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Love Every (Face-Masked) Moment. A Day at Dollywood.

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Love Every (Face-Masked) Moment. A Day at Dollywood.

Old Jun 22nd, 2020, 12:00 PM
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Love Every (Face-Masked) Moment. A Day at Dollywood.

Last week Dollywood came out of “hibernation” as Dolly put it, though not entirely. Not all venues within the park are open, but what caught our attention was word of “40% capacity crowds” and timed-entry reservations, and a park event described as a “Flower and Food Festival.”

As is my protocol with any day outing, long weekend, or full-length holiday, I researched. Thinking ahead and doing the ticket price math, we purchased annual passes, the cost of which will be recovered should we return to the park for either the autumn Harvest Festival or the Smoky Mountain Christmas. If not, well, whatever. A day away from the madness of the outside world was worth it at twice the price.

I consumed an excess of the Dollywood Insiders blog and read far too many listsicles about what to eat, from the latter concluding that outside of the “Food” part of this particular festival the cuisine would be Appalachian homestyle-centric. One should expect no less. Thus, to prepare, we ate a very light breakfast. Enlightening ourselves about Dolly Parton herself was part of our prep, as well. Beyond how she figures in popular culture and a couple of songs, we knew little else. We are now more learned.

During my research I also came across a T&L article by a writer who visited Dollywood on its opening after the hibernation, but some of her writing seemed cliché or perhaps co-opted from promotional material. “…there are parts of the experience that match her outsized public persona. For example, there are a lot of bedazzled garments for sale, some of which might make you question the fabric’s ability to withstand that quantity of sparkle per square inch.” Yes, of course Dolly’s Store (byline: “Her Style. Your Size” ) had plenty of sequined clothing but nothing I saw would even come close to passing Dolly’s personal outsized sparkly standards. And, while the author was correct in that Dolly’s Coat of Many Colors is indeed on display at the Chasing Rainbows Museum, the museum itself is closed, like all of the indoor attractions.

“Reentering the world is definitely a little bit scary, but nothing was going to stop me from being at opening day of Dollywood,” the author also wrote in one breath, while pearl-clutching over the many people in Pigeon Forge proper not wearing masks in another breath and how it kept her from shopping. Seemed more like a not-so-subtle dig at this eastern fringe of flyover country, as there would have been no one stopping her from donning her PPE and shopping her heart out.

But I digress. A good decade and change has passed since we last visited Disney World. We had Prater in Vienna, but to there I trammed only occasionally to meet DH for lunch at Schweizerhaus. Preparing for a day at an amusement park is like being a Scout, and we set forth prepared. On Dollywood Day we dressed for the forecast 33C temperature, sprayed ourselves with sunscreen and a healthy misting of patience and flexibility, and pointed the wagon east, the “B is for Butterfly” parking lot our goal (the closest to the entry, as the “A lot” is rightfully reserved for handicapped guests.) Thanks to reduced capacity and timed-entry, the car was parked (B lot!) and we were queued for a temperature check before boarding the tram to the park entrance in good order. Easy-peasy.

From here, rather than play-by-play our day, I will instead share some observations.

The mountainscape setting added to the enjoyment of the visit. Dollywood felt more like visiting a (lively) Appalachian village and less like an amusement park. This is not a bad thing. The wisdom of Dolly is all around the park in quotes here and there, but nothing about the park is all-Dolly-in-your-face. A recreation of the two-room cabin that Dolly, her parents and 11 siblings lived in, and filled with personal effects is available to peek at, or study on, depending.



As I was taking this snap I overheard someone near me comment, "That's a mermaid!" (It is Dolly's Mom, sewing her Coat of Many Colors, as the placard reads.)



The Dollywood app was for us not useful. Not just because the queues for rides were not that long, but because one can not create a map tailored to the visit, only a list of favorite activities. Plus, all bets were off, especially in Craftsman’s Valley, on whether a shop or area was open. With no paper maps in the park right now, we opted simply to wander. We had no objectives other than to enjoy the day.

We were impressed with the safety measures taken to ensure that everyone “Play(s) Safe with Us.” Hundreds of hand-sanitizing stations; freestanding hand-washing stations; and lots of taped lines for where to stand when queueing. By and large, everyone seemed to be going with the flow. Several Dollywood personnel walked around and reprimanded those outside of “Mask-Free” zones (large, tree-covered areas with spaced benches) who were not properly face-masked, too. Though, the reduced visitor capacity meant that one had to try really hard to get within that 6-foot zone of someone else. Having the un-masking zones was of great help on this hot cusp-of-summer day, we all agreed.

DH and DD are the two daredevils in the family, so while they were off soaring like birds of prey (“There's nothing above you and nothing below you. You can fly like an eagle.” at 61mph on the Wild Eagle Coaster) and whipping along at 4G on the Tennessee Tornado, I stayed grounded in the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, the largest non-releasable sanctuary in the country and tucked into a steep wooded hillside. I parked myself on a bench in front of the “Pick-A-Mate” enclosure, where the eligible bachelors were fluffing themselves up in search of a bachelorette, with a good deal of squawking going on. No voyeurism, though (this is Dollywood after all and not the zoo); when two eagles decide to pair they are upgraded to a private enclosure.


We rode the Smoky Mountain River Rampage, especially refreshing on a summer day. While awaiting our turn, though, we noticed quite a few people exiting the ride who were upset that they had gotten wet. What part of “water ride” might they have misunderstood?

A few words about shopping. Souvenirs aside (a "Peyton/Dolly 2020" sticker for me; a "What Would Dolly Do?" sticker for DD), I was disappointed by the amount of mass-produced merchandise, especially in the home décor shops. A little more local, The Stone Penland Pottery shop held numerous gifting ideas, though the owners/potters hail from a neighboring state. The General Store food products included many that I have seen all around East Tennessee and would make good gifts, but nothing I felt compelled to purchase.

Instagrammers delight in the Market Square


With an 1100 entry we were in the park during the heat of the day and so did not sit for lunch until almost 1600. That was our folly. High hopes abounded for the “Foodtruck” part of the Festival, but most of the trucks were closed. Remember, though we had misted ourselves with flexibility, and so gave the Front Porch Café a go. Looking around at fellow restaurant goers (from a safe distance, of course) we concluded that we three should just share two entrees (even though the sustaining power of my bowl of blackberries and cup of coffee breakfast had long since waned). We all agreed on the “Meatloaf Stacker,” homemade meatloaf piled on Buttercrust bread, topped with mashed potatoes (and gravy, natch) served with a side of green beans and a garlic cheddar biscuit; and a simple dish of chicken tenders, also served with green beans. When the dishes arrived DD remarked, “The green beans have bacon in them!”



And? Delicious. Not something we would want to eat regularly, but we justified it as we had wandered close to 8km in the park when all was said and done.

On the subject of all being said and done, we had planned to visit Wildwood Grove but the folly of sitting for a homestyle meal on a sun-filled and hot day had sapped a little too much energy, so we flexed again and walked over to the Dollywood Express…just as the train was pulling away. With skies beginning to darken anyway we called it a Dollywood Day and headed for the exit. Just as we were exiting the park the skies opened and we slogged through the kilometers of kitsch that separates Dollywood from the Interstate.

All in all, just a really nice day. We could not enjoy many attractions, as they were closed; and we did not sample any of the foods and snacked that had piqued our curiosity, but we did love every moment. Good thing we purchased annual passes, as we will return. 😀

Thank you for reading.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2020, 01:51 PM
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As a former country western DJ (a long, long time ago), I've wanted to go here. Dolly Parton is a musical genius, and those three years as a DJ really opened me up to her music. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully travel will be in the cards for us at some point,
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Old Jun 22nd, 2020, 03:13 PM
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FourforTravel, thanks for your interesting report. While Dollywood is not on my list, I enjoyed your visit. And, frankly, I am so starved for travel, everywhere sounds interesting these days!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2020, 03:14 PM
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Green beans with bacon or ham and onion? They would be nekkid without!! LOL

Dolly Parton IS a national treasure. I will excuse her for Dollywood. LOL
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Old Jun 22nd, 2020, 04:54 PM
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I would love to go here. I had a former coworker who went years ago and ever since, I’ve wanted to go but haven’t made it. I love amusement parks and with them reopening, it’s good to see how they handling things.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 03:52 AM
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maitaitom, you could certainly write an entertaining trip report after driving the Tennessee Music Pathway!

Kathie, you speak for many of us on being starved for travel. DD and I are visiting places that are open/opening just for the sake of having something to do! Never envisioned myself touring the Brushy Mountain State Pen with a former convict, and having a great time!

Gretchen, . DD has never experienced green beans like those at Dollywood. She almost ate both portions!

sassy27, I am not huge into amusement parks; I'm more into places like Colonial Williamsburg. Dollywood balances both well, I think, if on a smaller scale. If I were visiting Dollywood as a tourist I would definitely do it right and book my lodging at the DreamMore Resort.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 05:42 AM
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Those green beans are still green! Not cooked long enough, lol. Was it bacon or fat back?

BTW, you wrote about the reviewer who didn't shop because others were unmasked: "there would have been no one stopping her from donning her PPE and shopping her heart out". But: "my mask protects you, your mask protects me". I am with her, not that I am going out much. If a place doesn't require masks, I don't go.

Ken Burns' lengthy documentary on country music had good coverage of Dolly Parton. Tough and talented.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:14 AM
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So let's talk green beans done the southern way. Thursday DOES have a point about not cooked long enough
Green beans fixed this way are one of my favorite accompaniments with a BBQ dinner (and I've sold a number for charity purposes). I like using either canned or frozen Italian green beans (which are southern pole beans). Add some onions, ham bits or bacon or fat back and cook the heck out of them!! Don't forget the salt and a good amount of black pepper too. Alternatively, just green string beans like the picture work also but there isn't any "snap" left in Southern green beans!!. And then there is always adding some diced new potatoes to them.
And mind you, I LOVE haricot verts cooked just right, but that is a whole 'nother vegetable!!
Four--you be livin' in da South now. This IS the program!! LOL
Does everyone know about Dolly's program of giving away books to children? She has never forgotten where she came from and never stopped being grateful for what she has become. She is a hero in every sense of the word.
https://imaginationlibrary.com/

Last edited by Gretchen; Jun 23rd, 2020 at 07:20 AM.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:26 AM
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"Was it bacon or fat back?" I have no clue?

DH and I watched the entire Ken Burns series on country music--really well done, and we learned quite a bit. We're now revisiting his Civil War series...


Without knowing where the author saw the ~thousands~ of unmasked people, I can only guess The Island or the Old Mill District. Even then, many of the stores within those complexes are requiring masks. And if the Tennessee Pledge (masks are recommended) made her feel uncomfortable, why did she hurry her butt down to Dollywood in the first place to write an article that read mostly like promotional material?
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:30 AM
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"Four--you be livin' in da South now. This IS the program!! LOL"

Gretchen, this is what's in my Southern cooking library: "The Southerner's Cookbook" by the editors of G&G; "Carla Hall's Soul Food;" and "The Taste of Country Cooking." Is this a good start? 😀
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:35 AM
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Maybe she needed the money? Maybe she was paid to do a promo? And I'm sorry, but "masks are recommended" isn't good enough for me.

Fat back is basically what it says - fat from the back of a pig. My first husband was from Georgia, so I ate a lot of southern cooking for a while. Once we got a microwave I would fish my beans out of the pot early and heat them up at meal time. When fully cooked Southern style they are grey.

For somewhat more upmarket Southern cooking try the books here: https://crookscorner.com/shop/

For somewhat less Southern and more upmarket look for
Amazon Amazon

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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Gretchen View Post
Green beans with bacon or ham and onion? They would be nekkid without!! LOL
Truth!
Cooked with white potatoes too. I'll see if I can find a photo. It popped up recently in my FB memories.

"Dollywood felt more like visiting a (lively) Appalachian village and less like an amusement park. "

Well put.

I LOVE Dollywood and took the kids there instead of the big parks (Disney/ Universal). So much cooler than the Florida parks and your description is spot on. In normal years, enough rides to keep folks happy, lots of good music, fun shows, and just low stress. I remember being hot and exhausted the last time I was at Disney and frustrated with the heat, crowds and wide avenues full of people. At Dollywood, it's more like strolling through a mountain village.

I adore Dolly. Every single thing about her. She has done much good for her mountain home and cares. Really cares. I skipped a big fundraiser (that I helped plan) to be at a benefit concert for the Sevierville hospital in the Smokies stadium. She's just hilarious. She thanked people for coming and noted that about half of the stadium was full of relatives. Nearing the end of the concert, she told us that if we wanted an encore, now was the time to cheer, because she wasn't going to walk down all of those stairs and back up again in those heels.

Her sparkly costumes could all be washed in the bus sink and hung up to dry. She always wears long sleeves, to cover her tattoos. She refuses to talk politics, but does whatever she can to impact positive change. Her Imagination Library has given out millions of books. Every child is mailed free books from infancy to age five. She's a national treasure - IMO anyway. And I do love Dollywood, especially with kiddos. Hate the outlets of Pigeon Forge. Hate Gatlinburg. LOVE Dolly and Dollywood!

Thanks for the TR.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 07:44 AM
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Fresh from the garden green beans cooked with ham, bacon or fat back, and white potatoes. Also on the plate, vine ripened tomatoes, sweet corn, peas and yellow summer squash cooked with Vidalia onions. Best summer eatin' one can have! Headed to the market this afternoon for more!
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 10:10 AM
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Gretchen, this is what's in my Southern cooking library: "The Southerner's Cookbook" by the editors of G&G; "Carla Hall's Soul Food;" and "The Taste of Country Cooking." Is this a good start? 😀

I like Frank Stitt's cookbook and a trip to Birmingham to eat at his Highlands Grill would be a nice trip for you.
Vivian Howard's new book Deep Run would be a different kind of southern cookbook she is doing at her restaurants in eastern NC--and a trip to eat at her Chef and Farmer in Kinston would be good for you all. Her book has a LOT of interesting "history" in it also.
Edna Lewis's books are a goldmine of southern cooking from the premiere and groundbreaking Black cook in the South.
Nothing by the Lee Brothers or Natalie Dupree--just my own prejudice.

So much good cookin'
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 02:30 PM
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thursdaysd:"When fully cooked Southern style they are grey." You're not selling me on Southern cooking. 😀

starrs: "I adore Dolly." What's not to adore? She truly is a role model. As for your summer veggie plate, I have a loooong way to go with my team. DD hates squash. DH doesn't like tomatoes.

Gretchen, thank you. I will investigate the reading recommendations. I dropped into a large and rather popular used book store here and saw numerous Dupree and Paula Dean cookbooks. That was a big hint on what I should not be purchasing.

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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 06:51 PM
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You're not selling me on Southern cooking
There's a reason for that, lol. While I would put in a good word for seafood boil, smoked oysters, eastern North Carolina BBQ and hash browns, I never developed a taste for grits, okra, squash, collards, dead veggies, or most deep frying. Doesn't help that I don't have a sweet tooth. At one time I made my own bread because I couldn't find any in the stores that didn't include sweetener. Even with a genuine French baker just down the road, it's still not easy.
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Old Jun 24th, 2020, 02:59 AM
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Well, I don't agree with "gray" at ALL. And I have a zero sweet tooth.
Tomatoes!! Oh, that is unfortunate in ANY part of the country, but I have a DDIL who only likes home grown summer tomatoes, which is not a completely bad thing to prefer!!
Now a real summer squash casserole might get DD--lots of cheese, onion and eggs.
For okra go to a fresh Market and get some of their okra crisps--dried whole okra. Or roast it and serve with a sriracha or chipotle aioli mayo.
You can also roast collard leaves like you do for kale chips for a pretty cool and delicious snack food.
As for Thursday's problem with bread, we moved to NC from NYC 57 years ago (for DH it was coming "home") from the myriad breads and were faced with Merita white and wheat. It's come a long way from that anywhere now!! LOL I also baked a lot of bread in my time, but it was for flavor and home aroma and memories of kids passing by the counter and pulling a piece of hot bread off the loaf.

Last edited by Gretchen; Jun 24th, 2020 at 03:07 AM.
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Old Jun 24th, 2020, 06:12 AM
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Adding cheese and eggs to squash kind of defeats the point of eating it. Unless you're eating it instead of meat rather than with meat.

I have a vague memory of reading the ingredients for Fresh Market's veggie chips and giving them a pass, but I could be wrong. Still, the closer to raw and unadulterated your veggies, the better. That's what's wrong with Southern green beans. First you add animal fat, and carcinogens if you use bacon, and then you cook all the goodness into the water.

Yes, I enjoyed making bread, but I'm cooking for one these days, and there is that French baker down the road...
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Old Jun 24th, 2020, 07:43 AM
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We're huge into fish and seafood, though I am having difficulty finding proper crustaceans for a boil here. I squee-d last week upon finding whole Red Snapper at Whole Foods (don't ask what I paid for it). On BBQ we befriend it all: dry, wet, smoky, vinegar-y, pulled, ribbed...

"...and carcinogens if you use bacon..." Fightin' words, I'm afraid. Ours is a safe house for the Sunday bacon breakfast, though we do use the uncured and nitrate-free slabs.

Love grits. Dislike collards with the same passion. Just can't do them.

Gretchen, I've tried preparing squash in innumerable forms and it's always met with an emphatic "NO!" from DD. She does eat okra in many forms, though, so there is hope.
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Old Jun 24th, 2020, 08:17 AM
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I live a lot closer to the coast than you do - two hours down I-40 to Wrightsville Beach - so seafood is not a problem. Maybe a beach house for a week? If you like grits, shrimp and grits are a classic at the Crooks Corner restaurant I linked above for books.
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