Several months ago while on a bloggers trip, the topic of “the one place you’d LOVE to visit” came up. Grand Canyon, Yosemite, New York City, all the usual places that call to citizens and tourists alike. When it was my turn to pipe up, the two words that came out of my mouth got such a joyous response it was all we talked about for close to 10 minutes! My response? “DOLLYWOOD, OBVIOUSLY!”
Fast forward a few months, and I found myself making a whistle-stop tour to Tennessee with Tonya (Travel Inspired Living), having been invited to the press event for the new park expansion. I have driven passed the park several times while visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, so you better believe I jumped at the chance to go! And boy was it worth it.
Dollywood is a 150+ acres park that caters for thrill seekers and young families alike, while also providing entertainment and spectacles for the history buffs and music lovers among us. The park turned 30 in 2016, and it is pretty clear that Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment are only just getting started. The park pulls in close to 2.5m guests a year, making it one of America’s top attractions. The DreamMore resort and spa, a short trolley ride away from the park itself, is part museum, part hotel- it pays homage to the lady herself while offering comfortable lounging and dining areas, stunning interior design, and lashings of southern hospitality- one of the highlights of the trip was being handed a glass of lavender lemonade while being greeted enthusiastically with a “how ya’ll doing today?”, it was incredible!
At the Song & Hearth restaurant, VIPS and media enjoyed a post-press event lunch that was presented in such beautiful, innovative ways, that blogger after blogger gasped at the seemingly endless donut wall and the inventive salad displays. Southern favourites- fried chicken, biscuits, and BBQ, were nestled nicely in between charcuterie boards and diverse and delicious cheese displays. The dining area was exceptional, and so masterfully designed that I spent more time staring at the vaulted ceilings and glasswork than at the food on my plate. A gigantic, garland bedecked fireplace was at the very heart of the dining area, with more private and intimate tables available upon request. After lunch, a gentle stroll around the lobby area lead to display cases of Dolly’s diamond covered guitars and banjos, and a light installation featuring every album she’s made. I barely scratched the surface of the hotel- but I’m sure there is more magic and wonder to be found around every corner.
The purpose of our fleeting visit was to cover the news of the Wildwood Grove expansion, due to open in 2019. After being ushered into the Celebrity Theater, Dolly herself (OMG!!) welcomed us and introduced us to the vision and plan behind Wildwood Grove. Accompanied by the ever cheerful, Alyvia Alyn Lind, who sang not one but two songs with Ms. Parton, the scene was set for us thanks to some award-worthy cinematography. If you have yet to visit Tennessee, after the videos shown, you’d not only want to visit, you’d never want to leave. Capturing and celebrating the sheer scale and beauty of the surrounding area, the expansion plan video showed us how the expansion has been influenced by the landscapes and soundscapes of eastern Tennessee- and I was left with the need to book a visit to DreamMore in every season, because each one looks to be more beautiful than the last.
The 5 acre expansion will feature 11 new rides, new dining experiences, and terrific, dazzling light shows. Here are just some of the features coming to Wildwood Grove:
- The Dragonflier— A thrilling suspended roller coaster that soars, dips and darts along the gushing geysers and lush landscape of Wildwood Grove.
- Treetop Tower – This family friendly ride provides a sky-high view of Wildwood Grove at nearly 40 feet above ground. Seated inside giant acorns, guests will get some of the best views of the area.
- Wildwood Creek – This interactive “oasis” features pop jets, splashing pools and more wet play activities.
- Wildwood Tree – At close to 60ft tall, this colossal kaleidoscopic installation will serve as the focal point of Wildwood Grove. Watch the tree come to life each evening during a unique nighttime show.
The focus is firmly on families and the cherished times spent with one another. Mockingbirds, butterflies, and bears- oh my! Many of the states local fauna will feature as colorful, captivating, kid friendly rides and at the heart of the expansion will be the Wildwood tree itself, which converts into a stunning, shimmering light display after dark, complete with a performance space underneath for acts to take the stage both day and night. The $37m project is already underway, with construction happening while we were there. The project will hark back to Dolly’s childhood and her love of the forests and groves that surrounded her family home, this is a place for families to “explore, play and imagine together- but more importantly- a place for them to spend time together.”
One element of the expansion that I was particularly impressed with was the investment into protecting and landscaping the surrounding Smokey Mountains area. Close to $1m is being set aside for landscaping projects alone, with nearly 500 trees and 1,000+ shrubs ready to transform a once vacant spot of land in a magical mix of colors for families of all ages to enjoy and explore. This all-season expansion is set to wow every visitor who passes through the hollowed out tree trunk entrance.
As my family will hopefully be growing in the coming years, I can’t wait to return to Tennessee, to explore Wildwood Grove and the rest of the park at our leisure. The project is clearly something very special to Dolly, and one that will provide magical experiences for guests year after year.