June 13, 2016
Last June, it was announced that Dolly Parton had purchased the Lumberjack Feud dinner theater. After finishing the season with the then-current operator, the show was closed and underwent extensive renovations both inside and out. Having not attended the original version, comparisons can’t be drawn, but the updated theater looks amazing with great curb appeal from the Parkway and great theming as soon as you step inside.
The lobby is expansive and includes a bar serving standard and specialty themed drinks, both alcoholic and non-, while you wait for the show. There is a gem mining area where children (or I suppose adults) can sift through bags of ore and sand to discover hidden gem stones. Plenty of seating is available in the lobby as well for those that arrive before the doors open to the theater. One corner is devoted to the gift shop where you can find t-shirts (multiple nice designs), pins, magnets, logo hatchets, and plenty of other souvenirs bearing the “Dolly Parton’s Lumberjack Adventure” logo. This is one of the best theater show gift shops around as the variety of merchandise is on par with Dollywood itself, whereas you usually find maybe one or two designs for t-shirts and a lot of unrelated “southern” novelties. Also inside is, oddly, a small beauty/barber shop. The website mentions nothing about this and its purpose is unclear – no signage in the lobby could be found advertising what services they offer, though it is not just for show.
Though the line to be seated gets very long, the process moves rather quickly. Instead of being seated at tables with your party, you are seated in rows similar to bar seating, though you do get actual chairs instead of bar stools. So, unless your party happens to be large enough to fill an entire row, you may end up making a new friend as the seats are very close together – elbow bumping is almost a guarantee.
Prior to the start of the show, the server comes to take drink orders. Options include Pepsi products and lemonade. The server will take your ticket and place it in front of you in a particular manner depending upon your drink order. This lets him/her know what you are drinking when they bring refills. For example – Diet Pepsi was face down, Pepsi was face up, and lemonade was folded in half face down. A very…interesting…system, but don’t play with your ticket stub or you may end up with a new drink!
The show and dinner service start at the same time. According to the menu printed inside the napkin, dinner is to include Timber Slaw, Lumberjack Homemade Biscuit, Campfire Fried Chicken, Smokehouse Pulled Pork, Homestyle Smashed Taters, Sawmill Gravy, Skillet Corn, and a Lumberjack’s Specialty Dessert. This was not exactly the case during the performance we attended. This particular performance was a special preview performance where random guests were surveyed regarding the experience and the theater intends to use the information gathered to adjust and improve the dinner and show. I cannot be sure if the menu changes were a test with different items or if the original menu has already been changed overall, but instead of smashed taters and gravy, we were given a baked potato, and instead of skillet corn, we were given a small corn-on-the-cob.
Overall, the food was excellent. While I personally do not eat slaw, mine did disappear thanks to another in the group enjoying it enough for seconds. The biscuit was fresh (when it was brought out, at least, more on that soon), and the pulled pork was tender and flavorful. While everyone in the group would have preferred the mashed potatoes and gravy, the baked potato was good as well. The fried chicken was a big hit with a great breading and not dried out at all (as chicken breast has a tendency to be dry).
While the food was good, the service is definitely in need of improvement. That’s not to say that the servers themselves were not good. The problem is the pacing and how the meal is delivered, which would be a management issue. Each individual item is delivered separately by the server for your section. First, the server delivers slaw to everyone in his/her section. Then the same server delivers a biscuit to everyone in his/her section. Next comes the corn, and so on. The whole process takes around 15 minutes being served one item at a time. By the time the last item (chicken) is served, the biscuit is no longer warm and fresh and the corn has gone cold. With this system, you must either wait until the full meal is served and deal with the items that have gotten cold or pretend you are being served a 6-course dinner and finish each item before the next one comes. This is something I am certain they will work on based on the feedback in these special preview performances and hopefully they can find a better way – with so many dinner theaters in the area that have been functioning successfully for many years, ideas for simple fixes should not be hard to come by.
In a very nice and unexpected touch, dinner is concluded with a hot towel for each guest delivered by the servers.
The show itself is fun, lively, and never drags. It is a combination of dancing, acrobatics, competition, comedy, some great in-theater effects, and – of course – lumberjack skills. There is also a brand new original song written and performed by Dolly herself! The story is based around two logging families. Needless to say, the two families are in a feud – a requirement, it seems, for families living in the mountains. Don’t get too hung up on the feud though. They certainly don’t. This feud is possibly one of the friendliest in history as the two families only seem to remember they don’t like each other sporadically. Each side of the theater is assigned a family to cheer for during the competition portions of the show. These revolve primarily around actual lumberjack skills that appear to be a real competition between the lumberjacks for each family instead of a staged back-and-forth simply for show.
The beginning of the show is paced very well to coincide with the food service. After a brief introduction and while food is being delivered, the families are throwing a party of their own with lots of dancing and merriment. It is entertaining enough to not be dull but does not move the story forward during that period of time so that you don’t feel the need to pay close attention while you are being served and salting and peppering or otherwise preparing to eat.
While the story line is rather loose, it fits well with eating while watching as a complicated story would require more focused attention. The show shines the most when it is living up to its name with the lumberjacks in their various events. The acrobatics are fun and the special effects built into the theater are impressive. The least entertaining portion is a running gag involving a moonshiner and the revenuers after his still – it is full of overly-used stereotypes and the same jokes from almost every show ever performed in the Appalachian Mountains. Funny for first-time visitors, I’m sure. There is one odd diversion during the show that shows up in many of the early reviews as being out of place. I certainly agree it does not really fit with the theme and atmosphere of the rest of the show, but it is a nice effect with a cool song and introduces a very fun character – the Boohag! Think Pink Elephants on Parade from Dumbo or Heffalumps and Woozles from Winnie the Pooh. Personally my favorite part, but definitely the cause of some bemused faces in the theater.
In lieu of too many spoilers, we will just include some photos from the show:
Ultimately, while this is a new show that still has a few growing pains and kinks to work out, it is a great meal with a fun show that is an excellent addition to the line-up of dinner shows and theaters in the Great Smoky Mountains. It fits well with Dolly’s growing family entertainment brand and is different enough from Dixie Stampede to make seeing both worthwhile (though maybe not in the same day).
Seating in the theater is offered in Standard and Premium versions. The only difference is proximity to the stage. The theater is small enough that even the top rows would still have great views, so there should be no problem if you prefer to save a little money and stick with the Standard seats.
They will, of course, also be taking your picture with your group as you enter the theater. Someone will be around before or during the show to offer you this picture which has conveniently been printed and placed into its own paper souvenir frame for you. The standard package of prints is $25 and includes the large souvenir holder with photo, a 5×7 and two wallet-sized photos, and a souvenir magnet frame (that fits one of the smaller photos in your package).
For more information and tickets, you can visit www.lumberjackadventure.com