As many of you know, I (STILL!) work for the company that makes VeggieTales, Big Idea Inc, and we have had a several year relationship with Herschend Family Entertainment.
We've put on 2 live shows at SDC and at Dollywod for their respective KidsFests, but unfortunately this relationship has never meant, for me, a trip to either park (Though I had helped brainstorm the original live show at SDC before being shut out of the process by internal political issues, but that's a whole other story...)
Anyway, early this year I saw what was clearly concept for a Veggie-themed roller coaster on the printer at work. My first thought was that this was why the 'Runaway Ore cart' at SDC had been taken down. I asked around, though, and found out it was for Dollywood. I was crushed that we were finally building a VeggieTales ride and that I wasn't involved, but happy nonetheless that we were building one. Besides, it's not like we were building a VeggieTales dark ride or something... if we did that, I'd probably quit if I wasn't allowed to participate. But you know politics...
Management announced that they wanted to take us all to Dollywood this year to see our new ride, and it was scheduled for the opening day of Kidsfest. The ride was supposed to open with the rest of the new County Fair, but it turns out there were some 'clearance issues' with the ride (specifically involving the fence around the attraction and its proximity to children's hands.) Then there were some 'weight issues'. As the ride kept getting delayed, we wondered if it'd even be open for our trip.
This would be our first trip with our baby, Maggie, who was about 10 months old at the time. She was born three months early last fall, so we'd had to keep her isolated at home all winter after a ten week stay in the Hospital NICU post delivery. This would be one of the first times she'd been out of the house except to go to the doctor, never mind her first time away from home and first time at an amusement park.
By this point, I didn't care too much about the Veggie coaster, as I would finally get to ride the legendary upstart "Thunderhead", which had climbed to the top of so many people's Top Ten. Would it hold up to the hype? Would I finally be the one to say 'Meh'?! Would I be able to get in more than one lap, with our limited schedule??! Would my wife enjoy Dollywood even though she wouldn't ride any of the major coasters, and could I enjoy a park with an infant and all their gear in tow???! Would our sheltered little baby handle all the stimulation well? Did Arrow actually build a super-smooth, enjoyable looper??!!!???! Finally, were Dolly's boobs REALLY that big???!!!??!!? Read on.
A little over 20 families were going on the trip, so they got two charter buses for us. Brilliantly, the coordinator assigned 'Finding Nemo' and misc. 'Veggie Tales' as the DVDs for one bus, and 'Napoleon Dynamite' and 'National Treasure' for the other. This, gloriously, put all of the families with little kids on one Bus, leaving the other free for us 'Adults' (several families have 5 or more kids under the age of 7, so this was wonnnnderful...).
It's supposed to be about 3.5 hours from Nashville to Pigeon Forge, but it never is. The road through Sevierville is ALWAYS backed up. Fortunately, the bus Driver's Mapquest directions (actually, Truck Driver's directions... this was his first time driving a bus) had us taking a back way around Sevierville, so we didn't sit in traffic too long. When we kept going back back out into the country, though, I started to question the directions (no surprise, stupid Mapquest...) By the time we passed Dolly's Splash country I knew the directions were wrong, as our hotel was supposed to be back up in Sevierville. So I took over navigation and got him back on the main drag, headed back up north towards Governor's Crossing.
We were supposed to have several hours between arrival at the hotel and Departure for Dixie Stampede that night, but the traffic delays and missed turns made it an hour. So much for walking over to check out Nascar Speedpark. My wife had to 'express herself' and Maggie needed a nap, so we took care of business and soon were back on the buses headed to 'The Stampede'.
This would be fun. This is something I would never, ever pay my own money for, so I was looking forward to it as a special treat. At the very least it should be some Hokey Fun. I'd done Medieval Times back in Illinois, so I figured I had a little idea of what to expect. Turns out, I knew EXACTLY what to expect. Couldn't believe how they had just lifted MT's whole operation and overlaid a Dixie theme. Even down to the upsells for everything from souvenir photos to little boot mugs, and the lack of Utensils ("We're from the Sey-outh. We aint' need no Yooo-tenils!")
We were herded into the already crowded pre-show area, where since we were very late it was just a few moments till we were allowed into the main seating area, which, again, felt just like MT. The dinner itself was mostly very good, and there was plenty of it. The servers have such a routine going, and I can't even conceive how big the kitchen must be to do a meal this big all at one time 3 times a night. As for the show itself, it was very... interesting. One side of the arena's audience was the north, and the other side the south. But they never ever said 'Civil War' and I don't believe they ever said "Yankee" or "Rebel", or even "Confederate" and "Union". The opening was very cool with tons of Buffalo, but they just trotted out, mulled around, and then got wrangled backstage. I expected to see them again, as it must be expensive to keep a herd of Buffalo around just for 2 minutes of stagetime, but they were not to be seen again. Also in the opening were a guy in blue and a guy in gray shaking their fists at each other. Yes, shaking their fists at each other. It was pretty obvious that at one time there were some fake guns involved here, but apparently that'd be too offensive now. What the heck.
I have a problem when a company takes on a serious subject for entertainment and then glosses over the unsavory bits for the sake of political correctness or whatever... like when the Carousel of Progress "History of Japan" show at Tokyo Disneyland referred to World War II by turning out all the lights and basically saying "Then, Japan went through a dark time..." and moving on to post-war accomplishments. What what what?!!? Anyway, The show was fun and Maggie really enjoyed the fireworks and the pyrotechnics. Afterwards I found out what they were really referring to with the title "Dixie Stampede"... the whole 1000+ person audience has to exit through two doors, down one staircase, and through the gift shop. Oh the humanity!!! Plus, after you've waited in line twenty minutes to WALK DOWN A STAIRCASE, there's an emergency exit right before the gift shop door that's GUARDED, just to make sure you actually go THROUGH the gift shop.
Being crushed by over 999 of my closest friends while not making any forward momentum I waxed philosophic about how the operation is just one big Disney ride with a meal... You get there, they take your picture and try to sell you overpriced stuff you don't need, hold you in a pre-show area while the folks before you are enjoying the 'main show', after they clear out you get escorted into the arena while the next group (3 shows a night) enters the pre-show, when your show is done you exit through the gift shop for more overpriced crap. They had little Dolly Parton frilly dresses for little girls in the gift shop. I looked for the one with the pre-stuffed bra, couldn't find it.
We got back to the hotel, which was right next to the Nascar Speedpark go-kart complex in Sevierville, so we rounded up the guys and walked over for some Nascar fun while the women went to bed (it was nearly 10 by this point). By enlisting some folks in line behind us to join our group, we got enough together for a group rate, basically 15$ for 2+ hours for all the tracks you can ride except the Biiig oval NASCAR Speedway track. That was an extra $15 for 2 rides, only 2 of the folks bought that upcharge. I won't go into detail of every track, but it was a fun if not groundbreaking go-kart complex. Standard assortment of flat tracks, no cool overpasses or bridges or anything like a place like Big Chief's. There is a fun kid's section with some kiddie rides that are verrrry nicely themed, including a kiddie whip with trucks for vehicles and a Rockin Tug that was themed to a giant NASCAR car, as well as a nice looking kiddie coaster and a double decker carousel with a car theme. I was impressed. If they'd have been included in our wristband I'd have ridden the Rockin Tug and Coaster, but they were an upcharge. Oh well.
With the NASCAR license I was expecting a little more from the cars than an average track, but they did not deliver. Specifically, it suffered the ever present range of speeds on the cars, meaning 1 or 2 cars were always faster and 1 or 2 always sucked royally, this was even true on the upcharge speedway track. I hate this. Can't they make friggin go-karts that all go the same speed? Besides this we had fun, got lots of whistles blown at us, especially on the small oval track, and made fools of ourselves. I hadn't been out with 'the guys' in a while, so I was on quite a tear. Felt good to let off some pressure like this.
I hung around while the 2 guys who did the upcharge track raced, which they did just at the midnight closing time. Due to some miscommunication, their two races ended up taking over an hour, the first of which they had only one competitor, the second of which was just the two of them. The cars were very fast and fun looking, but since one was so clearly superior, it wasn't much of a race, so I'm glad I didn't spend the extra bucks.
I stumbled into bed around 1:30, my wife having long been in slumberland, but as tired as I was, I still had a hard time going to sleep. Tomorrow I would be riding Dolly Parton and meeting Thunderhead. Or vice versa... it was late, my mind was gone.
To be continued *** Edited 8/3/2005 8:03:29 PM UTC by ThemeDesigner***
#1. Sean Flahearty(sp?)
That was a great TR, really great. Will be reading the second part.
I didn't get to ride the kiddie when I was there, line was too long. But, I guess that makes ya happy to hear, right, TD?
The Dixie Stampede sounds.......disturbingly interesting, but has peaked my curiosity (I hate it when that happens....lol.) I guess nothing can be anymore traumatic than the Grand Ole Opry. ;-)
The few times I have visited Pigeon Forge has been for Dollywood only. I haven't had much time to check out anything else other than some of the restaurants and a closed Rockin' Raceway.
The Nascar place "looks" like much fun from what I seen while passing by. Still gotta get to Ober Gatlingburg as well.
Anyway, LOVED your detailed TR. Can't wait for Part 2!
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