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Is Dollywood a Theme Park or an Amusement Park?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

What did the theme park say to the amusement park?

What’s THEME-atter with you?!?!?

Okay, so maybe that was a pretty poor attempt at a ‘dad joke’ but one that may be relevant to our topic for this blog—theme park vs. amusement park. I never considered the difference between the two until I visited Dollywood with my family. The fact of the matter is, Dollywood is the living definition of a theme park and all that a true theme park has to offer. So, what exactly is the difference?

Merriam-Webster defines an amusement park like this: “a commercially-operated park having various devices for entertainment (such as a merry-go-round and roller coaster) and usually booths for the sale of food and drink.” For a theme park, Webster says: “everything an amusement park has but better.” Haha! Only kidding, but the actual definition is: “an amusement park in which the structures and settings are based on a central theme.” So, what exactly is the central theme of Dollywood and what makes the park so special that we all keep making memories worth repeating? Let’s take a moment to look at the theming of Dollywood and the DNA of the place that we all know and love.

11 Specific and Specially-Themed Areas

Can you name all eleven lands and their themes?  Let’s take a look and maybe you can stump your family and friends with this piece of info:

  • Showstreet– If Dolly designed a town, the main street would be bookended with theaters and have shopping and restaurants in between. That’s what you can expect to find on Dollywood’s Showstreet.

  • Adventures in Imagination– Believe in yourself and your talents. You’ll find yourself dreaming about your bright future as you explore Dolly’s own rags-to-riches story.

  • Jukebox Junction– Doo-wop and poodle skirts are king. Classic cars and drive-ins are the way of life in this beloved section of Dollywood.

  • Rivertown Junction– The water clock isn’t just a cool feature, it’s intended to transport you to the simpler times of the 1800s. You’ll also enjoy the duck pond and Smoky Mountain River Rampage here.

  • Country Fair– Enjoy the midway full of blue-ribbon food and flat rides. It’s a reminder of what family entertainment used to look like when the fair came to town.

  • The Village– As our country grew, communities sprouted up around train depots. Train activity was central to life and culture. When you’re in The Village, the Dollywood Express is the star attraction.

  • Owens Farm– Don’t miss this small section of Dollywood! It’s a nod to Dolly’s maternal side of the family. You’ll find Granny’s Garden (play area for young children) and a barn where a stunt pilot has zoomed a little too low (Barnstormer).

  • Craftsman’s Valley– Meet the talented artisans who lived in the Smoky Mountains at the turn of the century. While you’re at it, buy some hand-made wares and visit a country chapel.

  • Wilderness Pass– Celebrate all that is wild and beautiful in the Smokies. Take a deep breath and slow down as you enjoy the views from Wild Eagle or The Plaza.

  • Timber Canyon– This logging community includes a wooden coaster and Lumber Jack’s Pizza.

  • Wildwood Grove– Straight from the whimsical imagination of Dolly Parton, you’ll be delighted to play in an embellishment of the Smokies.

The uniqueness of Dollywood truly comes in the theming and overall branding throughout the park. I’m not talking about ride theming only—though there are some GREAT themed-attractions that include original songs and an immersive experience from the building to the line queue and the ride itself. You see the theming in the design of the park, in host costumes, signage and more.

Dollywood believes that the world would be a better place if we just made more time for family and friends. While a theme park by definition, Dollywood is much more than this – it’s the ideal family and friends’ getaway where a unique variety of entertainment experiences, authentic, natural environments and genuine hospitality combine with the park’s namesake, Dolly Parton.

The 11 themed areas are all unique and will take you on a nostalgic journey anywhere from the late 1800s to the 1950s or even today. My family loves to spend dedicated time in each specific area – there are hidden gems in all 11 if you are willing to spend the time and attention to find areas that may become your next favorite family hideout. For a complete and very well-done history of just exactly how Dollywood became Dollywood, check out this blog by fellow Insider Angie to see that this theme park has been theming before theming was cool!

Insider Tip

Take your time at Dollywood! Many people ask if Dollywood is a one-day or two-day park. I would argue it is a multi-day park to experience all the theming, shows, food and rides. Dedicate a full day to just shows, or just rides, or sampling the menus from around Dollywood. If you have the time and flexibility to do so, our family’s experience has been that your times and memories become that much sweeter when you are able to immerse yourself in the specific themes.

There you have it! The next time someone refers to Dollywood as an ‘amusement park’ I hope somewhere deep inside comes the urge to ask them “What’s THEME-atter with you?”

By | 2020-07-06T15:14:46+00:00 July 6th, 2020|Trip Planning|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tom Hodges (Dollywood Insider 2019-Now) is a Middle Tennessee native who currently resides in Christiana, Tennessee, with his wife Hillary and two children, Cooper (age 7) and Isabelle (age 4). Tom and his family make the three-hour journey to Dollywood once a month to enjoy the entire park. After fifteen years as a college basketball coach serving various universities, Tom recently transitioned into their family business of trucking and warehousing. Tom serves as the president of Goggin Cold Haul Services, LLC, a refrigerated transportation company based out of Smyrna, Tennessee, and a sister company to Titan Transfer Inc. and Goggin Warehousing, LLC. A thrill-ride enthusiast and lover of all things Dollywood, Tom would most likely be found riding on the front row of Wild Eagle, riding multiple times on FireChaser Express with his son Cooper (personal record of 17 times in one day) or enjoying a family lunch in Wildwood Grove at Till & Harvest. Dollywood is a special place to Tom and his family, as many milestones and family traditions have become sacred in their house because of Dollywood and the hosts who make it so special.
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