Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

A look at Dollywood’s latest expansion!
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Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Taylor Finn » Sat May 11, 2019 12:39 pm

Yesterday, TPR attended Media Day for the opening of Dollywood’s biggest expansion to date, Wildwood Grove. The new area represents the single biggest capital investment in the park’s history, spanning 6 acres and adding 20% to the size of the park, all to the ring of $37 million dollars. This, along with Lightning Rod, Firechaser Express, Dropline, and the DreamMore Resort, is a part of The Dollywood Company’s 2013 commitment of $300 million to the park.

Wildwood Grove features 11 new experiences for guests, including six unique rides, one of which is a suspended family coaster called the Dragonflier. In addition, there's live entertainment, various indoor and outdoor play areas for families to enjoy, a new restaurant, shopping, and of course, the 55 ft. tall Wildwood Tree.

The story behind the new area is based on Dolly's life, just like many of the other attractions in the park. Her dreams and stories are brought to life as you explore this section and it's easy to recognize the creativity and imagination that made it possible.

From Dollywood:

“Beyond an ancient hollow log and into a hidden land, Wildwood Grove beckons the explorer in all of us. Let curiosity be your guide as you journey ever deeper, past sparkling creeks, through a charming village, and under the mighty limbs of the great Wildwood Tree. This is where adventure takes root and dreams take flight.”

Check out our coverage from the day’s events!

We’ve arrived. We parked in lot G with the school groups, received a brief summary of the day’s activities, and were on our way!

They led the media through a back entrance, across some train tracks, and into Wildwood Grove.


The morning began with a media-only session, complete with some music from members of the Smoky Mountain String Band. Dolly knows how to put on a show.

This is the Wildwood Tree. Pictures don't do it justice. There are hundreds of hand-crafted butterflies that sparkle at night.

From Dollywood:

“Encircled by a plaza rich with nature and plenty of spots for photo ops, The Wildwood Tree is bedecked with a collection of butterflies dancing colorfully in the breeze. The gnarled bark of the tree is subtly carved with oversized musical instruments, as if music rises from its very soul.”

Craig Ross, Pete Owens, and others discussed the making of Wildwood Grove, repeatedly emphasizing that the area was designed to allow families to make memories worth repeating. The ride selection, height requirements, and plethora of shade and seating all prove that point. Anyone from toddlers to grandparents can ride together.

Of course, Dolly made an appearance! As with other ride openings, Dolly sang the song behind the story. That's part of what I love about Dollywood, especially since music plays such an important part in my life.

Flit and Flutter...or Flitter and Floozy (who knows, Dolly couldn’t remember their names) joined her on stage!

My girlfriend's mom wanted one thing for Mother’s Day: a picture of her with Dolly.

She took a few questions and then brought some kids up to release a bunch of butterflies into the area. Such a nice touch!

From there, we were escorted to a tent by Dragonflier and tasted the food that Till and Harvest will offer guests come Memorial Day at Wildwood Grove. The eatery specializes in Smoky Mountain-inspired Mexican fare.

Of course they had some delicious desserts, too!

Here's our spread. Some chips and salsa, a delicious Mexican corn salad, a couple bowls with chicken/beef and rice, pico, and lettuce, and chocolate cake/strawberry shortcake for dessert. Everything was great, as expected! The drinks were strawberry and pineapple flavored and my girlfriend, Kylie, said they tasted like melted popsicles which isn’t a bad thing.

After lunch, we had a few hours to explore the area before the soft opening at 2 p.m. These pictures are organized to show what you’d see as you walk through. You enter by Mystery Mine and the path is slightly elevated, taking you away from the coaster loop.

It’s kinda funny to me that Thunderhead is front and center in this picture, despite not being located in Wildwood Grove.

You’ll see the new restaurant on your right (still being worked on), and then Treetop Tower on your left. It's a really cute little ride, but definitely the least accessible for parents since the acorns are a bit snug. The ride takes you up maybe 25 feet and rotates you around gently to the top of the tower and back down.

From Dollywood:

"Every autumn a shower of colorful leaves blanket the forest in Wildwood Grove. Inspired by the floating leaves. Visiting guests soar through the sky on a lofty leaf canopy as it spins and soars overhead before gently drifting downward to the forest floor."

The next thing you’ll see on your left is the Great Tree Swing. The lines are positioned to the side of or behind the rides to allow families to have a clearer view of their kids. There are little touches like this everywhere. I don’t usually enjoy these, but the operators convinced us to ride on “low mode.” We did and it didn’t upset my stomach!

From Dollywood:

"Fashioned from the massive leaves and vines of the Wildwood Tree, The Great Tree Swing takes riders breath away as they fly high through the skies."

Moving along, they drew inspiration from Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg, bringing the sights and sounds of The Smokies to the area.

For you Darien Lake fans, Dollywood clearly drew some inspiration from Moose on the Loose, adding a ride called Black Bear Trail. This is such a cute ride for parents to enjoy with their kids. Throughout the day, we saw so many smiling faces bouncing along the track. Sure to be a big hit!

I'm not sure what the bear's name is, but they have a character meet 'n greet in Wildwood Grove, which is something new for the park.

From Dollywood:

"Climb on the back of one of the friendly bears that cavort in the sparkling streams of Wildwood Grove or through the beautiful backwoods."

The bears gently rock back and forth as you venture through the backwoods.


The POV you’ve all been waiting for. Happy to report, I secured some incredible footage on this beast.

Later on, Dolly re-appeared!

If you’ve not heard about it, look up her Imagination Library. They do great work improving childhood literacy!

I'm not sure who the news lady was, but they did a little interview at Black Bear Trail and helped a few kids get on the ride. The kids clearly didn't understand the magnitude of the situation. IT’S DOLLY!


Dolly didn’t ride, unfortunately, but I felt like the paparazzi. No shame!

At this point, we’ve walked through the first half of Wildwood Grove and to your left is Wildwood Tree. I’m sad the park closed at 7:00 p.m. and we couldn’t get any night shots of the area, especially the tree.


Time to check out some of the merchandise! We had a media guide who was available to answer questions and make sure our experience went smoothly. She brought us a gift bag with a nice hat and magnet from the new store, Mountain Grove Merchants.


We both loved these shirts and were surprised how affordable the merchandise was. The hat was valued at $15 and our magnet at $4. There were a variety of keychains, too, that were the same price.

Wildwood Creek is the area where the presentation happened in the morning and it's a nice gathering place for families.

From Dollywood:

"At the heart of the Grove, directly across from the iconic Tree sits Wildwood Creek, a welcome “oasis” for cooling off, making music and taking a break. A scenic creek winding through the area, it invites young and old to roll up their cuffs, wade in and splash around in the cool mountain water."

There are a few different drums and xylophones for kids, plus water features and lots of seating. I couldn’t resist a chance to play some music!

This was a surprise for me. It looks like a kiddie ride, but there are two rows per car that allow adults to hop around alongside their kids.

From Dollywood:

"Frogs and fireflies live in harmony at Wildwood Grove. The friendly frogs chase each other in a quick hop around the lily pad on this playful round-about ride."

The back third of Wildwood Grove features Hidden Hollow, a much-needed area for parents to cool off and let their kids unwind. We sat in here for a little while, enjoying the air conditioning and watching the kids explore.

From Dollywood:

"Near The Wildwood Tree, a secret play area named Hidden Hollow, beckons families with a collection of kid-friendly activities for participatory play."

It’s a little hard to capture all of the features since it's so dimly lit, but it seems like they're making an effort to accommodate children with different needs. There's a memory game, a pogo-jump challenge, an endless floor, and a bunch of other activities.


On your left, and right across from Hidden Hollow, are the fliers. Most of the flat rides are concentrated in the County Fair area of the park, so it's nice to see more in Wildwood Grove. This is an eight-car model that doesn't really allow for snapping, but it's a welcome addition that offers some nice views of Dragonflier.

From Dollywood:

"On any given day, a colorful variety of mockingbirds dart around Wildwood Grove. Celebrating the wonder of flight, guests take part in The Mad Mockingbird as they dip and soar in an aerial ballet."

Last, but not least, you run into the headliner of the area, a new family-friendly coaster. It's quiet, smooth, and fits the theme quite well. The green track really pops too!

Here's the test seat!

A little shot of the train.

The train is about to leave the station.

From Dollywood:

"Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly as it speeds through the terrain in a most unpredictable path. With the rush of wind and the thrill of flight, there’s nothing more exhilarating."

It's hard to get great shots of the ride because of the layout and landscaping, but they ran all six rides for us from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. before opening to the public. After the lift hill, you drop into a tunnel and fly out over a pond, taking you through a few turns and over the paved walkway.

I don’t know how anyone could dislike family-oriented coasters like this. It fits in nicely and it’s encouraging to see Dollywood investing so much into experiences for the whole group while still offering thrills and great shows! It’s an incredible juxtaposition of things. We love this park!

As 2:00 p.m. rolled around, there were quite a few people lined up and waiting to enter. They officially opened the land to the public the following day, May 11, 2019, but this appeared to be an unanounced soft opening.

Overall, Wildwood Grove is a stellar addition to Dollywood. It feels essential, even on day one. Dollywood feels more complete and well rounded as a result. It’s a nice addition to the back part of the park where you’d normally only find a handful of thrill-seeking coaster options. This now gives visitors a reason to explore all of Dollywood. Dolly and Herschend Family Entertainment exceeded expectations once again. They’re responding to increasing attendance by improving the customer experience. We’re super excited for what’s to come in a potential (seemingly definite) Phase Two. Thanks for reading and thanks to Robb for hooking us up! We had an absolute blast and Dollywood, including Theresa from the sewing department, took great care of us.

I’ll leave you with a bonus picture of rope drop. I swear, I notice something different and hilarious every time I look at this picture.
Last edited by Taylor Finn on Mon May 13, 2019 11:12 am.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Canobie Coaster » Sat May 11, 2019 6:02 pm

Great report! I remember seeing all the rides there during my early April visit without all the landscaping/theming. The final area looks great!

I think the news woman may be George W. Bush's daughter on the Today Show.
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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Nrthwnd » Sat May 11, 2019 6:17 pm

Great report and photos! The new area looks wonderful! Thanks for covering it all.

And as for Dolly..... She can do no wrong. :lover:
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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Waltrane » Sun May 12, 2019 4:47 pm

Very nice report! Thank you for sharing!

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Sluggo77 » Sun May 12, 2019 4:59 pm

Awesome can’t wait to see a POV of DragonFly! The new area looks awesome.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby bert425 » Sun May 12, 2019 6:12 pm

the new area looks fantastic, and very, very kiddo friendly.

surprised at the mexican food theming in the restaurant tho. . are the spices/heat dulled down to make them more "mild" flavor for the kids? (just curious). I mean, interior style Mexican food focuses more on flavors than spices, so wondering if that's the way they went.

thanks for the report! looks great.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby jtrothrock » Sun May 12, 2019 8:09 pm

Great write up. We were in the group with you and my daughter took the picture of you two in front of the sign. The event was quite enjoyable and Dolly was, well, Dolly. As far as the area,
Wildwood Grove is a fantastic addition to the park and very well done. Nice touches everywhere, including the covered areas for parents to sit and relax. The indoor play area has soo many different things for different ages and abilities. The area itself is gorgeous and fits into the overall theming of the park. This should prove to be a very good investment for the park and receive great reviews from the public.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Taylor Finn » Mon May 13, 2019 5:16 am

Canobie Coaster wrote:Great report! I remember seeing all the rides there during my early April visit without all the landscaping/theming. The final area looks great!

I think the news woman may be George W. Bush's daughter on the Today Show.

You're absolutely right. Looking this up after you mentioned it confirmed it! That's pretty neat.

bert425 wrote:the new area looks fantastic, and very, very kiddo friendly.

surprised at the mexican food theming in the restaurant tho. . are the spices/heat dulled down to make them more "mild" flavor for the kids? (just curious). I mean, interior style Mexican food focuses more on flavors than spices, so wondering if that's the way they went.

thanks for the report! looks great.

The food itself carried pretty much no noticeable heat. Mexican-inspired... but closer to a Chipotle than anything truly authentic. It has familiar components, but is perfectly suitable for anyone, honestly! I think it is a really nice food addition to the park.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby Baffles » Mon May 13, 2019 5:10 pm

Great report! The area looks beautiful.

I notice the Vekoma train has a strange cage / netting type structure on - I wonder why the clearances have made this necessary.

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Re: Wildwood Grove Media Day TR

Postby firebird81 » Mon May 13, 2019 6:31 pm

What does Smoky Mountain inspired Mexican food taste like?


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