Like anywhere, Tennesseans are a diverse bunch with varied backgrounds, cultures and interest, but we all do agree on a few things: UT orange should be the state color, hot chicken is an essential food group, and Dolly Parton is the real queen, the unofficial patron saint of the arts (and humanity) who could save us all in these troubling times of strife. And anything Dolly touches turns to sparkly, glitter-infused gold, like her new dinner show in Pigeon Forge.
I’ve been coming to the Smokies since I was old enough to have memories. Both my late grandparents grew up down the road in Knox County, and I have cousins and aunts and uncles scattered throughout the surrounding towns that flank the Great Smoky Mountain. To me, this is Dolly country—you can’t deny what she’s done for her Tennessee mountain home, including employing more than 4,000 people, sending out more than 100,000,000 books to children across the region and supporting victims of the Gatlinburg fire financially while they got back on their feet.
It’s clear: It’s Dolly’s world, and we’re just living in it.
SVV and I went down for a quick Spring Break of our own last week to work with her team and check out the new show, which is starting its second year with a fresh new performance that gave me allllll The Greatest Showman feels. Heading to Pigeon Forge soon? You don’t want to miss this act.
What to See: Dolly Parton’s Spectacular Dinner and Show at Smoky Mountain Adventures
Romance, comedy, music, acrobatics, terrifying feats of strength and balance—Dolly Parton’s Spectacular Dinner and Show has a little bit of it all. The new cirque-inspired act just launched in mid-March and we attended one of the first shows with a group of eight, ranging in ages from nine to 55, a good litmus test for how young (or old) you have to be to enjoy such an performance. The answer? It’s universal.
Kids can arrive early and get all dolled up in the Outpost with face paint and flower crowns, wings and a wand if they’re lucky. The Outpost itself is designed to nudge show-goers into the spirit with old-timey games, trivia (Dolly-themed, naturally) and other fun interactive components. I’m not going to lie: I briefly toyed with the idea of getting my face painted, too. For research, of course.
Once the doors open to unveil Celebration Ridge, a soaring expanse of a quadruple-decker room, you’ll find your tiered-style seat and a server will take your drink order before beginning to pile heaping spoons full of delicious Southern specialties on your plate. Our four-course meal was akin to Thanksgiving dinner—think: sugar-cured ham, fried chicken, mac and cheese, sweet potato delight, the whole nine yards—and I did not leave hungry. But the servers are the real MVPs here, dodging up to 700 show-goers as they expertly balance drinks and plates of food while diners sit in their seats, their eyes glued to the mesmerizing act taking place down on the stage.
The show itself feels rather like being out on the town for an evening in New York’s Theater District—only, without the pretense. The production value is surprising given how small a town Pigeon Forge is, but team Dolly recruited top-notch talent from far and wide.
The cast members hail from Australia, Brazil, Siberia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Hungary, and Cuba and, of course, various parts of the US. There were even a couple of furry performers and a lone, long-haired pig named Gibson (who has two understudies, it bears noting). How’s that for entertainment?
You already know it’s a family-oriented show, but can you go without kids in tow? Absolutely. SVV and I both had a blast. I’ve always been drawn to acrobats—even more so now that I’ve been doing AcroYoga for three years—and ooh’d and aah’d and gasped as they flipped and tumbled and glided across the stage.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say the special effects were pretty magical. If you’re lucky, you’ll even be plucked from the crowd for one of the many audience-participation bits!
Shows run every night of the week, so no matter when you’re visiting the Smokies, you can get in on this Pigeon Forge dinner show.
Where to Stay: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa
Dolly has her own resort now, and it’s every bit as perfect as she is. I’d been dying to stay at DreamMore Resort and Spa since it opened nearly three years ago, and it lived up to expectations—especially as the Dolly Parton Suite was unoccupied and we got to take a peek. If Miss Dolly herself isn’t using it, it’s open for guests to book. That’s definitely going on the bucket list for me!
Spanning 300 rooms, DreamMore Resort and Spa is just big enough without feeling overwhelming. Being where it’s located, in Sevier County where cheap hotels are a dime a dozen, I wasn’t expecting the sophisticated, country estate feel that we found when we checked into the resort.
But like everything else, Dolly put her touch on this property, and she didn’t want it to be over-the-top. Sure, there are glimpses of her, from album covers to 1,800+ butterflies woven throughout the property, but everything is tastefully done and classy.
One thing I’m regretting is not taking advantage of the “and spa” part of the equation. We wandered down to the spa and checked out the pedicure chairs and massage treatment rooms, and I made a mental note to prioritize this on my next stay.
What to Do: Visit Dollywood
You knew I was going there, right? You can hardly come to Pigeon Forge and not visit Dolly’s own theme park. It had been just over three years since my last visit to Dollywood with SVV’s family, and in that time, they debuted the Lighting Rod, which zips around the wooden tracks at speeds up to 73 miles per hour and, at times, feels as if your face is going to melt off. It was adrenaline-inducing. It was fast. It was awesome.
Dollywood seems to always have something going on. Right now, it’s Festival of Nations through April 9, which totally appealed to this traveler’s heart, then Barbeque and Bluegrass starts in May, followed by Dollywood’s Summer Celebration from June 16 to Aug. 5.
The great thing about staying at DreamMore is not only are you right across the street from Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country water park, but there’s also a free shuttle that transports you back and forth, so you need not worry about the hassle (and cost) of moving your car and parking.
Other than two months immediately following New Year’s, Dolly Parton’s Spectacular Dinner and Show at Smoky Mountain Adventures and Dollywood are open throughout the year, so you can recreate this trip at any time, whether Spring Break, summer vacation or a weekend trip to see the Smokies’ fall foliage in all its glory.
Have you ever visited any of Dolly’s properties? Would you go all out and hit every one of her attractions in a single weekend? (I highly recommend this plan of attack.)
This post is sponsored by World Choice Investments. All opinions are our own.