We rented a cabin for the week on the side of a mountain just outside of Gatlinburg. The view was stunning. We had an unobstructed view of the Smokey Mountains. The cabin was bi-level, with the only way of accessing the bottom level being a set of stairs that hung out over a two-hundred foot cliff over the forest below. Add to that a very interesting road to get up there and you can tell the adventure was just starting.
Dollywood was my primary reason for making the trip, but for my other three traveling companions, it was just something they had to do in order for me to agree to come along.
The first full day was spent doing research for my mother's book that she is writing. She is writing a complete family history and seeing as much of her family came from Western Virginia, that was were we spent the first day. The highlight of the day was crossing an old rope bridge over a raging river on private property hoping owner of said property did not come out and shoot me for trespassing all so I could get a picture of some house for my Mom's book. We did happen to find an awesome state park called Natural Tunnel state park that was pretty cool. It was basically a huge natural tunnel in the side of a mountain. The evening was spent at the Carter Family Fold, a music show that is held every Saturday out in the middle of nowhere. It is held by the Carter Family, which are cousins to June Carter, and relations to my mother's family, also the Carters. It was all bluegrass and old timey music and was actually pretty good. All of the locals came out and danced some kind of clogging or flat-footing dance.
The next day the weather was downright windy and we ended up checking out Gatlinburg itself. We hit up the Ripley's aquarium and I was surprised to find that it was a very awesome aquarium. It was one of the first aquariums I have been to where you can look over the same tanks that you tunnel under later on. It was cool seeing sharks swimming around and only seeing their fin out of the water ala "Jaws". We did some shops and some indoor mini-golf and rode a chairlift up the side of a mountain, even though it was windy enough to close down the Ober-Gatlinburg sky tram.
The day after that we headed into North Carolina and did the Biltmore Estate. On the way we stopped at the first rest stop into the state and they had a special welcoming party for guests of North Carolina with cake and local attractions giving out coupons and brochures. Most notable was a guy dressed in a cowboy getup for Ghost Town in the Sky. The Biltmore was cool, but I doubt if I would ever do it again. It took the entire day and it was exhausting.
The next day was our first good weather day and the one day of the week that Dollywood was closed. We ended up doing more Gatlinburg. We did Ober-Gatlinburg and some more shopping. I did the alpine slide and was dealt a case of anticipointment. I really thought it would be long and awesome but it was short and slow. We ended the day doing the Dixie Stampede, which is one of these huge dinner theater things like Medieval Times or Arabian Knights. It is a huge Civil War themed affair. We got seats on the North, but it was obvious that the North seats were always the ones last ones to be reserved as half the North section was rooting for the South. The show itself was really good. There were a lot of games where the North and South competed against each other and the final game was complete audience participation and determined the final outcome. A large video taped performance by Dolly Parton at the end reminded everyone that they were all Americans and belted home a huge Patriotic send off.
Wednesday we did the Smokey Mountains. We drove into the park and took several pictures. I drove up to Clingman's Dome and told my mother firmly that she was driving back down as I was shaking already from the heights. Despite that I was the only family member to make the ascent up to the top of Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokey Mountains. It was a hard half-mile walk, even for someone who works out vigorously four times a week. After that we drove down to North Carolina and visited my wife's step-cousin. She owns a craft store down in Franklin with her girlfriend.
Thursday we were going to hit Dollywood in the afternoon to take advantage of their free admission the next day if you enter after three deal, but the day was a complete rain out. We spent a lot of time in the cabin and hitting craft stores instead.
Finally, Friday, we hit Dollywood!
I knew it was going to be a bad day when I saw the numerous school buses piling in. They had over a hundred middle schools coming in. I work with a lot of kids of various ages and I can attest that middle school kids tend to be the worst. First off they try to out-talk each other. They get progressively louder until they are all shouting at each other, trying to be heard over their other friends who are also shouting. The girls are all in their "my s**t doesn't stink" years and the boys are in their "let's push each other around and we don't care who else might be in the way" age. The employees were stoically dealing with them but I could see many of them were ready to crack. Several girls working in the main gift shop at the front of the park were near tears after a pack of kids came in and started throwing merchandise around. There was a huge line at the Customer Relations desk at the end of the day; my guess, other guests that had been terrorized all day long by these brats.
My day started off with a run up the hill to Thunderhead while my family slowly made their way up to meet me. Thunderhead was about what I expected it to be. I know it's a number two coaster and a former number one, but based on the layout, I could tell it would never be "all that" for me. I am an airtime whore. Laterals and speed are not as important as ejector and floater air. It was a good coaster, don't get me wrong. I'd even say it was a top ten for me. It just was not my cup of tea. It was amazingly smooth, very fast, and even had a few pops of air.
The next line to get in was for Mystery Mine. On the way there I had a ten minute conversation with a Buzzard who seemed genuinely surprised that someone from Wisconsin would not be a huge Packer fan and couldn't give a crap about Brett Favre retiring. Very neat addition to the theming of the attraction.
The wait was extremely long. I think I waited an hour and a half. It turned out to be worth it. While the ride was nothing all that extraordinary, the theming brought it all home. I did love the extreme hang time at the end of the ride and the straight down drops and straight up lifts. The ride was extremely bangy, however, and that took away from the ride experience itself. The theming, however, was almost Disney-esque. I especially love the whole second lift and subsequent drop. Way cool.
I stopped by the new River Battle attraction and watched it. It was much too cold to ride, but several people braved the cold to ride it and fight it out. It looks like an awesome attraction that will be extremely popular on hot-Tennessee summer days. I did get a chance to shoot some of the boats from outside the ride and got hit a few times in the process. Even that little bit of interaction was a blast.
Next up was Tennessee Tornado. This was the wife's first coaster of the day. We both loved it, although I was kind of surprised at how short it was. All of the pictures I have seen make it look so long. Interesting fact: I was talking to some locals about a storm we had on the day we arrived and they commented that Sevier County has never had a tornado touchdown. I googled it and found this website that at least confirms it from 1950-1995. http://www.tornadoproject.com/alltorns/tntorn.htm. Interesting that they named the coaster Tornado in a county that hasn't seen a tornado :) All in all it was the smoothest Arrow I have ever riden. There were some intense positive G's on the bottoms of the loops which made the ride fun enough to ride twice in a row due to the walk on nature of the lines.
We headed over to Blazing Fury next. Blazing Fury is like the Calico Mine Ride at Knott's with a few coaster sections and a water ending to it. Over all it was a pretty neat little ride. It is all indoors and depicts a fire in a hillbilly town, although each scene is divided by mining sections. Not a bad little ride.
We got lunch at some Chicken buffet place where some weird bird lady was singing and being pretty annoying. Just about everyone was avoiding her. We watched a fifties show after that to make the Mrs. happy and then drove the fifties cars nearby. After that we toured Dolly's tour bus and did Thunder Road, a motion theater car chase movie. We missed most of the County Fair area unfortunately due to time constraints. I wanted to hit Thunderhead one last time and the crowds were horrendous with all of the schools there. I ended up walking on to Thunderhead and also nearly walked on to Mystery mine as the school groups were all meeting up front. The Topple Tower picked that time to break down, so I was denied a ride on that. I really was not all that disappointed about it.
I definitely want to get back to the park some day. It is an awesome park with really awesome employees. Everyone there was so friendly and helpful and they obviously had the patience of saints with the crappy kids there. The middle school kids really made what could have been an awesome day an okay day. They were unchaperoned and unruly. The park staff tried their best to control them yet they still terrorized all others at the park. I would love to go back on a warmer day when I can do the water rides as well. I've heard good things about them all.
Anyways, I am heading back to Wisconsin now, saying goodbye to the beautiful mountains of Tennessee. I know many of us get caught up in going to as many coaster parks and riding as many coasters as possible, but sometimes it is nice to stop and see what else is in the area. How many people visiting Dollywood have spent time in Gatlinburg or in the Smokey Mountains? Maybe it will be something you might consider on your next visit.
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