Last weekend, I got Disney World and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This past weekend, Lance got Dollywood and its Smoky Mountain Christmas.
To be fair to Lance, we’d joked (or so I thought) about going to Dollywood for Christmas for almost a year. Lance loves Dolly Parton purely and without a spec of irony, and in such a wholly and devoted way that I’m not sure even I hold a candle to their special bond. I’ll leave the “why” for Lance to explain, should he feel so inclined, but just know this: there was no doubt in his mind that the 11-plus hour drive to Dolly’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was well worth it.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg, a town over from Dollywood. We’d stayed here on our one prior trip to Dollywood and loved it so much (it’s like a cabin with a fireplace and everything, but without the scary bugs and deranged woodsmen who come to kill you in your sleep!) we had to return.
Above: Lance warming up by the hotel’s outdoor bonfire. It was a little chilly during our visit!
Lance did plan out some of our meals, including our big breakfast before heading to the park:
Yep, Flapjacks, which is a chain of pancake houses in the Smoky Mountains. In fact, Flapjacks isn’t the only pancake house in the Pigeon Forge-Galtinburg-Sevierville area; in fact, there are dozens of pancake-based restaurants all throughout the area!
I ordered the Southern Pecan pancakes, which was more of a cinnamon roll with candied pecans on top:
Lance got the seasonal pumpkin spice pancakes with apples:
After eating maybe half of our portions (#firstworldproblems), we headed over to Dollywood, where Lance somehow convinced me that buying a season pass was a good idea (“It’s only $23 more than a one-day admission!!” he persuasively argued.) Now I am stuck going to Dollywood like once a month for the next year. UGH!
I was a lil’ sad to find out that you could bring your dog to Dollywood and have them boarded in a “pet cottage.” Had we only known, we would’ve brought Ripley with us on that 11-hour drive since he doesn’t get carsick and once barfed all over my pants at all!!
Once we got inside, we headed toward the back of the park where the thrill rides are. Don’t let anybody fool you: Dollywood, probably because of its status as the only significant amusement park in this area of the country, has a solid number of pretty intense rollercoasters, from Mystery Mine to Thunderhead to Tennessee Tornado to the newest edition, Wild Eagle. These things are super-fast, with crazy 90-degree drops and several inversions. This park isn’t all about the “Coat of Many Colors.”
Though you do know you’re in the South when the queue for Wild Eagle includes verse of scripture.
They had these little owl (or eagle?) hatchlings last year, too, around some of their more kid-oriented rides…
One of the Christmas trees inside Dolly’s Closet, where you can buy Her Styles…in Your Size!
Dolly loves her butterflies:
We made sure to check out Dolly’s childhood home, a recreation of the cabin/shack she grew up in with her parents and twelve brothers and sisters.
They even had it dressed up for Christmas–check out that centerpiece!
The only show Lance wanted to see was Appalachian Christmas, which was were a bluegrass group would play mountainfolk Christmas favorites. They were pretty good, especially the guy with the mullet:
OMG! We didn’t know our friend Tim was going to be in Dollywood the same day we were! [Sorry, folks. Bad inside joke.]
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas also featured an extensive, multi-story model train set and Christmas village, normally where the birds of prey show takes place (I guess they’re on vacation for the rest of the season, though we did see a handful of bald eagles in their Dollywood habitat).
I really like stuff like this–miniatures and really elaborate recreations. As I continued to take photos, Lance gave me a dirty look and whispered, “You better not be getting any ideas. I don’t want this crap in my house.”
Obviously, since we’re in the Smokies, I had to get a one-pound piece of pizza.
The restaurant offering it also had a contest: two people eat a 12-pound pizza and they both get Super Gold Season Passes to both Dollywood and its sister property, Dollywood’s Splash Country (though nothing terrifies me more than the idea of two gay dudes being at Dollywood’s water park in the middle of Tennessee). After scarfing this one piece of pizza without a shred of difficulty, we both reasoned we could’ve handled that challenge easily. I guess there’s always next time–we do have 2013 season passes, after all! YAAAAAY.
We then headed over to Jukebox Junction (Dollywood’s ’50s-themed area) to walk-through Dolly’s tour bus and walk-through Dolly’s museum.
Dolly’s quarters on the bus, which also included a bathtub.
We obviously couldn’t go to Dollywood without visiting Chasing Rainbows: The Dolly Parton Story! Sub-subtitle: “You can’t have a rainbow without the rain.” Profound, Dolly. Profound.
Lance loves Kathie Lee about as much as he loves Dolly, so he was all about this photo…
…While I was all about this one:
After you work your way through the “backstage area,” you end up in “Dolly’s attic,” which features a whole slew of collectibles from over her career:
Though neither of us could confirm that this is, indeed, the original Coat of Many Colors, it is in a Plexiglass case, so we assume so:
Two of the counter-service options at Dollywood feature these ENORMOUS skillets, and boy, did they smell good! Surprisingly, though, neither of us have ever eaten from these places–next time, Dolly, NEXT TIME!!
The park lit up something wonderful; nearly all the buildings in Dollywood were covered in these beautiful lights. It was really quite a refreshing thing to stroll down the walkways, just admiring how much such a simple thing can have such an effect on you.
We wrapped up our visit after another loop around the park; it was getting chilly and both of us were too stubborn to bring coats with us.
Dollywood is quite a fun experience; it’s not a bunch of off-the-shelf rides with Dolly’s face slapped on them, like Dolly’s Gravitron or anything like that. Her presence is understated; unless you’re going to the Chasing Rainbows museum, you aren’t really going to notice her save one of her songs playing every once in awhile on the background loop.
In a way, I liked Dollywood’s Christmas festivities more than Disney World’s. Something about it, maybe the scope or the less-polished nature of the park, made it feel more intimate, more naturally an extension of a normal family’s Christmas experience than, say, Jiminy Cricket narrating an enormous fireworks show. They’re both great, but Dollywood’s felt a little more authentic.
I am a little sad they didn’t play ANY songs from Dolly and Kenny Roger’s “Once Upon a Christmas,” though, which may just be the best Christmas CD of all time!
YOU MAKE THIS A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER…!
SPRING-TIME FEELINGS IN THE MIDDLE OF DECEMBER…!!
…Oh wait. I just found “A Christmas to Remember”‘s music video on Youtube.
Erm. Never mind. I take it all back…