Pigeon Forge — Pulling on a large yellow lever, Dolly Parton on Friday marked the season opening of Dollywood Splash Country by sending off the first riders on the park’s new $6 million water coaster, RiverRush.
"Oh my goodness. You’re as wet as I was this morning when I took my bath and shower. Look at you. How did you enjoy it?" Parton asked the Keyes family after their one-minute-20-second ride.
Splash Country’s largest investment to date, Parton said it was important for her to create something that was exciting for families to ride together: "In my case, we probably would have had to have three or four of those boats as big a family as my mama and daddy had."
Family was a constant theme throughout the daylong celebration, which included a ribbon-cutting for Dollywood’s newest entertainment venue Dreamsong Theater.
"We always have something special every year. Of course, this year there are a lot of special things, but the most special thing to me — you’re standing right at it. I call it Dreamsong because it represents our dreams and our songs. Ain’t that a clever name. You like that?" Parton asked the crowd of media and VIP guests.
The theater is home to "My People," a new show Parton described as a journey through her early life and her family. It features siblings Randy and Cassie Parton and other members of her family. Parton tells her story on an oversized screen that serves as a backdrop.
"I just wanted you to know how proud I am to be a part of it. If you don’t like the show, well, tough. I always say, if you like the show, get out there and write about and tell everybody. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut," she said to laughter.
Dreamsong is a 500-seat venue that was converted from Imagination Cinema, an attraction that included The Polar Express 4D Experience. The additional venue is part of the park’s plans to debut five more shows.
The idea for RiverRush came following the successful opening of Dollywood’s Wild Eagle, a $20 million steel Wing Coaster that drew record crowds.
"We had the most attendance we’ve ever had, and we thought, well, why don’t we have a coaster out at the water park," she said. "So we got to work on that. We got it ready for this season."
The 1,175-foot-long linear tube track covers more than an acre in a newly-developed area between the park’s Big Bear Plunge white water rafting inspired slide and Bear Mountain Fire Tower.
Four stories tall, riders climb 237 feet before making a 25-foot, 45-degree drop and launch through tunnels, rapids and three more drops.
"We want to get things that the kids enjoy and the parents can join in together because Dollywood is all about making time for family," she added. "In this day and time, everybody’s off doing everything, texting, twittering, facebooking.
"At Dollywood, it’s a wonderful place where you have some family time where everybody enjoys it at whatever age they are. I just love to create these rides for you all to enjoy."
RiverRush and "My People" officially open to the general public on Saturday.
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© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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