Aug. 21 was a big day for Dollywood. Plans were announced by Dolly Parton and Craig Ross, president of The Dollywood Company, for a $300 million investment in the company over the next 10 years. Parton and Ross were joined by Gov. Bill Haslam and Susan Whitaker, Tourism Director of the Year, and Erlene Teaster, city manager of Pigeon Forge, as plans were revealed to those crowding the Gospel Music Hall at Dollywood that Wednesday morning.
Creating more than 2,500 jobs, this new venture includes new attractions, such as the FireChase roller coaster, which is set to open in March 2014 and the 300-room DreamMore Resort, set to open on the company’s 30th anniversary in 2015. The new resort will open adjacent to the award-winning Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country waterpark.
Ross, who has worked with theme parks for 30 years and with the Dollywood Company for two, said he has the best job in the world. “I have the dream job,” he declared. He said the inspiration for Dollywood experiences “come from Dolly.”
Teaster said she was the luckiest city manager in the area. She said she appreciated her good friend chose to locate her business in Pigeon Forge. “It means so much to the city,” she said, as she expressed her excitement “to be a part of it.” She said in 2012, tourism in the area broke all records — better than $900 million. “We’re reaching out to families,” she added, “and we could not do it without her.”
Parton welcomed Whitaker, who said it was an honor to be on stage with such a great businesswoman. Whitaker, who is with the Columbia Daily Herald, was chosen by her peers as State Tourism Director of the Year in Tennessee. She said the decision to expand Dollywood is good for Tennessee and money in the bank for everyone. People, she said, come from all parts of the country and from overseas to visit the Smoky Mountains area and Dollywood helps to bring people in.
Haslam agreed with Whitaker as he said, “We take tourism seriously” and called Dollywood projections a “big deal.” He added, “I’m thankful for this incredible investment in the state.”
He talked about how Parton — “the state’s daughter” — was known all around the world. “Her reputation,” he said, “is literally worldwide.”
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is situated on 100 acres and features a design reminiscent of the iconic Southern gathering spot, the front porch, explained Parton, as she brandished a shovel symbolic of the groundbreaking. Calling herself a “backwoods Barbie,” Parton said what she had dreamed of was the down-home flavor in expanding the Dollywood properties to offer families more opportunities to play together and grow closer while they make their best memories.
The DreamMore Resort includes more than 8,000 square feet of indoor meeting space complete with state-of-the-art technology. Outdoors, the property can accommodate groups as large as 500. And there’s the 2,200-square-foot Dolly’s Suite Dreams celebrity suite, with décor inspired by Parton. The resort, she said, is very stylish — “(they have) more taste than I have.”
It will offer a farmhouse restaurant providing indoor and outdoor dining, a wrap-around veranda with views of the pool (an inside pool will be situated amid windows), an amphitheater, fire pits, hammock, and, according to Ross, a spa and salon — “naturally for Dolly.”
Parton said she remembers life revolved around the front porch and that was where the biggest dreams were dreamed. She told about her own dreams of being a singer as a little girl: She sang to her microphone — a can on a stick. She said her vision is to build several resorts, because by developing more, it will bring more visitors in — “so all can prosper.”
FireChaser Express will be the latest addition to The Dollywood Company’s list of innovative new rides, which includes the most recent $20 million Wild Eagle, the country’s first wing coaster, and in 2013, Dollywood’s Splash Country’s RiverRush, Tennessee’s first and only water coaster.
The nation’s first dual-launch family coaster travels forward and backward on a winding 2,427-foot track, leaving the loading station in one direction and returning in the opposite direction. The coaster’s 39-inch minimum height requirement invites families to ride together. Parton said her favorite part is the “little bitty kids” can ride it. But, she protested, “I’m not going to.”
The forward launch speed is zero to 16 mph in 1.1 seconds and the backward launch speed zero to 20 mph in 2 seconds. There are six zero-gravity moments and a “trick track” section where the train twists side to side. Maximum speed is 34.5 mph with a lift height of 12 stories (79 feet). The two-minute, 19-second ride will handle 14 passengers per train with three trains with seven rows each. The coaster is manufactured by Gerstlauer, the German-based company which manufactured Dollywood’s Mystery Mine Euro-fighter coaster.
About The Dollywood Company: A highly awarded and widely recognized leader in the amusement industry, The Dollywood Company consists of the 150-acre Dollywood theme park; the 35-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country and Dollywood Cabins. As unique as its namesake and owner Dolly Parton, Dollywood was the 2010 Applause Award winner, the theme park industry’s highest accolade; the reigning five-time Golden Ticket Award winner; and recipient of 21 Brass Ring Awards for Live Entertainment (more than any other theme park in the world). Open nine months a year (late March through early January), Dollywood offers rides and attractions, shows, and a dozen crafters authentic to the East Tennessee region. Dollywood’s Splash Country, recognized by the Travel Channel as one of the country’s most beautiful waterparks and named 2009’s Must-See Waterpark by the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions, operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Dollywood Cabins offers luxurious cabin accommodations overlooking Dollywood. For more information, call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD or visit dollywood.com. Operating days and hours vary.