Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA
Spent Friday driving from Branson to Pigeon Forge. Definitely a long haul. Forgot about switching back to Eastern time so lost an hour on top of that. It seemed my virtually rain-free trip would be spoiled, morning forecast called for 60%+ chance of thunderstorms on Saturday. Miraculously, the park got virtually no rain, the storm system veered just west of Pigeon Forge.
Got there around 9:15 and boarded at Tram Stop B. "B is for Butterfly." Walking through the front areas before rope drop there is a very nice fountain. Also, due to the threat of rain, there weren't many people here at opening. The duck population on the midways outnumbered the people population. Unfortunately, all of the ducks were holding park maps and headed the same place I was. Oh c'mon, those baby ducks aren't even tall enough to ride.
Wild Eagle. The theming is well done. There's an awesome massive eagle statue at the entrance, and Dolly herself recorded a special song just for the ride. Flyyy Eagle, Flyyy Eagle, Wild Eagle Flyyyy.... (thankfully there is more than that). The trains themselves have eagle heads with wings spanning the middle of each row.
Eagle's zero-g roll, which comes right after the first loop, was my favorite element here. You really do feel like you're flying. I preferred the back. This one's worth doing front seat at least once though, there are some great legchopper effects there in the second half that had me pulling my knees up. From a pure ride standpoint, now having ridden all 3 of B&M's US Wing Coasters, GateKeeper is better, but I enjoyed Wild Eagle quite a bit more than X-Flight. I wouldn't classify any of the 3 as "intense" but that's not really a negative in my book. It's a solid crowd pleasing design, they are fun to ride, and they have a certain -- dare I say -- majestic quality, which isn't an adjective I'd use to describe many other coasters.
After 4 laps on Eagle (max 10 minute wait this early in the morning), Tennessee Tornado was nearby so walked on. One of the last Arrow loopers, and now my second favorite of its type (Loch Ness is still first, those interlocking loops are so pretty.) Fairly smooth with virtually no headbanging and the tunnel drop is sweet. Rode it a second time. Next was Blazing Fury. Nearly identical to SDC's Fire In The Hole (the former was based on the latter), even the ride ops were serenading departing trains with a shout of "Fire in the hole!" However, this one has no splashdown, apparently they took it out a couple years back. Still a fun dark coaster.
Walking back through the upper half of the park, did Mystery Mine twice. This ride is disorienting in a good way and hard to describe. Part indoor, part outdoor, and very unique. But bangs your head around in a couple spots. Kept going to Thunderhead. A very solid woodie, no single element is outstanding (the station flyby is slick though) but has some good airtime moments throughout its lengthy course and keeps up a good rate of speed.
After another lap on Wild Eagle (about a 40 minute wait now in early afternoon), I then went to Heritage Hall and walked through the traveling roller coaster museum exhibit there. Saw an old track piece from Big Bad Wolf. Sigh, I miss that ride. Anyway, time to eat. Chose the buffet at Aunt Granny's. The fried chicken was pretty juicy, the biscuits were moist and buttery. Sides were just OK (tried baked beans, green beans, mac n' cheese) but the selection of desserts looked good. Maybe I'm just bad at choosing park food....
Went back to Thunderhead, max 10 minute wait so got 4 more rides on that, 2 more on Eagle, 1 more on Tornado. For a Saturday I sure am riding a lot. Then took a swing on Barnstormer, funny this was my first S&S swing of the season. The "giant barn" theme fits this ride type well (SDC's swing is similarly themed).
I passed on dessert before but was wanting some now. Exiting Barnstormer, I walked to the nearby Grist Mill and -- a la Toucan Sam -- followed my nose inside. Cinnamon bread. Oh goodness this is delicious. You get a decent sized loaf served warm and fresh, there's enough to share, or in my case take some home. I then headed to Celebrity Theater for the Great American Country Show. Shows aren't really my thing -- my last was way back in 2008 (CP's Misadventures of Molly and Maverick) -- but considering Dollywood's reputation, I made an exception. I don't feel qualified to critique in detail, so I'll just say the production values were top-notch and I liked it. But given a do-over (or hopefully if I visit Dollywood again!) I probably would have selected a "smaller" show. Looking back I think the Country Show is Dollywood's "biggest" this season in terms of scale.
There were a couple hours left til close, and all I really wanted was a couple night rides on Eagle. I took some time to walk around the Village and Country Fair sections, as I hadn't been though them yet. Rode the train, which actually travels a bit outside the park boundary through some heavily wooded areas. Rode the nearby carousel after the train ride.
Then started walking back towards Wild Eagle (hit Blazing Fury again on the way) and got there around 9 PM. Got 4 more rides in before closing at 10. This thing is even sweeter after dark. No lighting here, helps that much of the course is surrounded by trees. As a bonus, they were doing fireworks at 9:30. Soaring on Eagle in the dark while watching fireworks? EXCELLENT! And a pretty fitting finale to cap my vacation!
"We need more 'Bort' license plates in the gift shop. I repeat, we are sold out of 'Bort' license plates."
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