Mystery shopper - Catching butterflies | attractionsmanagement.com
GET ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT
magazine
Yes! Send me the FREE digital edition of Attractions Management and the FREE weekly Attractions Management ezines and breaking news alerts!
Not right now, thanksclose this window
POST YOUR JOB ONLINE
Free ezine/digital edition sign up
Jobs   News   Features   Video    Products   Profiles   Magazine   Handbook   Advertise  
Mystery shopper
Catching butterflies

Dollywood has unveiled Wildwood Grove, its largest expansion ever. Jane Kitchen visits the US theme park to see what it’s all about...

By Jane Kitchen | Published in Attractions Management 2019 issue 3


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – a once small town nestled in the US’s Smoky Mountains – is a family-friendly leisure destination in and of itself. Its main street feels like a mini-Las Vegas for families – bright lights and signs advertising everything from bumper cars to treetop adventures and dinner theatres strangely themed around family feuds.

The town itself has about 6,200 permanent residents, but visitors boost the daily population to more than 50,000 – a fact that made itself abundantly clear in the amount of car traffic on the town’s roads.

A gateway city to the nearby Smoky Mountains National Park, the area has exploded in recent years, due in large part to the popularity of Dollywood – a theme park named after country singer Dolly Parton. It’s wholesome American fun – the kind many families return to every year – and is particularly attractive to the millions of Americans who are within a day’s drive.

The Dollywood effect
Dollywood, which first opened in 1986, and hosts around 2.5m visitors annually, is Tennessee’s number one ticketed attraction, so it’s a big deal when a park of this nature opens its biggest expansion yet.

At US$37m, Wildwood Grove represents Dollywood’s largest-ever investment and is the first new area to be added to the park in more than a decade. The expansion has been inspired by Parton’s childhood memories of growing up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and features 11 new family-friendly experiences themed around wildlife and nature.

“When I was a little girl growing up in the hills of the Smoky Mountains, I’d often let my imagination just run away — something I still do now — dreaming these big dreams about what it’d be like to venture off with a family of bears into the woods or how fun it would be to hitch a ride with the butterflies and dragonflies,” says Parton. “All us kids would splash and play in the creeks and ponds around home and have these daydreams about the world around us, and that’s what’s so special about Wildwood Grove. We’ve been able to create a new area to allow families to experience those dreams we had when we were little.”

The area neatly attaches to the existing park, and its themes slot in nicely with other Smoky Mountain-themed areas focusing on mining adventures and eagle rehabilitation. Park officials call it “the new standard for Dollywood,” and president Craig Ross said the expansion will help make room for guests as the park continues to set new attendance records.

Magical design
Nearly US$1m has been invested in Wildwood Grove’s landscaping, with more than 400 trees and 2,300 shrubs creating a natural atmosphere, including plants like butterfly bushes, echinacea and black-eyed Susans that attract butterflies. The landscaping still feels quite new, but will become lusher in just a few seasons. The theming is solid, with details like butterfly-shaped pretzels and a Wildwood Creek area, which offers pop jets and splashing pools, as well as the central Wildwood Tree, which includes 650 lighted butterflies that come to life each evening. Music is central to Dolly Parton and to Dollywood, with areas set aside for children to play “instruments” and piped in regional fiddle music helping to lift the atmosphere.

Rides are designed for the whole family, with a nice range of tame rides for the littlest children, including Black Bear Trail, a Metallbau Emmeln Pony Trek ride, and the Frogs & Fireflies, a hopping ride that races around a lily pad from Zamperla Jump Around. Stepping it up a notch, the Treetop Tower from Zamperla Samba Tower sits riders in giant acorns that spin around an oak tree before gently drifting back down.

The visitor experience
I visited with my husband and two children, aged 12 and 13. While Wildwood Grove offers plenty for little kids, my two older ones didn’t feel out of place and still had plenty to ride. It’s a nice detail and will allow families with children that span different age ranges to comfortably spend a chunk of time at Wildwood Grove.

The kids first went for the Great Tree Swing, a ‘leaf boat’-themed version of Zamperla’s Galleon. As someone who suffers from motion sickness, this is my worst kind of nightmare, so they went on it alone, and I was able to witness the broad range of ages all enjoying the up-and-down thrills. Next, they took on the Mad Mockingbird – from Larson Flying Scooter, and themed around Tennessee’s state bird – which sees guests flying in a high-speed circle around a tall tree. This can be a gentle ride for younger children or risk-averse adults but can be amped up a notch, as the birds can be spun around different directions by moving a sail.

The area’s signature ride, the Dragonflier, is Wildwood Grove’s highlight. Billed as a family ride, the Vekoma 453m (1,486ft) suspended coaster delivers enough thrills for older kids and adults, and is a great introduction for younger children or the rollercoaster averse. My 12-year-old daughter is a rollercoaster junkie who wanted nothing more than to ride the Wild Eagle, a wing coaster that soars 21 stories above the park, which opened in 2012. But she was also excited about the Dragonflier and willing to wait in the long lines to try it.

On a sweltering day, the high-powered fans in the waiting area were a welcome necessity, and the fiddle music and bird sounds playing helped set the stage and make the time go by a bit faster. But the Dragonflier was where the only hitch in our visit occurred: after waiting 45 minutes, we reached the front of the line, only to find the ride had to be suspended for maintenance. No one could give us an idea of how long it would take or even if the Dragonflier would reopen that evening, but we were told we were welcome to continue waiting or check back later. It seems to me that there should be something park employees are empowered to do in this situation, particularly for guests in the very front who’d already waited in long lines – a card for the fast-pass lane on return, for instance. There were lots of disappointed faces as people slowly gave up and peeled away, having wasted close to an hour of their park time in a line to nowhere.

Luckily, the ride did open again, and when we returned at the end of the day we were able to try it out. It took quite a long time to load – each harness was checked by a cheery employee who came around and said “Hands in the air! Now give me all your money!” – and there was enough time in those few minutes for my son and I to both feel a few butterflies in our stomachs. As the ride crept up the first steep hill and we hung suspended, we exchanged a quick nervous look, and then we shot down all at once, sweeping underground for a few seconds, before being flung out from one side to the other as we dipped and darted, skimming over the ground and up and down again, much like the chaotic flight of a dragonfly. The ride was mercifully short, but packed a real punch – my legs were wobbly as I walked away. As for my rollercoaster-averse son? He hated it, of course. But he also loved it – and isn’t that the perfect first rollercoaster experience?

what’s the score?
  • Staff - 7/10
  • Cleanliness - 8/10
  • Experience - 8/10
  • Value for money - 9/10
  • Toilets - 8/10
  • Overall experience - 8/10
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
Accompanied by her husband and two children, Attractions Management’s Jane Kitchen tried out the new expansion
Treetop Tower whirls riders through the air
The Black Bear Trail takes riders through the beautiful backwoods
Dolly Parton was on-hand for the launch of Wildwood Grove in May 2019 Credit: photo: AFF-PA Images
COMPANY PROFILES
RMA Ltd

RMA Ltd is a one-stop global company that can design, build and produce from a greenfield site upw [more...]
Painting With Light

By combining lighting, video, scenic and architectural elements, sound and special effects we tell s [more...]
iPlayCO

iPlayCo was established in 1999. [more...]
TOR Systems Ltd

TOR Systems have been in this business since 1981. [more...]
+ More profiles  
FEATURED SUPPLIER

IAAPA helps move leisure and attractions industry forward with IAAPA Expo Europe
As the leisure and attractions industry continues to recover and look to the future, IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, is moving forward with plans to host IAAPA Expo Europe this September. [more...]
VIDEO GALLERY

Proslide Tech Inc - ProSlide | Atlantis Dubai
More videos:
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
 
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

28-30 Sep 2021

International Wellness Tourism Conference

Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, Miami, United States
01-07 Dec 2022

World Leisure Congress 2022

tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
+ More diary  
LATEST ISSUES
+ View Magazine Archive

Attractions Management

2021 issue 2


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

2021 issue 1


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

2020 issue 1


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management

2019 issue 4


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Management News

06 Apr 2020 issue 153


View on turning pages
Download PDF
View archive
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription

Attractions Handbook

2019


View issue contents
View on turning pages
Download PDF
FREE digital subscription
Print subscription
 
ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
 
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS
ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2021
Jobs   News   Products   Magazine
Mystery shopper
Catching butterflies

Dollywood has unveiled Wildwood Grove, its largest expansion ever. Jane Kitchen visits the US theme park to see what it’s all about...

By Jane Kitchen | Published in Attractions Management 2019 issue 3


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – a once small town nestled in the US’s Smoky Mountains – is a family-friendly leisure destination in and of itself. Its main street feels like a mini-Las Vegas for families – bright lights and signs advertising everything from bumper cars to treetop adventures and dinner theatres strangely themed around family feuds.

The town itself has about 6,200 permanent residents, but visitors boost the daily population to more than 50,000 – a fact that made itself abundantly clear in the amount of car traffic on the town’s roads.

A gateway city to the nearby Smoky Mountains National Park, the area has exploded in recent years, due in large part to the popularity of Dollywood – a theme park named after country singer Dolly Parton. It’s wholesome American fun – the kind many families return to every year – and is particularly attractive to the millions of Americans who are within a day’s drive.

The Dollywood effect
Dollywood, which first opened in 1986, and hosts around 2.5m visitors annually, is Tennessee’s number one ticketed attraction, so it’s a big deal when a park of this nature opens its biggest expansion yet.

At US$37m, Wildwood Grove represents Dollywood’s largest-ever investment and is the first new area to be added to the park in more than a decade. The expansion has been inspired by Parton’s childhood memories of growing up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and features 11 new family-friendly experiences themed around wildlife and nature.

“When I was a little girl growing up in the hills of the Smoky Mountains, I’d often let my imagination just run away — something I still do now — dreaming these big dreams about what it’d be like to venture off with a family of bears into the woods or how fun it would be to hitch a ride with the butterflies and dragonflies,” says Parton. “All us kids would splash and play in the creeks and ponds around home and have these daydreams about the world around us, and that’s what’s so special about Wildwood Grove. We’ve been able to create a new area to allow families to experience those dreams we had when we were little.”

The area neatly attaches to the existing park, and its themes slot in nicely with other Smoky Mountain-themed areas focusing on mining adventures and eagle rehabilitation. Park officials call it “the new standard for Dollywood,” and president Craig Ross said the expansion will help make room for guests as the park continues to set new attendance records.

Magical design
Nearly US$1m has been invested in Wildwood Grove’s landscaping, with more than 400 trees and 2,300 shrubs creating a natural atmosphere, including plants like butterfly bushes, echinacea and black-eyed Susans that attract butterflies. The landscaping still feels quite new, but will become lusher in just a few seasons. The theming is solid, with details like butterfly-shaped pretzels and a Wildwood Creek area, which offers pop jets and splashing pools, as well as the central Wildwood Tree, which includes 650 lighted butterflies that come to life each evening. Music is central to Dolly Parton and to Dollywood, with areas set aside for children to play “instruments” and piped in regional fiddle music helping to lift the atmosphere.

Rides are designed for the whole family, with a nice range of tame rides for the littlest children, including Black Bear Trail, a Metallbau Emmeln Pony Trek ride, and the Frogs & Fireflies, a hopping ride that races around a lily pad from Zamperla Jump Around. Stepping it up a notch, the Treetop Tower from Zamperla Samba Tower sits riders in giant acorns that spin around an oak tree before gently drifting back down.

The visitor experience
I visited with my husband and two children, aged 12 and 13. While Wildwood Grove offers plenty for little kids, my two older ones didn’t feel out of place and still had plenty to ride. It’s a nice detail and will allow families with children that span different age ranges to comfortably spend a chunk of time at Wildwood Grove.

The kids first went for the Great Tree Swing, a ‘leaf boat’-themed version of Zamperla’s Galleon. As someone who suffers from motion sickness, this is my worst kind of nightmare, so they went on it alone, and I was able to witness the broad range of ages all enjoying the up-and-down thrills. Next, they took on the Mad Mockingbird – from Larson Flying Scooter, and themed around Tennessee’s state bird – which sees guests flying in a high-speed circle around a tall tree. This can be a gentle ride for younger children or risk-averse adults but can be amped up a notch, as the birds can be spun around different directions by moving a sail.

The area’s signature ride, the Dragonflier, is Wildwood Grove’s highlight. Billed as a family ride, the Vekoma 453m (1,486ft) suspended coaster delivers enough thrills for older kids and adults, and is a great introduction for younger children or the rollercoaster averse. My 12-year-old daughter is a rollercoaster junkie who wanted nothing more than to ride the Wild Eagle, a wing coaster that soars 21 stories above the park, which opened in 2012. But she was also excited about the Dragonflier and willing to wait in the long lines to try it.

On a sweltering day, the high-powered fans in the waiting area were a welcome necessity, and the fiddle music and bird sounds playing helped set the stage and make the time go by a bit faster. But the Dragonflier was where the only hitch in our visit occurred: after waiting 45 minutes, we reached the front of the line, only to find the ride had to be suspended for maintenance. No one could give us an idea of how long it would take or even if the Dragonflier would reopen that evening, but we were told we were welcome to continue waiting or check back later. It seems to me that there should be something park employees are empowered to do in this situation, particularly for guests in the very front who’d already waited in long lines – a card for the fast-pass lane on return, for instance. There were lots of disappointed faces as people slowly gave up and peeled away, having wasted close to an hour of their park time in a line to nowhere.

Luckily, the ride did open again, and when we returned at the end of the day we were able to try it out. It took quite a long time to load – each harness was checked by a cheery employee who came around and said “Hands in the air! Now give me all your money!” – and there was enough time in those few minutes for my son and I to both feel a few butterflies in our stomachs. As the ride crept up the first steep hill and we hung suspended, we exchanged a quick nervous look, and then we shot down all at once, sweeping underground for a few seconds, before being flung out from one side to the other as we dipped and darted, skimming over the ground and up and down again, much like the chaotic flight of a dragonfly. The ride was mercifully short, but packed a real punch – my legs were wobbly as I walked away. As for my rollercoaster-averse son? He hated it, of course. But he also loved it – and isn’t that the perfect first rollercoaster experience?

what’s the score?
  • Staff - 7/10
  • Cleanliness - 8/10
  • Experience - 8/10
  • Value for money - 9/10
  • Toilets - 8/10
  • Overall experience - 8/10
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
The Vekoma-designed Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly
Accompanied by her husband and two children, Attractions Management’s Jane Kitchen tried out the new expansion
Treetop Tower whirls riders through the air
The Black Bear Trail takes riders through the beautiful backwoods
Dolly Parton was on-hand for the launch of Wildwood Grove in May 2019 Credit: photo: AFF-PA Images
LATEST NEWS
Jorvik's global art project will connect 14 cities
The Jorvik Group has launched a major global art project which will connect 14 cities around the world.
Disney World show goes gender-neutral
The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida has changed some of its messaging as part of a strategy to become more inclusive to all guests.
IAAPA launches 'digital pass' to encourage delegates to take part virtually
IAAPA is offering visitor attractions, museums and theme park industry professionals the opportunity to take part in its annual events – even if they can't make it to the shows in person.
IAAPA joins calls to ease border entry restrictions in the US and to revive tourism sector
IAAPA has joined a range of US travel and tourism trade organisations in calling for the lifting of border entry restrictions and to help revive the visitor flow into the country.
Merlin hits the market with surge of new openings
Merlin Entertainments has been busy with a raft of new openings and future project announcements, as the global visitor attractions industry begins to emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
Saudi Arabia offers US$133m in loans to create 50 new attractions
Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority (GEA) has pledged to provide SAR500m (US$133m, €112m, £96m) worth of loans to companies, in order to create new attractions and entertainment projects in the country.
Hong Kong's Ocean Park opens Water World with 27 new outdoor and indoor attractions
Ocean Park has launched a wide range of new water attractions – including Hong Kong's first ever indoor wave pool.
Kengo Kuma-designed Hans Christian Andersen House opens in city of Odense
The new H.C. Andersen House, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, has opened its doors to visitors in the Danish city of Odense.
Secret Cinema does Bridgerton tie-up with Netflix
Attractions Management understands that immersive entertainment specialist, Secret Cinema, has partnered with streaming giant Netflix to host a Bridgerton ball at a location later this year.
First full-scale franchised Madame Tussauds to open in Budapest during 2022
Merlin Entertainments has revealed plans to open a new Madame Tussauds in the heart of Hungarian capital city Budapest in early 2022.
Merlin to take Legoland Discovery Centres to Belgium with deal for Brussels site
Merlin Entertainments has revealed plans to open a Legoland Discovery Centre in the Belgian capital city Brussels.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood reveals new roster of attractions after 15 month closure
A host of new experiences have been added to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood in Burbank, Los Angeles, ahead of its grand reopening on 26 June.
+ More news   
 
COMPANY PROFILES
RMA Ltd

RMA Ltd is a one-stop global company that can design, build and produce from a greenfield site upw [more...]
Painting With Light

By combining lighting, video, scenic and architectural elements, sound and special effects we tell s [more...]
iPlayCO

iPlayCo was established in 1999. [more...]
TOR Systems Ltd

TOR Systems have been in this business since 1981. [more...]
+ More profiles  
FEATURED SUPPLIER

IAAPA helps move leisure and attractions industry forward with IAAPA Expo Europe
As the leisure and attractions industry continues to recover and look to the future, IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, is moving forward with plans to host IAAPA Expo Europe this September. [more...]
VIDEO GALLERY

Proslide Tech Inc - ProSlide | Atlantis Dubai
More videos:
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

28-30 Sep 2021

International Wellness Tourism Conference

Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, Miami, United States
01-07 Dec 2022

World Leisure Congress 2022

tbc, Dunedin, New Zealand
+ More diary  
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2021

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS