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Hooray for Dollywood 

Two big reasons to visit Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

April marks the annual grand opening of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Tell people that you are going to Dollywood, and you will get one of two responses: "Oooh! I've always wanted to do that," or "Why on earth would you do that?" The latter response is usually followed by such original instructions as "Say hi to the twins if ya see 'em, har har har."

But surprisingly, the theme of the amusements is less Dolly and more the history and culture (yes, culture) of her beloved Smokies. Traditional crafts are highlighted in demos and classes, the results of which (of course) are available for sale. You can learn about -- and load up on -- candles, blown glass, woodcarving, tooled leather, ironwork and lye soap. Some of the scenery looks like the sets for a high school production of Li'l Abner, but the hokum is never demeaning, and the word "hillbilly" is never used.

Rides are designed around facets of life in the Smokies. The roller coaster has a coal mining theme. The flume is (naturally) a sawmill. An indoor roller coaster/flume combo ride tours a frontier town consumed by fire. The rides are not Six Flags trouser-browning scare machines, but they do provide thrills sufficient for all but the most jaded.

The Dolly fan will find his hunger sated in "Chasing Rainbows," an entire building devoted to Ms. Parton's life. The wonders of electronics allow you to view yourself on one TV screen, modeling various Dolly hairdos, and to sing a duet, superimposed with her on another screen.

Then there's the drag. Decades of Dolly costumes, including one composed entirely of pearls, another all rhinestones. Many denizens of Midtown would kill for just one of these outfits, but it would be murder in vain. The Parton parts not famously huge are enviably small. My thigh wouldn't get into the waist, but my ass wouldn't fill the bust.

And the girl sure loves a parade. The day before the opening, she grand-marshalled a parade in Pigeon Forge. There was also an opening-day parade in the park, featuring international performers in residence for the ongoing Festival of Nations, and ending with Dolly herself in a brilliant blue Mandarin-style getup.

Dollywood is a family-type place, probably best enjoyed with children. It's a four-hour drive from Atlanta, which in my experience equates to eight hours with kids in the car. The thing to do, perhaps, is to make a trip to the glorious Smokies for their own sake, and when you get tired of all that nature, head for the entertaining artifice of Dollywood.

travel@creativeloafing.com


Dollywood, 1020 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, Tenn. 865-428-9488. www.dollywood.com.

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