PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dollywood is gearing up to open for the 2021 season, and guests can expect a lot more space plus a few more improvements.
During the off-season, numerous projects were going on to “enhance the guest experience.” Park leaders said most of the changes came about after hearing the wants and needs from guests.
“People demand excellence and we have to deliver the day with excellence,” Eugene Naughton, president of The Dollywood Company, said.
Roller coaster improvements
Four roller coasters in the park are getting some new track. Yes, that includes the Lightning Rod.
Two-thirds of the Lightning Rod track has been replaced with an IBox track, which Park leaders said should change the operational rate from 70% to more than 90%.
“If you’re one of the people that like to put their hands up in the air when they’re riding down that hill, then you’ll get a chance to do it consistently now,” Naughton said.
Pete Owens, vice president of marketing and public relations for Dollywood, said consistency is the key word. The ride shouldn’t be closed down as often, and everything guests love about the ride will still be there.
“Frankly, I can’t wait until we take uh the testing cycles off then I get a chance to ride it before the park opens,” Owens said.
Mystery Mine is also getting upgrades. A portion of the track will be extended to create a smoother ride.
Thunderhead is undergoing track replacements sections at a time, so it will take a few years before it’s fully complete. However, it will be running when the new season starts March 13.
Through a track replacement program, crews will replace the original track bed with a type of South American wood that is very strong.
Last but not least, Blazing Fury is also undergoing some tender, love and care.
“It was built in the late 1970s, and and we need to continue to love that ride as well, and we’re doing that with some new track,” Owens said.
More space and entertainment
Speaking of older infrastructure, guests wanted more space to move around the park, and more space to sit and enjoy their food.
Owens said when the park was originally built, it was built more for a “feel and discovery” experience.
“Some narrow walkways, some winding walkways, and that’s really what the design aesthetic was back then,” Owens said.
However, with COVID-19 and more guests heading to the park, a bit more elbow room is preferred these days.
“It’s not just about Covid, but I think that what’s one of the things that will probably be staying with us is the need for space,” Naughton said.
So, Craftsman’s Valley is expanding in certain areas: The Blacksmith Shop is moving to a larger space, and making room for a new seating area near Hickory House.
The storefront isn’t going far; it’s almost directly across from the old store. With the move, the storefront has room for bigger and better activities.
“We’re going to be able to do things that we did in the 1880s and things that they’re doing right now with gas forges and the welding that they’re doing,” Owens said.
A new experience the Blacksmith Shop will offer is guests being able to make their own knives.
Park leaders said guests will also be able to shop for craft items that are a blend of the different craftsmanship, such as leather and woodwork.
Just outside of Craftsman’s Valley, the tin shop moved, and in its place will be a seating area in front of Dogs N Taters.
Of course, at Dollywood, music and entertainment is large part of the guest experience.
Several shows featuring Dollywood’s own performers debut when the park opens in March, including Harmonies of the Heart—featuring Dolly’s family—and A Brighter Day, an inspiring show that delights guests with uplifting favorites at the Back Porch Theater.
In The Village, Dollywood’s The Tones offer a new acapella take on today’s current hits.
Flower and Food Festival Returns
Due to COVID-19, the first Flower and Food Festival was delayed, giving guests not as much time to enjoy the festivities.
The festival is coming back for the 2021 season with fan favorites and new experiences. It goes from April 23 through June 7.
Owens said the festival did so well last year, they had to figure out how to make it even better this year.
“So, we’ve added a completely full slate of entertainment that is tied to that festival,” Owens said.
The Melodies of Spring concert series features contemporary Christian artists, Southern gospel groups and other inspiring acts all appearing inside DP’s Celebrity Theater.
Among the artists currently scheduled are Matthew West, Big Daddy Weave, I AM THEY, Rebecca St. James, Sidewalk Prophets, the Rhett Walker Band, Triumphant Quartet and many more.
Also new to the festival is a local artist creating chalk art pieces. Every day will be a new, fresh masterpiece as guests watch.
The umbrella sky and mosaic floral arrangements will be back for the picture perfect social media posts.
We can’t forget about the food.
New this year, Flower and Food Festival goers will be able to purchase a Dining Day food pass ($27.99 for season pass holders and $29.99 for others) where they’ll be able to try five different foods out of 30.
For those on a two-day pass, they can split their pass between both days. For example, they can eat three foods one day, and two the next.
Among the items available during the festival are lobster rolls, hand-breaded fish and chips, Cuban sandwiches with plantain chips and mango salsa, as well as mini-funnel cakes with Chantilly cream and drizzled lavender honey.
Dollywood guests have a lot to look forward to for the 2021 season, and it was all because their voices were heard by staff.
“A lot of our guests tell us coming to Dollywood is like coming home to them. And we just want them to feel a little more comfortable in their home,” Owens said.
“Everyone needs a little relief. Everyone needs a little fun in their lives. Everyone needs opportunity to spend time with their family and friends and I think that’s what Dollywood Parks and Resorts represents,” Naughton said.
Dollywood is also hiring for the upcoming season.
The park is hosting a hiring event Saturday, February 27th at the Sevierville Convention Center.
Save the date
Dollywood reopens for the 2021 season on March 12 for season pass holders and March 13 for the general public. COVID-19 guidelines will still be in place, including a mask requirement and limited capacity.