“Let the thunder roll!”
****I apologize for the lack of photos in this report and the next. I didn’t even bring my camera. Sorry.****
Being up for 45 hours can have many strange effects on the body. In my case, I wasn’t hungry for some reason. I wasn’t all that tired. I had gotten my third and fourth winds once I got back home to Columbus.
My friends Chris Trotter and Bill Berkey picked me up at my house at 3:00am. Our plan was to make it to Dollywood by opening. Thankfully, Chris would be driving. I thought I would be ready to sleep once we left Columbus but I ended up talking with them about my day at Six Flags Great America for about an hour. By the time we passed Paramount’s Kings Island on I-71, I was ready to sleep.
I have never been able to get any quality sleep in a car. I can sleep for maybe 20 minutes before waking up then going back to sleep. Basically, sleeping in a car was like sleeping on the Great America Scream Machine at Six Flags Over Georgia last year during the marathon. You basically had to learn how to sleep through various distractions.
I finally woke up for good as we passed into Tennessee. The sun was starting to come out and I felt awake enough to just sit up and enjoy the rest of the trip. We made it to Pigeon Forge in just over 5 hours. The last time I went to Dollywood was in 1999 when Tennessee Tornado opened. With that trip, we by passed the busy Pigeon Forge strip and found Dollywood from a different road. I hadn’t been to the strip for close to 20 years. My parents would take my brother and me to Gatlinburg every year. We would stop in Pigeon Forge for a few hours every trip so we could ride one of the water slides.
When we entered the strip this time, everything looked so different. Back in the 80’s, the strip seemed to be populated with all kinds of water slides. Now there are quite a few of go cart tracks and bungy towers among other rides. I was surprised at how different everything was.
After a quick breakfast at a McDonald’s we made the short drive to Dollywood. Chris had already purchased a season pass while Bill and I had to purchase tickets. Once inside the park, we walked left into the new area where Thunderhead resides. We made it partially up a curvy hill before reaching a line. A rope that blocked people from climbing up the rest of the hill hadn’t been dropped yet. We waited it out. During this time, we noticed how humid it was getting. We were already sweating and we hadn’t done much walking. It was going to be a hot day. We also noticed there were a lot of kids in the park. From the look of it, it was going to be a crowded day.
We could hear Thunderhead testing. That seemed to get everyone excited. Most of the kids were much more excited than the parents who made it very clear they had no desire to ride with their kids. Once the rope was dropped, we made our way up the rest of the curving hill and I got my first real look at the new coaster. It certainly looked impressive. Was it going to live up to all the hype I have been hearing about? I was just about to find out.
We entered the small queue area. As we were walking back and forth, we were line jumped a couple of times. This wasn’t exactly a great start to the day. I wasn’t going to let it get to me as long as it didn’t happen again. Chris is a back seat rider. While I can ride anywhere and be happy about it, if the front line of a coaster has a short wait, I usually won’t pass up a front seat ride, depending on the coaster. Most everyone I talked to that had ridden Thunderhead said it was a better ride in the front. I went to the front since it had a short wait.
The trains looked just like those found on other GCI coasters like Lightning Racer and Roar (West). Once I sat down, I remembered how comfortable these trains are to sit in. I could already tell this was going to be a great ride just from the trains.
We left the station and made a small 270-degree curve to the lift. I don’t know if it was the pictures I had seen, but I was surprised to see the lift as small as it was. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was shorter looking. As we made our way up, I looked to the right and looked at the incredibly twisted layout. This was much more compact than it looked in pictures.
We crested the lift hill and dropped down the sharp curving drop. After our ride came to an end, I had to ask myself some questions?
1. Where is all the pacing?
2. Where is the airtime?
3. Where is the out of control feeling?
4. Where are the surprises?
I will tell you where.
It’s at Dollywood! That’s where!
Let me start by saying the last time I had been totally blown away by a wooden coaster was in 1998. That’s not to say there hasn’t been amazing wooden coasters out there. I love many of them and have been really impressed by most. Shivering Timbers was the first wooden coaster I had ridden that impressed me to a whole new level. After that, wooden coasters have been very, VERY fun, but I hadn’t been totally blown away by one to the extent that Shivering Timbers did since 1998.
That had just changed for me.
Yes indeed! Thunderhead made me turn into a 5 year old again. I laughed the entire ride. I was totally blown away by just one ride on this coaster. It was good enough that I know it wasn’t AFRAS (After First Ride Adrenaline Syndrome) setting in. Every bit of hype I have heard about this coaster was dead-on. Everything.
The pacing. Oh yes. The pacing. There honestly is not one dead spot on the entire ride. I was thinking that this is the first wooden coaster I have ridden where the pacing was this frantic. Sure, there is a straight section of track, but it’s during the station fly-through, but that’s not a complaint in the least. The fly-through is a neat effect and gets people in the station jazzed about their upcoming ride.
I had heard that on at least two portions of the ride, the handrails would become head choppers. This is true. What a great effect. There are so many surprises on this ride that I couldn’t possibly list them all. The ride just provides so many of them, even if I tried to list them all, I would miss some.
I was also impressed with the many forces the ride provided. There was airtime, laterals, and a cool combination of both at the same time. I know a lot of enthusiasts love airtime. I do as well, but I am more of a speed lover. Thunderhead has plenty of that. The ride just doesn’t let up at all. No where.
I wasn’t the only one that was impressed with the ride that day. Bill was also impressed. Of course, we had to get right back in line to give it another go. This time I rode the back. The back was just as fun but I could tell the front did offer a more out of control ride. The crew that was working on the coaster was quick and very enthusiastic. We took a couple more rides on this coaster before moving on.
The layout of the park is a strange one to me. It’s not an oval so in order to get to the other side of the park; you have to walk quite a bit. Luckily though, there are some other attractions to experience on the way to the other larger coaster.
This ride has provided some controversy for me as the friends I was with can’t believe I count this ride as a coaster. Why it should matter to them? I am not sure, but it meets my definition of a coaster.
The ride itself is a long dark ride through various scenes that show a town being on fire and the rescue efforts. The ride has three drops in it including a splashdown at the end. Both Chris and Bill decided to cut back on the comments about why I count this as I think they could now understand why I counted it.
We did some more walking around and checking out some of the gift shops. One in particular sold lots of wind chimes, including the world’s largest. It was quite loud as well, but I am not sure if I would pay $3,000 for it.
It was warm enough for us to decide to ride a couple of water rides. I didn’t get to ride these rides the last time I was at the park because it was so cold. We started out with a ride on Daredevil Falls. This O.D. Hopkins super flume ride is very nicely themed with a lift and drop off a man made mountain. We didn’t get totally soaked but wet enough that it cooled us down.
Our next water ride was the Mountain Slidewinder. I rode the Silver Dollar City version of this a few years back and enjoyed it. The Dollywood version requires riders to walk up a very long hill to reach the loading station. As we were about half way up, a couple of kids decided to line jump us. There was an operator sitting in a booth a ways up. He asked how our day was going and I told him fine but I was tired of getting line jumped. I didn’t expect him to do anything but he quickly got onto a P.A and told the two boys to come back to him. Too bad there isn’t more of this type of operator out there. The bad thing was that due to our group of 3 riders, the two boys ended up getting to ride before of us due to the single and double rider lines they have set up. Oh well, you can’t win them all but I thank the ride operator for doing something.
This ride consists of riders sitting in a rubberish “log” that travels down a waterslide. We rode with a mother and daughter. The ride was shorter than I thought it would be but long enough that we got soaked. With every turn, a wave of water would come up over our boat and hit us. If the walk up to the top wasn’t so long, I think I may have ridden this again. When we finally reached the other side of the park, we finally made it to the other larger coaster.
--- Tennessee Tornado---
In my opinion, this is Arrow’s finest looper. It doesn’t feel anything like an Arrow coaster with the exception of the trains. I thought it was running better this visit than it was during its opening year. I even grayed out in the last two inversions. It’s a shame we don’t have more of this type of Arrow loopers out there as I know a lot of people would really enjoy Arrow rides if they all ran this smooth. We waited about 20 minutes for this as it was running with one train. It wasn’t that bad of a wait but it did prevent us from riding again as we were kind of on a schedule and wanted to get more rides in on Thunderhead.
After getting some lunch at Aunt Granny’s, we walked back to the other side of the park and up the hill to Thunderhead. There wasn’t much of a wait so we ended up getting a few more rides. I rode in the back one more time but the majority of my rides were in the front. The coaster was running even faster and better than it was in the morning. While I was waiting in the station, I saw someone I knew riding. It was my friend Aaron Spriggs. Aaron is a ride lead at PKI and is often seen running Delirium and Drop Zone. He was with another friend, Chris. We didn’t get to talk with them much but I could tell Aaron loved this ride as much as the rest of us.
During our last ride, the line grew another ten minutes. We witnessed some more line jumping. It seems that a lot of line jumping comes from people exiting the ride. There really isn’t anything preventing these people from just walking under a rail and blending in with people who are waiting. We noticed this more than a few times. As for a group of line jumpers behind us wanting to go in front of us, it didn’t happen. They weren’t happy but that wasn’t our problem.
We took one last incredible ride on Thunderhead before heading out. I was very impressed with my time at Dollywood. I liked Thunderhead so much that I ended up purchasing a season pass. Since we were leaving around 2:00pm, we decided we could make it to Chattanooga, check into our hotel, and if we had any time to spare, spend a couple of hours at Lake Winnie.
This trip was more laid back for the three of us. We really didn’t have a tight schedule to follow. If we didn’t go to a park, none of us would have been upset. Instead of finding our way back to an Interstate, we decided to head through Gatlinburg and drive through the mountains. It would take twice as long to get to our final destination, but we all decided to go for it as we don’t get to do many things like this because we are usually trying to find the quickest way to get to more parks.
As we drove through Gatlinburg, lots of memories started to fill my head. I used to go here every year and haven’t been back in almost 20 years. Unlike Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg looked almost identical as I remembered it. Everything that I liked about the town was still there. The long ski lift ride to the top of a mountain. The observation tower. The Ober Gatlinburg tram. They were all there amongst other things I liked. When I have some extra time to spend in the area next time, I am going to check those attractions out again.
Our drive continued through the Smokey Mountain National Forest. Since I have spent so much time out on the west coast in the last few years, I forgot how large the mountains are in Tennessee. I know they aren’t as tall as the ones out in California and surrounding areas, but they were very impressive, and green.
At this time, Chris decided to play some music. He chose to listen to the soundtrack for Lord of The Rings. No offense to the fans of this music, but it put Bill and me to sleep almost instantly. It was kind of neat to hear the music while looking up at the mountains, but we were already tired and the music literally knocked us out.
I don’t remember much of the drive to Chattanooga other than spending a lot of time in on a road that followed a winding river. We saw many rapids complete with many people riding them. It looked like a lot of fun.
Once we reached Chattanooga, we found our hotel and checked in. We still had about two hours to go to Lake Winnie if we wanted to. If we went now, then we wouldn’t have to go the next morning and could sleep in a bit before heading home. We decided to head off to the park. It was only about a 15 minute drive to the park from our hotel.
I hadn’t been to the park in 1999 and when I was there, it was only for about an hour. This time I would be able to spend a whole hour and a half. There was a new coaster put in since the last time I was there. As soon as we were into the park, we made our way to it.
----White Lightnin’---- (#543)
This L&T Systems mouse is very similar to the one found at Six Flags New Orleans. It’s not the largest of its type but that doesn’t matter for this coaster packs a punch not found on coasters twice its size. Everything that is found on many other mice can be found on White Lightnin’ such as hairpin turns and small drops. The one thing that surprised me the most regarding this coaster is the laterals. Yea, every mouse is based on laterals, but when you are not trimmed, brushed, or slowed in any of the braking areas, the laterals are massive. I would even go as far as saying I have never felt laterals like that on any other mouse coaster. Period. If you like laterals, this is your ride. Time to ride the wooden coaster in the park!
I am not sure when the last time they painted this coaster was but it looked incredible. It looked new. Bill and I rode in the front row and had one heck of a ride. The park takes great care of this coaster and it shows. There were no rough spots at all. When I think of a classic ride, this one comes to mind. I never got a chance to ride it in the dark and sadly, I wouldn’t get that chance today.
Chris and I took a ride on the large Falling Star type ride. The name escapes me at this moment. This was the first time I have ever ridden one of theses types of rides and gotten the ride I did. There was BIG air while going over the top of the arc. It made everyone float a good few inches off their seats. What a big surprise!
Bill and I decided to give a ride to something I had never seen before. The Fly-O-Plane. Just as with the other O-Plane rides out there, this one had riders spinning in different directions. Just imagine a set of Flying Skooters crossed with a Roll-O-Plane and you may get the idea. We watched as some skilled riders got their planes to roll over and over. Since Bill and I had no idea what to expect, we asked one of the operators for some tips in rolling. In a weird way, the operator described the rolling to be similar sounding to how riders snap their tubs on the skooters.
Bill got into his tub and I got into mine. The restraint system felt and looked the same as the other O-Plane rides. Once the ride started, I became familiar with what I had to do. By turning the wheel left and right, it also turned the propellers at the front of the plane. Once the ride got up to speed, the propellers played a big roll in how to spin. I tried my first spin and failed. Because I didn’t rotate around, I slid down into the left side of my plane and instantly knew getting that plane to flip was going to be a chore. Most of my flight was taken upside down. Because of the restraints, this was very uncomfortable for me. I tried my hardest to get the plane right side up but gave up after a minute or two. If I was able to rotate the plane the right way, I may have been able to somehow sit back into the middle and try again, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I ended up with a painful ride. Bill had the same problem. I guess the trick to getting a good ride is to ride with someone else.
There were still a couple more rides I wanted to ride before we left. I took a quick spin on the dark ride. I noticed some changes since the last time I rode it. The main one being the lack of a naked zombie. It was censored. Sure, the zombie was still there but you could tell they had done something to it.
The last ride I took was on the splash down ride. This is a classic ride and I believe it’s the last one of its types in the country. Basically this is a splash down into a real lake with old boats. I wasn’t aware of how long the dark tunnel section was. This had to been the darkest ride I have ever done. The drop wasn’t all that wet but it was kind of neat to dive down into a real lake.
Once I met back up with Chris and Bill, we decided to leave the park and go have dinner. Dinner was quick and soon we were back at our hotel watching an episode of Punk’D. I didn’t even see the last part as I was so tired I crashed out. We didn’t have a set time to get up so I was going to take advantage of this and get some much needed sleep. Tomorrow, I would be heading home but after two more park stops.
Nashville Valley Amusement Park and Beech Bend
Oh, and while this isn’t part of the trip report, I just got some great news as I was typing this up. I am an uncle! My brother Kevin and his wife Tricia just had their first baby. Spencer Patrick Flaharty! I am so happy for them and can’t wait to see the new addition.
Thanks for reading,
I also went to Gatlinburg many times as a kid and it holds so many awesome memories for me. It just has an atmosphere that's unlike any other place I've ever been to. I love how there is no "sprawl" to Gatlinburg - either way you come in, it's just... one second you're in the wilderness of the mountains, and the next *poof* you're in the heart of Gatlinburg.
Another great installment! It's a shame you didn't get to spend more time at Dollywood. There's not that many attractions there, but there is definately enough to do to occupy your time. I really like the Smokey River Rampage at Dollywood. It meanders through a relaxing trip with lots of spinning. You don't get completely drenched, but everyone gets wet.
Thunderhead completely blew me away. The only GCII coaster I had been prior to this was Gwazi. I was expecting the same type of tame, family-oriented twister, especially at a park like Dollywood. I was wrong! At night, the ride gets even better. The airtime that is present in the front earlier in the day becomes standard across the entire train. I'm hoping for night ERT next Spring, and am even considering the event this September.
The drive you took to Chattanooga must have been similiar to the route Lauire and I took back to Atlanta a few weeks ago. The river rafting area (Nantahala?) was beautiful! The only problem was the slow speeds we had to endure on the 5 hour trip.
As for Lake Winnie, my first visit was last August. Cannonball is a younger sibling to GASM at SFOG, with an awesome pop of air up into the brakes. Wild Lightning had strong laterals, especially a very painful jolt on the final U-turn.
Fly-O-Plane was an interesting eperience for me. After flipping a couple times, I got stuck upside-down. After finally getting myself back upright, I stayed there until the end.
Contestoga (the falling star) is the sleeper hit of Lake Winnie. We must have taken about 10 rides the day we were there. The Boat Chute was very nostalgic, but for some reaso teh lake smelled really bad during our visit, so it wasn't too enjoyable. The other flats at Lake Winnie have the longest cycles ever. Their Sleigh Bobs runs for an eternity.
Glad you had a good time. LEt me know next time you're headed to Dollywood and I'll make arrangements ot utilize my season pass. Any excuse to visit Dollywood is a good one!
Thanks! I am going to see my new nephew probably today. I share your thoughts on Gatlinburg. There really isnt' any other place I have been to with that kind of atmosphere.
I didn't even realize Dollywood had a river rapids ride. I am going to have to check that out. It would have been nice to ride it when I was there as it was really hot.
I will let you know when I plan on going back to Dollywood. i need to get back soon. Just let me know what time works for you and I will check to see if I have anything planned.
while at the PKI media day last Thursday, I talked a bit with two guys that were planning an event for another club in September. It falls the same weekend as the Summer Con so I won't be able to go to it but it sounds like fun.
I am so happy to hear you had as much fun at DW and Lake Winnie as I did back in April. I pretty much knew you would love Thunderhead since you are a speed freak like me, and I can't keep praising Tennesse Tornado enough. :-D I also got a DW season pass but I am not sure when I will be down there again. I have been there twice this year and it's not far from my home (about 4 hours).
As far as the "Torture-O-Pain" I doubt I will ever ride that again. It was extremely uncomfortable on my back. lol. I loved Lake Winnie though. :-D
As always, awesome TR! You rock. :-D
By the way, maybe you should pick up one of those Lord Of The Rings soundtracks to force you to get some sleep during your crazy trips in the future, at least while you are on the plane or someone else is driving....:-D
When I find myself phasing out while driving (which happens alot) I usually look for "annoying" music on the radio to help keep me awake. Usually rap or country works (no offense to those who like either).
*** Edited 5/30/2004 11:54:06 AM UTC by coasterqueenTRN***
I sometimes load up some new age music on my MP3 player to help me fall asleep on flights. I honestly love some new age music and have a lot of CD's from various artist, but they usually don't fail in relaxing me to the point of falling asleep on longer flights.
The stuff I listen to is eerie sounding. Not the typical John Tesh / Yani happy stuff that most people think when they think new age.
I don't listen to rap or country either. If I listen to a really fast and heavy band while I am driving, it usually has no trouble keeping me awake.
*** Edited 6/1/2004 2:18:52 PM UTC by coasterqueenTRN***
Speaking of music. I usually listen to a lot of music while traveling but for some reason, I didn't listen to harding anything on this trip.
So is the L&T mouse at Lake Winnie more violent than the one at Jazzland/SFNO that we rode a few years back? Cause it really bashed us around, but it was a good ride.
Everyone's great reports on Thunderhead are making me take the trek up to Dollywood in late July, between you, Mike Saunders and a few other reports making the trek this year seems to be a necessity.
Scott and I werent kidding on the media day were we? hehe "What are you doing here? Leave now...get down there!" Thunderhead didnt blow me away the 1st time, but ended up growing on me during the day then blew me away later (and even more so with the rides at dusk). Glad you had a great time and hope to see you at a park again sometime soon.
Nice to see you here.
If you can believe it, I thought the mouse at Lake Winnie had even more laterals even though the Jazzland mouse is virtually identical. I recently watched the footage I shot at Jazzland and it was a powerfull ride when we rode it.
Nope. You weren't kidding. I am glad I left when I did. I believe Brian and Julie told me I would have plenty of time to get to the airport, which I did, but for a few minutes, I thought I might miss my flight.
I don't know what it was about Thunderhead but I really wasn't expecting it to have the pacing it has. I believe that is what blew me away. Perhaps sometime this year I will try again with Deja Vu.
Thunderhead sounds so glorious. I've never been to Dollywood but now I really want to make a trip there. It sounds too good to resist. Why must Dollywood be 7.5 hours away? Fools, they should move closer to me.
I've had three of those Woodies are great moments, all of them being last year. The first and my still favorite was at Boulderdash. I rode Superman at SFNE the day before and didn't think it could possibly stack-up, boy did it ever. The second occurred at Shivering Timbers, that airtime makes me want to drool for hours. Two types of airtime depending on what extremity of the train you sit on. Then there was Cornball Express. I don't think anything really needs to be said but I want more.
The only GCI I've ridden has been Roar at SFA. I really enjoy that ride, so if Thunderhead is better, I'll gladly take it.
The Fly-O-Planes and boat chute are the one and only.
The trick to the Fly-O-Planes is weight shifting. You won't do barrel rolls if you don't have your body positioned right. And if you want to do Barrel rolls, forget about riding with a partner. And as a general rule, your thighs will hurt after a ride on the Fly-o-Planes.
Good thing you missed the pirate ship. 7 1/2 min. ride cycle this year!
Thunderhead is the king of pacing. Such a great ride.
No way did you just post that in your sig. I was just watching that last night for only a few minutes and saw that one segment.
Thanks. I went and visted my nephew for the second time yesterday. I think he's just about ready to take his first coaster ride. =:^)
You're such a credit whore - pushing your nephew from the womb to Taxi Jam and JR Gemini in just a month!
If you think that credit whore doesn't already HAVE those credits, you're sadly mistaken. :)
JC, not into the whole credit thing haha
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