Some Christmas Thunder at Dollywood 12/4/04

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Kim and I had been planning on making it back to Dollywood all season long after first visiting the park back in April. Unfortunately because of a busy summer season, we never got the chance so we decided that the Christmas season would be a great time to finally make it back to the park. Not only did we hear that the park itself puts on a very festive holiday celebration but we were also looking for those elusive night rides on Thunderhead that we had heard puts it over the top. After driving a few hours Friday night and an overnight stay outside of Asheville, NC, we drove the last 2 hours into the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. Our first stop was at the Nascar Speed Park in Sevierville to take a spin on their new family coaster the Daytona Draft. We arrived at the park about an hour after it had opened but the rides area was pretty dead. In fact we had to wait a few minutes for one of the operators to come over and run it for us. It must not have run at all for awhile for as soon as we started taking our laps, a bunch of people came out of nowhere and got in line as they must have thought that it wasn't running at all. The ride itself was fairly fun for a family coaster. It reminded me a lot of the Vekoma Roller Skaters only a little smaller. The cost was a little steep at $5 a piece but at least the ride op gave us 5 spins around the circuit. After we were done we watched some of the go-cart tracks in action and found the racing to be surprising intense for what it was, with some cars spinning out sideways during the action. The cars themselves are fullly enclosed (like a real race car) and the whole thing looked like a lot of fun. I might have to finally check out the Speed Park at the beach back near home.

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!

I envy you.
Went to DW my first time last june and loved the place. Looked great then, can't imagine how beautiful it looks now. i will hit the place next x-mas time for sure.
Good TR.

Great Lakes Brewery Patron...


I'm glad you got to ride Thunderhead. We were at the park two days before and it was so cold the only rides running were Blazing Fury, The Steam Train and the Simulator. :(

Nice TR ;).

Nice TR Pale...Did you see any new construction taking place in the Country Fair section?

I survived a Japanese typhoon and the Togo flat ride of death!!!!!!

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.

Pale Rider, the one thing that I have to disagree with is when you said Tennessee Tornado is underrated. I think that it gets plenty of attention, considered by many as the smoothest Arrow looper, but I personally dont see anything else in the coaster. Yea, a smooth Arrow is a bonus quality, but to me, the ride is a little too short, and hardly comprises of anything but the inversions. I liked the first drop, and the inversions were pretty nice, but other than that, there wasn't much more. For such a large area that could have given a great terrain layout, I feel that the coaster COULD have been fantastic, but due to its shortness (and that turn back into the station, where the track layout jolts the train kinda oddly) made it merely average to me. Yea, being smooth is nice, but just because its the smoothest Arrow, to me, doesn't qualify it as underrated. But thats your opinion, which is cool (and shared by many) and otherwise, awesome trip report.

I think I should get up there sometime in the next two weeks to see the Christmas stuff...
Oh, and Thunderhead of course :)

Well I guess when I say underrated, it's not so much that people think it's bad but more of that you just don't hear much about it. That will probably change though this year, with so many people finally making it to the park who previously hadn't. We'll have to see how it does in this years steel coaster poll. I believe it barely made top 100 last year. I would think that it's ranking will probably go up this year, as more people got to ride it. I still love the coaster itself though. It may be short but that's part of what I like about it. The loops come at you quickly and the speed never lets up. My favorite part of the ride though and the one that really puts it over the top for me is the first drop. The fact that it's enclosed, goes straight down the side of a mountain, and has for me, the second best moment of backseat air on a steel looper's first drop(behind only Wildfire at SDC). The smoothness of the ride is just the iceing on the cake. Anyway, sorry you don't like it as much. Definitely try and check out the park at Christmas though. Oh, and Thunderhead too.;)

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