With the skies still threatening and a light rain falling, we decided to check out of our hotel in Pigeon Forge TN and give Dollywood a try. The weather did not look all that good, so we thought it would just be a stop for the coasters and then head up the road toward to get a head start on our trip home on Friday.
Things did not look all that bright as we arrived at the park (it was around 10am, an hour after opening) and we had to park a few lots away. We actually sat in the car for a few minutes after we parked to wait for a heavy shower to pass. Things were not looking good at all. When the rain eased up a bit, we decided to take our chances, got out of the car and got in line for the tram. We got on at Tram Stop “C” (“as in Chocolate Cake or Cotton Candy” our tram driver announced). By the time we were deposited at the entrance of the park the rain had ceased. The line for tickets took a while, but by around 11am we were entering the park proper.
Then an amazing thing happened. The sun peeked through the clouds. Looking at the map, I headed off toward Thunderhead while Michele decided to stay behind and look around the Emporium.
The winding path to Thunderhead was interesting with its theming… a little grave yard, worm fences, rocks, etc. When I got to the coaster, I saw a full queue, but decided not to let that dampen my spirits. Surprisingly, the queue ran fast and after only around 20 minutes, I was climbing into the front seat of the train. One of the things that I noticed was the enthusiasm of the operators. No simple “Dispatch” announced over the speakers. When each train was dispatched, the girl in the booth said, enthusiastically into the mic “Let the Thunder roll!” and then, as she saw the other train hit the break run the announcement went out “Thunder’s commin’ home.”
Anyway, climbing the long lift I looked out to the right and saw the insanely twisting track of the coaster. Once the train is released on from the lift hill things get crazy… it is a non stop roar through the course with hits of air and laterals (but not painful, thanks to a good design, wildly banked turns, and Millennium Flyer trains). It is non stop speed and there is only one section of straight track… and that is during a screaming pass through of the station. What a coaster. GCI may not be as prolific as CCI was, but with the likes of Hersheypark’s Wildcat and Lightning Racer and now Dollywood’s Thunderhead, they have proven that Quality is much more important than simply Quanity!
I then got back in line for a back seat ride… and this was even more incredible than in the front. I think I have finally figured it out. Out and back wood coasters are front seat coasters… twister wood coasters are back seat coasters… at lest for me they are.
I then walked back toward the entrance of the park and found Michele. After buying a nice and big Dollywood tote bag in the emporium, we sat down and mapped out our day. I liked the park maps. They are actual maps, not the cartoon type of maps that most parks use, and you get a good idea of just how far things are from each other. They are much more to scale.
While I was riding Thunderhead, Michele went into some museum / exhibit of old time southern Gospel singers… and the next things she said she wanted to hit was the Smoky Mountain Adventure Tours ride. Laid out in a deep valley between the hills, the paths are rather narrow (though they handle the crowds well) and can be kind of disorienting. While we were trying to figure out the map, a park employee, dressed in a country style dress and straw hat, came up to us and asked if she could help us find something, and she then pointed us in the right direction.
The Adventure Tour is a simulator ride that has very good capacity. Michele (who likes sims better than I) liked it a lot and I thought it was pretty good too.
We continued up through the valley then toward Daredevil Falls. At first we thought this was going to be a Shoot the Chutes type of ride, but, just as stated, it is more like a super Flume ride. After a very short wait, we climbed into the front seat of the boat. A few moments later, soaking wet, we were exiting. What a fun ride. The size drop of a Shoot the Chutes with the winding course of a flume! It was more of the first little dip (and the swell of water) that soaked us rather than the splash at the bottom of the tall and steep drop. I am surprised that this ride is not heard of more. Great ride, and theming that shows Dollywood can hold its own against most any other park.
Not being in a coaster mood that day, Michele said she would look around Craftsman’s Valley while I checked out Blazing Fury and Tennessee Tornado.
It wasn’t long then until I was climbing into the front seat of Blazing Fury. What a fun little coaster this is. Or is a dark ride? Or is it a water ride? Or is it all three? The scenes of the burning town were well done and the coaster drops (3 of them) were fun. I especially liked the one that occurred at the collapsing covered bridge. As a coaster is its fun, as a dark ride it is well done.
Near by was Tennessee Tornado. This was the longest wait of the day at 45 minutes for the front seat. But it was worth it! After leaving the station and winding your way to the base of the lift, you are faced with a very long looking lift. From then it is one surprise and delight after another. The first helix is fun and the first large drop gives that “flipped stomach” feel and air. The inversions are all graceful and rather tall. The ride is not the longest around, but it is one of the best. Pack a lot of quality elements and speed and gracefulness in the ride and you don’t need to drag it out and let it go out with a whimper. Tornado drops you, flips you, turns you, flips you again, twists around, and then goes screaming into the station. As I said, not the longest, but one of the best. The crew on this was good too. There was one guy who, while efficient, was more of a comedian than anything. You could tell that he really enjoyed his job.
I then found Michele and we headed toward the front of the park and toward the Dollywood Express. Great capacity (several hundred I think the conductor said), this train takes you through the front part of the park and gives some good views of Thunderhead, and then take you on a nice little trip up the mountain. All in all it’s a 20 minute trip. Unlike most park trains, this is really a narrow gauge rail road than a typical park train. The engine is an actual 60 year coal fired steam locomotive.
After the ride on the Express, we got something to eat… a steak sandwich and homemade potato chips. Some of the best park food I have ever encountered.
While on the train, we noticed that the log flume was down, so we did not bother going into the country fair area of the park. Mostly flat rides here, we can ride many of these at nearly any other park. Instead, I made a trek to the back of the park once again for a second great ride on Tennessee Tornado and then, as we were getting ready to leave I jumped aboard Thunderhead again for another incredible back seat ride. This time the op who was dispatching the trains would shout, “GIT HER DONE, BOYS!” in a very hillbilly, gravelly sounding voice. (occasionally he would change it up and say “GIT HER DONE, GIRLS!” to raz some of the guys on the train).
By now it was closing in quickly on 8pm, the park’s closing time. What had started out as a stop “just to ride the coasters” turned in to first truly all day park visit since my Carowinds visit nearly two weeks earlier. We climbed aboard the tram and were deposited back at our car by stop “C” (which, according to this tram driver stood for “Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies”), and were soon on our way.
Dollywood really impressed me. The down home, country theming is, in a way, on par with Busch Garden’s Williamsburg’s old European theming. And the staff… Never have I encountered a friendlier, more helpful, more enthusiastic staff in a park. Even the people who were running the food stands and she shops were energetic and friendly. Of course the people who were doing the skilled crafts (in the leather shop, the blacksmith area, the wood shops, etc) were good at their trades, but even the woman who was running the one funnel cake stand where we bought a drink half way through the day was doing her job with the same energy (and even pride) that the skilled crafts men were putting into their work.
As we exited the train and walked passed the stage where the magician was getting ready to perform, we heard him talking to the crowd and saying that he was performing there years before the park was even known as Dollywood… back in the old Silver Dollar City Days, and then I remembered what I heard on a Discovery channel special. Some of the Employees may be seasonal, but many (most?) have been there for years. They know their jobs and they enjoy their jobs… they are almost like one big family. It certainly shows in the good jobs that they do!
All in all, I was VERY impressed with this park. Other parks may be bigger, or have more coasters, or what ever, but as for sheer enjoyment factor, I would have a hard time finding one that beats Dollywood.
Later that night, we pulled into Roanoke VA at around 1:00 am and, after 14 days on the road, 7 new parks, 26 new coasters, 8 hotels + 2 grand mother’s homes in FL, 10 new light houses visited, 1 Civil War battlefield, and 3,748, we pulled into our drive way at 2:20pm on Friday, June 25… and I spend the next two says resting up from my vacation before I returned to work. *** Edited 6/29/2004 8:38:22 PM UTC by SLFAKE***
Glad you enjoyed Dollywood. Thunderhead has great ride ops. Very efficient & friendly. (As is the whole park :))
Im glad you enjoyed the park for what it is an 'entertainment' park as Dukeis calls it. Many coaster enthusiasts visit with the wrong impression that DW is like SF or CP; in other words a 'ride' park. They have a bad day, and come on here and grump about it.
Dollywood is truly the hidden gem of the smokies; if not the Southeast region at large! *** Edited 6/30/2004 12:10:08 AM UTC by CoastermanX***
As for "GIT R DONE" its something that Larry the Cable Guy (a comedian) says very often. His more famous job would be in the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" DVD. Hilarious and you should definately check it out.
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