|Dollywood, Graceland, distillery offer new lures
|Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 9:14 pm
|By JOE EDWARDS
NASHVILLE (AP) — Dollywood has a new roller coaster. Elvis has a different side to see. And you can prepare to take a nip at the Jack Daniel distillery.
Those are just three of the lures this year as Tennessee’s summer tourism season gets under way.
The peak of the travel year falls as gasoline prices are high, but going down. For the state’s busy $14 billion tourism industry, which employs more than 170,000, there are signs that business is picking up.
The sprawling Great Smoky Mountains National Park already is seeing a 15 percent increase in visitors over last year. With 9 million visitors annually, it’s the most popular national park.
Andrew Kean, president and COO of the highly promoted Rock City atop Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, says gas prices have had little impact on his attraction.
“I think for us, the additional expense for visitors from Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham is in the $10 to $20 range over two fill ups,” he said.
Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge has a new roller coaster to go with its four others. The Wild Eagle is 21 stories high and goes 61 mph in each 21⁄2 minute ride. But don’t look for Dolly Parton, the park’s namesake, to hop aboard.
“You’re not gonna see me on it,” she says in a defiant nod to her nerves.
If Pigeon Forge visitors tire of the nearby mountains and Dollywood, there’s always shopping: The town boasts having more than 300 outlet and specialty shops.
In Memphis, Graceland is offering visitors a new perspective of Elvis: Just opened is the Elvis Presley Stable Tour, displaying sad dles used by Elvis, personal western wear and home movie footage of the king of rock ‘n’ roll on horseback. This August will mark the 35th anniversary of his death.
For the first time, visitors can sample Jack Daniel whiskey on tours at the Lynchburg distillery under plans being fine-tuned. It was outlawed until recent legislation authorized it.
But a distillery spokesman says there’s little worry about getting tipsy.
“You get three samples, just a sip,” said Steve May.
If that’s not enough, a new Moon Pie store is about to open in the quaint little town.
The light-hearted distillery tours sometimes include this exchange:
Visitor: “How many people work here?”
Guide: “Oh, about half.”
Nashville, as usual, relies heavily on music to attract 11 million visitors annually. There are up to five Grand Ole Opry country music shows weekly, plus the annual CMA Music Festival June 7-10 featuring Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton and others.
Down Interstate 24 near Manchester, the annual Bonnaroo festival on the same dates will include performers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, the reunited Beach Boys, Phish and Bon Iver.
Gov. Bill Haslam says Tennessee’s tourist attractions often come up in his travels outside the state.
“When you say Tennessee and you say Grand Ole Opry and Dolly, people say, ‘Well, get Elvis to drop by and bring Jack Daniel’s and you’ve covered the ground,’ “Haslam said recently.
State tourism officials say Tennessee is able to attract 50 million visitors annually thanks to several factors.
“We like to think the state has something for everyone,” said Cindy Dupree of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. She lists music, outdoor activities, history, culinary venues, shopping and spa vacations as ways to build a custom-fit visit to the state.
Online: Tennessee Department of Tourism: http://www.tn.gov/tourdev/
Published in THe Messenger 5.30.12