This tale was to include a segment about riding the Dollywood Express Train in Dollywood at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The trip took place during the weekend of April 19-20 2008. The Dollywood Express was not running during that weekend, due to awaiting government inspection and approval of repairs that had been made. However, disappointment was minimal, because there are so many attractions available in Dollywood and Pigeon Forge, along with the surrounding area in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains.
The enjoyment of the trip began even before arrival at the destination with an automobile ride of a few hours through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain country of North Georgia and Southern Tennessee. This area in April is awash with the splendor of new greenery, sweet smelling flowers, and blossoms. Wildlife is also abundant, from numerous small animals to deer, bear, bobcats, and even mountain lions. Even the roads themselves provide a sense of excitement, ranging from four-lane expressways to dipping and diving serpentine roads where it seems one can shake hands with himself on the hair pin turns. Since April and May can change quickly to downright chilly in the Great Smokey Mountains, a light jacket is a wise article of clothing to have handy.
Anyone planning to travel by automobile needs to be aware that Pigeon Forge and nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee are now booming tourist areas with large volumes of traffic. There was a vintage car show in Pigeon Forge during our visit. It was a different kind of car show, with the town folk lining the streets to watch as the old vehicles drove around town mixed in with all the tourist and local vehicles. The main street has three lanes on each side, but traffic was so thick it barely moved. Visitors need to plan on as much as an hour or more to go each block during special events. It can be an interesting experience for visitors, but the locals dread getting around to pursue their daily lives. One bright spot is that there are trolley cars to get almost everywhere for those who do not wish to fight the traffic. I would recommend checking scheduled events for open days to avoid unwanted delays.
Fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Wendy’s and others abound along with fine sit-down restaurants. Great meals are also served as part of taking in the show at many theaters throughout the town. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that we could enjoy superb dining at a reasonable price inside Dollywood itself.
Dollywood is a family oriented theme park that is very clean and with attractions for everyone from tiny tots to grandmas and grandpas. It is non-alcoholic and has designated areas for smoking. Trams carry people from the parking lots into the theme park itself. Strollers are for rent, also motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs. Wheelchair users will find the theme park has many sloping walkways. There is a lot of walking involved, so we rented a wheelchair for my wife, and I found that holding a wheelchair back on a downhill slope seemed more difficult than pushing it up the same rise. The temptation was great to let my wife experience the thrill of a wild ride on a free-wheeler with her in complete control. I sensed that the aftermath of consequences to me would be greater than to her, so I just hunkered down and did my duty.
Dollywood has a resident Chaplain and a homemade ice cream parlor with an attendant who describes how the ice cream is made. Based upon the amount of time the Chaplain spent at the ice cream parlor, I concluded that he must have had a great interest in making ice cream or an insatiable appetite for ice cream, or else the attendant had a great need for counseling.
The Dollywood Express 110-ton coal-fired steam type train wanders a 5-mile round trip among constant entertainment ride opportunities that cover all ages and include roller coasters, tea cups, spinning discs, rotating towers, water rides, bumper cars, Ferris Wheels and turbulent motion vehicles. Shops and educational browsing buildings are intermingled with rides, so even the wimps have their needs met. The weather was too chilly for us to attempt the water rides, although some brave souls did. I saw one young lady who had gotten wet and was turning blue while she appeared to be mimicking a typewriter with her teeth. Walking through Dolly Parton’s childhood home was an interesting stroll, and another building houses a collection of Dolly Parton photos and memorabilia from her childhood onward.
Scheduled formal entertainment varies throughout the open season to appeal to the widest range of interests, so a trip might be planned around personal or group interests. While we were there, inside shows included The Russian National Theatre folk dance troupe, The Rainmaker, Ecuador-Atahualpa Native Inca Instruments, Ireland’s Rhythm of the Dance, Mexico-Calpulli Dance Company, Zambia Vocal Acapella Group, Traditional Irish Sessions and Suzy Betts. Dollywood regular shows included The Kinfolks tribute to Dolly Parton by friends and family, The Kingdom Heirs Gospel Group of Dollywood, and Heartsong (a music and film experience narrated by Dolly Parton about the Smokey Mountains area).
Outdoor enthusiasts are treated to an aviary of American Bald Eagles complete with nests. It was obvious these majestic birds deserve the honor they receive. There are a variety of other birds of prey in a caged display area.
Entrance Tickets cover admission to everything. One cannot do justice to all the activities in one day – or even two, so I would say to those who are able to make the trip more than once a season to take along a few extra dollars and upgrade the reasonably priced daily tickets to even more economical season tickets.