I’ve always loved you, Dolly Parton. Now I love you even more.
Going to fairs and festivals is a staple for our family’s entertainment. Unfortunately not all activities we venture toward are easy, comfortable or even interesting for our daughter who has multiple disabilities.
But we all enjoyed Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN! The 150-acre theme park is centered around Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain upbringing and pays homage to her country music super stardom. With over 40 rides and 15 shows, Dollywood offers plenty to see and do, a little something for everyone. Including our daughter.
Dollywood is especially delightful if you are a music fan – there are at least six musical shows staged throughout the park. We hit five of them. A favorite was “Country Crossroads,” a review covering much of the genre’s history. It featured several country classics from the Carter family to Hank Williams to Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Kenny Chesney and, of course, Dolly with her pal Kenny Rogers. The outdoor theater had several spots for wheelchairs close to the stage.
Another show Dan and I really liked was “My People,” a 55-minute live tribute to Dolly’s musical history. Several of her family members performed, along with other “non-kin family” performers. A giant screen at the back of the stage brought Dolly to life sometimes as the soloist. She sang a thought-provoking song called Family and her hit I Will Always Love You was the finale. By the end I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
My People also brings to mind the commitment Dolly had when she lent her name and made a significant financial investment to the park in 1986. “Her devotion to her family and home area shows her character,” observed Dan.
Rides at amusement parks can be tricky for us. Although Disney World gets our vote for best engineering for attractions for wheelchairs (they have special cars to allow easy access), Dollywood gets kudos for a couple reasons. First, their train and carousel have ramps and special spots where a rider can stay in their chair and be secured like they would riding a bus. Dollywood also has quite a few more thrilling rides where it wasn’t impossible to transfer from chair into the regular ride seat. Our daughter loved the Sky Rider (see pictures below) and soaker Smoky Mountain River Rampage (which admittedly wasn’t quite so easy to transfer but we managed). We found she didn’t like the Shooting Stars because of sudden drops in elevation but the ride attendant noticed and stopped to let us off early, no worries. We didn’t attempt the roller coasters as Dan and I aren’t fans.
Riders with disabilities are required to obtain an accessibility card. Some people may not agree with a labeled card but it didn’t bother us – we tucked it into our backpack and pulled it out as appropriate to signal what accommodations are required. We also learned Dollywood has a special room for guests that may benefit from time away from the hustle and bustle of the park.
My cousin Kris and her husband Chris joined us on the first day. We had fun walking about and enjoyed lunch at Miss Lillian’s Chicken House where we got a kick out of Miss Lillian herself. We also loved watching the millers make grits at the old Grist Mill and of course, had to try the cinnamon bread. Yum!
“It was a real comfortable place,” commented Chris.
Kris liked browsing at the Chasing Dreams Museum, a detailed display of all things Dolly. The actual Coat of Many Colors is there, along with the original lyrics to the song, and many more interesting items. There are cases and cases of her awards, including her Kennedy Center Honors sash and medal. Her first tour bus is even parked outside the museum; Dan was amazed they ship it overseas when Dolly tours in Europe. There is also information about Imagination Library, a nonprofit that Dolly started to promote literacy by giving kids access to free age-appropriate books.
“She is pretty amazing,” concluded Kris. Yep, I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks to Chris for some of the photos.