It’s crunch week.
When in reference to Dollywood, I’m not talking about the days leading up to final exams. Our crunch is a lot like a test, though. How prepared are we to flip our park from one season to the next? In six days.
While 144 hours may sound like a lot of time, it takes a well-choreographed logistics plan to achieve success. (Success = Dollywood decked for Christmas without a trace of Harvest Festival.)
This is the week where every team is bustling: If you consider visiting us as one of your things to do this Christmas, you’ll see how the Entertainment team is working on lines and blocking for the Christmas shows, the Culinary team is switching out Harvest menus for holiday favorites, the Merchandise team is swapping fall stock for lots of jingle, the Visual team is dressing all window fronts and store displays with Christmas trimming, the Maintenance and Construction team is preparing buildings for new offerings like our reimagined Santa experience and the Special Events team is tasked with changing out all the big décor you see throughout the park. That’s where this blog is going to focus.
If you’ve visited us during the fall, you likely have no doubts when I tell you we have to pull about 15,000 pumpkins and fall displays from our park. They’re replaced with 5 million Christmas lights and evergreens.
Because there is lots of heavy lifting (in high places), our logistics plan includes dozens of big machines. This is a look at some of the trucks staged and ready to go last Friday afternoon.
One of the first items on the punch list is the giant pumpkin tree in The Plaza at Wilderness Pass. Our crews begin disassembling the pumpkins as soon as the park closes the final night of Harvest Festival. They work through the night and into the next few days. Usually, by the end of Monday, the pumpkin tree is out, and the work turns from disassembling gourds to assembling a 50-ft. LED Christmas tree. The goal is to have it up by Thursday, so light and sound techs can work on it Friday to ensure it’s ready with the Wonderful Christmas show by park opening on Saturday.
It’s always so funny to me to see the juxtaposition of pumpkins and Christmas trees.
Once all of our fall elements are removed, everyone in the park is focused on Christmas. Other times of the year there are always a few teams working ahead toward the next festival, but because this is the final festival before the park closes, everyone is focused on Smoky Mountain Christmas.
The weather has been beautiful, so all teams have been able to knock out a lot of work. This year, you’re going to notice even more live trees and new lighting elements in the Rivertown and Craftsman’s Valley areas of the park.
The Special Events team has about 25 people working around the clock right now. There are 10 full-time hosts and the rest are seasonal—many of whom are specifically assigned to hanging Christmas lights. This work began in the heat of summer (watch this video for a behind-the-scenes look when we started a few months ago) and will continue until we open this Saturday. If there are strands to hang, we’ll keep hanging ‘em. You can never have enough!
I love watching the Christmas lights crew in action. They are not shy to help newbies—there is a right way and there is a sloppy way to hang lights at Dollywood. Each bulb should be facing the same way and there should be a staple between each light to keep them straight.
The wrapped trees you see at Dollywood may have anywhere from 200 to 600 strands of LED bulbs. This year, we’ve purchased lights that have brighter wattage and will expand with the tree, which makes them more durable.
This may be the week that is both the longest (in terms of exhausting work days) and quickest (in terms of the short window to get the work done) for our teams, but it’s something we all enjoy. I was talking with a few of our hosts and we agreed there’s extra motivation this year to give families the escape and joy they’re seeking this holiday season. Come see us. We’ll have the lights on for you!