Dollywood


The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

When my mom originally booked our three bedroom (2 bedroom with a lock off 1 bedroom) at The Lodges at Great Smokey Mountains, we had thought my sister’s family of 9 would be joining us, but due to a change in departure time for my niece’s semester in Mexico, they were unable to.  So, my mom and I were left with three bedrooms and just the two of us.

We quickly tried to think of anyone who might not have family plans and would be able come with us.  We immediately thought of our Chinese friend from our Spring Break adventure the last time we were in Tennessee.  So, we called Hannah, and she said yes!

So, yesterday (12/20/15), we drove from Ohio to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, by way of Huntsville, Alabama.

10 Seconds til Bread

10 Seconds til Bread!

When we arrived at our resort, we decided to head to Dollywood to be there by 6, so we could finish the night and get Hannah the best value–after 6:00 P.M. one day and the entire next day for the price of one day.  We got to Dollywood in time to make it to the 6:30 production of O Holy Night.  Mom and Hannah staked our claim at the show, while I went to stand in line for cinnamon bread.  The fact that the line stretched out the door lends credence to my claim that this is the best cinnamon bread ever!  I ended up missing the show, since they were done before I got the bread, but it was well worth the wait!!  We devoured it!

We next decided to take the train around to look at the lights.  We quickly realized that, though the lights looked cool, it was not worth freezing over!  The wind was frigid and many places were not clear to see in the dark.

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

We then went to see ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  This play takes a humorous look at the traditional Christmas poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  In the play, a family is trying desperately to be together for the holidays.  The youngest girl in the family makes a Christmas wish for them all to be together for the holidays.  Through a series of interventions from “Nick,” many Christmas miracles abound, and the family is able to be together.  It’s a fun heart warming show, and was a good way to round out our evening.

It was a fun day, and we were able to see a lot in just three hours.  After that, we headed home to finish unpacking, and get ready for a full day at Dollywood in the morning.

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The Wild Eagle Ride–with a gigantic drop!

Dollywood opened today (12/21/15) at 11:00 and closed at 9:00.  I think we packed more into those 10 hours than just about anyone else could have.  Because Hannah likes roller coasters, we wanted to expose her to some of the American variety before she returns to China.  We met up with another family who liked big roller coasters (we don’t), and they adopted her to go along with their family for the rides.  She first tried the Tennessee Tornado–a fast coaster which takes you upside down 3 times.  She enjoyed it, but said her heart was racing when she got off.  We then challenged her to go on the Wild Eagle–challenged, because this was the one ride she had said she thought would be too scary for her.  But, she accepted the challenge and did it!  She did, however, also decide she was through with roller coasters for a while.

Eagle Sanctuary

Since the first show we wanted to visit was at 3:00, we decided to use the time to look in all the shops.  It is fun to see so much of American culture through the eyes of someone from another county.  We had a great time sharing our heritage and learning about Chinese culture in return.  From the glass blowers to the wood carvers, to the eagle sanctuary and the old school house, we got to explain so much of life and early America, that, as a teacher and former teacher, we truly loved sharing.

A Christmas Carol

Our first big show was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  This was perfect for us, since it is an American Classic.  We had explained the story to Hannah earlier, and now she got to see it acted out.  This is the newest show at Dollywood, and truly an excellent opportunity.   I would definitely recommend it!

After the show, we went to see My People again.  Dolly’s brother wasn’t at the show we saw, which was a disappointment.  Since another man was saying the lines he usually says, I wondered if he left the show or just wasn’t there for that particular show.

View of Dollywood from the top of the Ferris Wheel

When the show finished, we headed to the county fair.  Since we were trying to expose Hannah to as much of American culture as possible, we explained the idea of county fairs. The one at Dollywood is a classic example.  I made Hannah ride the Ferris wheel–the county fair standard. Like the Wild Eagle, this ride was a bit stretching for her–especially when the carriage rocks at the very top, but she survived.

We finished the evening off with Christmas in the Smokies, rounding out a very full day.  Tomorrow will be another adventure, I’m sure!

 

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Kingdom Heirs

Kingdom Heirs

Today (6/16/15), we headed back to Dollywood to check out the new shows we had missed. Dollywood is celebrating 30 years in business this year, and The Kingdom Heirs are celebrating just as many as part of the park. Though members of the group have come and gone, from the newest member who has only been in the group two months to the oldest who was part of the group before it came to Dollywood, this group has a passion and professionalism that makes it easy to understand their success. They sing a mix of old and new Southern Gospel, blending hymns “From the Redbook” with newer songs, but always with the theme of loving and honoring Jesus. Definitely a tow-tapping experience, and a must for any lover of quartets. I also learned that The Kingdom Heirs had topped a number of Southern Gospel charts with several hit songs, as well as an album that’s sold over a million copies.  A bedrock of Dollywood, this group should not be missed!  You can check them out at Kingdom Heirs

My People:  Dolly's family

My People: Dolly’s family

After The Kingdom Heirs, we rushed over to hear a newer show, My People, featuring members of Dolly’s family including a brother and sister, 2 nieces, and 2 cousins (pictured left to right.)   This show blended live performance with video of Dolly herself.  Dolly shared a number of her childhood experiences, and other family members added special memories of Dolly or their family.  It was neat for me to watch the interactions of this portion of the Parton family (Dolly’s mom and dad had 12 children, so the whole family must be huge.)
It may just be good acting, but this family seems to genuinely like each other and be close knit.  Having spent so much time making music together in their childhood, they have a tremendous opportunity to make music together again.  One of the things that set this group apart was that they take the opportunity after the show to meet and speak with any member of the audience who desires to do so.  (The Kingdom Heirs normally do this, but today had to rush off to Nashville for an awards event.)  You can check out their show here: My People

Rhododendrons in bloor

Rhododendrons in bloom

We hadn’t planned on watching the Gazillion Bubble show, but the fact that it was in the largest theater made us curious.  I’m so glad we did!  Deni Yang is a one of a kind artist (or apparently a 5 of a kind, as it seems his whole family is in the bubble business.)  Deni himself has been performing for twenty years (though starting performing at age 4 makes him still very young.)  While Deni has amazing talent, (Since there’s no photography, you can check him out here: Deni Yang) the thing that most impressed me was the way that he interacted with the younger members of the audience.  He involved them in everything from dancing at the beginning to putting them inside of bubbles, to a wonderful story in which a little girl sees her dream of snow.  He kneels down to talk to children (gets on their level), escorts them to and from stage holding their hands, and gives them presents, all the while making them feel amazingly important.  It was a beautiful thing.  And, as I heard the gasps, laughter, and excitement of the audience as thousands of bubbles cascaded over them, I was reminded that there’s just something about bubbles that makes people happy!

Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains

With three shows under our belts, we headed to the visitor’s center to plan our early morning jaunt to Cade’s Cove in hopes of seeing both fawns and bears, only to find out that the park wouldn’t be open until 10 tomorrow–they were opening early for cyclists.  So, that brought a change of plans.  We decided to take the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail to see if we could find Rhododendrons or wildlife.  The Rhododendrons were blooming gloriously, though the time of day didn’t provide the best light (We may head back here tomorrow.) But, no bears this trip.  After a beautiful drive beside babbling brooks and glorious flowering trees, it was time to say goodnight to the Smokies for another day.

 

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Mom and I set out yesterday (6/15/15) for a few quick days in Gatlinburg before I leave for Poland on Saturday.   We arrived about 2:00 and set off in search of Rhododendrons, which my mom had been hoping to see in full bloom.  We drove a little ways up the mountain, but didn’t find the areas full of blossoms we were hoping for.  We checked out the chimney tops and headed back down to Dollywood.

100_4117We once again took the trolley from Patriot Park ($.50 each way!) and decided to check out the shows (Our favorite thing at Dollywood!). Our first show was Dreamland Drive-In.  This show features music of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in the story which follows a group of classmates from their early high school years through reunions and eventually to modern times.  While I’m sure the show is especially enjoyable for those who lived through these times and for whom the montage of songs and pictures have special meaning, it is an enjoyable collection for any group.  The songs and dancing were both fun!

IMG_2329From the Drive-In, we headed to Country Crossroads by way of the Grist Mill to buy some incredible cinnamon bread to enjoy while waiting for the show.  This show features three men and three women and includes a number of country music’s greatest hits.  Though mom and I don’t “listen to country music,” we were surprised how many songs we knew.  One thing that impressed me about this show was that one of the singers was in a wheelchair.  That’s not the impressive part.  What was impressive was not only this young man’s beautiful voice, but also his ability to do all the choreography everyone else did.  Definitely an impressive performance and a reminder of Dolly’s commitment to provide opportunities to such a diverse group of people.

100_4125We had decided this would be the night to stay for the fireworks since it had the least prediction of rain, so we meandered through some of the shops on our way up to Timber Canyon.  Before the fireworks, Dollywood offers a Lite the Nite production.  This show boasts singers and dancers all in light up suits, in addition to a variety of street artists, jugglers, stilt walkers, etc.  They even choose a kid from the audience to “Start the fireworks.”  Definitely a fun way to start our trip!

Visiting friends

Visiting friends

When long time family friends called last night to say they were coming to visit and had planned on going to Dollywood, we together decided to spend today (3/25/15) with them.  Though they are “ride people” and we are “show people,” we decided to do a bit of both, and everyone had a wonderful time.

We first went to ride the Thunderhead–They rode, we were the supportive people waving on the ground.  Then, since we still had time to kill before the show we both wanted to see, we headed down to the Country Fair area.  We never spend a lot of time in this area, so it was neat to check it out.  We even joined them on the “moderate thrill” rides like Skyrider, the Scrambler, the Wonder Wheel (Swings), and the Carousel–and it was actually very fun.

Next, we headed to The Rhythm of the Dance, which we had both wanted to see. The crowd was better, but still not as “into it” as I would like.  I also realized how much music (without dance) is in the show.  I think almost half the numbers are strictly musical–a lot more than I had remembered.  But, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Los Pampas Gauchos

Los Pampas Gauchos

We got out in just enough time to make it over to Los Pampas Gauchos (My recommendation).  Having seen the show previously, I noticed they showcase different dancers in each show, so it is possible to see the show multiple times and see something different each time.  They also came out to the lobby to take pictures with audience members, but we were moving on, so didn’t take time to do that–a neat opportunity, though. Our friends agreed, they are a definite favorite! (Maybe we’ll get to see them one more time before we leave…)

One thing I love about Dollywood is their partnership with The American Eagle Foundation.  So far, they have provided a sanctuary for wounded eagles who would not survive in the wild.  These eagles are kept safe and are still able to breed.  At the time of our visit, over 133 eagles have been released back into the wild from this sanctuary, and eagles have moved from around 400 pairs to over 1500 pairs, allowing them to be taken off the endangered species list.

One of the rescued Eagles.

One of the rescued Eagles.

What an amazing opportunity to preserve this symbol of America!

After browsing in a few stores, we ended the day with the Alash Ensemble.  My mom recommends this group to everyone she possibly can–mostly because it is something you have to see to believe.  This show was also different.  For the last number, one of the band members recommended they teach the audience a song.  It was such a fun experience to learn a little bit of the Tuva Language–albeit a phrase with no English translation.  The audience here was incredible, and everyone participated well.  I think it’s a tradition that should continue!

We thought we were finished for the evening–we were all happily exhausted. So we parted ways with our friends and headed for home. Along the side of the road, we saw three Chinese ladies and a fifth grade boy in various positions around a car with its hood up. “Do you think they need help?” I asked. My mom pulled the car over, and I got out to ask. Their engine had started shaking, so they had called a repair place and were waiting for the tow truck to arrive. We decided to wait with them, since they might need a ride somewhere if the car were really in trouble. I’m so glad we did.

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

One example my parents have consistently set for us is to help out those in need–it’s something that was not just an idea in the Bible, but something they lived out in front of us. And here was our opportunity to serve. When the tow truck arrived and led us through varying degrees of not so nice neighborhoods to arrive at the ultimate of stereotypical hillbilly garages (looking like a used car lot), we were skeptical, and didn’t want these kind ladies and boy to get “taken for a ride”–especially when we found out that same garage had worked on the car just that morning. To make a several hour story very short, the car had a ruined oil pump. The diagnosis was it had probably ruined the engine. Not knowing much about cars, I snuck off to Google the information. Unfortunately, the diagnoses sounded logical. So, these dear Chinese ladies, one of whom has only been in America for three weeks, are stuck about 5 hours from the colleges at which they are studying with a car they can either sell or pay $2500 to fix (to replace the engine.) Not a nice time.

Blooming trees at Dollywood

Blooming trees at Dollywood

But, we spent a lovely meal with them, took them back to their hotel, helped them negotiate a way home, and discussed with them the different options they had to choose from. We were so blessed to meet them and were hoping they would get to stay with us while we waited for the repairs to be done.

For me, it was another reminder that, just as God has put people in the right place at the right time to help me navigate through many other countries, He also chose to honor us with the privilege of helping out these wonderful visitors to ours. What a great way to celebrate the Festival of Nations!

The Robert F. Thomas Chapel,  Dollywood

The Robert F. Thomas Chapel, Dollywood

There’s a famous line from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra:  It beggared all description.  I think I learned what this phrase meant today (3/22/15.)

While there are many incredible things at Dollywood–the food, the shops, amazing craftsmanship, the rides–but for us, the shows are the main reason we come.  My previous experience at Dollywood was during the Christmas holidays, when the shows were truly unparalleled, but what we saw today at the Festival of Nations truly blew it out of the water.  So, while we did walk around, visit shops, and buy things, today’s experience was truly about the shows.

To begin with, we weren’t planning on being at Dollywood as early as we were.  We had planned to attend Cowboy church–a local church service (broadcast internationally) that features country music artists.  A friend had recommended it as an amazing experience.  But, when we pulled into the Comedy Barn, there were no cars in the parking lot.  We went in and asked the workers, and they told us the church had moved.  With a bit of digging, we discovered the church was not meeting for the next two weeks.  Still wanting to attend church on a Sunday, we googled where Dolly went to church.  We didn’t find out where Dolly usually attends, but we did discover there was a chapel in Dollywood with an 11:30 service, so we still had a chance to make it–without even rushing!

The view from the choir loft waiting for the service to start.

The view from the choir loft waiting for the service to start.

When we arrived, the chaplain was asking for volunteers for the choir, and since mom and I both sing, we decided to join.  Service was an incredible one.  Chaplain Joey Buck started by sharing that God had brought us specifically to this place–especially true for us, since we had planned to be someone else.  He brought an encouraging message from Ps. 51, challenging us that God was a God of renewal, that He didn’t and wouldn’t give up on us, and that He gives us joy and meaning as we walk with Him.  The service was interspersed with hymns and sharing.  While different from my home church, it was an incredible experience, and I’m glad we ended up with God’s plan A.  I also think it is awesome that Dolly has employed a full-time chaplain for her staff for 30 years: a true testimony of how much Dolly gives back.   For more about Smokey Mountain Resort Ministries, check them out at http://www.smrm.org.

The Invaders Steel Orchestra

The Invaders Steel Orchestra

After church, we meandered towards the Valley Theater to check out The Invaders Steel Orchestra. We bought a few things at the glassblowers and were informed that Dollywood offers guests the option of Package pick-up. If you buy something other than a stuffed animal, they can have it delivered to the front of the park for you to pick up on your way out! An awesome convenience for people who already have a lot to carry.

The Invaders Steel Orchestra is a group from Trinidad and Tobago. When the show first started, I had been anticipating something that was like Drumline. Instead, the first song was a mellow, islandy melody which reminded me of hold music (The music you hear when you’re placed on hold.) Steel drumSo I wasn’t very impressed until the one of the performers began to share a bit more. I learned that Trinidad and Tobago are the most southerly of the Caribbean islands. While two separate islands differing in industry, they together make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The instruments they were playing are steel drums made from 55 gallon oil drums, and they were created in Trinidad and Tobago. What I had mistaken for a synthesizer playing the melody was actually the drums. These varying drums, some of which looked like overgrown mixing bowls, created the most beautiful melodies. They vary in pitch and sound, in some cases resembling the instruments for which they are named, like the cello, guitar, or bass. When they played everything from Amazing Grace to Offenbach’s Can Can, I was blown away. I had been expecting drums–this was incredible skill which involved picking a selected spot on the drum to represent each note. Unbelievable!

The Alash Ensemble Throat Singers from the Republic of Tuva

The Alash Ensemble Throat Singers from the Republic of Tuva

Since we had about an hour and a half until the next show, we browsed various shops along the way, finally making our way to The Heartsong Theater to see Alash Ensemble. This group from the Republic of Tuva (Located between Siberia and Mongolia) was the first show I’ve ever experienced that truly “beggared description.” From the moment they began singing, I knew there was no possible way for me to describe what they do. These “Throat Singers” are able to shut out certain tones in their voice so what you hear coming out is literally two distinct sounds in two very different registers. Like trying to decipher a good magic trick, we looked for something else that could have been making the noise we were hearing: Nothing.

Stilt walking acrobatics

Stilt walking acrobatics

While they played accompanying instruments, they were not moving their fingers appropriately to produce the sounds we heard. There was no trick! Mom and I both left saying it was the most unique thing we had ever witnessed! To find out more information on the Alash Ensemble–and to hear this incredible phenomenon for yourself–check out their website at http://www.alashensemble.com Play the video in the left hand corner to hear a sample! (By the way, they really are country–they sing about pretty girls and fast horses…)

We were able to make our way to the next show at a leisurely pace, so we spent time on the lookout for the Zebra Stelzentheater from Germany. These stilt walkers simply rove the park, posing for pictures with tourists and showing their acrobatic skills. We saw two different groups–one with alien looking costumes, and one with late 1700’s costumes. They were a fun interlude.

Los Pampas Gauchos

Los Pampas Gauchos

It was then time to check out the much anticipated Los Pampas Gauchos. This group from Argentina totally blew me away. It was the second group to truly leave me speechless. Not only did they perform incredible dancing, but they blended it with comedy, acrobatics, and a variety of dangerous items including knives, whips, and bolas. Additionally, they boasted a cast containing both the 2013 and the 2014 winners of the Malambo dance contest. (Malambo is a mix of tap, instruments, and basic showing off.) Each dance was more incredible than the one before. When they came out and danced with Bolas (a throwing weapon made up of a cord with a ball attached to the end, meant to be thrown and wrapped around an animal’s legs), it was stunning! Definitely a show not to miss! To experience a bit of the show for yourself, check out this YouTube video from the 2012 season! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q21Zo0_RA8

Timber acrobatics

Timber acrobatics

Finally, we ended our day at the Showstreet Palace Theater to take in Timber! This group hails from the small town of Saint-Alphonse-Rodriquez, Quebec and brings their experiences of farm life combined with unbelievable acrobatics. Since I had missed the part about them being from Quebec, I was surprised when the songs they sang were in French. But, we soon recovered and thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was slower paced than the enthusiastic gauchos, but also included feats of incredible balance, juggling axes (legitimate axes–you could hear the clang of the metal, and they ended each trick throwing them into a tree trunk), running logs, spinning inside wheels, and a variety of other tricks. You can check out their show at http://www.cirquealfonse.com/en/shows/timber/

Alas, the park was closing, and it was time to leave Dollywood for another day. We will be exploring some other territories tomorrow, so probably won’t be back to Dollywood until later in the week. I can’t wait to see several of these shows again!

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…

Kingdom Heirs

Kingdom Heirs

We arrived at Dollywood in time for the park’s opening at 11:00 A.M. and immediately made our way to check out the Kingdom Heirs, a Country Gospel quartet that was an incredible experience. This quartet has been with Dollywood for 27 years and has been nominated for many awards. One of our favorite parts was the incomparable piano playing of Andy Stringfield. Andy has been nominated Favorite Young Artist for the past 5 years, and it’s not hard to understand why.
Christmas in the Smokies

Christmas in the Smokies

Additionally, this quartet does a different show for each of its 3 performances, so one could attend more than once and experience new songs.

From there, we went to see Christmas in the Smokies, a beautiful song and dance segment with lots of holiday spirit. We had plenty of time to explore before the next show, so we walked through the Timber Canyon area to the Craftsman Valley where they have an Eagle Mountain Sanctuary containing the country’s largest collection of Non-releasable eagles. They are truly an amazing sight to behold!

Beautiful bald eagles

Beautiful bald eagles

We then went to see the Appalachian Christmas, which was an outdoor theatre (cold!), but offered a string trio, consisting of a banjo, guitar, and upright bass. It was another taste of good ol’ country and Christmas music. Close by, we went to Dolly’s Heart Song movie, which tells a bit of Dolly’s childhood using a movie with a few 4-D effects (smells and rain.)

Appalachian Christmas

Appalachan Christmas

Since we had a bit of time before the next show, we explored the County Fair section of Dollywood, which offers all the typical County Fair attractions from Ferris Wheels to games you can play to win stuffed animals.

O Holy Night

O Holy Night

We headed off to see O Holy Night, which is a charming play combining a modern Christmas experience with the Biblical version. We got out in time to take the train, which takes visitors on a loop around the park and through the grounds. We thought it would be a good opportunity to see the lights of the area. It definitely was, but it was also a freezing ride!

We had planned to see another of the shows, but since we were so cold, we opted to go to Dolly’s Chasing Rainbows Museum, which displays many photographs of Dolly with other performers, items from her childhood and youth, and a huge array of dresses she’s worn. It was a neat opportunity to understand a bit more of who Dolly is as a person and an entertainer.

Lights of Dollywood

Lights of Dollywood

Finally, since we missed the other show and didn’t feel we needed to see the lights display, we decided to go see Christmas on Ice again. It was just as good as last night, if not better, due to a more lively crowd. Additionally, a few of the skaters changed routines, so we got to see a bit different show.

All in all, we had another amazing day (despite the cold), and think Dollywood is definitely worth the price of admission!

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