To an outsider, the notion of visiting Dollywood sounds ridiculous. It’s named after an almost cartoonish country music legend, one who claims that she married the only man who knew the color of her eyes. It’s hosted in a part of the south that’s a shameless tourist trap with literally hundreds of businesses constructed basically on top of one another. And it’s a logistical nightmare to visit due to the constant road traffic.
Despite all the negatives, Dollywood has a hard-earned reputation as one of the best theme parks in the world, and you should be looking at flight information and hotel reservations to go there right now. After all, a theme park tourist with any semblance of self-respect will want to check this park off their bucket list. It’s an odd but somehow perfect blend of kitschy, wholesome, and wildly entertaining, much like the park’s namesake. Here are six reasons why you’ll love a Dollywood vacation.
Dollywood offers one of the most scenic backdrops of any theme park in North America. Situated in the Smoky Mountains, it has a reputation of one of the most beautiful theme parks ever built. That’s odd since it came from such humble beginnings. Silver Dollar City was lovely in its own way, but Dolly’s focus as owner is accentuating the strength of the land.
Several of the most recent attractions at Dollywood empasize the mountain scenery. Dollywood is about 1,500 feet above sea level, and its land is uneven. The park’s planners lean into this “problem” by using the higher spots for peaks of coaster track, while the lower ones become the valleys. The construction phase of ride design is quite challenging at Dollywood for this reason, but theme park tourists benefit from this forward-thinking strategy.
Watch the video above of the Tennessee Tornado. Built in 1999, this steel roller coaster is a magnificent achievement in plot placement. The early climb showcases the foliage surrounding the coaster tracks. Then, the ride plunges through a forest of gorgeous trees and other vegetation, much of which construction workers dutifully protected while laying the tracks. It’s one of the most serene views you’ll ever enjoy on a roller coaster, and it’s possible due to Dolly’s edict to make the landscape one of the key selling points of each new attraction. The Smoky Mountains have always been a popular tourist destination due to the scenery. Dollywood entwines it with fabulous roller coasters.
As a native East Tennessean, I’m admittedly biased here. I’m of the opinion that southern hospitality flows through the hearts and souls of most of the residents here. That goes double for the citizens of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the tourist cities that bookend Dollywood.
The Dollywood family is shamelessly proud of their park, and they love to show it off to strangers and returning visitors alike. They go out of their way to make guests feel like they’re coming home, not like they’re away from home.
If you think I’m exaggerating or showing too much pride in my area, I’ll point you to the Golden Ticket Awards, the theme park industry’s most respected awards. Dollywood won the Golden Ticket for Friendliest Theme Park in 2016. And 2015. In fact, it’s the reigning champion in the category for five years running. When you visit Dollywood, you’ll feel like the workers care about you and want you to have a wonderful vacation. It’s a personal touch that will remind you of Disney in all the best ways.