Dollywood Opening Day March 23, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012 9:31 PM

Dollywood March 23, 2012

It has been about 3.5 years since my last trip to my favorite theme park in the Smokeys. In that time, the park has changed quite a lot, with Adventure Mountain, Dueling Daredevils, and of course, this year's new attraction, Wild Eagle, America's first wing coaster. The offer of a new major credit at my favorite little park was too good to pass up, so I planned a trip for opening day 2012.

I woke up around 5:30am on Saturday, got ready, and headed north-west to Pigeon Forge. I'd never been this way before since this was the first trip to Dollywood since I'd moved to NC. It was actually quicker than going from WV, since you don't have to go thru Sevierville & Pigeon Forge. If you could go thru the national forests at a speed faster than the 35 MPH posted limit, I could get there in about 3.5 hours.

I mistakenly thought the park opened at 10am when in fact it opened at 9am, but that's okay. I had all day. And I had resolved to get a Q-Bot before I even went to help with lines. So, around 10:20am that morning, I was pulling into the parking lot. You can clearly see the top of the lift & loop on the new coaster from the parking lot. Looks impressive up on the mountain! The line to get a season pass processed was well over an hour, but I have no immediate plans to hit the park back up this year unless I go in December, so I passed. Then I got in behind the slowest family on this earth trying to get a one day pass. I'm so impatient, I was really looking forward to the Q-Bot.

Eventually I made it it and headed to the Q2Q shop first. They actually sell Q-Bot stuffed toys AND shirts. After paying my $15, I immediately reserved Wild Eagle, with about a 15 minute posted wait for Q2Q. I walked up the mountain, took some pictures, walked by Dueling Daredevils, and then made it to the new plaza in front of Wild Eagle. First things first, the Wild Eagle statue is IMPRESSIVE! I want one of those for my front yard! The area looks nice, and this was the first time I'd been here since they added Adventure Mountain. It now looks like a complete part of the park, and not as out of place as it did when they first added the walkway from Mystery Mine to Tennessee Tornado.

So, once I figured out where the Q2Q line was, I went up and realized I still had 3 minutes to wait, which was fine. When I could check in, I went in and was assigned to the left hand side. The ride ops haven't got this one down yet, and dispatch was slow, with a decently long line. The station is very nice, and the whole queue is shaded, which is nice. It's those kinds of touches at Dollywood that I love, with all of the major coasters having covered or heavily shaded queues. My wait was about 25 minutes for the front, and I immediately reserved a ride on Mystery Mine once I got in line, so that was my next stop. It had apparently not operated at opening, but had since been added to the Q-Bot. But first things first, it was Wild Eagle Time.

Wild Eagle-My first ride was in the front/outer/left hand seat. The restraints are comfy, and much like a flying coaster. The ride rounds the turn out of the station and goes up the steep lift hill up the mountain. And it goes very fast. The first drop, while not really that large, was really great, and gave great airtime in the front. The smooth first loop was a lot of fun and fast, but then the best part of the ride came, the zero G roll. In my seat, you really get a lot of hang-time, weightlessness, and a total feeling of disorientation. I loved it! After that you head up into the Immelman inversion, which again is smooth and fun. There are loads of foot choppers from here on out as you hit a massive corkscrew. There is a trim between the Immelman and corkscrew, but I didn't feel it pull. After the 4 inversions hit, you have a nice airtime hill, and lots of twists and turns with more foot choppers before hitting the final brake run.

So what did I think of Wild Eagle? I was far more impressed than I thought I would be, and now I'm looking forward to riding X Flight, because I think it looks even better. Wild Eagle isn't anything revolutionary. It's wing seats are just another variation of any other 'sitdown' looping coaster. It's between a floorless and an inverted coaster. It does things that inverted coasters don't do easily (Like the great straight first drop), but has the views of a floorless and inverted combined. I think that if this ride had floorless seats, it'd be just slightly less fun, but still much of the same. It's a great addition to Dollywood, and I could ride it quite a bit. It won't make it into my top 20, but it's in no way a bad ride, nor was I in any way let down.

So my next stop was around to Mystery Mine, which had a long enough wait to it. I went up the Q2Q entrance and finally got my wish of a front seat ride. The ride ops were arguing with some annoying kids that were trying to make them let them all on a train together, even though there were a ton of them and they were partially made of 'single riders' and ADA riders. They were getting on the operator's nerves, so he came over and scanned my Q-Bot after telling them they'd be riding in different trains. He then sent me to the front. This would be my first ride after having Lazik surgery, so I was actually able to enjoy the theming.

Mystery Mine-The ride is still immensely popular at Dollywood. The theming is really great, but I didn't hear the song playing in the queue. Also, the video screen during the final vertical ascent and some fibre optic effects during the 'explosion' weren't working, the screen having been replaced with a lit static picture. Anywho, on to the ride; The drop into the themed section and the twists and turns were very janky. Even worse than my first trip when Mystery Mine was newer. The first vertical drop was fun, but the section outside after that was painful. Then it's twisty/turny back into the other vertical chain lift. The explosion and drop were fun, but after that, it's rough again into the inversions, which give major hang time, but hurt with those over the shoulder restraints. Boo.

So having had my one (and only) ride on Mystery Mine (Since it closed shortly after for the rest of the day), I went to my baby. I love Thunderhead. I had reserved it while in line for Mystery Mine. I was excited to get back to one of my favorite coasters in the world. I did take some photos of the section where Timbur Terror was, which now has a lot of picnic tables on it's 'pier'. I waited for a third row ride on Thunderhead.

Thunderhead-Wow. I don't know if I just missed it really bad or if it was just running insane, but this ride was running as good as it does at nite. I loved it. There was airtime on every hill, the first drop was great as always, and the twisty-GCI layout always impresses. But it had more air than I remember. Just a tad less violent than American Thunder (the coaster formerly known as Evel Kenivel). I love Thunderhead. It really is one of the best, and deserves it's high praise. I'd go to the park just for Thunderhead alone.

I was hungry by this point so I went and got a huge slice of pizza, cookies, and Sprite. After filling up, I walked down the mountain, around, and then back up the other side to go to Dueling Daredevils. As nice as that area was before, it's still very well done with the barn. Dueling Daredevils was fun, but seemed way shorter for a Screaming Swing. Next up was a quick spin on Blazin' Fury. The final splashdown is no more, but the ride, while quirky, is still a neat addition. Dunno if they'll ever re-do this as has been discussed in the past, but for what it is, Blazin' Fury is fun.

After that I headed back to Tennesse Tornado, or as I like to call it, Arrow's Last Stand. I was going to ride in the front, but ended up in the 3rd seat back. It's still smooth, with a great first inversion that provides major hangtime. The worst part about the whole ride is that it's too short. And it uses Arrow's rolling stock, but whatever. Still a great, fun ride.

I wondered around the park a bit more, thought of doing the Adventure Mountain courses, but didn't, and eventually ended up on the train. It got very cloudy on the train, and the temperature dropped significantly. When I got off I headed over to put my stuff in a locker. It was raining and everyone was getting wet. I walked up the mountain to Mountain Slidewinder, where I was willing to wait for more riders, but after standing up there for a bit, we had to evacuate the mountain due to lightening.

The clouds were breaking up and coming back all at the same time. I walked around some more and wanted to ride something, but every time the rides opened, lightening would strike and everything closed. I got another ride on Wild Eagle, this time on an inside seat near the middle. This was the last train before it closed again for weather. I will say, it's interesting sitting beside the track and seeing the workings of the train going up the lift and on the brakes. You don't see this on other coasters.

When I got off, I went over to Thunderhead to wait out the re-opening, which eventually came. This time I rode in the very back, after a quick rain storm, and the ride was hauling butt. I made my way back down and back up the other side for some Cinnamon Bread, which was outstanding, then tried to go ride water rides again. Sadly, everything kept closing for lightening so eventually I called it a day.

Dollywood is a great park with great food, rides, theming, and awesome people that work there. I do wish it never rained so that I could have gotten the other rides done, and I should have watched some shows, but I guess that gives me reason to go back. Maybe in December.

I toyed with doing more stuff in Gaitlinburg & Pigeon Forge, but didn't. I did have dinner at a buffet (Not terrible, but I wouldn't go back), and went back to my hotel to watch a movie and sleep. Sunday was decent because the weather was nice. I had breakfast buffet, toyed with going to the Ripley's Believe it or Not Odditorium, but decided to go home instead.

I'm glad Dollywood added Wild Eagle. It's exactly what they need. A fun, thrilling ride that most of the family will enjoy.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012 10:11 PM

Can you describe the loading (and relative efficiency) of Wild Eagle?

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Sunday, March 25, 2012 10:47 PM

I never went thru the regular queue, but the station is 2 stories, with the bottom being the queue. Once you get to the end of the switchbacks, there is a set of stairs (Well, 2 sets, one for the queue, the other for the Q2Q [Q-Bot] queue), with an attendant sending you either up the left or right set of steps. Once up the steps its your regular station setup, there just happens to be one on each side. You get up there and choose which row you want to go into, with the back and front seats having longer queues.

I took a pic of the lower level of the queue house, but it doesn't really show you anything.

Once the air gates open, you walk over, sit down, and pull your OTSR down and buckle it. It should be simple since your 'side' is focused on the 2 seats on your side of the train. There is no confusion at all for riders. It's not like X2 was. The OTSRs on this thing are much easier than regular B&M restrains. It should be a quick and painless loading, but the ops haven't got it down yet. There were load times that took up to 4 minutes, for no real reason. I only saw one person do the walk of shame during my 2 rides, and she simply had huge boobs and couldn't fit (No, Dolly didn't ride).

I would hope that by the time you have your event, they'll have it down, because they weren't just standing around, but some of the ride ops wanted to buckle and unbuckle your belt for you, the came and yanked and pushed all of the restrains (Which is unnecessary out of a quick tug whilst going by), but (and I know you've not been to Dollywood), one thing that can kill capacity at that park is that they're so nice that they insist on taking your loose articles and putting it in the boxes for you. If they let you do that yourself and just did a quick restraint check, the crowd was quick enough to do the rest.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012 11:05 PM

I'd say overall the loading times were pretty good yesterday, considering it was opening day. The dispatch intervals seemed pretty reasonable to me.

Although, I will say that the ops might have been a little "too" friendly. I was asked on different rides to pull my restraint a little farther down, rather than them just pushing it down for me (and I promise I wasn't being a jerk and leaving it super loose, haha). If they just pushed themselves, I think it would speed things up.

And the only other issue I think is station flooding. There's not a lot of room between the loading gates and the back rails of the station, and the front row line was getting quite long at times, so there was a decent amount of confusion among people looking for shorter lines.

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Monday, March 26, 2012 9:24 AM

Hey, Tek, what exactly is Dueling Daredevils? Is it an upcharge like a Skyscraper swing? Or did they rename Barnstormer and I missed it?

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Monday, March 26, 2012 10:39 AM

It's Barnstormer. I couldn't remember the name and looked at a pic, which had the sign on the barn as Dueling Daredevils.

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Monday, March 26, 2012 10:51 AM

I love the theming of Barnstormer. I just wish is swung over the midway like a lot of the other screaming swings do. No biggie though. I don't quite get the need for the way they separate the line between groups of 1-2 and 3+. Both times riding it, I was in the 3+ section. The first time we waited way longer than if we had gotten in the 1-2 line. The second time, we almost walked right on while a bunch of people in the 1-2 line had been there waiting to ride before us. It was weird.

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