I do not have a bucket list. I would spend way too much time working on the list and not enough time living it. If I did have a list, going to Dollywood would be on it. I could not wrap my head around the fact that Dolly Parton built a theme park. Never knowing when or how, I always knew I had to see it with my own eyes.
Going into the weekend, there were some aspects that were exactly as expected and coming out of it, some that were completely shocking. I considered listing them out for you, but writing out these memories is going to be a way for Sam and I to cherish them. It’s story time.
Road to Pigeon Forge, TN
The road from Asheville, NC to Pigeon Forge, TN is windy and is filled with trucks. Unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are limited gorgeous sightlines. For the majority of the drive, I was attempting not to be squashed by a truck and Sam was writing. It was impressive and terrifying how fast these cars were going around the bend. I felt like an outsider, slow in the right lane and I was okay with it.
Once we turned off of the main road, we merged into one lane. The road was still windy, but somehow people were still zipping. I accidentally held up traffic going well below the speed limit because I did not know the area. As we were driving around a bend, I exclaimed, “It’s Bush Beans!” A place I never wanted to go, yet knew I could not drive past without stopping. Well, Sam said “We’ll do it on the way back”. The trip went on and this became his catch phrase.
The area seemed normal. Then out of nowhere, we turned onto a crazy road. Sam & I did very little research about Pigeon Forge before planning our trip. We knew we wanted to go to Dollywood and we knew we needed somewhere to sleep. That was the extent of the research. The road we were staying on is called “Parkway” and it is a combination of the Jersey Shore, Vegas, and something completely new.
There was every type of fast food you could possibly want. There was NASCAR go-karting, mini golf, ropes courses, and more. Some of the buildings were designed to look sideways or upside down. One building had king kong climbing up the side. We knew we were in for an adventure. Driving up to our residence for the weekend, a Red Roof Inn, I was surprised to find a motel instead of a hotel. I am not sure how the internet did not think this was relevant information to share, but we made it through the weekend. Motels are not for me.
Time for the Dollywood Theme Park
After we checked in and dropped off our things, we headed to Dollywood. On the road leading up to the park, the parks symbol of a butterfly was everywhere. They took the design usually used for routes and put a butterfly in there, too. We originally planned to start with the waterpark, but since it was closed, we headed to the main theme park. A beautiful gift. The park was nearly empty. The wait times for most rides were a maximum of 5 minutes.
The park was decorated for the holidays due to filming, but I highly enjoyed being reminded that Halloween was just around the corner.
We made the mistake of going on the first ride we saw, which ended up making me feel sick. After feeling slightly nauseous, we decided to go on the flume ride. It was either going to be the cure or exacerbate the problem. Well, it did neither, but if I had to lean in one direction, it felt more like a cure. We thought to ourselves, “Why don’t we leave our belongings in a locker at the ride and come back later.”
It Took A Turn
If this was a movie, there would be a score accompaniment that made you feel like trouble was around the corner. What was truly around the corner were all the spinny rides. With each step, we hoped to find a ride that would enchant us and draw us in. We did not.
Sam & I ended up walking the entire park just to get back to our lockers because we realized we were hungry and needed water on such a sunny day. We kept walking past places that we wanted to eat at, to remember to come back to, or to take pictures of and we had no means to do any of that. To make matters worse, we left our maps in the locker and I am sure there was an easier route back. Once we found the lockers again, we ate BBQ and checked out a few shows.
There were three sit-down shows and two listening shows in total. The first show we saw was Harmonies Of The Heart, with Dolly Parton’s family members. It was indoors and air conditioned. They had cute interactions where they pretended to ask each other fun facts about Dolly or their favorite songs she sang. They all had beautiful voices and exposed us to some Dolly songs we had never heard of.
The second show, Good Vibes, was more pop and contemporary music. They pretended they were on a summer road trip and kept singing parts of songs. There were some really talented singers in that group and they incorporated more choreography.
The last show we saw was Forever Country which took the audience through the evolution of country music. We only saw half of this show, but it also exposed us to a lot of music we do not normally listen to.
The park also had shows on a smaller scale that were nice to listen to as you were walking by. We caught glimpses of Wild Roots Band & Smoky Mountain String Band. Dolly made it incredibly hard to walk through her park without smiling.
Time to Head Back
Throughout the day, Sam & I walked the entire park at least three times. It was a great workout, but I wish the park was a little less confusing to navigate. We walked through a souvenir shop and I purchased a neon tie dye fanny pack. Finally, we headed towards the exit.
On our way out, we stopped at some of the different craftsman’s locations. Some of the highlights were the Valley Forge Blacksmith, Valley Wood Carvers, and Smoky Creek Leather. My favorite of them all was the Mountain Blown Glass because I am a big Blown Away fan from Netflix and it was surreal to watch it in person.
Earlier in the day, we noticed we were surrounded by jeeps. These were not your average jeeps, they were decorated and uniquely designed. After some investigation, we realized we were in Pigeon Forge the same weekend as the “Jeep Invasion”. Honestly, a Jeep Invasion is kind of what it sounds like. There are competitions and “group drives” and vendors that sell unique Jeep parts. If you are a Jeep enthusiast, you should look into attending.
It was cool to learn about an event that impacted so many and to see it first-hand. It was annoying that there was more traffic and there were no reservations because of all of the visitors. With no possible reservations in sight and the Jeep Takeover Down the Parkway beginning, we ordered takeout from Buffalo Wild Wings.
Dollywood’s Water Park
There is nothing special to write about Dolly’s waterpark. It is a great waterpark, but nothing made it special like the theme park. From my trip, I have written two posts inspired by my day at the waterpark. Please read here for part 1 and here for part 2.
We vowed to go out to dinner the second night and found a spot that the locals did not particularly enjoy. Farm-to-table and sustainable ingredients were not their market. Unfortunately, this tale ends that the tourists for the Jeep Invasion also enjoy delicious food and we were not able to get a table. We landed at a Steakhouse in an Outlet Mall. I swear, malls are our salvation sometimes. It was great food and good vibes. We did some shopping while we waited for our table and were satisfied with the meal.
A few lessons were learned from this trip.
- Look up the local events in the place you are traveling to before you book your tickets
- Scout out the rides you are most excited for and go on those first
- Make reservations at least a week in advance in crowded, tourist destinations
On the drive home, we did stop at the Bush Beans Visitors Center for a few pictures. It was closed, but we got what we came for. I hope this road trip is filled with many more experiences like the one to Dollywood. We had an adventure that was unexpected and random, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Who else can say they accidentally stumbled upon a “Jeep Invasion”?
Continuously work towards improving your balance of being a free spirit and having organization. While it was surprising that the Jeep Invasion was going on, I am happy I did not know beforehand because I possibly would’ve changed the weekend. On the other hand, it would have been nice to have dinner reservations.