Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA
Because my airline doesn't fly to Knoxville, that's why.
In all actuality, Dollywood, for all the rave reviews, just wasn't someplace that jumped out at me too much. In my quest to ride every B&M in the US, however, Dollywood became a priority (the 5 B&Ms I needed to ride this year to wrap up the list were Banshee, Great White, Wild Eagle, Wildfire, and X-Flight).
I got Great White on an extended connection I built for myself at the end of a business trip in June, and with a business trip that came up here at the beginning of August, I found myself with an opportunity to knock out another park.
Beastbuzz was definitely something I wanted to do, but I would've needed an extra day off, and besides, Dollywood and Silver Dollar City are much more challenging for me to get to (simply put, my airline doesn't fly anywhere close to either of those places, so I have to rely on other carriers and I just like to allot myself some added contingency when doing so), so given the opportunity, I picked Dollywood.
I arrived Thursday evening in Knoxville and drove out to my hotel in Gatlinburg. I stayed at the Park Vista, a Doubletree hotel perched on the top of a mountain alongside the town. I know this is an amusement park trip report, but if you'll permit the side note, it was an outstanding hotel and I would recommend it to everyone. Great room, stellar view, and the breakfast buffet was excellent. I did find it interesting that one of the first things the customer service representative told me upon check-in was to get any food out of my car as there were lots of black bears in the area who would try and break in to get it, but hey, that's just part of the adventure, right?
On Friday morning, I awoke to some seriously nasty weather. It was gray as gray can be, and the forecast was looking rough. I wasn't sure how things would work out with lots of rain showing for the morning, but seeing a break in the precipitation expected for the early afternoon, I drove through what turned into a torrential downpour to get to the park.
The rain calmed a little bit when I arrived, so I decided to try and get as much as I could in in case the weather turned nasty later (it was forecasting thunderstorms in the afternoon). I went straight for Thunderhead, which was a mistake for a couple of reasons: 1) it was far and away the best ride in the park and I prefer to save the best for later, if not last, and 2) the torrential downpour returned with a vengeance, and had I gone in reverse of what became my eventual order, I would've spent that downpour inside on Blazing Fury.
Anyway, having read some of the reviews stating that Thunderhead had turned into a shadow of its former self due to wear and tear, I picked the front row. Honestly, I was hosed either way, because what I escaped in jackhammering I paid for in getting assaulted by rain.
Holy smokes (eh...no pun intended, though I applaud those who got it if I had intended it), ladies and gentlemen, what an exceptional coaster. Even with the liquid buckshot that pelted me throughout, Thunderhead was one of the absolute best wooden coasters I'd ever experienced. More air than I am accustomed to on a GCII and some awesome turning maneuvers planted this ride high up on my rankings...if I actually had any...and left me with a smile on my face that really never left during my visit.
Mystery Mine was next up for me. It was very well-done for what it was, but I'm still not a huge Eurofighter fan. The theme work was very impressive, but it was a one-and-done for me.
Following the standard progression around, I decided to jump on Firechaser Express for my third ride. By now, the sun had actually started breaking through the clouds, and aside from a shower later in the day, the weather turned out quite lovely.
Firechaser Express was easily the surprise of the day. What a fun ride! I wasn't paying any attention at the start, so the launch caught me by total surprise. It's interesting how they designed the ride to be a quasi-shuttle coaster. The layout was nice and thrilling despite this being a family ride, with some great maneuvers. The height of it was surprising as well. This would become the bronze medalist of the coaster collection at Dollywood for me.
The ride I came for was next, and it would also become my 250th steel coaster: Wild Eagle. I grabbed the front row on the right side of the train for my first lap. They placed the ride brilliantly on top of that mountain in the middle of the park, so despite having ridden many taller rides, this one, so exposed on top of a mountain high in the Smokies, made it feel like I was WAY up in the sky. The lift wasn't too terrible, but those inversions with their hangtime were rather unnerving. Butter-smooth as a proper B&M should, and with some nice maneuvers, I very much enjoyed the ride, but I'd call it the Great Bear of the wingrider world. Still, it was very fun, and it took the silver medal for the day.
Tennessee Tornado was the last of the major coasters I needed, so that came next. I rode a few cars back.
Folks, I agree that Arrow seemed to learn a few lessons that made themselves known in the design, but still, this was not a super-enjoyable ride. The banking in the first loop made absolutely no sense, but thankfully inversions two and three were better (I give Arrow credit on making a smooth Immelman, though). It wasn't terrible, but it just ended so quickly, and, well...not horrible, but not that great.
Last up for my coaster credits was Blazing Fury. It reminded me of Kennywood's Gold Rusher, and that's not a good thing. Nothing more to say about this one than I got the credit and that's that.
I had some lunch during a brief return of the rain, then went back for encore laps on the good rides. I went to Wild Eagle first and grabbed four more laps in rapid succession, including another front row lap. It was great fun and a walk-on every time.
Having enjoyed Firechaser Express so much, I snagged another lap on that, too, and I'm glad I did.
Lastly, I went to Thunderhead to close out the day. I took a battersome ride in the middle for the first encore lap, but saw the error of my ways and went back to the front for the third lap of the day on it, and with the rain gone...wow. That was the stuff of legends.
The park itself was absolutely beautiful and the theme work was very impressive throughout. It felt like an entire park's worth of Frontierland, but that wasn't a bad thing. The employees (well, shoot, everyone in that part of Tennessee) were extremely friendly, the service everywhere was great, and as I took off into the evening sun out of Knoxville, I reflected on how absolutely wonderful the trip had been. I know people love their Cedar Points and all those major parks, but seriously, if you have the chance, go out to these smaller, lesser-known towns in the quieter parts of America. They're often the nicest places you'll go.
I don't know if I'd call Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area lesser known, millions of people visit every year, but I get what you're saying.
Dollywood is a lovely place, and true, the people there couldn't be nicer. You get the feeling that the people there aren't just working a job, but that they truly love what they do. Southern pride, hospitality, and a homespun atmosphere make it what it is. And Dolly herself couldn't be a nicer person, a better performer, or a greater figurehead for Herschend's park.
As for the rides, they've done a great job balancing thrills and family attractions. Even though Thunderhead is highly rated by most, I know a few that complain that it's a little too GCI-ish for their taste. The last time I was there, two seasons ago, I as impressed by how fast it was and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I took most of my rides in the back and didn't find it rough.
I'm sorry you didn't like Blazing Fury. I ride it every time and love the fact that it was the park's original thrill ride, back when it was Silver Dollar City. It's so unique and quirky- I hope it never goes away.
Tennessee Tornado is my favorite Arrow looper, hands down. Mystery Mine is great fun, especially when it blocks correctly. And maybe it's my general dislike of B&M wing riders, but I thought Wild Eagle was just meh. I call it "Coaster on Bald Mountain"- to me it's a parking lot ride set on top of a hill with a really long brake run and even longer lift. They might've done something better with the setting as far as layout goes, IMO.
Anyway, great report, I'm glad you had fun and sorry about the rain. Now. When you finally get to Branson's SDC, you're REALLY gonna love it. It was the park that started it all- the atmosphere/themeing is perfect, the scenery is even more beautiful, and the rides are top-notch. Wildfire is probably my favorite B&M 4 across looper, and I can't say enough about Outlaw Run. Or the food. Or the staff. Awesome in every way.
If your airlines can get you to St. Louis, it's about a 3-3 1/2 hr drive in the rental car. Springfield is only about an hour away from the park. Southwest flies into Branson, but you still need a car, and for me it's expensive and there's a change in Chicago. I do the St Louis thing, but I usually stay at SDC for a few days.
Thanks again for a fun report.
We get agreements on other airlines, so I was probably gonna take American or Delta to Springfield. I don't want to have that long of a drive from St. Louis.
As for lesser-known, yeah, I should've been more specific. I basically meant that it isn't a LA, NYC, Miami, etc.
From conversations I overheard yesterday, it sounded like Blazing Fury is pretty nostalgic with some folks, but not having been to the park in my younger days, it's just lost on me.
Regarding your Wild Eagle assessment, I do agree that they could've done more, but I add the caveat that my idea of "more" would add about $8,000,000 to the price tag, lol. How it and Gatekeeper kept trading spots on the top 100 baffles me. Like I said, it was fun, but it was super-brief.
I'm glad you enjoyed the TR, though. I kind of got away from writing them, but I felt Dollywood deserved the effort.
This is one of those parks that bounces around in my head as a "must do", and then it gets pushed aside with Kings Island, Cedar Point, and Busch Gardens. Then I think I want to go to a quiet, friendly, smaller park and DW jumps to the front of the list again. Especially because over the years I've read and seen interviews with Dolly Parton, and I think she's one of the coolest ladies ever. I don't know what's stopping me from heading down (it's not THAT far away), but I just keep postponing that particular trip. I'm beginning to think I've made a mistake in doing so.
Great trip report, and I'm glad to see you've knocked out most of the B&Ms. That's interesting to me that you group your goals by manufacturer! Not a bad idea at all. Now my question is this: How many B&Ms ARE there in the continental US? I know I could look it up, but I'm having trouble getting RCDB to work on my phone, so there you go.
"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band
I don't typically make goals based on manufacturers. 2012's goal was to hit 100 different coasters in a calendar year (I hit 106). 2013's goal was to ride my 300th coaster (Ride of Steel at Darien Lake took the honor). I was scratching my head for what to do this year because I knew I wouldn't make it to 400 and I didn't want to repeat 2012's goal. Getting the last 5 B&Ms seemed easy, though I'd be happy to make it within two. I may attempt a Silver Dollar City/Six Flags Great America sequence in early September to leave Banshee as the lone hold-out, but we'll see how things go. With Holiday World on the list for next year, I may do a Beech Bend/KI/Holiday World trifecta which should help wrap things up (I'm not worried about getting to Carowinds, as that park is guaranteed an annual visit from me).
Now, if I pull that off, all I need to get is Gold Striker and that will close the book on US GCIIs as well (well, does Starliner count, or is that just a refurbishment/relocation?), so that would be cool.
La Ronde is also on the wish list as that would wrap up North America in its entirety for B&Ms.
To answer your last question, though, I don't remember offhand, but I think it's a hair over 50 in the US.
I was there for ACE's 2012 convention and was amazed by the park. The hospitality in general was above and beyond many parks.
The Park Vista was the con host hotel. Sirloindude is right, it's an outstanding hotel. Though the driveway up to the hotel was a little intimidating....
Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
Calling Wild Eagle the "Great Bear of the wingrider world" is a perfect description. Well done.
While I haven't ridden Firechaser Express, the POV video is impressive. Looks like a superb family ride with just enough thrills for everyone. And the firefighter theme is perfect for kids.
Most parks offer tiny kiddie coasters and huge mega thrillers but it seems you rarely see new "in-betweeners" like this installed. Does anyone know how much they spent on this?
FireChaser Express has perhaps the broadest appeal of just about any coaster I can recall. We've been on trains full of adults having just as much fun as the smallest kids, a whole lot of cheering and smiles. It seems to be a hit with all ages with the right amount of thrills to be exciting without being too wild or intimidating. I hope more parks follow the lead of having a true family attraction like this.
"Thank the Phoneticians!"
FireChaser Express has perhaps the broadest appeal of just about any coaster I can recall.
Which is what I wish Holiday World had planned, rather than Thunderbird. Don't get me wrong, I think Thunderbird will be a fine purchase for the park, but they still have a gaping hole in their lineup for a child too big for Holidog's Howler, and too young to ride the Raven. I am continually surprised by their reluctance to add a larger junior coaster.
For those of you without kids, I can tell you there is a good 2-3 seasons where a child is too big for Howler but too small (or wimpy, whatever) to try Raven. That is a big gap from 13 feet to 80 feet in terms of what a small child will ride. I've always thought that a mouse (Spinning or otherwise), a Roller-Skater, Mine Train, even a Zierer Tivoli coaster would be a good fit for the crowd that Holiday World attracts. And now with the Gerstlauer product being such a home run, I'm still hoping.
FireChaser Express is great. Full trip report will be coming soon, but as a spoiler, I think it is, without question, the second best coaster in Dollywood :)
...and for the record, the third is Tennessee Tornado.
Worms, worms, worms...
If you're gonna open that can of worms, at least bestow upon us what the first place winner is. ;)
I doubt that Blazing Fury is the winner, so I'm gonna guess Thunderhead is Mr. Bannister's choice for first.
That's my suspicion, but I wanted to ask in case it was a surprise vote for the Veggie Tales ride. ;)
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