Who wouldn't jump at the chance to live like music icon Dolly Parton? Thanks to Dollywood, the theme park the humanitarian co-owns with Herschend Family Entertainment, that dream can now come true for $10,000 — and it comes with a private chef and plenty of sequins.
As a theme park journalist, my "9 to 5" has taken me on exciting adventures — from screaming my head off at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights to testing the mind-bending limits of food with peanut butter and jelly macaroni and cheese at Disneyland.
But staying on board the bus Parton's called home for the last 15 years? I knew before my feet hit the colorful carpets that this experience would be next-level — and not just because I'd get to rest my head exactly where the queen herself has slept.
"Better get to livin'," as Parton says. So, as I packed my bags for a two-night stay aboard the Dolly Suite 1986 Tour Bus Experience, I was prepared to do just that.
What is Suite 1986?
The Dolly Suite 1986 Tour Bus Experience is a new offering at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Parked outside the resort on a gated bus pad designed specifically for Parton, the home-on-wheels is a piece of music history. On board, Parton wrote countless television shows, movies and albums, including "Backwoods Barbie" and 9 to 5 The Musical.
In its years on the road, the 2008 Prevost traveled an estimated 360,000 miles across the U.S. The custom bus boasts a master bedroom, three bunk beds, a makeup vanity, two bathrooms and a full-sized refrigerator.
How much does it cost?
Two-night stays aboard the iconic bus begin at $10,000, with proceeds going to The Dollywood Foundation, the organization that funds Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a now-global program that sends books to kids age 5 and under each month at no cost to their family.
The experience is more than an opportunity to sleep where the legendary performer has. Guests who sign up for this immersive resort stay get a two-night stay aboard Suite 1986 with an additional standard room inside the resort that can accommodate up to four more guests. Also included are tickets to Dollywood that include TimeSaver Pass, its expedited line access system
There's also a five-course chef's meal served on board, tickets to Dolly Parton's Stampede Dinner Attraction, a pink Jeep tour through the Smoky Mountains, two days of buffet breakfasts inside the resort (Pro tip: get the homemade biscuits and sausage gravy), access to a concierge (via text) for the duration of the stay and full use of the resort's amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools, movie nights and s'more-making around a camp fire.
Stays also come with several keepsakes, which guests find on board when they arrive. These include ultra-plush monogrammed Suite 1986 robes and Egyptian cotton towels, Dolly Parton vinyl records, Parton's Scent From Above perfume and goodies from the on-site spa.
What's it like inside?
Upon arriving at the resort, the concierge whisked us to the bus for a quick tour as our luggage was being brought to the vehicle.
Once stepping on board, it was undeniable that the vehicle belonged to Parton herself, the theming best described as whimsical boho-chic with colors as vibrant as her "Coat of Many Colors."
There are Parton-picked touches throughout, including memorabilia cases showcasing famous sequined outfits (and red-bottomed Christian Louboutins) worn by Parton. My favorite touch was a colorful case which held the rhinestone-studded guitar Parton played on Netflix's Dolly Parton's Heartstrings.
The main living area features a kitchen and spacious seating, complete with a couch and a lush booth. A large-screen television has the same channel offerings as the resort with one special addition exclusive to the bus: a channel that plays Parton's greatest hits on a continual loop. This proved to be the soundtrack to our weekend.
The walls on board are adorned with gorgeous hand-painted murals by artist Donna Davis Carter, commissioned personally by Parton and her sisters. They're reflective of the house-on-wheels' nickname, "the gypsy wagon," and depict wanderers and wagons. There's also a unique vintage-style phone you can use anytime to ring the concierge.
Since Parton doesn't enjoy flying, the bus is equipped for spending a considerable amount of time on board. This includes a full-sized refrigerator — something you rarely see on traditional tour buses. Installing the fridge required removal of the vehicle's windshield.
The bus is also equipped with not one, but two full bathrooms and a bathtub-shower combination. They are tiny, but embrace the theming with bohemian colors of orange, purple and gold.
Three bunks (instead of the six typically found on tour busses) allow for more bathroom and storage space: My husband took an afternoon nap in one of the bunks and found it comfortable. Each bunk is also outfitted with a personal television and charging outlets.
The bedroom was wonderfully colorful — with notes of gold and purple — and had an elaborate vanity and plush stool in the corner. Using this space made me love the mundane task of applying the day's makeup.
A highlight of the bedroom was a glass display featuring several of Parton's signature blonde wigs that I couldn't stop gawking at throughout my visit.
And when we needed some fresh air, the gated area where the bus is housed offered a private fire pit.
How was the experience?
I was much more comfortable on the bus than expected — so much so that we didn't use the resort room that comes complimentary with Suite 1986. There's plenty of Parton throughout the experience — her favorite drink, root beer, is even well-stocked in the fridge. We were welcomed by the concierge with the exact cheese plate they prepare for Parton when she stays at the resort.
It was cozy. It felt like a home. And, sleep was restful in the pitch-black master bedroom with a constant hum from the bus that was akin to the best sleep noise machine ever.
I was warned we may want to use the shower located in our resort room, but while the onboard shower is Dolly-sized, it worked for us.
The onboard chef's dinner was another highlight, prepared by Dollywood's executive chef, Mark Galvin. He and his and team set up shop outside the bus and prepared the entire meal there. It felt special to eat off the actual dinnerware used by Parton when she and her family visit. Each course was paired with wine and it was surreal dining on the very table where the iconic musician has eaten countless meals. From a chargrilled salmon to a savory lamb chop, it was fine dining at its best.
The Suite 1986 experience was deeply personalized and ultimately leisurely. Except for the reserved dinner show the second night of our stay, we could freely enjoy other activities, like Dollywood, which is minutes away, accessed via private resort trolley.
I relished in taking advantage of resort amenities, which were steps from the bus. We enjoyed an adults-only hot tub and nightly s'mores around a cozy fire pit. Although we did visit Dollywood on two separate days, we were surprised that the bulk of our time was spent at the resort.
Bottom line: The Dolly Suite 1986 Tour Bus Experience his isn't your standard annual vacation — it's a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list-style trip that's extremely personalized and catered to your needs and preferences. It was the staycation I didn't know I needed in a setting that borders on indescribable and downright surreal — and I loved every second.
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