By Bonnie Neely
What better way to celebrate my grand-niece’s eighth birthday than to make our way to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to achieve her dream to ride the roller coaster at Dollywood and see the millions of Christmas lights, as she had seen on TV ads and dreamed about! Her mother volunteered to be the driver, even though she had fractured her left leg a few days before the trip. She models the family motto of Strong Women in amazing ways, and this was no exception. My older niece, who is a huge fan of Country Music, was delighted to complete our fourth generation group, ranging up to 75 years old! Although I am, thankfully, in good health, they joked about the possibility of my returning in a large plastic bag on top of the suburban, as in the Chevy Chase Lampoon’s Vacation movie.
We enjoyed a beautiful three-hour drive through the fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains, knowing rain was predicted for the next day, but we were determined to be undeterred by some heavenly drops. We were prepared with rain gear and umbrellas. If the wonderful Dollywood attendants could brave the weather we could too. When the Park opened we were there and discovered Valet Parking, and they were so friendly and helpful and well worth the price since they delivered us to the entrance after answering all our questions and telling us how to find the motorized seated scooters for handicapped ease. But my niece decided she could walk with the orthopedic boot, as her doctor had Okayed it.
With the lovely illustrated brochure guide we set out to find the roller coaster, since the birthday girl had recently achieved the required height for safety and was permitted to board any ride. She was beyond excited, not to mention that she was allowed to skip a school day to celebrate this birthday. Before we found the roller coaster we were lured to the mammoth swing, the Barn Stormer. Paying no attention to the light rain now falling, we found no lines and the gracious attendant was happy to let just the four of us enjoy the fun of the greatest arc possible for a swing! It was a hold-your-breath thrill with us securely protected by the strong bar across each lap.
After that ride my music loving niece and I decided to enjoy walking through the beautifully lighted Park and see the sights, especially the terrific Craftsman’s Valley where we watched many different skilled craftsmen and women demonstrate their various works from leather to wood and blacksmithing and everything in between. A great art education experience!
Then we downloaded the highly recommended Dollywood App which led us all around to see the beautiful Christmas lights everywhere. We especially loved strolling through the magical Arctic Passageway of thousands of twinkling blue and white lights. Then the inside dry warmth of a show in the Show Street Palace Theater beckoned us. We were amazed at the professional quality of every aspect of the delightful and heart-warming version of the Christmas classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” My niece had a huge smile throughout the performance and softly sang along with many of the songs. The dancers, singers, and actors were superbly trained and excellent performers and we were quickly caught up in the story of the angel who earned his wings by saving a man and town from disaster. We could hardly wait to see another Dollywood play.
The birthday girl and her mother, whose orthopedic boot was encased in a makeshift plastic puddle protector bag, headed for other exciting rides. After a couple of hours we met up again to tell about our separate experiences. Mom and daughter were wet through and through but bubbling with happy excitement over the many rides they had enjoyed at the newest area of Dollywood: Wildwood Grove. They talked breathlessly about the enormous fun which all ages enjoy: the frighteningly wonderful Firefly swings on the roller coaster , hopping around on the Frog ride, the Bear ride, Fire Trucks that go forward and backward, breathless fun in a Pirate Ship that “rides the waves” in a huge arc! They never even stopped to get dry while shopping in the souvenir area I that part of the Park. Hearing about all the thrills of speeding, whirling, and hanging almost tempted us to stay another day to experience so much excitement, but we voted to return next year without a broken leg!
We headed hungrily for the inviting Front Porch Cafe near the theater. They took pity on the broken leg, now limping and cold since the bag broke, and they seated us immediately at a table and prepared a delicious meal for each of us. I found the signature meatloaf dinner delicious and very reasonably priced. The others were fortunate that the restaurant offers many gluten free, celiac friendly choices, so they could eat confidently.
Happy and a good bit drier, we headed for the delightful new version of “T’was The Night Before Christmas” play at the nearby Pines Theater. The young girl whose older brother and sister are prevented from coming home for Christmas write Santa to make her dream of a happy Christmas together come true. What a thrilling story and so professionally presented in song and dance, making each of us remember happy Christmas times with family and look forward to this year’s.
The Smoky Mountain Christmas, presented by Humana, left nothing to be desired for the perfect and beautiful way to start the holiday season. With literally millions of lights glowing the happy holiday parade is fun for everyone lined up along the Dollywood walkways. Music to delight the heart, colorful costumes, marching musicians, what’s not to like in spite of any kind of weather?
We could not resist completing our wonderful, memorable day with a ride on the Dollywood ExpressTrain, an historic world war II coal fired engine. The train was decorated with lights and streaked brilliantly through the dark woods of the mountainside for about 15 minutes. Since the sides of the cars were open we got great views of the millions of lights all over the park while we relaxed and enjoyed singing along with favorite Christmas carols of the train’s speaker system. What a great way to finish our happy day. Then we found the beautiful lighted Carousel and each hoisted ourselves into a saddle on the historic horses and circled happily until our beautiful celebration day came to an end. Our valet driven car awaited us at the exit gate with interior warm for us. Our wet girls were very happy for that! Joy-filled memories of the birthday celebration at Dollywood with Christmas everywhere will linger in our hearts and minds forever!
IF YOU GO: https://www.dollywood.com/themepark.aspx, https://www.blueridgemountains.com, https://www.mypigeonforge.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Lampoon%27s_Vacation, https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=rides+at+dollywood+wildwood+grove&qpvt=rides+at+dollywood+wildwood+grove&FORM=VDRE, https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=dollywood+craftsman+valley&&view=detail&mid=4BB214B013B75849824B4BB214B013B75849824B&&FORM=VRDGAR, https://smokymountains.com/dollywood/rides/dollywood-express/, https://restaurantguru.com/Front-Porch-Cafe-at-Dollywood-Pigeon-Forge/menu