This week was Spring break at Taylor University, and our family has been vacationing down in the Smoky Mountains.  Today we spent the day at Dollywood, a theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where we have been regular patrons for many years.  Dollywood was conceived by and named after—you guessed it—Dolly Parton.  Sounds pretty obnoxious, doesn’t it?  It also sounds kitschy, corny, and culturally narrow, right?  That was certainly my impression until I actually visited Dollywood for the first time, about a decade ago.  And since I’m generally not a fan of theme parks, no matter how many cool roller coasters they might boast, I was a hard sell.  But I was surprised to find out that Dollywood is not just a theme park with rides, funnel cake, and greasy, grumpy employees.  Instead, it is a culturally enriching, globally-minded potpourri of arts, crafts, music, and indigenous (and not-so-indigenous) culinary delights.

Despite the name of the place, Dollywood is anything but a vain tribute to its namesake.  Though Ms. Parton is actively involved in the park’s on-going development, her primary emphasis is cultural diversity and global awareness.  In our visit today we attended two shows.  One of these was called “Samaia” and featured dancers and musicians from the Caucasus (in Euroasia).  The other was entitled “Los Pampas Gauchos” and featured a group of Argentinean drummers and folk dancers who gave an astonishing performance involving drums, boleadoras, knives, and whips.  We also spent some time watching a skilled glass craftsman at work and negotiating an intricate ropes course that was as physically demanding as it was entertaining.  Good times.

To put the icing on the cake, I had a close encounter with Dolly Parton, as she rode through the park on a carriage—a tradition on opening day at Dollywood.  As she came near, I expressed my thanks to her, not just for the theme park but also for her extensive philanthropic efforts (giving substantially to causes ranging from literacy promotion to cancer and HIV/AIDS research).  Dolly smiled and responded with her own “thank you.”  The gratitude is definitely mutual.

5 Responses to “Dollywood Rules!”

  1. Ben


    Was a skeptic. Now persuaded. I might have to visit some day. How does it compare to Epcot?

    • Jim Spiegel


      Hmm… I haven’t experienced Disney in a while, nor do I want to. While Epcot has its “World Showcase,” this is just one aspect of the whole Disney park, much of which is excessive and artificial. What distinguishes Dollywood is the culturally organic approach of the entire park. But I’d be encouraged if some aspects of Epcot are comparable to Dollywood in this regard. I’d love get some input from someone who has experienced both.

  2. Mike Austin


    You probably drove right by our house, as you went south on I-75! We’ve been to P. Forge, but not Dollywood. Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. layla


    Sorry to say that we have not been to Dollywood, so I really can’t compare the two. We have visited Epcot and it STINKS. That could be attributed to the fact that we visited Epcot on Dec. 31… all the Disney parks were full to capacity, and we waited 45 minutes at a food cart (restaurant lines lasted more than 2 hours)… all that to say… Epcot looked like the park that Mickey forgot. Many attractions had been abandoned or were showing cheesy low-budget flicks from the early 80’s. The only pleasantry for the day: fireworks show over the water.

  4. Devon Trevarrow Flaherty


    i have been to dollywood in what was probably it’s very early days, and even on the day dolly rode through the park! she had burt reynolds with her that day, and i nearly brushed into her on a walk through, as well. i have never recovered from her amazingly tiny waist and diminutive stature (so interestingly out of proportion to…). which i’m sure is the sort of insightful comment you saw coming, but hey, i was a teenager.

    hope all’s well with the spiegels.


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