Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA
Ah, Dollywood. One of my favorite parks. Not too far away. Very well themed. Great food, great people, great rides. Dollywood is one of the few parks that really gets it and has it all. At this point, any time they announce a new ride or attraction, there's never any feeling of “If only they'd add...”, but a feeling of “Of course, that's what they would add”. And I love it. Sadly I hadn't been there in about 4 years just due to circumstances. I'd wanted to get there early this year for their new roller coaster, but unfortunately, the ride had...issues.
Dollywood is a great park regardless of whether their star attraction is open, but I really, really wanted to ride Lightning Rod. The ride did get some what more reliable towards the end of the season, and since there was an ACE event, even if it weren't open, if I were to go to said event, at least there would be ERT and friends to make up for it. So I signed Isaac and myself up for it, and on Friday I left work early to meet up with Isaac and park my car along the way.
After passing thru all of the smoke from the wild fires, which we were heading towards before passing, we arrived at Gatlinburg around 8pm. We'd decided to find some food before checking in, so we rode by the resort I'd booked, then back in to Gatlinburg, parked, and found out our first choice for food was closed already (Gatlinburg is not a party town, and stuff closes way too early, in my opinion). So we headed to No Way Jose', a Mexican restaurant which had good food, but gave me bad indigestion all night long. Then we headed to the resort, only to find out they had three restaurants there we could have chosen from. Oh well...
We stayed at the Westgate Resort Gatlinburg, which was quite nice, though I will say our condo was smaller than I expected (bathroom not withstanding), and the light outside kept Isaac up while my indigestion kept me up. Before we headed to bed, though, we headed to a Walgreens and drove down in to Pigeon Forge a bit to look around before going back and quickly falling asleep.
Of course, 8:00am came early, but we pushed thru, got ready, checked out, and headed to the park, which wasn't far away. After parking and walking to the gate, we got our stuff and I hung out talking to old friends while Isaac went back to get his coat as it was much cooler than we expected. He came back and we headed to the front gate, when Isaac realized he'd put on his wrist band and lanyard, but didn't have his admission ticket, as he'd left it back at the car. So Isaac went back to get that and I went in to the park to save us some breakfast.
I'd never been inside Dollywood when it was closed before. It is such a beautiful park and I feel very at home there, in the mountains, surrounded by older people. I walked to Red's Diner which was where breakfast was being served. I got us some waters, Isaac a pumpkin muffin (I had a bite, it was good, he couldn't eat it due to dairy), and I had a really great cream cheese danish. ERT had already started for Blazin' Fury, which is an odd, quirky ride that I enjoy every time.
Blazin' Fury-So this was different. They gave us ERT with the lights on. Some of the animatronics were working, some weren't. Some sound was working, some wasn't. But it was very interesting seeing the dark ride coaster hybrid in full lighted glory. It definitely looses something in the light, and the drops don't 'work' as well (which is fine as I'm very familiar with the ride by this point), but I did enjoy my lights on ERT.
Upon exiting we ran in to the Carowinds Connection crew, which I saw getting off the ride when we were getting on, so we latched on to that group and hung out most of the day with them. The morning was moving on, and a Dollywood rep said that we couldn't wander thru the park since it wasn't open yet, which none of us planned to do, but because of the text messaging system Josh Herrington, the regional ACE rep set up, we were informed that the line for Lightning Rod's opening was starting to grow so we headed back down towards the breakfast spot, which was conveniently by the entrance to Lightning Rod. I think we got there around 10 a.m., and with the park opening at 11 a.m., the line of ACErs and then the general public started to swell. We weren't very close to the entrance, but when the ride did finally open, we weren't terribly far back. And the ride did open. Which was a win. I didn't get my hopes up, even though it had been testing just fine, and I expected a long wait, but the wait ended up being maybe 20 minutes, with two trains slowly being dispatched ever so often. Here we go, RMC number 6, and a very much hyped one at that.
Lightning Rod-The station is great. The loading is slow. The dispatches are slower. But eventually we made it on close to the front of the train. Once you eventually roll out of the station, you head up towards the lift which, once you hit it, thrusts you very, very quickly up the lift hill, slowing down just before the crest of the lift hill. Boy, what a launch! You get airtime going over the first hill and dip, then more airtime as you drop 165' down over the other side of the mountain and up into a fan turn with my new favorite thing-Sideways Airtime. Then you head down, twist, turn, eject, pop up, and then before you know it, you're going down the quad down, which is amazing, then another pop of violent ejector air before the turn around (more sideways airtime!), then you hit the brakes. The ride is amazing. Fantastic. Thrust in to my top five, and my 332 coaster credit.
So I was already happy and fine with the day. I wasn't expecting more than one ride, and hoping to get that. Since we had now done that, and the park was now fully open, we decided to head around and make a loop, so we went back towards the front gate and up to the formerly known Thunderhead Gap, now Timber Canyon section of the park. Dollywood always seems to be gloomy when I head there late in the year, and the morning was no exception. But the rides were up and running as the temps were around 45, so we headed to the park's other wooden coaster. It has been getting a lot of flack for running poorly over the summer on line, and it has been 4 years since my last visit, so I was hoping it still felt more like I remembered it.
Thunderhead-I dunno what coaster the complainers have been riding, but this coaster ran just like it always has. There was little to no wait, even with a fairly full park (a perk of Dollywood in the winter), so we got on and near the front. The first drop lets loose and this really is one of the wildest rides in the woods. There was air on every hop and up in to every turn just like I remember. Thunderhead was running great, and I still love it.
We headed back around as a group for another ride and while part of our group got on a train, the other was in the station as they announced the ride was going down to add the other train and that it would be about 20 or 30 minutes before anyone could ride. We asked if they wanted to leave the line to get food or wait, and they decided to wait, so Isaac, Jonathan, Luciano, and I went over to get some food. I had 2 gigantic slices of pizza, Isaac had chicken, and we sat and waited a bit for the others to finally get their ride. About 20 minutes later they were done and we were meeting back up. Jay and his girlfriend headed off in to the park themselves as this was her first time. Alan, Jonathan and the others had plans on where they wanted to eat, but since Isaac and I had just eaten, we decided to ride a bit and then meet up with them later.
We walked by Lumberjack Lifts, and I talked Isaac in to doing that real quick. This is one of those smaller turning towers where two people sit in a seat and you 'pull' yourself up to the top, then let go and 'drop'. There will be a real drop tower in the area soon (with another coaster), but for now, this is it, and this is fun. Then we walked over and got in line for Mystery Mine, another short wait.
Mystery Mine-First off, it wasn't nearly as rough as the last time I rode. The drop out of the station into the first themed section was fun, and Dollywood has kept the ride looking like it did from the get-go. You twist and turn and bank, then arrive at the bottom of the first vertical lift hill. Once you go over the trestle, you drop again, and I'd forgotten that it was a vertical drop upn to the hillside, so I was caught off guard in the second row, and that was good. I enjoyed it. I was happy to see that for the second lift, the video screen at the top was working again, as it was not the last time I rode it, and the effects before the final drop were all working as well. Mystery Mine would be better with out the oer the shoulder restraints, but instead of aging poorly, I actually think it ran better than it has in the past.
We were heading around the back of the park. I remember when this wasn't there and the park ended at Thunderhead. Then at Mystery Mine. But of course now it goes all the way around to Tornado, so we made our way around. I still have yet to ride the splash battle because I never go when its warm enough, but one day I'll get my splash on. Another new credit at the park was the shiny new contraption taking the place of the former ropes course area, and the wonderful TV screens with wait times on it showed that the ride was open and running again.
Firechaser Express-So this launched family coaster has looked very fun and interesting to me ever since it was announced. It was not only perfect for Dollywood as a terrain coaster, launch, themed ride, and perfect use of the left overs of the ropes course, but it just looked so darn fun. So this was my first time riding and we ended up getting a front seat ride after about a 20 or so minute wait. The launch out of the station is really more powerful than I thought. You head into twisting turns and dives and very quickly end up at the tire propelled lift hill. After that, theres more twisting and diving around the mountain side before you end up at the 'fireworks depot' of sorts where the 'explosion' happens. It was well done, all of the effects seemed to be working, and then you launch out backwards for more twisting. There was one backwards moment of powerful airtime that I enjoyed a lot. Then you roll back in to the station. Another winner, and a fun new credit.
I needed a bathroom break so we headed around after taking some pictures of the gigantic Eagle statue in the Wild Eagle plaza. There is a large concentration of steel in the back of the park, and that's just fine. Since we had to walk a bit for the bathroom, we found ourselves right by Blazin' Fury, so we went in for another ride, this time in seat 1-3 (there is more airtime on the drops) and this time with the lights off as it should normally be. I could come to Dollywood simply for Tennessee Tornado, a ride that I've contended for years has only one flaw, and that is that it is too short. But thankfully the line was shorter, so we went up for a front seat ride.
Tennessee Tornado-At this point in the year they only ever have one train running and thats okay. We waited for the front and once one, rounded thru the maintenance shed before heading up the mountain. Another coaster that thoughtfully uses the terrain, I love the steep drop/turn/drop after the lift hill. The tunnel is a great way to add an element to the drop as well. Then you hit that sweet, sweet loop-screw. I wish more coasters in general had this element. After a nicely engineered overbanked turn (sad that Arrow learned great design right at the end...) you hit two more rapid fire inversions that are taken at a speed where there aren't overly forceful positive Gs. Then there comes another overbank turn, a hop onto the brakes, and you're done. This would rank so much higher if it were longer. It stands as my 3 favorite Arrow (behind Magnum and X2).
We walked back up to the back side of the park for the large, looming, beautiful B&M coaster perched atop the ridge line of the mountain. I love the plaza, and I really like the station, very modern and classic all at the same time.
Wild Eagle-We rode in the front seat on the right side. It was nearly a walk on and it was in the early afternoon, so I knew at this point our choice to not get the Quick Queue like we'd planned was a good one. I mean, it's cheap, but honestly it wouldn't have even saved us any time I think. Anywho, Wild Eagle is a great use of the Wing Coaster concept with great trains. The first drop is a lot of fun, and the big swooping loop is as well. The zero G roll is better on the left side as you swoop over it, but both sides are fun. Two more swooping inversions so high up on the mountain, some twists and turns, then you hit the brake run. Another quality coaster at one of the best parks in the U.S.
I thought Isaac, being the birder that he is, would enjoy the Bald Eagle sanctuary at Dollywood. They have several there, and ever since I saw them in the wild as a child while canoeing down a Potomac River Tributary in WV, I've always enjoyed seeing them up close. I think its a great program to keep these beautiful birds safe since they can't be released in the wild, and I got a great pic of two of them looking right at me. We continued down the mountain in Craftsman's Valley and walked over to Dollywood's best flat ride, Barnstormer. I wish more parks had these. And I must say, I love that Dollywood puts play areas for small children in every area where there are thrill rides that they can't ride. Herschend really does get the family theme park concept.
I wanted to take Isaac to see the show in the Heartsong theater, but it wasn't up and running. Neither was the train. Boo! So we headed to the county fair section and rode the Ferris Wheel. The day was getting longer and on little sleep, I was nodding off on the Ferris Wheel, a Big Eli model. This could have been precarious, so I was trying not to fall asleep and lurch forward. We walked back to the Grist Mill so I could get my cinnamon bread on, and get it on I did with a side of frosting and a coffee to wake me up. Then we went over to the Chasing Rainbows museum.
I have to say, I really do respect Dolly Parton for who she is and what she stands for. You never hear negative things about her, she uses self deprecating humor to add to her amazing ability to tell a story thru song, she is an amazing musician and artist, a talented instrumentalist, and she wrote one of the best songs ever (I will Always Love you), and sang on one of the best duets ever (Islands in the Stream). She's just a class act, who recently celebrated 50 (!) years in the industry, and still going strong. In fact, she was in Charlotte performing (with a head cold) the same nite I was at Dollywood. I would like to have seen her live, but, Lightning Rod...
Speaking of Lightning Rod, Josh had set up a tour for event attendees around 4:45, and since we were already there, after a quick tour of Dolly's old tour bus, we headed to the front of the museum to get our back stage on. We got up close and personal with the back half of Lightning Rod, so I was able to get some pix, as well as some pix of some older signs in the backstage area.
As we headed back in to the park the sun was hanging low. We got in line for Lightning Rod again for an intended last daytime ride, but buy the time we got on, it was our first night ride, and Isaac and I lucked out and got assigned the front seat. Now that the ride had warmed up, it was even more amazing, and in the dark after that first drop, you can't see much, so you're thrown up and flung around in your seat. The ride is just great. At this time we'd met back up with the Carowinds Crew, but some of them wanted cinnamon bread, and I'd already had mine, and there was a long line. So Jonathan, Isaac, and I went up to get some quality time on Tornado (Jonathan, like me, is a fan).
Our ride ops were really great, and we ended up getting two or three night rides on the ride, with two, I believe, in the back. Then we walked over and got back in line for Wild Eagle, this time sitting near the back on the right side. This was my first night ride on it, and it was again really amazing. Jonathan was meeting up with the guys at Thunderhead and we were going to get a ride on Firechaser, but after getting in line, it went down. No night rides, but there's always next time. So we chatted about whether we wanted to ride Mystery Mine and passed before meeting up with everyone at Thunderhead, which was really running even better at night. After a few rides on that, we headed back down towards where the cookies and hot chocolate reception area was in front of Chasing Rainbows. I had no interest in the parade, but I did get some water and some hot chocolate. We felt kind of trapped once the parade started, but I made a way across so that we didn't have to watch the parade, and had noticed that Lightning Rod had no wait as we walked over towards the parade route.
Lightning Rod had a much shorter wait at this point, so we basically stayed there and rode a few times, with the rest of the nerds making their way over. I think we rode 6-7 times at nite before heading up to finish ERT on Lightning Rod, which we closed the night out with.
Dollywood has an amazing one-two punch with their wooden coasters. Thunderhead is still amazing, Lightning Rod is above amazing, and then steel coasters there are great. The food is great. The park is great. I promise I will not wait four years to return again.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
And now the promised photos
The station for Lightning Rod
The Olde Mill
Copious Amounts of airtime.
That amazing Quad Down Airtime.
Thunderhead, with Double G goodness.
This Thing, though...
I need this for my yard. Jonathan said I underestimate the size. He hasn't seen my front yard.
Surprisingly good shot from my iPhone.
Such a fun, funky ride.
A great family ride and I'm glad I finally got to ride it.
Watchu Lookin' at, Willis?
On the Ferris Wheel.
Old abandoned ride.
The first double drop is so great after the amazing launch.
All lit up at nite.
So much attention to detail.
I love the new up lighting on the loops for Tornado and Wild Eagle.
Lighted up pano.
One final shot of Wild Eagle flying at nite.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
What, no fried chicken?
Nice report. May I piggyback my own onto yours?
Last week I decided, rather last minute, to hit Dollywood one last time this season. Many of you have listened to me lament over the fact that previous visits produced no Lightning Rod credit for me, and I'll admit I was a little more than nervous over the possibility of getting turned away again. But reports were that the ride was running reliably now and the website and a call to the park assured me it would all be fine. Oh please, oh please, oh pleeease!
I drove down to the Smokies on Wednesday, and the plan was to visit the park that evening and again on Thursday. With winter park hours at 2-9, I'd have time for shopping and sightseeing between visits.
The drive down was beautiful, but due to the drought conditions in the south the late fall foliage was mostly golden brown. I stopped at my usual hotel to check for availability and I got a nice balcony room. I like to stay near the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge line as it's quick access to DW over the back roads.
I pulled into the parking lot around dusk and saw it was about half full. Which is kind of busy for a weekday, but I held on to the hope that most of the holiday attendees would not be queuing up for rides. I was right.
The front of the park, Showstreet, was jammed with people, but most of them were waiting for the big theatre to open or to crowd into the bakery. I made my way to Dreamstreet and walked up to Lightning Rod's station. I couldn't believe my eyes- the coaster was running and there was no line whatsoever. In fact it looked like there were some empty seats on the trains going out. Oh thank God- finally it looked like this was going to happen for me.
I climbed the two (three?) flights of stairs and found a near empty platform. A train was heading into the station so I picked the front seat of the last car for my first ride.
First, my disappointment. I echo Tek's sentiments about the load/dispatch time- it was just atrocious. 5 to 7 minutes was the norm and some were longer. And there were a couple of things to blame. First, the trains themselves are those typical from RMC with the tight restraints and short seat belts. So, in spite of warnings at the entrance, guests of size were struggling to make themselves fit. Compounding this is a super polite crew who feel the need to tiptoe around the issue and let that rider try as long as he likes before they'd ever call him too big to ride. They are also "not allowed" to assist the guest in any way. When I seated myself I got my belt done then pulled down the bar. I'm not huge, but I'm around 235-40 and sure enough when they came to check my light I got the old "we need you to push down a little more, sir." Well, I tried. And tried. I couldn't get enough leverage from my seat to make the final push and I begged the guy to push it down for me. He wouldn't, said it was "one of them safety things" and could only encourage me with his words. Ugh. I don't know what I finally did but I eventually got the all clear. And I would have felt bad about causing a huge delay, but the guy in the seat in front of me was still trying. The crew wouldn't call it, either, and were polite enough to explain that this sometimes happens "with some of our taller guests". I almost laughed when he and his girlfriend looked at each other, knowing that he hadn't suddenly grown 7 inches but was just too fat. He eventually gave up and climbed out of there leaving her to ride by herself. We were finally ready to go.
I've been on 400+ coasters in my lifetime and I'm here to say that Lightning Rod is by far and away the single most thrilling ride I've ever taken. Ever. Lord knows I've studied the ride enough from home so there should have been few surprises, but holy crap! First, the launch was fast and scary. The speed does nothing but increase until the train hits the end of the launch and it's almost panic inducing. Then comes the big air on the first drop then the huuuge 20 story fall over the other side of the mountain. It was steep, fast, and so dark.
Other highlights were the wave turns. Whoever thought of that counter-intuitive element must have some twisted mind- and I'd like to thank him. The one that comes after the first drop is high in the air over the valley. No matter, the sideways airtime at the top of that hill was tremendous. Further twisted drops and transitions were so disorienting, and I was so lost back there, that everything I thought I knew about the ride went out the window. I found the quad drop back down the mountain to be unsurpassed in rollicking thrills and airtime- it just blew me away. Even the last drop onto the brake had more speed and energy than I ever expected. I was gasping for breath when we slammed to a stop at the end.
I rode Lightning Rod 6 more times that evening and could've done twenty. I got smart and put my belt buckle to the side of my pants and pulled my sweatshirt tail over the top of the bar and had no more personal delays on the platform. The bad news is I seem to be having a little sciatic nerve pain in my left leg these days and after 7 rides, even paced apart, I could do no more. That and a five hour drive down that day did me no favors. (Try not to get old, guys...)
The next day was gorgeous and I made my way into Pigeon Forge then Gatlinburg to do some shopping. On the way out of Gatlinburg I stopped at my third mountain coaster. It wasn't nearly as long as the other two in PF, but it was fast and had no trim brakes, so in a way it was better. And I chatted up the cute guy on the platform and he let me go again for free. (Ok, maybe he was just trying to get rid of me but whatever- it worked.)
I got to Dollywood in time for the two o'clock opening and headed back to Lightning Rod, mainly because I was really anxious for a daytime ride. No, it wasn't Opposite Day, but after so many super-moon rides the night before I wanted to look around back there a little. Sadly, operations were just as slow and that day they ran two trains which I understand up til then had been a rarity. And it didn't help capacity much as each train sat on the brake outside the station for a looong time before it finally had room to come in.
I only rode LR twice that day, but managed to snag a front seat ride. For the record I preferred the back, but all seats on the train are full of airtime.
By the time I ate chicken n fixins, shopped, and made the loop to revisit some of my favorite rides I was ready to pack it in. That sciatica was finally trying to kill me, so I claimed a spot for the new Parade of Many Colors. (Which by the way was cute and very well done. Much better than that sad parade they used to feature.) The train was down due to the potential fire hazard.
So I felt like the wait was worth it- I discovered a ride that should sit at the top of my list for a long time to come. I recommend it to any and all enthusiasts everywhere.
Gosh, this got long. Sorry, Tek, for highjacking your report, but I couldn't get around to writing this week like I wanted to. Reading your TR gave me the inspiration to chime in.
See y'all! A safe and happy thanksgiving to all of my friends at CoasterBuzz!
^Good to read that you made it back and got 2 laps RCMAC. It's an amazing ride that I wish was closer to home.
Good trip report Tek! We loved our first visit back at the beginning of October.
I agree Tek. The Tennessee Tornado is just a glimpse of what Arrow could've been. Think about if they had made a lap bar, or soft vest like vekoma on their rolling stock. It could renew to interest. I loved the drop down into tunnel, and the huge loop is awesome. It's an instant classic, and as smooth as an Arrow gets.
We are finally making a trip this year or next year(we haven't decided if we want to go there or Orlando for the opening of Universal's new waterpark. We've always stayed at Disney, and are going to make a reservation to stay at a Universal resort. We'll go to all the parks except Disney. We were there last year.
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