Happy Birthday, Stephanie! Now, if you don’t mind, let’s break down the tent and see if we can stuff everything back in the car.
To celebrate Stephanie, we are attending Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. We attempted to purchase tickets several weeks ago, but were unable to via their online ordering process. But an acquaintance of Stephanie’s went to Dollywood this week and stated it was the safest he’d felt all week, so we tried to purchase tickets again to great success.
We pulled out of the campsite about 9:30, roughly on schedule. (There is no schedule.) Everything fit into the car, even the new wooden carved bear Stephanie bought yesterday.
To begin the birthday celebration, we stopped by the Artistic Bean coffee house in Townsend, and of course it was closed. We love this town, but sometimes it does not love us back.
To make our way to Dollywood, we drove through Wears Valley looking for a coffee shop. We pulled over when we saw an outfitters store that advertised selling coffee. GSM Outfitters. We walked up to the door and saw that masks were required in the store in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. No big deal to us – ours were already on, as we’ve been trying to be uber careful on this trip. Once inside the store, the owner, Michael, handed us each a coupon good for 25% off our purchases as thanks for wearing our masks. Wow! We ended up spending an hour in his store buying shoes and clothes, and we even remembered to get coffee. Thanks Michael! Customer for life.
Once back on the road, we finished our short drive to Dollywood. All visitors get their temperature scanned in the parking lot prior to being allowed on the tram. We passed the test.
We made a beeline for the Lightning Rod rollercoaster. It has been recommended to us as the best ride in the park. Also claims to the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world. The wait to get on this ride was about an hour. It was during this hour that it really sunk in that the mask requirement was not going to be adhered to strictly by every patron. It was hot, and it was stuffy in the line, but was not expecting to see over 50% of the customers with their masks off or under their chin. It was not until we were leaving the park at 10:00pm that we saw a park employee tell a guest they needed to put their mask on.
By the way, the Lightning Rod lived up to the hype. It was pretty intense and we all enjoyed it, although Marissa wouldn’t touch a roller coaster the rest of the day!
Dollywood did close down the rides once an hour and sanitize them. We were in line several times when we would see the staff clean every seat and restraint and then run the ride once with empty cars.
We wanted a change of pace next so we got in line for the Dollywood Express, coal-fired train ride. They would only allow guests to sit every three rows on the train, and we had special spots to stand while waiting to ensure we were socially distanced.
The train ride was actually pretty cool. The locomotive had originally been used in Alaska before being transplanted to Tennessee. They nicknamed the engine Cinderella because it would spew cinders that we all got covered in. The conductor made clear before we started that the train would not stop if you got a cinder in your eye. That is not an emergency!
Mallory had heard some pretty awesome things about the Cinnamon Bread, sold at the Grist Mill. We had to stand in line about 10 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. We bought one loaf and split it. Yum. It also lived up to the hype.
We were told by a park employee later that during certain times of the year, people will come in and buy a hundred loaves at a time. People will wait in line 2 hours to get this bread. Is there any food that I love enough to wait in line for 2 hours?
Another neat exhibit at Dollywood is the Bald Eagle Habitat. They have dozens of bald eagles living here that are unable to live in the wild for some reason or another.
Our group split up for most of the afternoon and evening. Stephanie and Mallory hit every roller coaster and thrill ride in the park, while Marissa and I explored all the shops.
One attraction not to be missed is the replica “Tennessee Mountain Home” of Dolly Parton. It is only two rooms and gives you a sense of how people of the area would have lived not that long ago. I may have been vaguely aware of Dollywood prior to last year, when I listened to a 9 part podcast called Dolly Parton’s America. It was in nearly everybody’s Top 10 podcasts of the year, and was the 2019 Podcast of the Year by Forbes. Essentially, Dolly is a unifier. It is very difficult to find anyone that has a negative thing to say about her. She has a fascinating story.
Our two groups reconvened at the end of the night to watch the fireworks together. The Birthday Girl had a great day and that’s all that matters!