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The Dolly Parton Experience

Dollywood’s Dolly-centric area has now reopened in Pigeon Forge.

By Hope S. Philbrick

When my favorite part of Dollywood closed for renovations, three years went by and it finally reopened, I made sure to be on site for the grand opening on May 24, 2024. If you’re just learning about this now, fear not: The Dolly Parton Experience is ready to explore at your convenience at Dollywood, the award-winning Smoky Mountain theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The park’s Adventure is Imagination area was completely transformed to create the Dolly Parton Experience. It’s three times the size of the former Chasing Rainbows Museum and is designed to be more interactive, while still showcasing Dolly’s career, inspirations and dreams, family and signature style. A collection of memories and stories, not just physical things, it occupies three buildings and a bus.

Songteller invites you to walk through exhibits spanning Dolly’s life and career— from her family life in Sevier County to the day after her high school graduation when she boarded a bus to Nashville. See some of Dolly’s favorite mementos, her record-selling albums and a 360-degree video story about her. Selfie-ready stations include the chance to pose at the boss’s desk from the “9 to 5” movie. A live counter tracks the number of books given to children through Dolly’s Imagination Library program. Technological elements abound throughout the space, a fact that inspired Dolly to joke: “I’m a low tech girl in a high tech world.”

Behind The Seams offers a peek at a curated selection of Dolly’s iconic style, including clothing, wigs, shoes, jewelry and more. Dolly said that she never wears an outfit twice!—which means there are lots of options to change what’s on display. You can also peek at the stylist’s studio and even decide how to dress Dolly on a magnetic board with various options.

“Behind The Seams shares the name of a book I wrote,” said Dolly. Both are “about the people who really made my look—nobody does anything alone.” Talking about style during the grand opening event, Dolly offered some advice: “Dress the way you’re comfortable. The way you feel good. If you feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, people will feel comfortable around you. If you’re uncomfortable, people will feel uncomfortable. I wrote a song called ‘Whoever You Are, Be That.’ Whatever you do, do that. Everything else is just an act.”

Precious Memories showcases the importance of faith and family to Dolly in a digital exhibit of images and stories that really show how Dolly grew up. After seeing the new space and displays for herself the first time, Dolly said, “I wasn’t expecting all the emotion! Seeing all the pictures of my mom, dad, family, I nearly broke down. There are just so many great stories about the family. Hopefully, you’ll be moved by it!” Precious Memories is located at the front of the DreamSong Theater, the stage where Dolly’s family and friends will continue to perform. A new show, “Heidi Parton’s Kin & Friends,” features Dolly’s niece Heidi and was written by Heidi and Dolly.

Dolly’s Home-on-Wheels offers a look inside one of Dolly’s retired tour buses. Her former motor coach, a 1994 Prevost, has been a fixture of the park for several years and is now located adjacent to Behind the Seams. “It’s been here at Dollywood for years, but everybody loves it so much we decided we better keep it as part of the Experience,” said Dolly.

Displays and exhibits throughout each aspect of the Experience will change seasonally, so you’ll be able to keep discovering something new however many times you visit. Consider it a living exhibit, since as Dolly pointed out, “I’m still living!”

Adjacent to the DreamSong Theater, Dolly’s Fan Shop sells items that can only be found at this retail location, including apparel, accessories and keepsakes.

When visiting Dollywood, consider staying at the new HeartSong Lodge & Resort.

Photos by Hope S. Philbrick.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Hope S. Philbrick is a freelance writer because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. For 24 years and counting, she’s written about travel, food, wine and spirits (as in booze, not ghosts).

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