Commerce: www.VisitSevierville.com
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development: www.tnvacation.com
*Photos used for editorial purposes above are courtesy of Dollywood and other travel attractions or organizations mentioned in this story as well as Kathy Witt and Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.