Dollywood Owner Takes Over Kentucky Kingdom

February 23, 2021, 1:08 PM · The owner of the Dollywood and Silver Dollar City theme parks will take over the Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay amusement and water park in Louisville. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced the deal with Herschend Enterprises in a press conference earlier today.

"This is a partnership that takes a good foundation, a good attraction, and turns it into an international destination to bring people in to see the finest of Kentucky and spend their time both at the park and in our community," Gov. Beshear said.

Built next to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center near the intersection of Interstates 65 and 264, Kentucky Kingdom is a 65-acre park complex that features several notable roller coasters, including a Dinn woodie, Thunder Run; the RMC Storm Chaser; and The Gravity Group's Kentucky Flyer, which opened in 2019.

"We are pleased to turn the park over to a new generation of leadership. Herschend is an outstanding operator, who will undoubtedly take Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay to the next level. We expect their involvement will add greatly to the Commonwealth’s thriving tourism industry," Kentucky Kingdom's founder, President and CEO Ed Hart said.

Under the deal, Herschend will become the new majority partner of Kentucky Kingdom Theme Park, LLC. Craig Ross is moving over from Dollywood to become the interim General Manager for Kentucky Kingdom.

Herschend's top priority for the park will be "building the appeal for multi-generational families," according to the company's press release. To that end, Herschend promises to expand the season and to add seasonal and themed events and festivals at Kentucky Kingdom. Expect to see some Herschend signatures brought to the park, such as Cinnamon Bread and skillet dinners, too.

"We strongly believe in using guest and community input to create amazing experiences and will be reaching out to the Louisville community for input on enhancements they’d like to see at the park, including attractions, shows and events," Ross said. "This feedback will be critical in creating a long-term plan for success and growth."

Herschend operates 25 properties in eight states, welcoming more than 14 million guests in 2019. In addition to Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, Herschend runs the Wild Adventures park in Valdosta, Georgia as well as aquariums in Camden, New Jersey and Newport, Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati.

While Kentucky Kingdom is well positioned with the Louisville market, it faces plenty of competition for theme park fans across the region, with Holiday World & Splashin' Safari located one hour to west in Indiana and free, twice-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.

Replies (3)

February 23, 2021 at 9:06 PM

Minor item of trivia, of interest to very few people, that I've never had the opportunity to bring up here before: In the press conference (embedded above) Governor Beshear talks about visiting Kentucky Kingdom with his father when the park opened in 1987. Well, I have a story about Andy Beshear's father, too. Steve Beshear beat my dad for student body president at the University of Kentucky in 1964. Both Beshears went on to become Kentucky governors. And my dad and I... didn't. (But I get to live in California, so I will take that!)

February 23, 2021 at 11:31 PM

Sounds like they are saying all the right things from their press conference, but while SDC and Dollywood are obviously great parks, Wild Adventures is absolutely horrendous. I'm not just talking about bad rides (which they have plenty of with the main attractions being a Boomerang and SLC). The landscaping, food service, AC/shade/water in the Georgia sun, it is one of the worst park in the country. I don't live very far away from it and have only been once and never have any desire to back, driving right past it several times a year. Sadly it doesn't seem like they see any potential in Wild Adventures its just a waterpark cash register for them. Its clearly a red headed stepchild scenario.

To me Ed Hart is Kentucky Kingdom. He put that place on the map, then Six Flags ruined it, then he came and put them on the map again. I've seen it happen before where someone singlehandedly builds a great business then it gets bought out and goes down the tubes. Places like Indiana Beach which was pretty well liked when ran by the Spackman's, then everyone hated it under the ownership of that terrible Morgan Recreation company, and now people seem to be warming up to it again now that it's family owned again. Locals seemed to like Elitch Gardens until Six Flags got it, then they hated it, and people hate it now more than ever now that Kirean Burke's new company is running it. Astroworld and Darien Lake same story. Hell even the same could be said about KK. People loved Kennywood but I think a lot of locals around there have soured on it even with the new coasters they have added.

Based off that press conference clearly Herschend sees potential in KK and it doesn't sound like they are going to totally ignore its existence like Wild Adventures.

February 24, 2021 at 8:00 AM

sadly, i've never been to wild adventures and have no excuse as it's not too far from me, BUT i have been to Dollywood and SDC numerous times and they are top notch parks through and through. definitely the best food of any major theme parks so KK is lucky to be on board with this group.

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