Dollywood in Crisis: Park Issues Rapid Response Statement

in Theme Parks

A large welcome sign for Dollywood with a butterfly graphic stands amidst foliage. The text reads "Welcome to Dollywood Just Ahead." An inset circle shows a detailed section of the park's attractions, including a water ride and seating area.

Credit: Inside the Magic

Dollywood is having a rough start to the summer season, following a closure, as well as now reported incident that could have ended terribly for one guest.

Several people enjoy the area in front of the Showstreet Palace Theater at Dollywood. A family is seated by a large "Dollywood" sign surrounded by colorful flowers, while another person takes a photo. Under a clear sky, the lively scene and charming architecture reflect Dolly Parton's beloved comeback to her iconic park.
Credit: Smoky Mountain Park, X

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dollywood reigns as a premier theme park destination in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. While thrilling rides, delectable cuisine, and captivating entertainment grace the park, its true heart lies in celebrating the life and legacy of country music icon Dolly Parton, a local native and the park’s namesake. For many visitors, Parton herself serves as the main attraction.

Dollywood boasts over 50 iconic rides, catering to a range of thrill preferences. The Lightning Rod, a wooden coaster renowned for its speed and plunging drops, ignites excitement alongside Blazing Fury, a runaway mine car adventure.

For a scenic exploration, the Dollywood Express whisks riders on a train tour through the mountains. Additionally, the Wild Eagle, the nation’s first wing coaster, grants riders an unparalleled feeling of flight.

Beyond the rides, Dollywood pulsates with live entertainment showcased in various theaters. From captivating musical productions to side-splitting comedy shows, the park offers something for every taste.

The entertainment lineup often reflects Dolly Parton’s musical roots, featuring country, bluegrass, and gospel performances. To extend the experience, Dollywood boasts two on-site resorts: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa and Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort.

Dollywood consistently draws millions of visitors annually, solidifying its position as a southeastern United States tourism powerhouse. While exact attendance figures fluctuate year-to-year, the park remains a top Tennessee destination.

In a testament to its success, Dollywood even surpassed Disney World as the “favorite theme park” in a National Amusement Park Historical Association survey. This prestigious recognition underscores Dollywood’s ability to deliver an exceptional theme park experience.

Dollywood's Newest Resort, HeartSong Lodge & Resort concept art
Credit: Dollywood

The NAPHA releases a survey every year that includes categories like “most beautiful theme park,” “favorite traditional theme park” and “favorite wooden roller coaster,” and Dolly Parton’s eponymous park came out on top for “favorite theme park” overall.

The Tennessee staple beat out both Disney World in Florida, which came in at second, while Disneyland in California took third.

Last month, we shared that the theme park had to close for weather suddenly. While the park does offer rain checks if they are claimed the day of your visit, guests were not refunded for their visit.

As Dollywood told Inside the Magic, “If it is raining when you leave the Park and your visit is shortened by the rain, you can request a Rain Check—just ask. Rain Checks are distributed at the Ticket Annex, Guest Services and any one-day ticket window and are valid until the end of the season.

If park operations are interrupted because of severe weather and your stay is shortened, you can request a Rain Check—just ask. Rain Checks are distributed at any ticket window and are valid until the end of the season.”

Guests ride Lightning Rod at Dollywood
Credit: Dollywood

Lucky for Dollywood, one guest who could have left their theme park Splash Country in a stretcher, had luck on their side.

NBC news station 10News shared, “Authorities said crews responded to a call at Dollywood’s Splash Country on Friday, saying a person may have experienced cardiac arrest after falling off a tube and into a wave pool.

They said that when EMS crews arrived, it appeared someone had performed CPR on the person. That person refused additional treatment and transport, according to a spokesperson with Sevier County.”

Dollywood also released a statement about the incident:

“A Dollywood’s Splash Country guest was attended to by park lifeguards on Friday afternoon. The guest refused further treatment and elected to exit the park for the remainder of the day.”

It seems that Dollywood did do their part in attempting to assist the guest who reportedly had a heart attack at the theme park, however the guest did not want any further assistance for unknown reasons.

This comes after a recent lawsuit filed against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts alleges a guest sustained a brain injury while riding the Humunga Kowabunga water slide at Typhoon Lagoon. Court documents detail that Laura Reyes-Merino visited the park on May 11th, 2024, and rode the high-speed water slide featuring a near-vertical, five-story drop.

The lawsuit contends that Ms. Reyes-Merino lost consciousness “banging inside the ride” and was discovered unconscious by her fiancé and mother at the ride’s conclusion. The lawsuit further alleges that park attendants initially stated they were not lifeguards and could not assist. It claims a delay in receiving medical attention due to the lack of immediate lifeguard intervention contributed to the severity of Ms. Reyes-Merino’s injuries.

The lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $50,000 along with associated costs, interest, and attorney fees. It argues that the presence of lifeguards at the ride’s exit could have prevented the alleged brain injury by providing prompt medical attention. This incident comes after a separate lawsuit filed in 2023 regarding a different guest who experienced injury on the same water slide.

In more positive news, Dollywood has recently experienced a very successful opening of the Dolly Parton Experience, the newest attraction and expansion of the Dollywood theme park.

The exhibits have turned out so well that Dolly Parton herself wept when she first saw it all come to life. 

The Dolly Parton Experience, a comprehensive new attraction at Dollywood theme park, immerses visitors in the legendary singer’s life story. Spanning three buildings and a retired tour bus, interactive displays chronicle Parton’s remarkable journey, from her humble beginnings in a Locust Ridge cabin to international stardom.

Digital rendering of a theme park entrance at sunset. The entrance is adorned with colorful butterfly decorations, vibrant flowers, and a large pink butterfly with "Dollywood" on it. Visitors are walking around, enjoying various attractions and vendor stalls.
Credit: Dolly Parton

“The Songteller” exhibit delves into Parton’s multifaceted career, showcasing her music, film, and television achievements. A unique highlight allows visitors to step aboard the very bus she used to travel to Nashville after graduating from high school.

For fashion enthusiasts, “Behind the Seams” offers a dazzling display of Parton’s signature style. Visitors can explore glittering jewelry, extravagant hairpieces, and iconic sequined dresses, even getting the chance to virtually style her iconic look.

“DreamSong Theater” houses the “Precious Memories” exhibit, a poignant exploration of the enduring influence of family and friends on Parton’s life and career. Additionally, a captivating new show co-written by Parton and her niece, “Heidi Parton’s Kin & Friends,” takes center stage.

The return of a former tour bus further enhances the immersive experience. Due to anticipated high demand during the initial launch phase, timed entry reservations for The Dolly Parton Experience are recommended. This exciting new attraction replaces the former Adventures in Imagination area, solidifying Dollywood’s commitment to delivering fresh and engaging experiences for visitors.

A woman with blonde hair waves from a red carriage adorned with an abundance of colorful flowers. A man in a beige suit and cowboy hat sits beside her. Spectators in the background watch and capture the moment at Dollywood Theme Park. The scene appears festive with vibrant decorations.
Credit: Dolly Parton

When talking to Cosmopolitan, Parton said, “The Smoky Mountains were here long before me, but I do feel like a proud parent,” she says humbly.

“It is special for me because these mountains and this place have meant so much for me throughout my whole life. I grew up here and the things I learned and the life I experienced have all shaped me to be who I am now. I’ve kept those experiences close and you’ll hear them in every song I write and every movie I make.

So to be part of a place that makes people from all over the world want to come visit this area is one of my most proud accomplishments.”

Do you plan to visit Dollywood this year? Would you be interested to go in the future? 


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