When you travel with a rock band, you see a lot whole lot of America condensed into a small period of time. Over the last eight years, my wizard rock band dubbed Tonks and the Aurors drove thousands of miles to countless libraries across the country playing our original music about Harry Potter. Yup, we're a Harry Potter rock band. Expecto patronum!
This year, my band mates and I had a particular mission: to finish tour at Dollywood on Independence Day. So after our last show in Florence, Alabama on July 2nd, we began the solid day’s drive to Dollywood. By the time we exited the highway for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, we were truly excited to start exploring.
We were so excited to see the exit for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, though we should have planned for at least an hour or two of traffic off the highway. It took us 90 minutes to travel seven miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic into downtown Pigeon Forge!
Luckily, there are plenty of roadside attractions to entertain the eyes: dinner theaters like the Great Lumberjack Feud and the Dixie Stampede and attractions like the Titanic Museum and Wonderworks dot the side of the road.
We were staying at the Pigeon Forge Holiday Inn for both nights, and were happy to discover that it's the perfect spot for a Dollywood vacation! A quick hotel exploration revealed a well-stocked coffee station and an awesome pool and game room. Despite the fact that it was after 10PM, we still got our fill of go-karts and ice cream after visiting spots less than a mile from our hotel.
The next morning we were up and out early so that we could be at Dollywood the moment they opened. Pigeon Forge’s Fun Time Trolley is designed for travelers to leave their cars parked while exploring the area’s attractions. The trolley stops just outside the Holiday Inn, though we chose to walk a few blocks to the main station where we boarded a line headed straight for Dollywood. We rode to and from Dollywood for just $0.50 and avoided paid parking and exhausted driving.
Even with a year of planning and our high expectations, Dollywood absolutely lived up to the hype. The poor weather forecast scared away some crowds, so we walked directly onto our first ride, the Barnstormer. This roller coaster gives you an extended weightlessness and I’m pretty sure your butt hovers off the seat for longer than it’s actually grounded!
Like Disney’s “hidden Mickeys,” Dollywood has “hidden Dollys”. In fact, Parton is present in some way on almost ever ride. She is the voice of every female animatronic on the Blazing Fury ride and her poster can be seen while whipping around the corner in Firechaser Express coaster.
We ended our morning rides on Dollywood’s new Wild Eagled winged roller coaster and Thunderhead, which was so good we rode it back-to-back.
Dollywood, of course, has a lot more than roller coasters. We spent the afternoon exploring the collection of shops, crafts displays, and musical acts. It was cool to see blacksmiths and woodworkers demonstrating and selling their crafts throughout the park. We had a great experience visiting the Chasing Rainbows, which features memorabilia, videos, and even holograms to guide visitors on a virtual tour through Dolly’s life.
While the park offers fireworks in the evening, our crew headed back to Pigeon Forge’s Patriot Park to catch the larger Independence Day festival and indulge in some cocktails over dinner. The trolley returned us to the main terminal in Patriot Park—the heart of the Patriot Festival!
We grabbed a bite at the Pottery House Cafe and Grille, before running outside for the fireworks show directly over Patriot Park. The verdict was unanimous: Dollywood and Pigeon Forge are the perfect place to celebrate Independence Day.
By Stephanie Anderson