At Dollywood, change is a constant.
It is a nearly 40-year project in successful visioning. The former and somewhat cheesy Silver Dollar City in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. is now one of the best amusement parks in the world. But that hasn’t come without the willingness to close some old favorites.
The Flooded Mine? Gone.
Thunder Road? Gone.
Mountain Sidewinder? Gone.
The pedestrian tunnel? Gone.
At the Dollywood theme park, stagnation is impossible.
And so it is that another favorite of country music singer Dolly Parton fans appears on the precipice of elimination – or at the very least, a major overhaul – Chasing Rainbows.
Dollywood ‘reimagines’ possibilities for the attraction
At the time of this writing, Dolly’s Chasing Rainbows Museum is closed.
A statement on the Dollywood website reads as follows:
“Chasing Rainbows Museum will close for the 2022 season as we take time to reimagine future possibilities for the attraction.”
“By offering a special glimpse of some of Dolly’s most unique memorabilia, Chasing Rainbows has provided guests with countless memories throughout its history. We are excited about telling Dolly’s story in a new way in the future; we will share additional details about the experience at a later date.”
The Chasing Rainbows Museum is the second Dolly-themed museum in the park to close.
Previously, Rags to Riches: The Dolly Parton Story was located in the old Inventor’s House and the now destroyed pedestrian tunnel. It featured personal items and glamorous gowns but it was never what you’d consider a fascinating attraction. It was always a place that seemed like it was waiting for a better idea.
Eventually, Dolly and her team created the Chasing Rainbows Museum.
The museum, as the Dollywood website describes, offered the story of her life and her career.
It tracked her life from humble beginnings in Sevier County in the Great Smoky Mountains to her early career as a music, television and movie star and finally to one of the biggest celebrity icons in the United States and the world. It also featured interactive elements, behind-the-scenes collections and keepsakes.
Remembering Chasing Rainbows and Thunder Road
Dollywood’s Chasing Rainbows Museum opened in the 2002 season. It was part of the Adventures of Imagination area of the park. In other words, it’s the area of the park that serves as a shortcut to Jukebox Junction when the main street is too crowded.
The building debuted in 1996 as the Silver Screen Cafe for a season before being converted to DJ Platters.
But I have little memory of either if I’m being honest.
In my life, the only reason to go to the area, other than to avoid crowds, was the once heavily popular Thunder Road attraction next door.
Thunder Road was a state-of-the-art motion theatre synced with a film about moonshine runners and their hotrods in the Smokies. It was fun – if a little nausea-inducing. And for a time it was the most popular ride in the park.
Changed to White Lightning in 2009, the facility now hosts the Dreamsong Theater and the Harmonies of the Heart show featuring Dolly’s nieces, a cousin and a family friend.
I don’t have access to Dollywood’s internal numbers. But my guess is, despite the Harmonies of the Heart show, which is quite well received – Adventures in Imagination is one of the least trafficked areas of the park, even though it is located next to the main entrance.
With Dollywood seizing every opportunity to expand, it seems like Adventures in Imagination – which is neither adventurous nor terribly imaginative – is a long-gestating opportunity for change.
What does the future hold for Chasing Rainbows?
So without further ado, let’s begin with some rampant speculation, a few educated guesses and lots of unfounded conjecture.
Dollywood’s official statement seems to indicate that Chasing Rainbows is in for an overhaul, not necessarily an elimination. In fact, it makes a lot of sense.
First of all, it seems that Dollywood is attached to having a Dolly museum on the property. It’s appropriate. You’ve got all the stuff that tells the story of Dolly’s life. You should use it. Maybe it’s just getting a nice, clean overhaul. After all, it’s been 20 years. Even the Louvre shakes things up now and then.
My guess? It’s something bigger than an overhaul.
I don’t think the museum is the most efficient use of the space, which began life as a restaurant.
I think we’re going to see a return of sorts with a Hard Rock-style Dolly Museum. A venue that would serve the dual purpose of reimaging Chasing Rainbows while adding an eatery.
It could also help draw crowds away from the center of the park. It would be a win-win.
And it would allow them to display some of the cooler items they have on display. Dolly’s lyric sheets, movie costumes and items from her youth, for example. And it’s an opportunity to put out to pasture some of the more dated items like the copy of her wedding certificate and various holograms and videos.
Dolly’s former tour bus could remain outside with items from Dolly’s celebrity friends.
Will it be another museum?
The only hesitation I have is that Dollywood needs that space. And if they want to transform that area of the Dollywood park, they do not necessarily need the traffic from the museum.
I suspect the fact that they could use that corner of Adventures in Imagination to do something truly cool is eating at least some of Dollywood’s creatives.
Dolly and her partners’ companies also own space down on the strip near Dolly’s Stampede for a ticketing center. And it isn’t exactly necessary in today’s internet age. They could put a museum on that spot. Dolly’s birth certificate and mementos from Dolly’s friends and co-stars like Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda would give the Stampede some foot traffic.
It might be weird at first not to have a Dolly museum in Dollywood. But as the park has grown it has relied less on Dolly to get people through the turnstiles and more as an inspiration for growth.
If not a museum, what could it be?
If we’re going to speculate, and actually we are, the first thing we need to do is look at Dollywood’s peers and see if we can glean some industry trends.
Disney has had a lot of success recently with trackless rides that put you inside a story. Examples are Rise of the Resistance, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Ratatouille. Dollywood has coasters to compete with any park, but it doesn’t have anything like that.
Disney also has 3D rides like Toy Story Mania and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in which you compete in games of skill using 3D technology.
Therefore, considering the long-time popularity of Thunder Road in the same part of the park, it seems like a natural fit that would help balance the park’s attractions. And – I presume – help with crowd flow through the park.
Could a trackless, reimagined 3D Thunder Road ride where you get to shoot at revenuers and earn points be popular? Reader, I think it could.
The story of Dollywood, like the story of Dolly herself, is one of constant success. But also constant change and constant strides for improvement. Both share humble East Tennessee beginnings and both have grown into global icons.
Dolly and her park deserve a museum, certainly.
But there are a lot of places you could put an in-depth look at the Dolly TV show or her time on the Porter Wagoner Show. The goal will always be to maximize prime real estate inside the park.
What do you think will replace Chasing Rainbows? Are you looking forward to the updates? Let us know in the comments.