Dollywood delays opening day, but Dolly Parton looks ahead with 'woodsy' new resort

Brenna McDermott
Knoxville News Sentinel
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The blanket of snow that descended on East Tennessee overnight delayed Dollywood's opening to Sunday. 

Saturday would have been the first snowy opening day to the public in Dollywood history. 

A few inches on the ground won't dampen high expectations for the theme park's 37th season as Americans return to travel and tourism experiences in a big way. 

On the heels of a record-breaking year for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, cultural icon, philanthropist and Tennessee hero Dolly Parton is looking to the future of her namesake theme park and resorts. 

Parton spent time this week seeing the layout, fabrics, floors and bedspreads that will define the look of her forthcoming rustic retreat HeartSong Lodge & Resort in Pigeon Forge.  

“It’s more woodsy, I think people always kinda like that," Parton told Knox News. "It’s got the feel of indoor-outdoor. Even when you’re indoors, it kinda feels like you’re out, and they’ve designed it real clever. I think they’re going to love the fact that it’s more back in the woods, they’re gonna feel more like they’re at a real lodge.”

HeartSong, part of the company's $500 million expansion plan over the next decade, is slated to open in September 2023. The under-construction resort will be anchored by a massive four-story atrium and fireplace in the center of the lodge. 

And it will, of course, feature a signature Dolly suite for her stays on the property. When she's not using it, "somebody can rent it for big money and donate it to the Imagination Library," Parton said of her international charity. 

How Dolly Parton unwinds in the Smokies 

Dolly Parton speaks to Knox News on her tour bus parked at DreamMore Resort in Pigeon Forge. Friday was Parton's first public visit to the park since 2019.

HeartSong is inspired by Parton's love of the Smoky Mountains and the time she still spends relaxing at the Tennessee mountain home of her childhood.

The site of Dolly's childhood home includes the house across the swinging bridge where her grandmother lived, the one-room school and other cherished sites. 

It's a peaceful place for the world's most beloved celebrity to retreat from the spotlight. She hopes guests at HeartSong experience the same feeling.  

"(I) close the gates and just walk around, relax, take my golf cart," Parton said. "We’ve got little roads where we can drive around.

"And just kind of experience the Smokies and the way it felt when I was little standing on that same porch where I used to dream when I was little. So it’s really...it inspires me, but it restores me, and so I love that."

Dolly is bubbly, as always 

Dolly Parton is delighted as a bubble around her pops during an opening day event at Dollywood. Friday's visit was Parton's first public visit to the park since 2019.

Parton made her first public appearance at Dollywood since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the theme park and every other tourism attraction around the world. 

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Ever the good sport, she welcomed season pass holders to the park Friday by being encased inside a giant bubble to preview the return of the "Gazillion Bubble Show: Aurora." That show will be featured f the Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration. 

She had plenty of thoughts while a woman was creating a giant bubble all around her.

“I was thinking, 'She’s going to wet my hair,' I was thinking, 'I hope this works,' and I was thinking 'I hope my dress don’t get a spot on it.'"

Her microphone popped the first bubble, but artist Melody Yang tried again. Kids love the experience, Parton said. 

Pigeon Forge's high temperature will be about 30 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. It's a chilly start to the season. 

As far as the Dollywood team knows, a spokesperson said, it has never snowed on opening day. The park used to open in April so it avoided some larger snowfalls and blizzards.

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Guests walk down Showstreet on opening day at Dollywood.

The park, which lifted its COVID policies and attendance restrictions, doesn't have new resorts or attractions to show off this year, but it made improvements since last season, including a renovated Dollywood Emporium and a redesigned parking lot.

The parking lot redesign removed intersections where cars and tram lanes met and replaced it with a one-way circuit around the park. There are more toll booth lanes to make entering the park smoother.

Brenna McDermott can be reached at brenna.mcdermott@knoxnews.com. Support our local news efforts by becoming a Knox News subscriber

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