A look at Dollywood before opening day

The sound of jackhammers and smell of fresh paint filled the air at Dollywood ahead of the park's 36th season opening. Employees have been busier than ever during the off-season to prepare for better days in 2021.

In the next two weeks, Dollywood will finish construction projects around the park including some that will give guests additional space to enjoy new entertainment, dishes and more.

"We were one of the few parks that really were open in 2020, and we were able to not only just open but also be successful," said Dollywood Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Pete Owens. "So as we go into 2021, we were really focused on what we learned and how we could translate that into a better guest experience."

Building a better guest experience

Although visitors might not notice Dollywood's changes at first, the difference is clear when it comes to guest experience. Using feedback from visitor surveys, Dollywood workers have improved parts of the park to make areas more spacious, rides more comfortable and experiences even more memorable.

Several layout changes have happened around the park. A tin sign store that was located next to the Back Porch Theater has been removed to open the area so people can sit to eat food from Dogs N Taters or watch a performance on the nearby stage.

Cozy Bear Cove, a merchandise store previously located near The Grist Mill, has moved to a larger building in Craftsman's Valley. A covered seating area also has been added next to Hickory House BBQ. Walkways have been widened in Craftsman's Valley as well.

Blacksmith & Foundry is moving to a building beside the Valley Theater. The shop will offer a make-your-own-knife activity for an additional cost in the spring, allowing guests to make and take home a souvenir unlike any other.

Roller coaster enthusiasts will enjoy smoother rides on Lightning Rod, Thunderhead, Blazing Fury and Mystery Mine thanks to a retracking program, which replaces the top section of each ride's track with metal. All of the coasters will be ready for reopening day except Mystery Mine because of a shipping delay for materials. Officials said the ride should operate again a couple of weeks after the park reopens.

Festival features

Dollywood is starting strong in 2021 with its second Flower and Food Festival. The event was established in 2020 but was delayed because of the virus. This year, guests will get to enjoy the full spring celebration.

The park's Umbrella Sky is returning after many guests captured the colorful fixture and shared it on social media last year. The larger-than-life plant sculptures also will be back in the park.

A resident chalk artist will create original work on the grounds of Adventures In Imagination each day of the Flower and Food Festival. Guests will be able to give it a try for themselves as well.

Music is a mainstay at Dollywood, and this year is no different. Performers will play in the streets, outdoor venues and select indoor spaces.

Familiar favorites and new groups are on the park's lineup in 2021. Guests will get to hear "Harmonies of the Heart," which features members of Dolly Parton's family; "A Brighter Day," an uplifting show inspired by Parton's motivating words during the pandemic; and "The Tones," an a cappella ensemble.

Seasonal celebrations will continue throughout 2021 to keep guests coming back. Visitors can look forward to Dollywood's Summer Celebration, Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin Luminights and Smoky Mountain Christmas.

New tastes in 2021

Fresh culinary creations are coming to Dollywood's Flower and Food Festival. From savory lobster rolls to sweet lavender and honey funnel cakes, visitors will have a variety of tasty options to choose from.

Dollywood announced a new Dining Day Pass to make tasting the offerings a bit easier. Guests can add the dining experience to their trip for $29.99 or $27.99 for season pass holders. The pass grants guests to try five items among the park's 30 dishes and at any of its 12 locations.

The Dining Day Pass is only available during Dollywood's Flower and Food Festival, but the park's culinary team is planning to add entrees guests will want to sink their teeth into all year long.

Many COVID-19 protocols remain in place as the park reopens

In 2020, Dollywood implemented more than 700 operational changes in the park to protect guests and employees from the spread of COVID-19.

Most of those protocols – including mask wearing, health screening and physical distancing measures – will remain until guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says otherwise. However, guests will get to enjoy concerts at Celebrity Theatre and explore Chasing Rainbows Museum again.

"I would stack our safety protocols up for how we operate Dollywood parks resorts against anyone," said The Dollywood Company President Eugene Naughton. "We led the way in the industry and for the state of Tennessee in helping write the safety protocols, so I'm very bullish about 2021."

When does Dollywood reopen?

Dollywood season pass holders will get an exclusive preview of the park on March 12, and all other guests will be invited on March 13. Park officials are excited for the beginning of the new season, which will start on time unlike last year's reopening that was delayed because of COVID-19.

Dollywood's Flower and Food Festival will run from April 23 to June 7 and be followed by other seasonal festivals like Summer Celebration, Harvest Festival and Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Tickets and information are available at Dollywood.com.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Allie Clouse

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Published February 25, 2021