Dolly Parton Reveals Why This Brand New Dollywood Attraction Makes Her 'Emotional' (Exclusive)

Dolly Parton Experience in Dollywood, Tennessee

You might think you know Dolly’s story, but you can't really understand it until you’ve seen it like this. Dollywood’s newest attraction, The Dolly Parton Experience, will have even hardcore Dolly fans learning or encountering something new—especially through its impressive use of technology and costume archiving (it really gives the MET a run for its money).

I just got back from Dollywood and have plenty to share about the trip, where I was able to tour The Dolly Parton Experience—which officially opened to the public on Friday, May 24, 2024—and talk to Parton herself. We covered everything from how "overwhelming" parts of the new attraction have been for her, what she hopes to always be remembered for and so much more.

Related: No Need to Work ‘9 to 5’—Dolly Parton’s Net Worth In 2024 Is Fit for a Country Queen

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

What To Know About Dollywood's Newest Attraction

The new attraction—The Dolly Parton Experience—is located where the previous museum was, the Chasing Rainbows Museum. Now, there's a giant sparkling pink and purple butterfly to greet you.

Some fans mentioned that the old museum was beginning to be a little run down, which is why they came up with the new experience. But this isn’t just a fresh coat (of many colors) of paint. It's an interactive and visually stunning (and air-conditioned!) adventure that will be able to capture the interest of fans of all ages.

There are three buildings within The Dolly Parton Experience: "Songteller," "Behind the Seams" and "DreamSong theater." For those who loved seeing Dolly’s former motor coach in all its pink ’90s glory, don’t worry. It is still parked on the lot for visitors to walk through.

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

Plus, there's a gift shop with exclusive, "very Dolly" merchandise and the most gorgeous bathroom you’ll ever see in a theme park (or possibly in any public area). I gasped upon entering and enjoyed hearing everyone else’s very similar reactions.

Of course, I’m not just going to tell you about the experience. I sat down with Dolly herself, in her third outfit of that day, to talk about the new attraction—including why it was a little disorienting to her at first.

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

The Dolly Parton Experience, from the Dreamer-in-Chief's Perspective

“Well, the whole experience was overwhelming to me because it really just showed my life just flashing before my eyes," Parton tells Parade. "People talk about when you're dying, that your life flashes before you. I was looking for the pearly gates when I finished. I'm like, 'Is it my time?'”

That's a very understandable reaction considering how intensive the collection is, especially "Songteller." It recounts Dolly’s ever-expanding career in music, movies, and television and important moments in her personal life. I even teared up a couple of times, especially seeing the replica of the “coat of many colors.”

“It was overwhelming just remembering so much of my life through the years and all the people that have been a part of my life—some of them still here, some of them not," Parton explains. "But it really makes you take inventory and appreciate all of the people and all those things and just think about what a journey has been.”

The celebration of her work was impressive. Displayed all in one place, it’s mind-boggling how one person could achieve so much. There’s a hallway filled with all the other incredible people she has worked with which was a really touching part for her.

“When I was going through with all the entertainers on the walls that I'd worked with, [and I would come across] someone I might have forgotten that [I got to work with]. I thought, 'Oh, that's right, I got to meet so-and-so,'" Parton shares. "When you've lived as long as I have, sometimes your memories fade and then you see them on the walls."

"I was very touched by Kenny Rogers, who I love dearly," she continues. "And we just had such a magical relationship. And then the song that they were playing [in the exhibit] “You Can't Make Old Friends,” it is just like a dagger through my heart. Of course, I was emotional, but there was so much joy in it as well. To think that I had been able to do what my little girl dreams were. To be able to see those dreams come true, and then to see them all play around us."

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

And the experience not only highlights Parton's work life. The love of the Parton family flows through each one of the exhibits. The "Precious Memories" section, which includes a 30-minute video and visuals honoring Parton's friends and family made multiple people I talked to choke up a bit. Including Parton herself.

“Well, of course, I love anything to do with my family," Parton tells Parade. "And when I went through the mom and daddy and my whole family thing, I couldn't handle that. I just broke down. Then I thought, ‘I got to come back another time to check on that.’”

We think everyone should check it out!

The Imagination Library's Presence in the Dolly Parton Experience

While all of the glitz and glamor of Dolly’s life is spectacular and her talent is unmatched, she is most proud to talk about her Imagination Library project which delivers free books to children all over the world. Inspired by her father who didn’t learn how to read as a child, he went on to help run the project with her for years. It features heavily in "Songteller" and even has a counter that updates in real-time when a child receives a book.

“People often ask me, 'What do you want to be remembered for?'" Parton shares with Parade. "So I want to be remembered for anything good that I've done. And I think that the Imagination Library is one of the best things I've ever done or will ever do or be involved in."

"I'm very proud that I can leave that, you know, that is part of my legacy, to be able to put books in the hands of children that can't read—give them a love for learning and love for books," she continues. "If they feel like somebody cares enough to put their little name on a book and send it to them, [it] makes them feel important even early on in their lives. And maybe that might be the one thing that might give them the confidence to do something else, not just learn to read, but to feel like somebody cared enough to pay special attention to them.”

I’ve been told by several people that they knew Dolly Parton first as the "Book Lady," and they would rush to see if she had sent them a new book. She laughed when I asked about the adorable title.

“I love being the Book Lady—I always thought that was cute," Parton says. "I've talked about my dad who was involved with it. He took a lot of pride in the Imagination Library, but he got such a kick out of them calling me the 'Book Lady.”

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

Family Ties

Not only were so many of Parton's family’s stories intertwined with hers, but many of the family members worked on the experience and performed. "Behind the Seams" features many of Dolly’s iconic looks and, as the name promises, an inside look at how they came to be.

One of the talented people behind the seams was Dolly’s niece Rebecca Seaver. She spoke with Parade about how much work they’ve done in achieving Dolly’s wardrobe now—especially since many things were on display before people understood the importance of preserving clothing.

She says that the wigs on display are replicas of Dolly’s, not the real deal, as Dolly herself wanted them to be in perfect, not used condition. So, they hired Necia’s Hairstyling, a UK-based company, and worked with stylist Sarah Wood to create them.

<p>Courtesy Devon Sherer</p>

Courtesy Devon Sherer

I got to watch the new show, “Heidi Parton’s Kin & Friends,” taking place in the "DreamSong Theater." The show was co-written by Parton and her niece Heidi, who performs alongside some very talented friends.

The show goes through classic songs and performers who are legends in their genres like Elvis, Aretha Franklin and, of course, Parton.

Heidi got several standing ovations for her rendition of Parton’s spiritual songs and her own song. The show was filled with powerhouse singers you don’t want to miss. (I especially enjoyed that, since it was the premiere, Parton was in the audience cheering on her family!)

Final Thoughts About the Experience and the Impact of Community

There was an overwhelming sense of community connecting each of the pillars of the Dolly Parton Experience. It seemed like there was a tribute to someone who helped her heavily sprinkled into every section—and I’m sure she would be the first to admit she didn’t do it alone. She was lucky enough to come from a very supportive family but also worked hard to create an environment of people who take care of each other. You can see it in the Dollywood employees and even during our interview—the set was filled with people she’s worked with for years, seamlessly doing their part. Creating a community isn’t easy but it’s something we all need—especially now. Dolly agrees.

"I think that there are a lot of good people in this world that are confused and scared, you know, with all the craziness going on," she says. "But I think there have always been special people in every community that can draw people together, the kind of the leaders of whatever group you're in or even the leaders of family."

"And I think it's good to encourage people to get out and do more for the community," Parton continues. "To do more, to help the circle that you live in. We cannot save the world, but we can save as much of it as we can. We certainly can make it a lot more enjoyable, a little less fearful, a little more fruitful by getting out and not letting all the doomsday stuff and the craziness keep us from doing good things. ”

Next: Dolly Parton Announces Major Career Move After Retiring From Touring