There is nothing like a summer road trip with the girls to help you forget all the stress life brings.
Recently, my friends and I took a fun-filled four-day road trip pilgrimage to Pigeon Forge and the home of Dollywood. It was a weekend of rednecks, rhinestones and roller coasters.
As many road trips start, we all met up at the Phoenix to load into one car and have a Bloody Mary (not the driver) for the journey. Once we were all situated in one car, our fearless driver Adikus Sulpizi started the GPS and we were on our way. His husband David Chase was co-pilot and Jimmy Gale and I brought up the rear in the backseat. I was in charge of snacks for the trip which consisted of small splits of champagne, airline-sized vodkas, assorted Pringles, salted nuts, Lady Gaga Oreos, Pop Tarts and Fig Newtons. Yes, the snacks look like they were chosen by either a six-year-old or a stoned person with the munchies.
We set off on our trip stopping for lunch at a fabulous little diner called Hector’s Kitchen in Attalla, Alabama. This delightful little diner had delicious Colombian cuisine and some killer mojitos. Located right off the interstate, Hector’s is a roadside diner with lots of character, good food and great service. Once we were back on the road it was smooth sailing to Pigeon Forge. We arrived in the land of Dolly in the early evening and checked into our hotel, The Ramada Inn Pigeon Forge North. It was a nice, inexpensive place with decent rooms, porch areas for drinking, an indoor pool, and complimentary breakfast every day.
Once we settled into our various rooms, we met downstairs and walked to a nearby restaurant called The Local Goat. The Local Goat is touted as East Tennessee’s best restaurant for craft food and drinks. Their kitchen is a scratch kitchen specializing in locally sourced and sustainable foods. It was packed but they did not disappoint; the food, service and cocktails were marvelous. And they also had some hunky bartenders with mad sexy tattoos. Food highlights were the deep-fried deviled eggs, onion rings, and specialty burgers–you can’t go wrong with any of them!
The following day was all about Dolly from sunup to sundown. We left the hotel early to get to Dollywood right when it opened. You take a tram car from the parking lot to the park, so to me that classifies as my first ride of the day.
Once we got into the park itself, it was sensory overload. I immediately fangirled out and ran to the first thing I saw which was Dolly’s tour bus. The door was wide open so I jumped inside and started taking photos of this fabulous home on wheels. That was until an employee of the park came in and said “Sir, did you not see the big sign in front that said ‘Closed’?” Honestly I did not in all my excitement and they would not believe that I was blind (I had to think of something on the spot), so I was issued a stern warning and I was not even in the park for five minutes.
Next, because patience is not one of my virtues and there were lots of children, we went to the ticket booth and got the Fast Pass Ride which I still have today and use to try to cut in front of people at various places like the supermarket, theaters and fast-food establishments. It worked only once, but I’m happy to say that that was one more than I thought it would. I highly recommend the Fast Pass especially if you go on a weekend during the summer. It allows you to avoid long lines and go directly to the front of them; some of these waits were 45 minutes. Nobody has time for that, but there is a price tag for impatience – $80. Best money spent.
Let’s begin with the rides. This is where Adikus tried to kill me. He is hateful and made me go on every roller coaster that tosses you around, flips you upside down, plummets you from high areas and in one case beats the ever-living sh*t out of you. So my favorite coasters in order were
1. Mystery Mine: Imagine you are in a coal mine in hell and you have this ride.
2. Lightning Rod: This is designed after the 1950s era of hot rods. You’ll go from 0 to 45 miles per hour as you’re launched up the hill on this wooden roller coaster. Before you hit the first drop, you’ll go through twin summit airtime hills. You’ll reach a top speed of 73 miles per hour, the fastest wooden coaster in the world. I mean is there really a need to be the fastest???
3. Tennessee Tornado: The theme is a tornado that has torn through the town and picked up all kinds of crazy things which obviously you being one of them.
4. Blazing Fury: This ride is one of the oldest since it was built in 1978. This roller coaster is underground and has a theme of a town being engulfed in flames. Well, I was one screaming flame amongst all the other flames.
5. Thunderhead: This roller coaster was one of the first wooden coasters in the country when it was built, and the track is completely constructed of wood. The coaster goes over and under itself over 30 times throughout the ride. Remember earlier, I said there was that ride that beats the hell out of you. If you go on this ride, you will be just like Christina when Joan found out she used wire hangers.
All kidding aside, the coasters are what make Dollywood one of the top parks to visit and so much fun, so if you can handle them, at least try them once. There were other rides which I loved like both the water rides and the train ride through the mountains.
The rides are not the only thing worthwhile at Dollywood; the shows are pretty fantastic as well.
We saw two shows while we were there: The Gazillion Bubbles Show and Harmonies of the Heart. Both shows were pretty amazing.
The Bubble Show stars Master of Bubbles Fan Yang bringing his unique brand of bubble artistry. It is like a Cirque show mixed with bubble magic. It is hard to describe, but very cool as you are washed over with a bubble tide. Add to the bubbles the spectacular laser lighting and special effects, and you will be awed.
The Harmonies of the Heart show is based on the popular Heart of the Holidays Christmas show from 2020. This all-new show, however, has been reimagined and features two of Dolly’s nieces, Heidi Lou and Jada Star, Dolly’s cousin Shelley and family friend Barry J who sing original songs (and Dolly’s best hits) and tell stories about their doting “Aunt Granny”, better known as Dolly. We even got the opportunity to meet Heidi Lou after the show, who was just as sweet and loveable as her aunt.
No trip to Dollywood is complete without trying the food.
OMG, Aunt Granny’s is all-you-can-eat family-style deliciousness. It is elevated down home cooking. The food, service and atmosphere were incredible. I highly recommend making this a stop for the day. Hint, I would ride most of the rides before eating. I saw lots of people having their lunch revisit them after riding some of the coasters.
You also need to go and get you some world famous Cinnamon Bread at Grist Mill. There, you can watch this delectable treat be made fresh before your very eyes. Try this snack with buttercream icing or Dollywood’s own apple butter.
I have to add that the shopping is pretty awesome at Dollywood as well. I am a retail warrior, so I made quite a dent and definitely helped the park’s economy. So if you get a Christmas present from me from Dollywood, don’t be surprised.
We stayed at the park until it closed and ended the day with a dance party followed by a fireworks and drone light show. I have never seen a drone light show and it was pretty spectacular. The lights were timed with the music and different images. I dare say when they played Whitney Houston’s version of the song I Will Always Love You, I had tears in my eyes. The drone light show intermixed with fireworks made for a true lasting memory of our day in Dollywood.
The following day was a day of adventure and play in Pigeon Forge.
We started our morning off with breakfast at Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Café which, wait for it, has literally hundreds of animatronic chickens that perform for guests every hour. The chickens are named after famous personalities such as Layer Swift, Henny Rogers, Cluck Norris, Aretha Frankhen and Oprah Henfry. The food was good and the show the animatronic hens put on to a soundtrack of Star Wars music was definitely an experience.
So after you are entertained by hens, what do you do?
You go to a Moonshine Tasting at Ole Smokey Moonshine at The Island, which is an upscale shopping area. I have to say after spending two hours there getting liquored up, we were able to do a lot of retail therapy starting at the Paula Deen store. I mean butter is everything so I love this store. There were lots of knickknacks to turn your home into an Old Southern woman’s paradise.
We discovered more retail therapy at the Outlet Malls in Pigeon Forge where they have a Disney Store. Since they have closed all the Disney Stores in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, when you find one, you best stop in. The four of us did some major purchasing there.
Once we finished shopping, we went and visited Sevierville which is the township right next door to Pigeon Forge and Dolly Parton’s hometown. After posing with the statue of Dolly in the town square we were ready for one final adventure for the afternoon. We went on a roller coaster in the Smokey Mountains. This Alpine Coaster is located in Pigeon Forge Wears Valley, which is known for its beautiful landscapes and mountains. It’s in contention for the longest alpine coaster in the US. The track is over a mile long and the entire ride measures out at an astonishing 5,400 feet, taking almost 8 minutes to get from top to bottom. It’s one of the original Pigeon Forge alpine coasters and is rated one of the best by riders in the Smokies. It was definitely an exhilarating ride and the views were incredible.
We ended our night by going to one of the Dollywood Shows. We walked the plank at the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show. Guests get to join the most famous pirate, Blackbeard, and his quartermaster, Calico Jack, as they lead the Crimson and Sapphire crews in a battle on land, on deck, in water and high above full-sized pirate ships in an indoor hideaway lagoon. The show has everything from mermaids and hot shirtless pirate men to tropical birds and trained seals in addition to the four-course feast. It was all campy fun and we had a great time enjoying cocktails and gorgeous pirates flexing their muscles. This is definitely a show for gays of all ages.
That wraps up our road trip to Dollywood for a long weekend. The ride home was much more uneventful and strangely quicker than the ride up. I can now check Dollywood off the Bucket List. But I have this feeling I will be back to the land of Dolly sooner than later.