'Spooky, but not scary': Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park embraces fall

Allie Clouse, Knoxville News Sentinel
·5 mins read

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The sounds of live bluegrass, smells of fresh-baked apple pie cinnamon bread and sights of smiling pumpkins mean fall has arrived at Dollywood.

The Pigeon Forge theme park's annual Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights opened to guests on Friday.

The festival's events feature favorites as well as some surprises, and visitors will see glowing jack-o'-lantern displays and thousand-pound prize-winning pumpkins, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. They can also play in the park amid the colorful landscape and crisp air during the day, and, at night, experience an expansive light show throughout the park.

“This year has been challenging for everyone, but we hope the comfort they feel from coming and visiting us gives them that warm, familiar feeling they’ve shared with their friends and loved ones for so many years here at Dollywood," Dolly Parton said in a release. "We have a few surprises planned this year, and I think everyone will agree this is that special escape ‘back home’ we all need right now.”

'Spooky, but not scary'

The park's event team has stepped up the seasonal decor for Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights. Dollywood was named the country's best fall theme park event by USA TODAY's 10Best last year, and park spokesperson Wes Ramey told Knox News the family-friendly events are a favorite for parents because "it's spooky, but not scary."

Creepy-crawlies and flying frights are placed along the Great Pumpkin LumiNights trail, but it's all in good fun. Every element is handcrafted by Dollywood workers to fit a fall theme that anyone can enjoy.

The park's newest illuminated display is a field of sunflowers, which are carved pumpkins, in Wildwood Grove. Lights also have been hung in Craftsman's Valley to create a not-so-haunted hollow for the fall festivals. The events team brought back a light-up quilt made from a patchwork of pumpkins as well as a pumpkin guitar that plays Parton's "My Tennessee Mountain Home."

The daytime decor has been refreshed with trendy designs and the best the fall harvest has to offer. Eleven colossal pumpkins and thousands of mums will be on display during the festival. Ramey told Knox News the pumpkins, the largest of which weighs 1,507 pounds, were brought in using a forklift from cities on the East Coast and some local farms.

Passersby also will get to watch artist demonstrations and have the chance to buy the one-of-a-kind crafts at Dollywood, a park tradition that pays tribute to East Tennessee and the arts community of the Smokies.

"The park has a new look and new feel to it," said Pete Owens, Dollywood's vice president of marketing and public relations. "I think it's what we all need right now, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

Dollywood guests walk through walkways lined with pumpkins as part of Dollywood’s Harvest Festival on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.
Dollywood guests walk through walkways lined with pumpkins as part of Dollywood’s Harvest Festival on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.

Music in the mountains

Changes due to COVID-19 caused Dollywood to close venues and cancel shows at the park for the past several months, but live music is returning to Dollywood during the Harvest Festival.

More than 800 live performances will take place throughout the park at outdoor locations during the run of the festival – that's more than ever at Dollywood. The Harvest Festival traditionally showcases Southern gospel and bluegrass artists, but an array of genres will be represented this year.

Out-of-town and local talent will entertain guests on stages, steps of the park's attractions and in the streets.

“People everywhere are really missing the concert and live entertainment experience,” said Paige Bales, Dollywood Entertainment Director. “We’ve been able to host amazing entertainment since we reopened in June, but the Harvest Festival gives us a great opportunity to offer our guests something they’ve been wanting for months."

Fall fare

Dollywood's culinary creations for the fall range from sweet, spiced treats to warm and hearty meals. Ramey told Knox News the menu features food inspired by the Barbeque & Bluegrass festival that was canceled this year because of the coronavirus.

Smoked beef brisket, turkey legs and Italian sausage are among the meat on the menu. Sides including fried green tomatoes, fire-roasted corn and sweet potato casserole will be sold during the festival. Guests can end on a sweet note with the park's iconic cinnamon bread or limited-time pumpkin spice milkshakes, pumpkin praline funnel cake and hot wassail.

Fall tickets for Dollywood

Dollywood's Harvest Festival presented by Humana and Great Pumpkin LumiNights run now until Oct. 31. The park is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the festival.

Guests are expected to follow the park's COVID-19 safety guidelines that were implemented when Dollywood opened for the 2020 season. Limited capacity, mask-wearing, health screenings and more are included.

One-day adult admission is $79 with tax. Child and senior tickets are priced at $69 plus tax for a one-day pass. Dollywood is offering a $35 and tax ticket for entry after 5 p.m. to see Great Pumpkin Lumiights during the festival.

For more information and a park operating calendar, please visit dollywood.com or call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Dolly Parton's Dollywood Harvest Festival, Great Pumpkin fest begins