Dollywood

Did Dolly Parton sell Dollywood? Who owns Dollywood now?

I couldn’t have been much more than 8 or 9 at the time. 

It was a spring morning and I was in bed dreaming of baseball or Star Wars or some other of my boyhood passions.

“John!” my mom shouted. “Wake up! It’s snowing. You won’t have to go to school today.”

I threw off the covers and sprang to the window. No snow, just green grass and a gray Indiana morning. 

It was April 1 and I was the fool. I started to write that it made me dislike April Fool’s Day forever. But April 1 is my wedding anniversary. I may have been the fool, but I am not a fool, so let’s move along.  

I think of that memory each spring as the internet tries desperately to trick me the same way my mom did all those years ago. 

“Aliens discovered.” 

“Harrison Ford buys Morristown mansion.”

And the classic chestnut, “Dolly Parton sells Dollywood to Kanye West or China or Big Foot or George Clooney.”

It’s not being renamed Yeezywood any time soon. It’s simply another April Fools’ Day joke.

Dollywood sign in Pigeon Forge
The Dollywood theme park is undoubtedly one of the main attractions for many visitors in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is the rumor true? Did Dolly sell Dollywood?

Once something like that is in the interwebs, it never really goes away. Periodically, someone gets hold of an old link or revives an old Facebook post and here we go again.

So. To answer the question at hand: No. Dolly Parton didn’t sell Dollywood. I’m not sure she could if she even wanted to with co-owners involved.

Read Also: Where is Dolly Parton’s childhood home? Is it still there?

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So who owns Dollywood? 

Wait. What? Dolly does not own Dollywood? She owns a piece. She partners with an entertainment company that started in the Ozarks in the 50s and 60s, Herschend Family Entertainment, founded by Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson, Missouri.

Their Chicago-based parents visited the Ozarks. Enamored with the area, they bought a 99-year lease on a kitschy tourist operation in a cave that was once a vigilante hideout. 

Jack and Pete’s dad fell ill shortly after obtaining the lease in the 50s, but the pair worked with their mother to build an entertainment empire that includes Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

Herschend Family Entertainment bought Goldrush Junction in Pigeon Forge in 1976 from Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns.

The following year, the attraction was rechristened Silver Dollar City Tennessee. The Herschends made some improvement over the ensuing decade, but Pigeon Forge’s Silver Dollar City – at least in my memory – was a third or fourth-tier theme park.

That is, until a fateful partnership changed everything.

In 1986, Dolly Parton – a Sevier County native and superstar musician, songwriter and actress – fulfilled her dream of giving back to her hometown when she bought a stake in the theme park and lent her name, image and life’s story for the park’s theme.

The park with her image has since soared to great success. It is among the best in the industry today.

Dolly Parton at Dollywood
Dolly Parton makes an appearance at her theme park in TN (archive photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

How much is Dollywood worth? How much do they make each year?

This also seems to be a burning internet question: How much is Dollywood worth?

Dollywood is a private company, so the answer is, there’s no way for the general public to really know. And Dollywood’s lips are sealed.

Dollywood, DreamMore Resort and Spa and Dollywood’s Splash Country water park represent a massive entertainment complex that conservatively is worth more than several European countries.

It is also expanding. Dollywood’s Heartsong Lodge and Resort is set to open next year in 2023.

Throw in other Dollywood Company properties (aka World Choice Investments) in Pigeon Forge, including Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Pirates Voyage, a series of Dollywood cabins and others… it’s nearly impossible to guess.

Read Also: A look at Dollywood HeartSong Lodge and Resort, Suite 1986

Is Dolly Parton involved at all?

Absolutely, she is. Park executives refer to the iconic singer and songwriter as the Dreamer-in-Chief. It’s clear she has input on the park’s vision, if not day-to-day operations. Dolly herself is invested in Dollywood, not just in money.

My wife has never been able to get out of referring to Dolly as if she’s up in the boardroom pouring over spreadsheets and reviewing schematics. And honestly, she probably could. If we’ve learned anything in this life it’s not to doubt Dolly Parton.

As evidenced with the Wildwood Grove expansion, I think Dolly serves as an important voice and provides inspiration. Her love of the area and her childhood permeate each and every expansion and major initiative.

Dolly is clearly involved with decisions.

Dolly Parton performs HeartSong
Dolly even makes semi-annual appearances at Dollywood, but mostly on opening day, or for special events and announcements (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Will Dollywood be sold in the future? 

I don’t see it happening for a long time. Partially due to logistics.

The list of people or companies who could afford to buy it is fairly short. We’re talking Bezos, Gates, Buffet (Warren not Jimmy) or an entity like Disney World. 

Dollywood is a massive success, a cash cow and a family legacy.

For the Herschend to sell, it would take a monster offer. You’d have an easier time buying a major sports franchise. Seriously, if the LA Clippers are worth billions, how much would Dollywood et al go for? It’s almost unfathomable.

Would Dolly ever sell her shares?

It seems unlikely at this point. As important as her singing and songwriting, her acting and her philanthropy are, Dollywood – at least from this vantage point – seems to be positioned to carry her real legacy.

It’s the perfect place to celebrate her long, illustrious career and the parts of her personality that are often overlooked. Seriously, the woman’s business acumen is amazing. 

Were you drawn to this article after hearing the internet rumors? Let us know in the comments.

Click here to view the web story version of this article.

SNEAK PEEK: Look inside Suite 1986, Dolly Parton’s former tour bus

Dolly Parton came from humble beginnings. Her rags-to-riches story has truly fascinated the world.

Luckily for us, Dolly is a storyteller. But she doesn’t just want to tell you her story. She wants to show you.

For example, look no further than her namesake theme park Dollywood.

Dollywood grew quite a bit as it transformed from Rebel Railroad to Goldrush Junction to Silver Dollar City. But no transformation was as great as when Dolly took over in 1986.

Since then, the park has become a glimpse into Dolly’s life.

Wildwood Grove functions as an idealized version of the mountains of her youth. Jukebox Junction is a recreation of 50s era Sevierville.

Dolly made her vision clear in Rivertown Junction, where Dolly’s Tennessee Mountain Home sits. 

But one of the newest things from the company will not be one that most of us can afford. Still, for some elite few, there’s a truly unique experience next door to DreamMore Resort and Spa.

Read Also: Where is Dolly Parton’s childhood home? Is it still there?

Dolly's Suite 1986 sign
A sign for Suite 1986, a new experience offered by the Dollywood Company (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

What is Dolly Suite 1986?

Suite 1986 is Dolly Parton’s former tour bus. Now, guests can stay overnight in Dolly’s former home away from home.

The 1986 Tour Bus Experience showcases another facet of the icon’s life, a free-spirited traveler.

Dolly Parton often refers to her tour bus as the “Gypsy Wagon”.

In the years that it served Dolly, it traveled about 360,000 miles throughout North America, making trips to Nashville, Los Angeles and more.

1986 Suite at Dollywood
Dolly Parton often opted to stay on her tour bus instead of a hotel room (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

When did Dolly Parton use the bus from Suite 1986?

The bus that is now Suite 1986 served as Dolly Parton’s tour bus from late 2008 through March 2022.

In 2016, it served Dolly during her largest North American tour in 25 years, the Pure & Simple Tour, where it traveled to more than 60 cities in the United States and also in Canada.

While she’s on the road, Dolly spends most of her time writing. The bus is a unique sanctuary for Dolly where she wrote dozens of songs and a number of projects.

She wrote albums like “Backwoods Barbie” and “9 to 5 the Musical” and also wrote books, television shows and movies.

According to Dollywood officials, Dolly enjoyed taking care of the people who traveled with her on the tour bus, including her friend and personal assistant Judy Ogle and bus driver Tim Dunlap.

She would make them sandwiches and talk to them about life and family during their travels.

Additional beds
Dolly’s bus had fewer bunks than other tour buses to make room for her closet (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

How does Dolly Parton travel?

Dolly notoriously does not enjoy flying, so the Prevost tour bus was Dolly’s home away from home.

But of course, Dolly still knows how to travel in style.

She made a number of customizations and upgrades to the bus, including a full-size refrigerator, which is an uncommon sight on most tour buses.

The country music star also requested electric doors, a bathtub and other custom details to best fit her needs.

For example, to accommodate her show wardrobe, the bus had three bunk beds instead of the standard six to make room for a closet. The Prevost tour bus was Dolly’s home away from home.

The bus also has special hand-painted murals and unique paintings of wayfaring wanderers, wagons and crystal balls to represent life on the road for the singer.

The bus also has a wig cabinet. Dollywood officials say that she almost always stayed on the bus instead of a hotel room.

Dolly has said that this bus was her favorite home because she’s a true gypsy at heart.

In March 2022, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa acquired the bus and created the Suite 1986 Tour Bus Experience as an authentic Dolly Parton experience.

Read Also: The Dolly Parton tour bus: A look at how our Appalachian queen travels

Suite 1986
The bus also has a custom tub (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

What type of tour bus is Suite 1986?

The bus is a 2008 Prevost motorcoach that has been customized by Dolly Parton.

It is 45 feet long and served as Dolly’s tour bus from 2008 to 2022.

How many people can stay at Suite 1986?

The tour bus sleeps two guests.

However, the stay also includes a DreamMore Resort guest room to accompany up to four additional guests.

The suite has a dedicated concierge service for the entire length of the stay, as well as a number of exclusive Suite 1986 items that guests can take home as a keepsake from the experience.

Guests will have special accommodations as well as additional experiences which can be added to the stay. And they will also have a chance to indulge in culinary creations from the award-winning staff of the resort.

Hall of Suite 1986
The tour bus has unique design features custom fit for Dolly Parton (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

How much does it cost to stay at Dolly Suite 1986?

The tour bus experience requires a two-night minimum and starts at $10,000. For context, that’s more expensive than the immersive Star Wars hotel in Orlando.

But, it’s important to note that a portion of the proceeds from each stay will benefit the Dollywood Foundation and the Imagination Library.

Requests for bookings are now available at dollywood.com/suite1986.

1986 Suite
The new Suite 1986 will feature a variety of accommodations (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Where is the Dollywood Suite 1986?

Suite 1986 is located outside of Dollywood DreamMore Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

It is parked on a gated bus pad which was created for Dolly to use during her visits to the Dollywood theme park.

Other new attractions and features at Dollywood

Our staff was able to tour the new suite as part of an event that showcased construction progress on the new HeartSong Lodge, the latest addition to lodging from the Dollywood Company. HeartSong will offer an event center for family reunions and beautiful balconies with views of the Smokies.

The lodge will be a 300-room hotel set to open in the fall of 2023. The all-new resort will accommodate the continued growth of the Smokies, and it will be located across from Dollywood’s flagship resort, DreamMore Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge.

There are more future developments coming soon for the Dollywood Company as well, including additional resorts and a record-breaking coaster planned for 2023. Details have not yet been announced for the other developments.

Dollywood is one of the most popular attractions in the eastern U.S. And It is located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Dolly Parton Company includes the Dollywood theme park, Dollywood Splash Country and a series Dollywood cabins and resorts.

The 150-acre Dollywood theme park is an award-winning park with roller coasters like the Wild Eagle, Tennessee Tornado and Lightning Rod.

It has family-favorite attractions like the steam train, Dollywood Express. It features shows that sometimes even feature members of Dolly’s family.

What do you think of the Suite 1986 experience? Do you think it would be worth it? Let us know in the comments.


Dollywood Summer Celebration: Summer deals, what’s new [2022]

The way we’ve built our society, summer is our reward.

We learn from a young age that the calendar doesn’t really begin in January.

It really starts in late August or early September with a long road of confinement and responsibilities ahead. 

Summer is the carrot at the end of the stick. 

Even as we get older and our lives are no longer built around school and most of us keep plowing ahead with obligations, summer remains a mystical, somewhat mythical time of euphoric release, escape and blessed freedom. 

The summer of 2022 is not different, but somehow completely different.

The need to release months of pent-up stress may be greater than any summer in several generations. 

In short, we need this summer. We need it something fierce.

That’s where Dollywood, located in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, steps in. 

It’s clear that park officials spent the downtime in planning mode.

What’s new at Dollywood this summer? [2022]

The leadership at Dollywood, which impresses each season with its vision and forethought, is at it again. The celebration continues this year with new surprises and former favorites.

For the first time in five years, The Gazillion Bubble Show Aurora is back in 2022 with more bubbles than ever before. This show was brought back by popular demand and features millions, billions and gazillions of bubbles.

This year, it will even feature a never-before-seen fantasy segment that pays homage to Dolly Parton and her mountain home.

Also in 2022, the drone and fireworks show will be even bigger and brighter with 500 high-tech drones.

Also, all-new interactive shows “Liquid Beats” and “Hydro Jive Junction” will have guests splashing and singing along during refreshing performances.

Guests will be able to cool off on a hot summer day in the wonderful garden hose fountain installation found in Market Square during “Liquid Beats.” The interactive performance brings together dozens of garden hoses to create a colorful fountain that delivers bursts of cooling excitement to guests of all ages.

A landscaping-themed percussion troupe maintains the natural beauty of the Smokies, as they bring this new entertainment vision to guests.

In Jukebox Junction, “Hydro Jive Junction” features a musical maintenance worker trying to repair a faulty, spraying fire hydrant. Dancing ensues as the fire hydrant turns into a refreshing sprinkler for guests to enjoy, as the cast sings and dances to familiar favorites such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Splish Splash.”

Drone show at Dollywood Summer Celebration
The beautiful Sweet Summer Nights Drone Show is one of the most popular features at the Dollywood Summer Celebration (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

Dollywood’s Sweet Summer Nights Drone Show

Dollywood’s Summer Celebration is highlighted by the family-favorite Sweet Summer Nights Drone Show for guests who stay after sundown. The technological marvel features hundreds of drones that illustrate a unique Dollywood story.

Described as a multi-sensory drone light show that creates a symphony of lights in the sky above the Pigeon Forge park, the effect is something akin to living animation combined with a fireworks show.

Each night, weather permitting, Intel Drone Light Shows will launch hundreds of drones into the sky, each capable of producing a full spectrum of color. These drones will light the night sky in multiple formations that move in sync with a choreographed fireworks show. 

This year, the park is bringing larger drones and new illuminated scenes.

The show is the centerpiece of several show offerings across the park this summer.

In a press release, Dollywood’s marketers called the effect “epic” and is one of the family-favorite shows.

And while I typically cringe at press-release hyperbole, having seen the drones sync up to form a butterfly flapping its wings to Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”, I think epic is the right word. 

To be honest, the closing showstoppers have been one of the places Dollywood struggles.

The Dollywood parades have always felt, to me, a little chintzy. But this show seems to be part of a concerted effort, alongside the Great Pumpkin LumiNights, to create memorable night time events.

It truly is something to amaze the entire family. 

If the drone show was the only new thing for the summer, it would be enough. 

But there’s a lot more. 

The Sweet Summer Nights Dance Party

That’s right, the dancing continues this year.

If you’ve ever been at Dollywood and thought, “It’s been a long, hot day. You know what I need? I need to DANCE!” then Sweet Summer Nights has the event for you. 

Dollywood is once again bringing in a DJ and energetic dancers, which is significantly better than lethargic dancers, I suppose, to form a dance party on the streets of Wildwood Grove, immediately preceding the drone show.

Additionally, jumping water jets will be featured in Rivertown Junction.

Dollywood Summer Dance Party
To offer some simple joys of summer, a dance party comes to Wildwood Grove with an energetic DJ preceding the drone and fireworks show (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The Summer Soundtrack

In addition to the Dance Party, Dollywood will have a line-up of entertainment and new show offerings to celebrate the perfect summer day.

Live performers will take to the streets and stages of Dollywood to bring the joy and sounds of summer throughout the theme park.

Be sure to look for musical gardeners who turn ordinary trashcans into musical moments, or the Singing in the Rain troupe who transform spontaneous rain showers into fun-filled performances.

Good Vibes will be at the Back Porch Theater. Guests are treated to a musical journey through the rhythms of classic and contemporary tunes. 

“It’s about celebrating positivity, counting blessings, and simply enjoying life and happiness,” officials said.  

The Valley Theater is home to Forever Country, an energetic look at the changing landscape of country music in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s.

Guests can expect to hear popular hits from artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, as well as a nod to several popular dance songs and classic hits, including Dolly’s “Romeo” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.

Sweet treats for summer

Last but not least, Dollywood’s Culinary Team is cooking up summertime favorites full of flavor.

Fried fish and hushpuppies, BBQ pork nachos, Southern fried corn and an open-faced grilled cheese are just a few of the savory items guests can enjoy during the festival.

Sweet treats include peanut butter candy liege waffles, s’mores funnel cake and an orange Fanta float. Guests also will be able to visit the Food Truck Neighborhood in Adventures in Imagination for a variety of road trip treats.

After the success of the Flower & Food Festival Tasting Pass, the tastes of summer are now available with a similar option for guests.

The tasting pass, which can be purchased in the park or online, is $34.99 plus tax or $31.99 plus tax for gold and diamond passholders. The tasting pass is available each day of the festival.

Read Also: What’s the best food at Dollywood? A guide with 16 eateries, ranked

What time does Dollywood close in the summer?

Dollywood will be open daily from 10 am to 9:30 pm. Dollywood’s Summer Celebration is running now through Aug. 7, 2022.

Get the most out of this unforgettable experience and check Tripster for discounts when you purchase a day pass.

Read Also: Dollywood Splash Country: Tips from a local, what you should know

How crowded is Dollywood during the summer?

The crowds can be a bit heavier when the kids are out of school. In my experience, the holiday season is probably the most crowded at Dollywood. Try to avoid weekends and holidays if you’re trying to avoid the crowds.

Dollywood summer deals

There are two great ways to save on your next trip to Dollywood for the Summer Celebration.

Dollywood is currently offering a variety of specials including resort bundles and pre-purchased meal packages. For the latest deals, check out the special offers page on the Dollywood website.

Do you plan to experience summer’s best moments? Check out Dollywood’s Tripster page which sometimes offers deals and discounts on general admission tickets.

Have you been to this Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration? What did you think of the event? Let us know in the comments!