PIGEON FORGE — The lights are on at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival — more than 5 million this year, thanks to the all-new Glacier Ridge component of park decor, which adds 1 million more lights compared to previous years.
Throughout the park, lighted trees line walkways, garlands are festooned with ornaments and bows are draped upon doors and windows. The centerpiece is a 50-foot Christmas tree that features synchronized lights and projected animation.
Located in Dollywood's Timber Canyon, Wilderness Pass and Craftsman's Valley (the upper portion), Glacier Ridge is anticipated to become the latest "must-see" during Smoky Mountain Christmas.
Glacier Ridge is designed to make guests feel as if the Smokies have frozen over, thanks to an arctic color palette and a mesmerizing atmosphere that looks to equal Pumpkin LumiNights, the park's annual harvest festival. The Plaza at Wilderness Pass has been transformed into a winter wonderland, dominated by that big Christmas tree. Every 30 minutes, the Plaza will sparkle to life with a fully synchronized, dazzling light show complete with holiday favorites Dollywood hopes will have guests singing along.
For guests entering from Timber Canyon, the Arctic Passage, a 130-foot-long programmable light tunnel, transports them to Glacier Ridge in a stunning array of light and color.
After emerging from the tunnel, guests will be greeted by polar bears who have made a home at Drop Line Bay. Because the Smokies have frozen to create Glacier Ridge, these friends from the North are able to spend time with their Smoky Mountain cousins.
Those coming to Glacier Ridge through Craftsman's Valley experience a one-of-a-kind, new light installation that mimics the natural phenomenon known as the aurora borealis. Guests can walk through Dollywood's version of the northern lights — brought to life with music as only Parton can — making it feel as if the celestial lights have come south, even if for just a few weeks.
Since 1990, when Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas helped kick off Sevier County's Winterfest, the festival has been known globally as a must-see Christmas event. Amusement Today contributors and voters bestowed the Best Theme Park Christmas Event award on Dollywood in 2008 when the honor was first created. Dollywood is an 11-time — the only 11-time — winner of the honor.
"Christmas is so important to me for so many reasons," Parton said. "I'm so thankful that it's a time when our family comes together to share stories, remember old times and make new memories we'll take with us through the next year and beyond. There's a lot of laughin' and a whole lot of love when we all get together. I want those folks who come to experience Christmas with us at Dollywood to feel like they're part of the family, making those memories and sharing those special times. I know the fun they'll find in Glacier Ridge will help them create brand new memories and traditions."
But longstanding favorites abound as well, including Dollywood's Parade of Many Colors, the live stage version of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Christmas in the Smokies."
Smoky Mountain Christmas continues through Jan. 5.
Where else to see lights
There are spectacular light displays around the South, but your first stop should be Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights on Lookout Mountain.
In its 24th season, the award-winning extravaganza showcases more than a million LED lights and 30 holiday scenes.
This year’s must-see is the collaboration with Northern Sky Lighting for the Magic Forest Dancing Tree show.
“Our new 43-foot walk-through Christmas tree is the first of its kind anywhere and features thousands of programmable LEDs all swirling and spinning to music, with a 40-foot archway tunnel of colored lights,” says Will Jackson, senior manager of innovation for Rock City. “Seeing the tree as you approach is impressive, but the experience of being inside the tree during the show is unforgettable.”
The Enchanted Garden of Lights is open nightly (except Christmas Eve) through Dec. 31. Admission varies by day, ranging from $16.95 to $28.95 for adults, $8.95 to $14.95 for children 3-12. Visit www.seerockcity.com for more info.
Worth the drive
Here are more tourist attractions within a couple hours’ drive where you can see supercharged Christmas lights.
› Alabama: Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden
› Georgia: Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, “Garden Lights, Holiday Lights” at Atlanta Botanical Garden, Holiday in the Park at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell
› North Carolina: Biltmore Estates near Asheville
› Tennessee: Opryland Hotel in Nashville, The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights at Bristol Motor Speedway, Gatlinburg Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights
— Staff Report