If you knew that there was a Dolly Parton-themed amusement park in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains that’s probably about all you knew about it. Now that Dollywood is marking its 30th summer celebrating all things Dolly, it’s time you learned a thing (or 30) about the ever-growing park.
1. Back in 1986, Dolly Parton bought an interest in an existing amusement park and bestowed upon it the honour of her name. That summer, Dollywood opened to the world.
2. Why an amusement park? Why Tennessee? Why Dolly Parton? Well, the park was right near where she grew up and as she put it herself: “I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.”
3. The park had gone through a number of different names in the 25 years preceding Dolly’s involvement. First it was a bit of a Civil War re-enactment with a train, and slowly turned into a Goldrush-style theme park. Now, as Dollywood, it’s twice the size it was in 1986.
4. Today, the park has 27 rides including seven roller coasters and four water rides, plus a whole slew of live entertainment and other attractions.
5. In 2012, Dollywood became home to the country’s first wing coaster, the Wild Eagle, where the cars hang off the side of the tracks (two riders on each side) rather than on top of it or beneath it, giving riders the sensation of flying. There are now three others in the U.S.
6. This summer, Dolly opened up the DreamMore Resort, adjacent to the park. Guests of the sprawling hotel complex get free front-of-the-line access at the park plus special entry points and early access on Saturday mornings.
7. Ten themed areas make up Dollywood and they’re all modelled after different elements of the Southern Appalachian region: from Rivertown Junction through Craftsman’s Valley, past the Country Fair, Timber Canyon, Wilderness Pass and others.
8. The park hosts five major events each year: the Festival of Nations, Barbecue & Bluegrass, Great American Summer, National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration and the Smoky Mountain Christmas, where Dolly has appeared in holographic form to perform in Dollywood’s take on A Christmas Carol.
9. Visitors to the park can tour through a replica of the very modest Tennessee mountain home that Dolly grew up in with her parents and 11 siblings.
10. In 1996, Dolly started the Dollywood Foundation, based in the park, which runs Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. When it began, each child in the local county would receive a free book in the mail every year until they turned five. The program has since been expanded to 1,600 communities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
11. For 10 years, Dollywood had its own radio station that broadcast mostly country music in the area, with the call letters WDLY. The park even had its own remote broadcasting studio. In 2000 the AM and FM stations were sold and now broadcast adult contemporary music and sports-talk programming.
12. The park’s log flume ride, Daredevil Falls, was billed as the highest and fastest waterfall ride in America when it opened in 1998 at 60-feet tall with speeds up to 96 km/h.
13. Dolly opened up a waterpark next to Dollywood in 2001, called Dollywood’s Splash Country. The 35-acre park has 27 waterslides plus pools and a lazy river.
14. In 2007, the park added its most expensive ride ever to that point — the $17-million Mystery Mine roller coaster. But that splurge was nothing compared to what’s still coming.
15. In 2016, the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster is coming to Dollywood. The $22-million hot-rod-themed ride is the first wooden launched roller coaster, which uses a magnetic launch to shoot the coaster up 20 storeys at 72 miles per hour, meaning the coaster can reach top speeds of 117 km/h. Not bad for a woodie.
16. Dolly Parton doesn’t ride the park’s roller coasters, because she gets motion sickness.
17. The park gets 2.5 million visitors each year during its nine-month operating season.
18. In 2010, the amusement park won the industry’s most prestigious award, the Liseberg Applause Award, which “recognizes excellence and inspiration in the amusement and theme park industry,” and Dolly accepted it herself.
19. You can learn about all things Dolly at the Chasing Rainbows museum in the park, which runs through her life and career in great detail. You can also hear her narrate a journey through her homeland, the Great Smoky Mountains, in the Heartsong theatre attraction.
20. Dollywood is the biggest tourist attraction in Tennessee.
21. A one-day pass costs $62 (USD). Compare that to Disney World’s $105 price tag.
22. Dollywood is the county’s biggest employer in the county with 3,000 employees between the four properties (Dollywood, Dollywood’s Splash Country, DreamMore Resort and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Diner Attraction).
23. The year Dollywood opened, Dolly Parton was featured on the cover of People magazine, alongside a caption that referred to her new park as a “hillbilly park.” Ouch.
24. Y’ever seen a 25-pound apple pie? Well you can at Dollywood. You can grab a slice (said to feed a family of four) or buy your own entire pie… for $129.99 (USD).
25. Workers start putting up Dollywood’s four million Christmas lights in July each year. Why they don’t just leave them up year-round… we can assume only Dolly knows.
26. The train ride that was at the heart of the original park when it opened in 1961 is still running, but it’s now called the Dollywood Express. It travels a four-kilometre loop around the park.
27. You can still watch blacksmiths in action in Craftsman’s Valley, just like in the park’s early days in the 60s. There are lots of other craftspeople in action there too, from leathersmiths to glass blowers and pottery makers.
28. Dolly reportedly visits a few times a year, though rarely makes her plans known ahead of time. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the park, she recently performed on two nights in the park, for the first time in ten years.
29. Dolly has said she’d like to open more Dollywood parks around the world, though there are no immediate plans for any.
30. While the park has doubled in size since it become Dollywood, Dolly said this year that they’re still planning to grow. “We’ve got more land, and we’ve got more space, and we’ve got more dreams,” she said.