By Anne Braly
The year 2023 promises to be a banner one for Dollywood as its new Big Bear Mountain Roller Coaster, the longest of all Dollywood coasters, roars through the park at the height of the Food and Flower Festival.
Dolly Parton was at the park recently to celebrate the 50th year of her song, “I Will Always Love You,” and to showcase what’s happening at her beloved theme park this season. She also surprised media from around the country with a surprise announcement for 2024.
“Trust us to create memories for families,” she says.
The New Coaster
At a whopping $25 million, the Big Bear Mountain roller coaster is the largest single investment since the park opened in 1986. The coaster is an astounding 3,990 feet in length and wraps around a large portion — almost six acres — of the Wildwood Grove section. The coaster boasts three different launches and on-board audio — a first at Dollywood — along with multiple turns and tunnels at a top speed of 48 miles an hour as riders search for the Big Bear.
Will Parton be riding?
“Now y’all know as well as you know my name that I’m not gonna be riding that thing!” she says. “I don’t want my hair to fly off right on national television or something!”
HeartSong Lodge and Resort
Visitors to Dollywood may begin making reservations for one of 302 guest rooms at the park’s newest resort, HeartSong Lodge, in June. It’s located on a hillside across from DreamMore Resort and Spa and will feature 26,000 feet of meeting space indoors and outdoors, as well as a pool, restaurant, bar, a grab-and-go eatery and gift shop. Best of all, though, guests get in early on Saturdays for exclusive ride times.
“I’ll be excited to come back for the grand opening in November,” Dolly told the crowd.
New On Dollywood’s Menu
There are several full-service restaurants in Dollywood and about 15 locations where you can pick up snack food, such as the famous cinnamon bread, pizza, burgers, chicken and other everyday staples, says Aaron Banks, director of culinary services at the theme park.
“We hang our hats on the fact that we have a variety of offerings for our guests,” Banks says.
This year, there are a couple of new additions to the mostly Southern menus offered at the full- and quick-service eateries: Till & Harvest Food Hall, Front Porch Cafe, Miss Lillian’s BBQ Corner and Smokehouse, Red’s Drive Inn and Aunt Granny’s Restaurant.
For starters, there’s Front Porch’s new Back Yard Crispy Chicken Sandwich served on a bun with a smear of comeback sauce, a side of coleslaw and hot crispy fries. Or, go light with the new Caesar salad. And for dessert? The new strawberry shortcake.
One of the new snacks you’ll find in the park is a spiralized, deep-fried potato — with a hot dog in the middle if you want. For a somewhat healthier snack, there’s the sweet potato taco stuffed with black beans.
While the menus change every so often, there’s one thing Banks keeps in mind: “We can’t forget who we are, so I think, ‘How can we still be Southern, but put a unique spin to it?'”
Dolly Slept Here
Parton’s pink-festooned Prevost RV, her former tour bus, is now retired from its road warrior days and is parked beside Dollywood’s Dream More Resort and is available to reserve for overnight guests who want to spend two nights where Dolly once laid her head. Dolly Suite 1986 comes at a price, though: starting at $10,000 for both nights, but that includes a room in the hotel for extra guests, plus tickets to the park and Dollywood’s Splash Country, a Pink Jeep tour through the Smoky Mountains, and an Eat Like Dolly chef’s multi-course dinner. Also, in making a reservation, you’ll also be supporting Dolly’s Imagination Library, a program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, something that matters a lot to Parton, a native of the Pigeon Forge area who knows well the effects illiteracy can have on a child and a family. Her own father could not read or write.
Dolly’s Imagination Library
Imagination Library is a worldwide literacy program with almost 200 million books given free of charge.
“I’m so proud of that whole project,” Parton remarks. “It started out here in this county (Sevier County), and my dad worked with me on that. He didn’t have a chance to go to school, and he couldn’t read or write, and that bothered him a lot, and that bothered me, too. I got daddy involved, and he took great pride in that.”
Parton says about her library: “I take as much pride in that as anything I’ve ever done.”
One thing she’s discovered about her Imagination Library is not only do children love finding their own books in their mailboxes, she says parents are also learning to be better readers as they read the books to their children.
For more information about Imagination Library and to see if your area is included in the program, log onto imaginationlibrary.com. Books arrive in mailboxes monthly.
Festival Season at Dollywood
* The park is in bloom this time of year at the park’s popular Flower and Food Festival, with a tremendous display of flower sculptures that feature more than a half-million blooms. Dolly’s favorite?
“The Coat of Many Colors sculpture means the most to me personally,” she says. “It covers a whole lot of things.”
The festival also offers certain foods not available year round, such as Spicy Korean BBQ Meatballs, Street Corn Salad, Bacon Jammin’ Fries and Smoked Mac Cheese. And stroll through the flowery wonderland sipping on raspberry tea or cool off with a cranberry watermelon cooler.
“I like to do the festivals because they really let us show a lot of skill set and we can put out different foods at different stations around the park,” says Christopher Seabrook, Dollywood executive chef.
Flower and Food Festival happens through June 11.
* Immediately following Flower and Food, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration with its popular Sweet Summer Nights drone and fireworks show usher in the summer season from June 17-August 6. And back again this year is the popular “Gazillion Bubble Show: Aurora” at Dolly Parton’s Celebrity Theater.
* And for later in the year, the Harvest Festival with its amazing carved pumpkins and Great Pumpkin LumiNights, named the best theme park harvest event in the world, will be held September 20-October 30. Then, concluding the season is Smoky Mountain Christmas with 6 million lights and holiday shows happening November 24-January 6, 2024.
Dollywood continues to grow in 2024, Parton announced. The park’s Adventures in Imagination area will feature a new Dolly Parton Museum filled with keepsakes from her family, items from her massive wardrobe, a story-telling experience and many of Parton’s achievements throughout her career.
“I’m real proud of this and the folks who have been working real hard on it,” Parton says.
For park tickets, reservations at DreamMore Resort — and starting in June, reservations at HeartSong Lodge, and more information, visit dollywood.com.
“I’m thankful to God and to all of you for making my Smoky Mountain dreams come true,” Parton says. “The Bible says to honor your mother and father, and I think my momma and daddy would be proud of me.”
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org or annebraly.com