Dollywood 2021: A behind the scenes look on opening day

Dollywood's Miss Lillian (aka "The Chicken Lady" welcomes guests back for the 2021 season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood's Miss Lillian (aka "The Chicken Lady") welcomes guests back for the 2021 season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

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In some places, they wait for the groundhog.

Other places, it’s when the Boys of Summer show up for a little training that spring has officially arrived.

But in East Tennessee, it ain’t spring until they throw open the gates at Dollywood.

After a bizarre and challenging 2020, Dollywood is back, baby.

Back with major changes and familiar faces.

Back with the dedication to improvement, to customer experience that made the park Trip Advisor’s best amusement park in the world.

There’s something about that first trip to Dollywood early in the season after the long, gray winter. Sure, it might be a little chilly on the ride into the park. Sure, it might be a little crowded with spring breakers.

But there’s optimism in it, a promise of warmer weather and water rides and cold drinks. A promise of warmth and fun and freedom.

Highlights from Season Passholder Preview Day are below.

Season passholders make their way into the park on Season Passholder Preview Day 2021 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Season passholders make their way into the park on Season Passholder Preview Day 2021 (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dolly did not make an appearance

Traditional openings usually include a parade and an appearance from Dolly Parton, the park’s namesake.

But due to all the 2020 in the air, this year our Appalachian queen wasn’t able to make it.

“I wish I could be there for the opening, but the doctors said I need to wait until after I’ve had the second dose… Let’s all be patient. All of this stuff is going to be over soon, and I know it won’t be long until we can be together,” said Dolly in a press release.

“Our people are doing a great job to care for our guests, and I’m glad that everyone is seeing what the good folks at Dollywood have been doing to make it one of the best family destinations in the entire country.”

While the Festival of Nation is on hiatus, the Flower and Food Festival is scheduled to return for the 2021 season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
While the Festival of Nations is on hiatus, the Flower and Food Festival is scheduled to return for the 2021 season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

There will be no Festival of Nations celebration in 2021

We must recognize the absence of a long and important Dollywood tradition: the Festival of Nations.

Logistically, of course, it makes sense. It’s still not the right time to bring artists from around the world to stay for a month.

But the festival has been exceptionally important. It borrowed something of the spirit of the old world’s fairs that used to help bridge the gap between nations and culture. The Festival of Nations encouraged a spirit of camaraderie and improved international understanding. It made the world seem a little closer.

It’s unclear if the Festival of Nations is simply on hiatus or gone for good, but here’s to hoping for a triumphant return in the relatively near future.

A significant portion of the track has been wrapped in metal which will allow for a smoother, more reliable ride (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)
A significant portion of Lightning Rod’s track has been wrapped in metal which will allow for a smoother, more reliable ride (media photo courtesy of Dollywood)

Dollywood’s Lightning Rod coaster has reopened, sort of

Refurbishments of problem-plagued Lightning Rod are finished and the hot-rod themed (mostly) wooden coaster has a jolt of new life.

The Lightning Rod never quite performed up to snuff. The ride was rough and was frequently delayed or closed. Now, engineers have wrapped a significant portion of the wooden rail in metal to allow for a smoother, more reliable ride.

Growing up in the Midwest, old wooden roller coasters were a summer staple, like the Blue Streak at Cedar Point.

It was cool that Dollywood wanted a wooden coaster, but let’s be honest, there was a reason engineers moved away from wooden tracks a long time ago. I expect the upgrades will result in a significant improvement in the Lightning Rod experience.

Editor’s Note: Since reopening, guests have been reporting issues with the coaster, mostly related to launch failures. No injuries have occured, but it looks like Lightning Rod might not be ready for full-time operation just yet.

Read Also: Is Lightning Rod open? Dollywood’s retracked coaster returns in 2021

Mystery Mine receives a new track layout

Mystery Mine also received some upgrades. The coaster remained closed on Season Passholder Preview Day but the is expected to reopen in late March or early April.

According to the Dollywood Blog, crews have extended the track after the first outside drop and reprofiled some of the turns and transitions to provide a smoother ride.

The new Blacksmith shop at Dollywood
The relocated Blacksmith Shop at Dollywood will offer a knife-crafting class later this season (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood unveils changes to Craftsman’s Valley

There have also been significant changes in Craftsman’s Valley, including a new outdoor seating venue (pictured below) to help serve two of Dollywood’s most popular dining locations, Dogs N Taters as well as the Hickory House.

The Blacksmith Shop has also been relocated and will offer a knife-crafting class later in the season.

Dollywood’s Robert F. Thomas chapel was dedicated in May of 1973 as part of Goldrush Junction. In 2021, it’s receiving a few renovations to keep it in tip-top shape (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Dollywood’s Robert F. Thomas chapel was dedicated in May of 1973 as part of Goldrush Junction. In 2021, it’s receiving a few renovations to keep it in tip-top shape (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

The Dollywood chapel gets an upgrade

The Robert F. Thomas chapel has received an upgrade with a new roof and new footings. The chapel was originally built on site and dedicated to the memory of Dr. Robert F. Thomas, well known Sevier County doctor, on May 26, 1973.

For an idea of what the chapel looked like before, click here.

Read More: Dollywood’s chapel: How a real church ended up inside a theme park

New outdoor eating area at Dollywood
This new outdoor seating area is one of the new additions to Craftsman’s Valley (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood debuts new shows for 2021

Spring of 2021 opens with news shows as well. At the top of the bill is, “Harmonies of the Heart” featuring members of Dolly’s family and “A Brighter Day” providing uplifting favorites at the Back Porch Theater.

For those who want something a little more contemporary, The Tones will offer an acapella take on current hits in The Village.

A Dining Pass will be offered to guests who wish to try tapa-sized samples during the Flower and Food Festival (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
A Dining Day Pass will be offered to guests who wish to sample a variety of specialty crafted culinary treats during the Flower and Food Festival this spring (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dollywood’s Flower and Food Festival set to begin April 23 with optional Dining Pass

With the Festival of Nations on hold, Dollywood is emphasizing its Flower and Food Festival, returning this April. The festival was supposed to have its inaugural season last year, but you know.

This year it’s scheduled for April 23-June 7, 2021.

Dollywood has always put a lot of pride in the park’s aesthetics, and flowers have been a significant part of that.

Now, they’re kicking it up a notch in ways that will bathe the park in a kaleidoscope of colors. In partnership with an internationally-acclaimed sculpting team, a multitude of flowers come to life throughout Dollywood in the form of Smoky Mountain turtles, raccoons, frogs and black bears.

If we are being honest, we just had to find a place in the article for this amazing pic of Flower and Food Festival sample mocktails, this seemed like a good place in the article (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Flower and Food Festival sample mocktails … yum! (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Dolly’s rich influence through song comes alive in blooming topiary tributes to “I Will Always Love You” with a floral heart umbrella and to “Coat of Many Colors” with a brilliant butterfly and a marvelous scenic sculpture of her mother sewing the priceless garment. Just like Dolly, these topiaries are larger than life – measuring 10-15 feet tall – and each spring sculpture offers a variety of colors and flowers.

And that’s only half the show. In addition to the flowers, comes the food. The Festival will feature 12 locations and 30 specialty menu items created by Dollywood’s culinary team to recreate the best traditions of cuisine from around the world.

A Dining Pass will be offered to guests who wish to try tapas-sized samples during the Flower and Food Festivals.

Drone light shows, like the one that's set to debut at Dollywood this summer, are increasing in popularity all over the world (Khairil Ajhar Jaafar / Shutterstock.com)
Drone light shows, like the one that’s set to debut at Dollywood this summer, are increasing in popularity all over the world (Khairil Ajhar Jaafar / Shutterstock.com)

Dollywood’s Summer Celebration begins June 25

Dollywood also announced details about their other annual festivals today.

The Summer Celebration will run from June 25-July 31, 2021 with later nighttime hours and a symphony of lights after dark.

The half-million dollar production will include hundreds of drones that will fly high above the park to create 3D animations that will be musically-choreographed with a fireworks show and a dance party.

Harvest Festival and LumiNights begins Sept. 24

The award-winning Dollywood Harvest Festival and LumiNights event is set to run Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021.

The event features seasonal displays, seasonal food and thousands of illuminated pumpkins by night.

As fall approaches, LumiNight-exclusive discounted tickets are usually made available for guests who only wish to attend the LumiNights event at sunset.

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas begins Nov. 6

And finally, the highly anticipated award-winning Dollywood Smoky Mountain Christmas event is also set to return for 2021 season.

The celebration will run from Nov. 6, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022 and will feature millions of lights and displays.

It’s time to celebrate y’all! Dollywood is open. Maybe swing by the renovated chapel and give a hallelujah.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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