Hello Dolly!

The bed here in our cabin is amazing. Not only is it huge, like all American beds (it could comfortably sleep four people) but it’s spectacularly soft and squidgy. When you get in you kind of fall right down into the middle. Not in that bad way because it’s ancient and all the springs have gone but just because it’s like falling into a cloud. To get up again you have to kind of brace yourself and then roll up and out over the side.

But get up we did. Because we were off to Dollywood!!

If you haven’t heard of it, this is a theme park owned by none other than Dolly Parton herself. It has all the usual theme park rides, lots of shows (many of which have won awards), an eagle sanctuary and just a few small things about Dolly herself. And it’s only about 15 minutes’ drive from where we are staying, so it would be rude not to pay it a visit.

We managed to spend a full day at the park without finding the time to go on any rides at all, that’s how big the place is. We did ride the Dollywood Express, which is a genuine steam train that takes you for a short ride up into the mountains. Other than that we seemed to be rushing around between shows and street performances, as it is currently the Festival of Nations so there are lots of different performers from around the world all gathered at Dollywood. In particular we saw a Bollywood dance show, which would have been pretty awesome on its own. However at the end of the show we had a surprise visit onstage by the lady herself, Miss DP, as it was the first day of the 2013 season and she wanted to welcome all the visitors to her home. She got a standing ovation from the crowd. It’s clear that she’s greatly adored by people in these parts. We overheard a lot of visitors saying that they have season passes as they like to come back so often, particularly when they know that “Miss Dolly” will be in town. Quite a few of these people seem to drive about 5 hours each way just to catch a glimpse of her. It’s true that she is a massive asset to the economy, as Pigeon Forge (or Blackpool in the Mountains, as it looks to us) would not be anywhere near so thriving were it not for Dollywood or the other businesses that have grown up around it. More than that, though, she has always remained faithful to her roots and her hometown and is always singing its praises and doing what she can to help the community. People love her for that.

After the excitement of seeing Actual Dolly Parton in the flesh, we went to see the Wings of America bird show. At Dollywood they have a bald eagle sanctuary and they do a lot of work towards the conservation of this bird that is the national symbol. The show included lots of different birds of prey and was educational as well as entertaining. At the end the main trainer sang a heartfelt song about America while holding a bald eagle on his arm. Well that was weird.

Dollywood also showcases a lot of traditional crafts, such as wagon-making, iron work, etc., against a background of old-time Tennessee, to give you a flavour of what it was like when Dolly was a little girl. This made it feel like we were rooted in a very specific place rather than in yet another plastic park in Anywheresville USA, and this is exactly the type of experience I have been after as I want to see the many different sides of America while we are living here.

At the end of the day we headed off to watch the big parade and we got up close and personal with Actual Dolly Parton again – this time only a couple of feet away ….. She is looking pretty spectacular for someone who is approaching seventy. Then again, most of her constituent parts are probably considerably younger than that 🙂

What a brilliant day. I don’t think I have quite converted the husband to Dolly as successfully as the Graceland experience, although I think I caught him humming Nine to Five so there may be hope yet.

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