Did you ever notice how some people appear more approachable than others? Think of who you’d look for when you need to ask for directions. That’s the kind of people that work at Dollywood. I’ve been a Season Passholder for years, and many times I’ve enjoyed a conversation with a friendly Dollywood employee—called hosts.
It became apparent on our first visit to Dollywood as our children panned for gemstones in the Lucky 7 Gem Shop. The woman working there was fantastic and took great care to help them sort through the treasure and share characteristics and names of the gems. She was able to create as much interest in the outcome of “mining” as the process itself, and sent the kids home excited about their collections.
Later in the Sweet Shoppe, I was offered a candy sample from a man who sounded like my New England roots. Come to find out, he was from New Hampshire like me, and we chatted a bit. Encounters between guests and hosts like this happen all the time at Dollywood.
But what makes the people at Dollywood so friendly? I spent some time with the Sweet Shoppe’s Master Craftsman Linda Rice and asked her what she thinks is that “secret sauce” that makes Dollywood hosts so pleasant. Linda has worked at the park for 36 seasons—longer than the park has been Dollywood! She started with the theme park at the suggestion of her husband whose own Dollywood career spanned 25 years. They are one of a handful of married host couples. Linda grew up making candy with her mother, and was a natural fit for this position. On the day we met, she was busy making caramels.
Linda and I talked about the kind of person who is likely to work at Dollywood. Dolly Parton fans, certainly. Dolly’s friendly, approachable appeal is notable, and perhaps she attracts hosts who follow suit.
We discussed Dollywood’s family values. Dollywood believes the world is a better place when families spend more time together. They have created a wholesome and loving environment where families enjoy one another and make lasting memories. Dollywood is guided by Christian values and ethics, and perhaps this culture attracts employees who are also guided by love.
Linda told me Dollywood is one large family. Hosts, guests, and visiting entertainers are all part of this family. Loving families are ready to help, ready to listen, and might even enjoy creating things from scratch—like the confections Linda and her team make in front of guests in the Sweet Shoppe kitchen every day. I asked another long-time employee Thelma Ham (an 18-year Dollywood veteran) what she thought about the family aspect of Dollywood and what makes the employees so friendly, and she replied, “There is not one person working here unwilling to bend over backwards for another person—host or guest!”
I’m not the only person who finds the employees friendly. Dollywood has won the popular vote five years in a row for the Golden Ticket Award for Friendliest Park! These awards are the amusement industry’s version of the Grammy Awards. It’s apparent Dollywood attracts hosts who truly enjoy people.
But as I sat and thought more about it, there’s no other theme park I’ve visited that has this many long-time, genuinely happy employees who want to spread that joy to their guests. Why is that? After years of visits and chats with people at Dollywood my conclusion is that the folks who work there truly love it. They’re proud of their park, they’re proud to showcase their Smoky Mountain hospitality, and they honestly enjoy welcoming people into their “home.” These hosts see Dollywood as so much more than a seasonal gig. This park put their hometown on the map. It provides jobs for thousands of locals. And, it’s the economic engine that helps drive their economy. Dollywood hosts are as proud of Dollywood as they are to claim their hometown hero, Dolly Parton. The way I see it, Dollywood hosts believe it is their role to ensure continued growth of their park—that they do their part to bring guests back again and again.
Maybe it’s not a secret ingredient. Perhaps the people of Dollywood are just genuinely pleasant people who enjoy what they do, who they do it for, and who they do it with.