Trip Report: Dollywood prepares for reopening with a variety of enhancements

by Attractions Magazine Staff

When Dollywood reopens to guests on March 12, 2021, there will be a variety of enhancements to the theme park for an even more enjoyable experience year-round.


By Kim Button

This year’s Flower & Food Festival, starting April 23, 2021 will also have new offerings and will be held for the first time during spring. In 2020, when the festival debuted, the dates were pushed back to June due to the theme park being closed until then.

In the few weeks that Dollywood has been closed during its off-season from January-March 2021, crews have been undertaking a number of construction projects, as well as routine maintenance. Seasonal passholders will have the first chance to see the improvements debuting for the theme park’s 36th season on March 12, 2021 while the park is open to all guests starting March 13, 2021.


Dollywood’s Lightning Rod roller coaster reopens this year, featuring a hybrid track structure that includes both a wood stack “Topper Track” and a steel “Ibox” track installed by the ride’s manufacturer.

The iconic attraction “is still going to be as dynamic with the airtime that you are used to and all of that excitement, but it is going to feel much more comfortable,” said Pete Owens, vice president of Marketing and Public Relations for Dollywood.

Other GCI (Great Coasters International) coasters around the world that have moved to the “Ibox” system have improved operational efficiency from 60-70% into the mid-90%, according to Owens. “We want to make sure that when you come to this park, that this ride is open when you come. We’ve retracked two-thirds of the track in all of the areas that had the most dynamic action, and there is about one-third of the track that still has the Topper track on it. You’re not going to know the difference really when you ride it, but it’s going to be a much more pleasant and consistent ride.”

Lightning Rod Roller Coaster POV at Dollywood

Larger seating areas for dining locations will also improve guest experience in 2021. Structures near two of Dollywood’s most popular dining locations have been removed, allowing for the addition of more expansive sitting areas near Dogs N Taters and the Hickory House. Guests will now be able to see the American Eagle Foundation more clearly while sitting near the Hickory House.

To make room for more seating near Hickory House, Dollywood’s blacksmith shop has been moved just across Craftsman’s Valley to its former location adjacent to the Robert F. Thomas Chapel.


Work is ongoing at the chapel as well, with a new roof structure, repaired footings and fresh paint for the iconic structure. The chapel was originally built on-site and was dedicated on May 26, 1973 to the memory of Dr. Robert F. Thomas, the doctor who delivered Dolly Parton in 1946.

Live entertainment is one of the hallmarks of Dollywood. While 2020 brought changes in how to showcase performances to guests, especially performances usually enjoyed indoors, the new year promises more entertainment options.

“We’re not only going to be activating our indoor theaters again, but we’re also not going to lose what we gained with our outdoor entertainment venues,” said Eugene Naughton, president of The Dollywood Company.

Several shows featuring Dollywood’s own performers debut when the park opens in March, including “Harmonies of the Heart” — featuring Dolly’s family — and “A Brighter Day,” an inspiring show that delights guests with uplifting favorites at the Back Porch Theater. In The Village, Dollywood’s talented The Tones offer a fresh, a cappella take on today’s current hits. Performances of all three will continue until the fall.

Additional musical performances can be enjoyed during the Flower & Food Festival. The Melodies of Spring concert series will feature contemporary Christian artists, Southern gospel groups and other inspiring acts, all appearing inside DP’s Celebrity Theater. Among the artists currently scheduled are Matthew West, Big Daddy Weave, I Am They, Rebecca St. James, Sidewalk Prophets, the Rhett Walker Band, Triumphant Quartet, and many more.

The schedule includes:

Melodies of Spring Concert Series – DP’s Celebrity Theater

Three 45-minute performances per day

  • April 23-24 – The New Respects
  • April 25 – Tim Lovelace
  • April 30 – May 1 – The Rees Family
  • May 2 – Jeff and Sheri Easter
  • May 7 – Hannah Kerr
  • May 8-9 – Big Daddy Weave
  • May 14 – I AM THEY
  • May 15 – Sidewalk Prophets
  • May 16 – Ernie Haase and Signature Sound
  • May 21 – Tasha Layton
  • May 22 – Matthew West
  • May 23  – The Martins
  • May 28 – The Rhett Walker Band
  • May 29-30 – Triumphant Quartet
  • June 4 – The Harlem Gospel Travelers
  • June 5 – Rebecca St. James
  • June 6 – Cana’s Voice

Daily Concerts – Valley Theater

Four 30-minute performances per day

  • April 23-26 – Worth the Wait Trio
  • April 28, April 30 – Logan Murrell
  • May 1-3 – Then Sings My Soul – The Music of Billy Graham
  • May 5 – Kate and Corey
  • May 7-16 – Willow City
  • May 17 – The Family Sowell
  • May 19 – Chelsea Berry
  • May 21-22 – 3 Heath Brothers
  • May 23 – Sunday Drive
  • May 24 – June 7 – The Hall Sisters

“The second year of Flower & Food Festival is all about stirring feelings of inspiration and positivity and goodness,” said Cyndi McCormack, visual experience director. Over 500,000 plants and flowers will decorate the theme park.

A resident chalk art artist will be creating a different display every day of the festival. There is even an opportunity for guests to try their hand at creating chalk art masterpieces.


There will be additional Insta-worthy moments for fun photo-ops during the festival.

New for the festival this year is the Dining Day Pass, which allows guests to enjoy up to five Flower & Food Festival items at a number of culinary locations during the event. The Dining Day Pass is $29.99, or $27.99 for season passholders. Individual food items can be purchased from $7.99-$9.99.

Among the items available during the festival are:

  • Lobster rolls
  • Hand-breaded fish and chips
  • Cuban sandwiches with plantain chips and mango salsa
  • Mountain Paella
  • Summer Succotash with Pan-Seared Chicken Breast
  • Brisket Sausage with Bacon/Onion Jam
  • Spring Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Smoked Gouda and Chips
  • Mini-funnel cakes with Chantilly cream and drizzled lavender honey  

To learn more about Dollywood and plan your next visit, head to Dollywood.com.

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Marilyn February 28, 2021 - 3:51 pm

Good article with the exception of Dolly being born in 1973..oops😃

Matt Roseboom February 28, 2021 - 5:55 pm

Thanks. We reworded it. The church was dedicated in 1973 to the doctor who delivered Dolly (in 1946).


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