10 Reasons Why Dollywood Is The Happiest Place On Earth

Photo: Jim Smeal/Getty Images.
I know a place where bald eagles soar, where holograms retell our favorite stories, and where you can purchase a pastry the size of a toddler. That place is Dollywood.

I visited the Pigeon Forge, TN theme park — owned by country music legend Dolly Parton — on a recent road trips. Dollywood was to be just one of many stops. We’d filled our itinerary with such cultural attractions as the world’s largest paint can and a famously phallic rock. But, what we found that day in the Great Smoky Mountains was much more than a roadside diversion; it was a modern-day Eden. Read on to discover 10 reasons why Dollywood just might be the happiest place on Earth.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
The food.
If you consider amusement-park food to be nothing more than fuel to carry you from the ticket window to last call on the Scrambler, then your basic corn dog will do. But Dollywood’s dining is more than sustenance: It’s a one-stop shop for 25-pound apple pies, pork rinds, and tater twirls — a bona fide journey through the culinary south. Get a plate of ham 'n’ beans at Granny Ogle’s or fried thighs at Miss Lillian’s Chicken House. The made-from-scratch, 25-pound apple pies go for $190 a pop (don’t worry; you can also get it by the slice). A word to the wise: Don’t chow down at Aunt Granny’s all-you-can-eat buffet right before hitting the coasters, like we did. You may toss your biscuits all over Jukebox Junction.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
All bedazzled everything, in every size.
If you want to dress like Kendall Jenner, it’s helpful to be a size 2 or 4. But if you want to dress like a country music legend, Ms. Parton wants you to be you. At Dolly’s Closet, one of more than 35 shops at the park, the motto is “Dolly’s Style — In Your Size!” The store stocks sizes 2 to 2X and is like the United Nations of country-cute apparel: Everyone is represented.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
Like Tupac, Dolly Parton has a hologram.
We rolled through Dollywood in the heat of the summer, but even then, we heard rumblings of a holiday hologram. For the past couple of years, the virtual version of Dolly has appeared as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol. She’s back again starting November 7, so anyone who enjoyed Tupac’s holographic performance with Snoop at 2012’s Coachella should hightail it to Pigeon Forge, stat. (Dolly’s ‘gram doesn’t have a “Thug Life” tattoo like Tupac's, but she does sport a festive Christmas gown.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
The park’s signage is just as warm and sassy as Dolly herself.
There’s the whimsical (the park’s main logo uses a butterfly in place of the “W” in "Dollywood"), the inspiring (the Dreamsong Theater marquis features Dolly’s face reaching to the high heavens — a subtle reminder to think big), and the no-nonsense (the sign at Mystery Mine reminds hooligans there’s “No spittin’” allowed). And finally, the park’s exit sign is like a big hug from the southern aunt you’ve never had, but always wanted. It says, “Thanks for comin’… I will always love you! Love, Dolly.” I don't even get a farewell like that from my own parents.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
The patriotic park is home to some two dozen bald eagles.
It was either the heat or the fact that my friend needed a minute to check Grindr (apparently the gettin’ is good at D-Wood), but somehow we ended up at the “Wings of America Birds of Prey” show. The 25-minute avian extravaganza is something to behold, and I’m not alone in thinking this. When the show’s master of ceremonies asked the crowd, “How many owl fans do we have in the audience today?” a teen girl behind me squealed as though she were at a One Direction concert. But the birds in the show are only the beginning. More than two dozen non-releasable bald eagles live in the park’s Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. There, birds with names like Independence and Franklin basically keep the American spirit alive.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
You may find God at Dollywood.
Personally, I found religion at the top of the Tennessee Tornado — a coaster that had me screaming for all kinds of higher powers (including Dolly, and maybe also Kenny Rogers). But Dollywood also has its own place of worship, the Robert F. Thomas Chapel (named after the doctor who delivered a wee Dolly), and holds a service every Sunday. The park’s resident chaplain, Joey Buck, has even officiated at the weddings of more than a dozen Dollywood employees. Spiritual guidance — in addition to discounted pork rinds and a uniform that may or may not include a bonnet — is just a perk of the job.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
They’ve considered the pups: Hello, Doggywood.
You can’t leave man’s best friend behind when you visit a sacred land. That’s why Dolly’s included a place for your pooch right near the park’s gates. In addition to 12 standard kennels, Doggywood has four country cottages for canines who really want to embrace the Smoky Mountain spirit. While we didn’t have a dog with us on our trip, I have read rave reviews about the facility on public doggy forums. A Chihuahua named Elvis and a Yorkie named Trixie each had a particularly good time there.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
You can get up close to one of Dolly’s legendary wigs and her makeup Caboodle.
Of her sky-high coif, Parton has said, “People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know; I’m never there.” The woman’s wigs are almost as mythical as Dolly herself, and the park has one on display in the singer’s retired tour bus. Poke around the home-on-wheels and you’ll see everything from the legend’s makeup kit (okay, technically it’s not Caboodles brand) to the pink potpourri she kept in her bathroom to the bunk bed where her bestie since third grade, Judy Ogle, slept while on the road.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
Dolly actually performs there.
Not to knock any cartoon characters (apparently the gals from Frozen put on a mean show over in Anaheim), but when a Grammy Award winner/Oscar nominee performs at a theme park, you take note. Ms. Parton performed multiple times at Dollywood over the summer to raise money for her Imagination Library literacy program. She’s also been known to sing at ride launches and show up for park parades. The only place you probably won’t catch her is on one of her roller coasters. “I’ve got too much to lose…like my hair,” she said at the unveiling of the park's latest ride, the Lightning Rod.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dollywood.
You can even sleep there.
Just because you’ve eaten all your tater twirls doesn’t mean you have to go home. In July, the park opened the 300-room DreamMore Resort, which is surely the greatest hotel ever named after a self-help book (yes, Dream More is also Dolly’s 2012 tome). We didn’t get a chance to crash at the resort (we had to make it to that phallic rock, after all), but we’re hoping to return and splurge on Dolly’s Suite, pictured: a one-of-a-kind penthouse apartment that’s inspired by the singer’s personal style. Rumor has it the suite starts at $2,000 per night, but if we’ve learned anything from Dolly, it’s that even a few bumpkins like us can dream.