Dolly Parton’s Dollywood: The amusement park that beats Disneyland

Much of the country music queen’s personal fortune, estimated at $375 million, comes from a southern-inspired facility that opened in 1961

Dollywood Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton posing with her guitar in a corner of her amusement park Dollywood, in 1993.Ron Davis (Getty Images)

Dolly Parton likes to say that “I look just like the girls next door... if you happen to live next door to an amusement park.” A successful singer, businesswoman, activist, writer, arts patron, philanthropist, pop icon, and animal rights advocate, Dolly Parton has always shown with working-class pride that behind her vast empire – and a fortune estimated at $375 million, according to Forbes magazine – there lie humble origins to which she constantly returns through significant donations to help struggling communities.

Dolly Parton was born in a wooden cabin in Servierville (Tennessee), one of those small rural towns that are difficult to escape from. By birth, Parton could easily belong to what the classist elites of the country commonly call white trash. But she ended up becoming the queen of country music and the voice of the American working class, thanks to emblematic songs such as 9 to 5 or the well-known I will always love you, which featured in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard in a cover version sung and and popularized by Whitney Houston. Her figure is so iconic that she has her own Muppet in Sesame Street (Polly Darton) and the most famous sheep in the world, Dolly, was named after her (because the cloned sheep was created from a mammary cell, in a reference to the size of the artist’s breasts).

The girl who used to be teased at school for wearing a patchwork coat was later nicknamed The Iron Butterfly due to her delicate appearance and steely hand for business. Parton owns an empire that ranges from film and television production companies (hers are the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the movie Father of the Bride) to philanthropic foundations such as the Imagination Library, which has already distributed more than 100 million free books to underprivileged children around the world. “Above everything else I’ve done, I’ve always said I’ve had more guts than I’ve got talent,” said the artist in one of her interviews, displaying her trademark humility. But what not everyone knows is the extraordinary income she gets from Dollywood, the amusement park and tourist complex that she owns.

Welcome to Dollywood

FireChaser Express
The FireChaser Express, one of many family rides at Dollywood.Cortesía de Dollywood

Dollywood is a gigantic tourist complex made up of a theme park, a water park, golf courses and hotels, located in the heart of Appalachia, very close to the beautiful Smoky Mountains, where Dolly Parton spent her childhood and which she herself has revived by providing jobs for the vast majority of its little more than 5,000 inhabitants: “I always thought that, if one day I managed to do something great or be successful, I wanted to donate a part of those profits to the land where I was born and create something great. Something that would help create many jobs. We inaugurated the park more than 35 years ago and we are still here,” said the artist.

¿Cómo viste Dolly Parton? En Dollywood hallarás la respuesta.
A store selling Parton-style outfits in Dollywood.Laura Cano

The data supports the park’s success story: more than 40 million visitors since its opening and an expansion plan of more than $500 million for the coming years. As if this were not enough, Dollywood has been chosen by TripAdvisor as the best amusement park in North America, above even Disneyland or Universal. It has achieved this thanks to its spectacular attractions, but a walk around the park suggests that it is also due to its location, the cleanliness and maintenance of its facilities, the warmth and friendliness of its employees, its traditional southern food stands, and the live performances featuring the best of country music, bluegrass and gospel. Even Dolly herself shows up once a month to the amazement of visitors.

románticos o los más fanáticos de la cantante, en Dollywood hay una capilla para contraer matrimonio.
Die-hard Parton fans can even get married at the Dollywood chapel.Laura Cano

Tradition and modernity come together in more than 60 hectares combining the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world, blacksmithing workshops, eagle sanctuaries, a reconstruction of the home in which the singer grew up and a replica of the first wheat mill from Tennessee. Dollywood even has its own museum: Chasing Rainbows, in honor of the performer and her career, where the costumes from many of her films such as 9 to 5, outfits from her concerts and all her awards are on display. For romantics, there is also the possibility of getting married in the Dolly Chapel, in the heart of the amusement park.

A 1950s and 60s flavor is an essential part of Dollywood's charm. Laura Cano

Dollywood employees love her: Dolly pays 100% of tuition, fees, and books if they want to pursue degrees or other educational opportunities. It is not for nothing that Dollywood was this year named by Forbes magazine as one of the best places to work.

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