Old Mill for Trolley Stop

Old Mill for Trolley Stop

Today (3/21/15), we left Ohio headed for Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to begin our adventure in and around Dollywood. I was incredibly excited because from today (Opening Day!) until April 20, it is the Festival of Nations. Since I love travelling, and other countries, I was (and am) very excited to be here for this celebration. I wish we could have been here last night for the kickoff with Dolly, but Spring Break officially started today, so we missed our opportunity–or so we thought.

After a 7 hour drive from Ohio, we arrived at Laurel Point Resort, which will be our home for the week. We did the traditional “stop at the visitor center and pick up coupons for everything possible” stop and found out Dolly would still be at the park today! We quickly checked in and unloaded at the resort, then headed off to catch the trolley.

If you are taking a group of less than 6 people, riding the trolley is a cost effective way to avoid the $12.00 charge. The trolley leaves from Old Mill Square (off Old Mill Road, stoplight 7 in Pigeon Forge), and travels to both Dollywood and Gatlinburg, so be careful which one you take. The cost of the trolley is $.50 each way or $2.50 for the day. The trolleys run every 15 minutes and are a fun way to see the city.

When we got on the trolley, we passed a group of tourists whom my mom asked if they had seen Dolly. “Oh, yes!” one exclaimed. “She’s in the parade at 4:30!” It was 4:15…and we still had to get there and get our season passes. Alas. We arrived at Dollywood at 4:21–9 minutes til the parade. But, the season ticket line was long. Finally, about 4:40, we had tickets in hand and rushed to where the crowd was lined up–just in time to hear someone yell, “Dolly!” We jostled a few people trying to find a place to stand, while balancing tickets, water bottles, snacks, and trying to get out our cameras. Needless to say, between the people blocking the view and the speed she was travelling, we didn’t manage it, but could only half-heartedly wave as her carriage passed quickly by. Opportunity missed. “Well,” my mom stated, “It’s about like our picture of the Queen.” (Same scenario, Buckingham Palace–by the time you register what you’re seeing, it’s gone…Translation: No picture. But, that’s another story…)

Dolly--Thanks for this Photo goes to Mary Lynn McKaig!

Dolly–Thanks for this Photo goes to Mary Lynn McKaig!

We decided to see what shows we could make it to see and settled on Rhythm of the Dance–the Irish Dancers. I love Riverdance, so I was excited to see the Dollywood version. Knowing it was 4:50, Opening Day, and the show started at 5:45, we decided to head straight to the theatre. The Line was already through the line gates and up the street. Good thing we decided to be early. As we were standing in line, we noticed the couple behind us looking at pictures. Since all of us had just come from the parade, I asked if they had gotten a picture of Dolly. She said yes, and showed me. Mom and I both chorused, “Can you send it to us?!” Thankfully, she agreed. She also had only found out about the parade by accident, but had more Irish luck than we did and made it on time. We chatted for a bit (a shout out to Covenant Transport where the McKaigs work!), and then it was time for the show to begin.

The Irish Dancers of Rhythm of the Dance

The Irish Dancers of Rhythm of the Dance

The Rhythm of the Dance show offers not just Irish Dancing, but an incredible collection of Irish music–both instrumental and sung. It also offered a variety of instruments I don’t traditionally see in concerts–from bagpipes or other pipes, to Bodhran (handheld drum), to an accordion, together with the usual violin and guitar. Additionally, there were a number of dances featuring individual dancers, couples, and large groups. I thought it was spectacular! Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my previous Christmastime blog, the crowd really makes a difference. And this particular crowd was a tough one. Having performed on stage myself, I know how influential an audience can be. I also know, as my mom pointed out, that people have different personalities that are expressed differently. Still, if you’re going to go to a show, PLEASE, get into it.

Dollywood Train

Dollywood Train

With about an hour left before the park closed, we decided to take the train around the park. It’s a great way to orient yourself to all that Dollywood has to offer. The trains at Dollywood were actually used in WWII, so they have an incredible history of their own! I was reminded on the train of just how diverse an audience Dollywood really receives. We sat behind a family from Jordan. The wife had only been in America for 10 years, while her husband had been here for over 30–I didn’t quite get the story of how they had met–her English was a bit broken. She did tell us of their encounter with three bears at Chimney Rock. We’ll have to see if we can find them when we go to Cherokee Country. In talking with this woman, I was reminded again of what I really think is the point of the festival of nations: We all have different cultures, and every culture has something to offer to the others if we will just take the time to listen–whether it’s to the lady at the Visitor Center, who hasn’t lost her Middlesex English accent, despite 52 years in America, or a sweet couple from Georgia who shares a picture with a total stranger, a beautiful woman in a headscarf who took a risk to talk to people who might judge her just for that. So many amazing people–and we still had one more to meet.

After grabbing some unbelievable cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill (Seriously, fresh out of the oven!), we headed onto the trolley. A man in a conductor’s uniform came and sat across the aisle from me. When I asked if he had been our conductor, he stated that he had–and that his accent was real–a severe Tennessee twang. We had laughed about his instructions to make sure kids sat in the “meeedal” (middle) and to contact the First aid if you got a “Se-ander” (Cinder) in your eye. As has become my tradition, I asked him first how long he had worked here (since June of 2011), and what the coolest thing he’d seen or been a part of during his time here. He shared with us that in 2012, there had been a convention for people who were interested in Roller Coasters at Dollywood because of the big reveal of the Wild Eagle Ride (which had been a big secret–he had to sign papers about it and everything!) While they were at the park, he took them on the train ride and allowed them to stop and have a picnic on the grounds. He got to join them as they spent about 2 hours just eating and sharing together. Then, Dolly came out and sang about three songs. He said it was a really incredible time for him. Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to share this story with us!

Now, there’s just one more sight I want to see:

To Bed...

To Bed…