Hooray for Dollywood
Hattie B Staedtler takes us to the home of the original blonde ambition.
I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’ve stared down the barrel of some pretty tough decisions in my time:
Mum’s house or dad’s?
Veganism or tasty cheeseburger?
To platinum blonde or not to platinum blonde*?
And, though as obvious as balls on a bull in hindsight, my ultimate quandary: Disneyland or Dollywood?
This was the challenge set for me by my own Captain America, the travel weary boyfriend who can’t watch a film that’s set anywhere from Kansas to California without proudly (read: smugly) declaring, “I’ve been there”.
But as I stared down that particular pop-culture barrel, shaking with the gravity of my decision, I was struck by the Acme anvil of clarity. The world stopped spinning, the cacophony of daily life quieted as a chorus of angels (or chipmunks, I’m not sure) belted out a medley of the great lady’s hits, and I knew. There was no decision to be made.
For those who don’t regularly sip from a cup of ambition**, allow me to shed some light. Opened in 1986, Dollywood is a Smokey Mountains themed amusement park that is part owned by Dolly Parton and nestled within the bosom of said mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It is one of the most visited attractions in the state and has provided a thriving economy of hotels, restaurants and ostrich racing (it’s true, and hilarious, youtube it!) in what was formerly a sleepy, one-horse town.
And so, after a two-day whistle-stop in LA (surely sufficient time to visit Disneyland, you say? Captain America – who’s already been – thinks not) we land in Nashville, Tennessee – home to country music, cowboy boot uggs and notable Australian expat, Rick Price. Also, Nicole Kidman-Urban.
It’s at this point I recall a conversation between myself, Captain America and our traveling companion, who for the sake of accuracy we will call ‘World’s Worst Driver’ (WWD), about just how long it would take to drive from Nashville – where we were staying – to Pigeon Forge. Having furiously googled my Mecca before even booking a flight, I was confidently leaning towards four hours. WWD predicted two and a half.
Thus, Captain America and I hurtled down the Tennessee freeways in a mid-sized SUV, eyes closed in fear after watching WWD simultaneously spread a map across the steering wheel, ‘pick some tunes’ on the iPod and dig in the console for tootsie rolls, all at 90mph (metric system readers, this is VERY fast!). WWD honked at truckers and chomped on tootsie rolls and we learned a valuable lesson: never trust people who’s name begins with ‘World’s Worst’ as they are often wrong. And the worst.
No less than FOUR HOURS later we arrived, white-knuckled and weak-bladdered, in Pigeon Forge. As we took each turn toward our destination, driving deeper into the mountains and staring out the window at passing chapels, hotels and yokels, our hopes rose. Only to be dashed against the rocks of bitter disappointment when we pulled up to the pearly boom-gates of the Dollywood parking lot and were told (but barely understood) in a thick mountain accent, “You folks sher y’all wanna come in? Park’ll be closin’ in an hour. Sher is.”***
Gosh darn it; I desperately wanted to come in. We’d come so far. We’d risked our lives for this! And so we did. We paid our parking fee and wound through the empty, football-field sized lots until we found the closest vacant spot. Which wasn’t even close to the park. We boarded a magical little bus dressed in quaint train costume, and were driven by another heavily accented and entirely charming mountain man to the entry gates. The air was crisp, Dolly tunes wafted on the breeze, the mountains were outstandingly beautiful and once again it all felt worthwhile. Noting our ridiculous accents and late arrival, another beaming mountain man took pity by waiving the steep entry fee (currently $57.25) and kindly granting us a more affordable shopping pass to enter the park for it’s final hour of operation.
As I pushed through the turnstiles and passed under the sign that reads, “Welcome to Dollywood. We’re Glad You’re Here”, I was too. For the next hour Captain America and I ran hand in hand to see all that we could see; Dolly’s tour bus, her spangly costumes, her tiny shoes, old-fashioned lemonade stands, the immortal ‘Coat of Many Colours’, the Dollywood penny-crusher, the butterflies branded on everything, streams, trees, autumn leaves, thundering rollercoasters and the GIFT SHOP! We took 693 photos, bought a commemorative snow globe with a train in it and had sore faces from grinning.
We didn’t ride any ‘coasters, or get to visit the Gospel Music Hall of Fame cause it closes early, didn’t get to wander or see the stage shows. But heck, that gives me a mountain of excuses to go back, and I can’t wait.
*The result of this decision was a mistake. A dirty, big, ages-to-grow-out mistake. Mum = vindicated.
**Expertly executed Dolly Parton lyric reference
***Valuable lesson two: there is a time change in the middle of Tennessee. You will lose or gain one hour. For the love of Dolly, please factor this in to your travel plans. We did not.
To read more of Hattie’s rad writing, check out her blog here.