By Bonnie Neely
Since my grand-niece's eighth birthday was right before the holidays, we decided to make our way to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to realize her dream of riding the roller coaster at Dollywood and seeing in person the millions of Christmas lights she had previously only seen on TV. Her mother volunteered to be the driver, even though she fractured her leg a few days before the trip. Another niece, a huge fan of country music, was delighted to complete our group.
We drove there through the Blue Ridge Mountains, knowing rain was predicted for the next day but determined to be undeterred. If the Dollywood workers could brave the weather, we could, too. When the park opened we discovered valet parking — well worth the price since they delivered us to the entrance and answered all of our questions. They also told us where to find motorized scooters in case my niece needed one.
After consulting the park map we set out to find the roller coaster, since the birthday girl had recently achieved the required height for safety. Along the way we were lured to the mammoth swing, the Barn Stormer. Paying no attention to the light rain now falling, we found no lines and a gracious attendant who was happy to let just the four of us enjoy the fun of the greatest arc possible for a swing.
One niece and I decided to enjoy walking through the beautifully lit-up park to see the sights, especially Craftsman's Valley. Here we watched many different skilled artisans demonstrate their various works, from leather and wood to blacksmithing.
Thanks to the Dollywood app, we were able to find everything we wanted to see while enjoying Christmas lights everywhere. We especially loved strolling through the magical Arctic Passageway of thousands of twinkling blue and white lights. But the rain had picked up, and the inside dry warmth of the Show Street Palace Theater beckoned to us, and we were glad it had. The dancers, singers and actors were excellent performers, and the musical we saw was completely professional.
While we were doing that, the birthday girl and her mother headed for more exciting rides at Wildwood Grove. When we met up again they talked breathlessly about the enormous fun they had on the frighteningly wonderful Dragonfly roller coaster , hopping around on the frog ride, the bear ride, fire trucks that go forward and backward, and breathless fun in a pirate ship that "rides the waves" in a huge arc.
By now we were hungry and soaked, so we headed for the inviting Front Porch Cafe, where I found the signature meatloaf dinner delicious and reasonably priced. I was also pleased to find that the restaurant offers many gluten-free choices so that everyone in our group could eat with confidence.
Happily fed and a good bit drier, we wanted to see the park's new version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" at the nearby Pines Theater. In this play a young girl whose older brother and sister are prevented from coming home for Christmas writes to Santa to make her dream of a happy Christmas together come true. It was a thrilling story and, once again, so professionally presented in song and dance.
"The Smoky Mountain Christmas" included 5 million glowing lights and a holiday parade to delight everyone lined up along the walkways. The music and costumes brightened everyone's spirits.
We could not resist completing our memorable day with a ride on the Dollywood Express with its historic coal-fired engine. The train was decorated with lights and streaked brilliantly through the dark woods of the mountainside for about 15 minutes. The sides of the cars were open, so we got great views of the lights all over the park while we relaxed and enjoyed singing along with the Christmas carols playing over the speaker system.
On the way out we passed a beautifully lit carousel and couldn't resist hoisting ourselves into saddles on the historic horses as one last way to celebrate our day. Then our valet driven car awaited us at the exit gate, and we snuggled gratefully into its warmth.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonnie Neely is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Live entertainment at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, dresses up even more during the holiday season.