Postcard From Dollywood

postcard-from_dollywood

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Jodi Bettencourt is the site director for TravelChannel.com and a life-long Dolly Parton fan. She traveled to Tennessee for the debut of the RiverRush water coaster at Dollywood's Splash Country. She also had a front-row seat for the premiere performances of “My People” and “The Great American Country Show” at Dollywood.

The best way to travel here is: By plane and rental car. Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport is small and easy to navigate, and only a 45-minute drive to Pigeon Forge. If you live in a nearby state, I’d suggest a road trip through the Great Smokey Mountains.

I stayed at: The Inn at Christmas Place. Yes, they celebrate Christmas every day of the year with decorations, music and Santa. It may not be for everyone, but the accommodations were 5 star.

When it comes to packing: Keep it light to avoid checking a bag. And don’t forget sunscreen and comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing lots of walking.

The best thing I ate was: Kettle corn and a gigantic piece of apple pie. I had to control myself, because all the food at the park is homemade, country delicious.

I wish I hadn't: Rode the Wild Eagle coaster. It’s an amazing steel wing ride, but the Dollywood Express train is more my speed.

Don't miss: The bald eagles. Dollywood's Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a 30,000-sq-foot aviary, houses the country's largest presentation of non-releasable bald eagles.

Next time I will definitely: Rent a private retreat or canopy at Splash Country for the day. Some come equipped with a TV, ceiling fan, tablRente, lounge chairs and secure storage. You can even have food delivered or get a massage while the kids are playing.

My favorite part of the trip was: Meeting Dolly in person at her interactive Chasing Rainbows Museum. I was also lucky enough to see her perform twice in the park and wave at her in the annual Dolly Homecoming Parade in Pigeon Forge. (please note: Dolly makes various appearances at Dollywood throughout the season, but she’s obviously not there all the time. I just got lucky!)

My advice would be: Spend a little extra money on a Q-bot, a portable electronic device that can reserve your place in line for shows and rides while you enjoy the park. There’s also a Dollywood app that can help you find rides, shops, food and lost family members near your location.