PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) – One of the first signs of spring is the construction tour at Dollywood, and today was that day. Media were invited to spend the afternoon getting a sneak peek ahead of the Pigeon Forge theme park’s 37th season.

The new season gets underway for passholders on Friday, March 11, while the doors open to the general public on Saturday, March 12. To welcome those crowds, Dollywood needs to hire a few hundred people. A Dollywood job fair is scheduled Feb. 26 at Sevier County High School. Dollywood’s housing project for seasonal workers that broke ground on Aug. 12 is full, the company said earlier this year.

The tour also covered upgrades to Dollywood’s Splash Country and Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort — which is still under construction.

Dollywood Company President Eugene Naughton led the tour that highlighted a number of changes.

“We selected a number of projects for this off season that we felt were crucial for the guest experience and for park infrastructure in general. Guests will start to notice the changes as soon as they drive onto the property. We’ve reconfigured our parking complex to better utilize the lots at both Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country to provide a more efficient experience for guests as they enter our property,” he said.

A new season pass structure is in place for 2022. Gold and Diamond Pass Holders can take advantage of Dollywood’s new daily “Golden Hours.” During the first hour of each operating day, Gold and Diamond Season passes will operate just like TimeSaver passes, allowing the named passholder expedited boarding on Dollywood’ world-class rides and attractions.

What’s new at Dollywood this year?

The first change visitors will notice see is the swapping of the guest traffic lanes with the tram lanes, which removes previous points of intersection. The multi-property parking complex now employs a one-way circuit which eliminates the two-way traffic pattern of the old parking lot layout. Two more parking toll booths have been added.

The most noticeable change is that the tunnel connecting lower Craftsman’s Valley to The Village has been removed, with the final result providing visitors a location to spread out–perhaps while enjoying a loaf of cinnamon bread from the nearby Grist Mill while the Dollywood Express passes by.

Visitors will also now see a renovated Ironhorse Pizza restaurant. Formerly known as Victoria’s Pizza, there is now more room for seating and more pizza to be made. Also, The Emporium got a complete makeover and now carries unique souvenirs.

Walking around the park will feel a little more comfortable as two buildings have been removed. The former Eagle Shop (part of the second phase of the Craftsman’s Valley widening project) and the former Christmas Cottage in Rivertown Junction are both gone.

The changes to locations that are familiar favorites aren’t without a bit of angst.

“As our park continues to expand, we must regularly address the areas of the park that have been here
longer,” Naughton explained. “We put much thought into every project we undertake, considering guest
appeal, current practicality and future lifespan to determine what takes precedence. We know the mine tunnel was a popular landmark for guests, but its removal was necessary at this time. We feel the new widened pathway will offer a great place to watch the Dollywood Express–which is one of our most popular
attractions- as it leaves and returns to The Village. I hope we’ll have generations of guests who make fond
memories in this area.”

What’s new at Dollywood’s Splash Country?

Little Creek Falls, one of the first attractions guests may notice when visiting Dollywood’s Splash Country, is undergoing a makeover. When the park opens in May, the area will be transformed into a splash pad, making the area more accessible and able to provide years of play and fun for people of all abilities, Naughton said.

When will Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort open?

Scheduled to open in Fall 2023, the lodge is the first project in a 10-year, $500 million expansion plan announced last June. The Dollywood Company promises that the 302-room, 5-story resort will be a “one-of-a-kind getaway.”

Changes to season passes

Dollywood Silver Season Pass: starts at $149, includes 2 Bring-a-Friend Free tickets and a discount on lodging.

Dollywood Gold Season Pass: starts at $204, which is $30 less than last year. This pass comes with free parking, a Saturday Early Ride Time for the passholder, 4 Bring-a-Friend Free tickets, discounts on dining, merchandise and lodging as well as access to special events such as the new “Golden Hour.” Only the named passholder can receive the perks.

Diamond Season Passes have already sold out for the 2022 season, the theme park said.