The next stop was of course Dollywood. I knew that the park was already pretty crowded by how far back in the parking lot we had to park but we got on a tram pretty quickly and were soon at the front gate. Let me just mention how friendly the tram operators are. They definitely help you get in the mood for a good time at the park. The event that Dollywood puts on for the holidays is of course The Smoky Mountain Christmas and the park was quite a sight to behold with everything done up with garlands and lights and other various forms of holiday decorations. We thought that it was impressive just during the daytime before any of the lights even came on. During the day and early evening, we took in two shows, both being held in open theater areas. The first, Appalachian Christmas, consisted a of three man group that cracked jokes and played Christmas songs on some traditional Appalachian instruments. They were very good and finished up with a funny plug to buy their CD, which of course they were selling after the performance. We also saw O Holy Night, which is basically a living nativity being done as it ties into the story of a little girl learning about the story of Christ's birth while decorating the Christmas tree. This was also very well done. We had wanted to take in the Christmas in the Smokies show (which is their big show) but waited too long to pick up our tickets ahead of time until they we're unfortunately already distributed for the day's showings. Just a quick warning that if you want tickets to one of the shows, get them early. We also briefly watched the parks Victorian Melodies group do carols in one the shops in the Craftman's Valley.
We unfortunately missed The Carol of the Trees (which is a group of lighted trees that blink in chorus to a variety of Christmas songs) but did catch the second half of the Parade of Lights parade. Let me just mention that park, as you can probably imagine on a Saturday night, got extremely crowed as the evening progressed. Almost uncomfortably so, as some of the midways were absolutely jam packed with people. Just a heads up to those going in the coming weeks as I'm sure the park will only get more crowded as we get closer to Christmas. Let me just mention the food as well real quick. Awesome, awesome, awesome! Everything was excellent (especially the Sausage stand) and I must admit that we ate a little more than we usually do at parks (we did the same thing at Silver Dollar City). My only complaint is how incredibly slow some of the food lines were. I guess good things come to those that wait.
Of course while we were there, we got a little coaster riding in as well. Let me rephrase that, a little cold weather coaster riding as the daytime temps were only in the very low 50s, dipping well into the 40s as the evening progressed. The Tennessee Tornado was running just as good as it had back in the Spring and seemed even smoother than it had been last April. We rode it back and front during the day and then another couple of times when it got dark. I can't say enough how underrated this steel coaster is. By far my favorite sit down looper after the B&Ms and light years ahead of any of the other Arrow loopers (except Nessie). We never had to wait more than a cycle for a ride except for the front and back. I hope that talk of the ride perhaps leaving in the next couple of years because of low ridership proves to be false, as I love the coaster and think that it adds some much needed thrills to the back of the park. We also of course hit Thunderhead. Now when we were first rode Thunderhead back in April I was impressed with it but the ride for me, lacked that certain magic that is found in my top woodies. I had heard all season long about how it is a nighttime coaster and that that is where it really shines. We rode it when we first got to the park and found a one train operation going on but fortunately the line never went out of the station. We grabbed a back row and a couple of middles and found the coaster to be running surprisingly fast for such a cold day. We especially liked the back rides as it seemed to give the best combination of air and out of control feelings. Once again though, we found that in order to get the best airtime, you have to have at least a little room between you and the lap bar and that is hard to do sometimes with the extremely finicky Millennium Train restraints. Anyway, we came back later in the day for another ride and now found a two train operation, so things were definitely looking good for that evening's night rides.
After it got sufficiently dark, we headed back up in the cold to Thunderhead Gap and prepared to find out if Thunderhead was indeed the real deal at night. We settled in for a middle ride first and were immediately impressed. It is a different ride at night. The out of the control nature of the ride is increased significantly in the pitch black, especially in the second half of the ride (after the station flythrough) were all hell pretty much breaks loose. We immediately queued up for the very back, which is as you can imagine, the money seat for a night ride on this coaster. It's amazing to me how drastically the second half of the ride changes when the lights are out. We got several more laps in including a front row. After about an hour of riding, the ops announced that due to the fact that temps were approaching 40 degrees, they were being instructed to take off one of the trains. FYI, they have a sign out front of the entrance to Thunderhead Gap proclaiming that they won't run the coaster in sub 40 degree weather. With the operation back down to one train, we figured that we had had enough (did I mention that it was pretty cold) and made our way out of the park. All in all, we had a great time at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas. The park looked beautiful and there was a good bit to do between all of shows, exhibits, parade, etc. We got some excellent coaster rides and although we were pleased that Thunderhead lived up to it's nighttime hype, I'm still not sure were it falls in relationship to my other top woodies. Perhaps I now need some warm weather night rides. Hmmm, ACE Spring Con? Anyway, the park rocks at Christmas! Definitely check it out!
Nice TR ;).
I'm not super familiar with the park or where the new construction is going to be going on but I did notice a bulldozer parked in an area that looked like it had been recently cleared. I wasn't really looking for any signs of construction but I did notice that.
I think I should get up there sometime in the next two weeks to see the Christmas stuff...
Oh, and Thunderhead of course :)
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