Like Dolly Parton herself, the theme park that bears her name is larger than life. Last week, the entertainment icon and East Tennessee native took to the stage at Dollywood before a crowd of admirers and media to open the park for its 31st season.
"I'm working real hard to make this a vacation destination," Parton said of the Smoky Mountains. "I say it's the greatest place on earth."
And she intends to share the greatest place on earth with as many people as possible, starting right here at Dollywood. Not only is Lightning Rod - the most anticipated new roller coaster of the year, which promises to break the wooden coaster speed records by propelling riders up to a thrilling 73mph - set to open soon, Dollywood has a calendar of events that is set to make 2016 the best year yet to plan your visit.
The seasons starts out with the month-long Festival of Nations, which runs now through April 18, bringing arts and crafts, music, food, and performances from cultures all around the globe right here to the Smoky Mountains.
Also running in April is Thrills in the Hills, an event especially geared for avid thrill seekers. Set for April 8-9, be prepared to get your tickets for the one-a-year special access to Dollywood's lineup of roller coasters and other rides.
Up next is the renowned Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival, running May 13-22, a festival that is all that the name promises. The music is free to all the park's ticket holders, so stay tuned to dollywood.com for the announcement of the artist lineup. And be sure to come hungry!
As the summer gets underway, the park goes into extended seasonal hours for Great American Summer. Staying open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. between June 11-Aug. 7, summertime at Dollywood not only features a whole series of special events in the park's many theaters, but a dazzling nightly fireworks display.
Now, if you missed the Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival (or if you just can't get enough of that good Southern mountain music) Dollywood is hosting another world-class music festival. Each fall, the National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration features free concerts to all park guests Sept. 30-Oct. 29. In addition to incredible music performances, you can shop the handcrafted work of artisans from all over the country who come to the park especially for this event.
And finally, Dollywood will be all decorated for the Christmas season Nov. 5-Jan. 1, 2017 for Smoky Mountain Christmas, providing guests with a spectacular Christmas light display and a whole program of live Christmas shows.
As for Dolly Parton herself, "I have a new album that I've just written of all love songs," she told the crowd. She's also found time to take her music back out on the road for a 60-city North American tour which includes a stop in Pigeon Forge Nov 15.