Special Guest Blog By Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe
Since I was a child, my favorite movie has always been The Wizard of Oz. I watched it every year when it aired on TV, and my family complained that they had to listen “in stereo” as I recited/sang the entire production.
Needless to say, when I learned there had been a Wizard of Oz theme park in my home state that had closed down, I dreamed of visiting it. Then I learned it opened again for limited visits – right now just two weekends a year (and they sell out fast so book early).
This magical place made my childhood come to life. The Land of Oz opened in 1968 to great acclaim (Debbie Reynolds was part of the ribbon cutting), the facility was only open for 10 years when it fell into financial troubles and a fire destroyed the Emerald City☹ (read more about the history).
Today, The Land of Oz is no Disney World, but a hidden emerald for sure. We went last June for a “Journey with Dorothy” where each guest joins a tour group that travels with Dorothy from her Kansas farmhouse, up inside the cyclone and then down the yellow brick road (yes, it’s really made of yellow bricks). Along the way you meet actors playing Miss Gulch and the Wizard of Oz, but the rest of the characters are played by YOU.
Before starting the tour, Ozians pick participants (adults) from the group to play the main characters and provide scripts. They look for people that exhibit characteristics of the roles, so don’t hide in the back, you just might get picked to play the Cowardly Lion (singing is involved, but it’s all fun😊).
People travel from all over the country for this special experience, and they all love the movie, so it’s a festive and energetic atmosphere. I’m pretty sure (and an Ozian confirmed this for me), the adults love the adventure more than the kids as we ogle at the beauty of Oz and skip down the yellow brick road.
Simply touring the design of Dorothy’s house is worth the trip (you’ll have to visit to see what I mean). Then, when you first set foot in Munchkinland, it feels just as magical as it does in the movie.
On your journey down the yellow brick road you will see the apple trees, travel by poppies, and of course go to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. Along the way, there is an opportunity to take a photo with Dorothy. You end your journey at the gates of the Emerald City where you can glimpse the horse of a different color and see the remains of a hot air balloon.
It is a bit sad when imagining what the park must have been like in its glory days before the fire and many years of looting, but it seems each year they fix it up a bit more. For instance, the park’s only ride is being refurbished and hopefully will begin running again this year – a hot air balloon ride (in a gondola) that will take you from the ski lodge (parking lot) to the entrance of the Land of Oz. There you also enjoy gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before catching a ride, make sure you visit the great little Wizard of Oz museum housed in the ski lodge shops.
Do note, the park is an experience to literally experience the journey that Dorothy traveled. It’s not a ride-based amusement park, there are no fancy restaurants (just a small bar at the top of the mountain and a restaurant near the ski lodge) and the gift shop is made up of tables under a popup tent at the end of the tour. Yet, it’s the place where “the dreams that you dream of dreams really do come true.”
The second annual Land of Oz event, Autumn at Oz, happens in September. That seems to be a bigger event, where all the major characters are there in costume (even flying monkeys!), and there’s a petting zoo and some other activities. I hope to attend that one this year, so more to come on that event, but for now… “There’s no place like home.”