Sep 21, 2020

Hooray for Dollywood (and Splash Country Water Park)

I may travel like a commoner, but I am not an amusement or theme park person.  Just ask Punky.  She’ll probably roll her eyes.  So, when we planned a two-day itinerary at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., as part of our weeklong family fun road trip last summer, I kind of felt like I was “taking one (or two) for the team.”

But I have a confession to make.  Dollywood was every bit as cheesy, camp, and crowded as I anticipated.  And I really liked it. 

Probably more than the Kiddo did.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for roughly the past 35 years, you probably have at least an idea of what is Dollywood.  Located in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., it’s an ever-expanding amusement complex named and envisioned after the town’s most famous celebrity – country singer, actress, entertainer and (let’s be honest, brilliant) entrepreneur Dolly Parton. 

What’s lesser known about Dollywood, however, is that a theme park has existed on that site for much longer than most people realize.  According to Wikipedia, the first theme park on the Dollywood site opened in 1961, and in 1977 it became Silver Dollar City Tennessee, the “sister” theme park to the Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.  Parton bought an interest in the theme park in 1986, and that’s when it was renamed Dollywood.  And she’s been an integral part in making the park bigger, better and more widely popular ever since.  

While Parton’s trademark and touches are evident throughout today’s Dollywood, much of the park’s Silver Dollar City roots are still visible and very much in use today, and frankly these attractions were some of my favorites.  I admit it, I’m a sucker for anything remotely historical or “old timey” in nature.

Known today as Craftsman’s Valley, this area of the park is where you’ll find various focal points of a community from a bygone era, such as the old town chapel …

… and a grist mill that’s still turning on water running down from the top of the mountain.

And in a park with at least a couple of dining options in 11 different theme areas, we figured the downhome cooking offered at Granny Ogle’s in Craftman’s Valley was the best choice for lunch.     

There weren’t a lot of options on the menu, but that just made it easy to go with the sampler platter – a nice serving each of pulled pork, pot roast, beans and cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw and slow-simmered greens.  It’s definitely not your typical amusement park food, and it was all surprisingly good.

Craftman’s Valley also had the Valley Theater, where we sat and rested our bellies after lunch to watch one of several free shows being played throughout the afternoon. This band would have fit right in with the time period when Dolly herself was growing up. 

The majority of attractions and theme areas at Dollywood seem to be clustered near the park’s entrance.  Of those, the Country Fair was where we, oddly enough, spend the most amount of time on rides.  None of the rides here would look out of place at your average state fair, but maybe that’s exactly why we gravitated toward classics like the Walking Swinger or the Scrambler.

Speaking of rides, one of the first theme areas we visited at the park was also the newest one to debut at Dollywood – Wildwood Grove.

While the area is undeniably cute, its primary appeal is to younger kids, so you can certainly understand why the Kiddo lost interest here rather quickly.

We thought we’d have better luck with at least one of the park’s half-dozen roller coasters (the Mystery Mine stood out to me), but the Kiddo was not willing to take the plunge.

While we failed to reach a unanimous decision on any thrill rides, we eventually found one ride we were all happy to take – a train ride aboard the Dollywood Express.

The railroad has been a popular attraction at every theme park that’s been here since the 1950s, so the three-mile trip to the top of the mountain, around and back seemed like a no-brainer.  Practically everyone who comes to Dollywood does it, and you should, too. This train in particular has been a part of the theme park since 1977 and long before that ran the White Pass & Yukon Route taking passengers between Whitehorse, Yukon, to Skagway, Alaska.  It’s living history.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Dolly Parton, you should probably take the quick tour of her personal tour bus by the Dreamsong Theater near the park entrance, if it happens to be on display when you visit.  

So, I clearly got more out of a day at Dollywood than Punky or the Kiddo.  But I wouldn’t feel too bad for them.  

After all, they made the most out of a day at Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park.  They really like their water parks.  

I, on the other hand, am really not a fan of water parks.  How peaceful can the lazy river really be when it’s this crowded near the entrance?  Still, Punky loves her lazy river rides, and she found the Downbound Float Trip at Splash Country to be highly enjoyable.  

And as long as there’s a wave pool, the Kiddo is happy.  Trust me, she’s in there somewhere.

There were even a couple of slides I decided to try with the Kiddo’s prodding.  

Oh well, maybe I shouldn’t be so negative about water parks.  Besides, any place where you can find Beaver Tails can’t be that bad.  


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