The THUNDER in December (another Long TR)

Associated parks:

When: December 11, 2004
Where: Dollywood

Who says the season has to end in Oct. in the northern southeast? Some time back in the late summer/middle of fall, I was thinking about how I wished I had had the chance to go to Dollywood for Thunderhead this summer, as it looked amazing. I got onto the Dollywood website to see when they opened up for the season next year so that I could try and decide when would be best to go, but I noticed that Dollywood is opened thru December for their Christmas festival, and that the coasters are open, unless the temp. drops too low. So I decided that maybe it would be a great way to end the season, and I told a couple people about it, inviting them along.

Little did I know everyone would take my trip and do all the planning for me ;). When I mentioned it again, Danny told me that it had been discussed and that we were planning on the 10th of December. This just happened to be the day of another even that I wanted to avoid, and since Friday was not good for most people, we switched it to the 11th.

As with most plans that I make far enough in advance, something drastic comes up and I have to cancel. So I didn’t have my hopes for actually making it to Dollywood, but when it came down to it, I was able to go and I talked one of my best friends into going and meeting the 8 others that had committed to the trip.

So I spent the week not excited, hey, it could have ended at the last min., but on Saturday morning around 8:15 a.m., my friend, Jamaal, and I started to head southwest from our homes in southern W.V. I’m a day sleeper, and as such, I was unfortunately unable to sleep the night before. Well, I guess the caffinated Iced Tea I had for dinner/breakfast didn’t help much either. But I decided that I would drive down, that way Jamaal could drive back that evening, and I could sleep.

The drive down was nice. We stopped at a Burger King that was about an hour from the house, right before the interstate. It was a long enough drive, but its always nice to have a travel partner. We listened to music, talked, and saw an incredibly large guitar once we stopped at a rest stop in Tenn. I had never been to Tennessee before this year, and over the summer had to attend a convention in Johnson City. I had wanted to hit Dollywood then, but I hadn’t been at my job for a month, and didn’t want to ask for an extra day off. So here I was, back to the Smokey Mountain area for my first ever trip to Dollywood.

The traffic in Pigeon Forge was not good. Plenty of X-mas shoppers, and everything down there is still pretty much open. My first impression of the area was Myrtle Beach sans ocean add mountains. It was surprised at how much it reminded me of W.V., but then, we were still in the Appalachian Mountains (and thanks, Dawn Marie, for saying it correctly;)). There was stuff to do everywhere, and we didn’t even head into Gatlinburg. Jamaal said we should come back next year, and this was before Dollywood.

The park is situated back in what we in W.V. refer to as a ‘hollar’, or you could use the correct term, ‘Hollow’. It’s an odd trip back into the woods and mountains to get to a parking lot that is very long, but not very wide. We paid the $6 for parking, got to lot C, and headed over to the tram. But alas, I forgot my hat and gloves. The temp. was cool, but still coaster riding weather (hey, what isn’t?). After getting our ticket and getting into the park, I headed over to Thunderhead, where the group was supposed to be when I called. But as we head up to Thunderhead Gap, I called Danny, and he said they were at Tennessee Tornado. Since Jamaal and I were already this close to the wood, I told them we were gonna take a spin, and would meet them over at Tornado.

There were plenty of people in the park, but the line for Thunderhead was only a 3 train wait. We got in line for the front…

Thunderhead: My first time on MilF trains! I was excited about checking out Thunderhead. I was really excited to get a chance to ride a coaster on those b-e-a-utiful beautiful trains. We opted for the front, and that was a good choice. Two things I noticed in the station- the ride ops were all older, and extremely friendly. The pumped the crowed up, and kept the trains full and moving, even with only a 1 train operation. Also, the station was immaculate. Much like the area of the park I had already seen, there was no trash, no gum on the rails, and no names scratched into the pain. Granted, this is new for this year, but it’s the end of the year, and stuff like that usually happens pretty quickly. I guess it can be attributed to good park operations, cleanliness, and the type of crowd at Dollywood.

So it was finally our turn. The guy and son in front of us were really cool and chatty (Jamaal later would note that I seem to be able to talk to anybody at a theme park). Standing in line, the overhead station pass-thru was really neat. Riding, the helix at the beginning was fun, and to me, the lift seemed steeper than normal. The first drop was nothing short of bliss! The track is twisted, the trains were oh-so-comfortable, and you get major laterals, but not a lot of sustained air. The wind chill was much colder, but I was having fun. The ride doesn’t seem long when you are waiting, but it seems much longer when on it. I loved the look of some of the turns, and the station fly-thru was really cool on ride as well. My first ride on Thunderhead was good. It didn’t move into my top 5 woodies at that point, but it was a major good coaster.

So then it was time to head over to Tennessee Tornado. Having the designation of the smoothest Arrow ever, I was excited about trying it out. So Jamaal and I walked over the 100,000 miles and up the mountain taller than Everest to get to the group and give it a shot.

Danny said they were over by Blazing Fury, and after trekking halfway cross Tennessee to find the ride, I saw a strange group of people standing in the middle of the midway. What a motley crew it was indeed, a bunch of coaster geeks! I immediately felt right at home;). I went up and got hugged and groped by Tina (CoasterQueenTRN) first, then Kristin D., the Beth (Bethtoons), Dawn (dawnmarie), then shook hands with Mike (boblogone), Jeff (cedarit), Diane (Dawn’s friend) and then Danny (+Danny), the only other person there that I knew.

After the introductions of Jamaal and I, we headed up to Tornado. I really like how Tornado is situated. It’s really very nice, and again, the station is very clean, and was decently themed. Tornado was a walk on, so we got in the middle. One thing I noticed was the way the train looked. I had seen pix of it before, and just thought the paint job was bad, but in reality, the coaster train is semi-themed, and it looked really cool.

Tennessee Tornado: This was definitely a different type of Arrow. It really is a shame that they got their act together so late in the game. I just hope to see more from S&S Arrow in the future. For anyone that hasn’t ridden the ride, you exit as is usual on a lot of Arrows, with a dip out of the station and then a turn, on this one to the left. You go thru the storage shed where some sound effects of wind blowing start playing, then dip again, turn to the right, and start up the lift hill that is going up the side of a mountain.

At the top, there is the usual steep drop and banked turn that goes into the real drop. The actual first drop on this coater is thru a tunnel in the mountain, and was really a great drop. After that, it’s into that wonderful looking, and even better feeling sidewinder. Its then around thru another highly banked curve and hop up into the final break run. Smoothest Arrow ever? You betcha! Too short? Absolutely! I don’t mind it only having three inversions, but it could have had a few more hills, that would have been nice. Oh well, the great thing about Tornado is that the line was never long enough to have to wait, so re-rides are all too easy.

At this point, the rest of the group was hungry. Jamaal and myself weren’t so much, but decided to eat with them anyhow at one of the many restaurants. This one was themed to back stage or something. Even though there were 10 of us, we didn’t wait long for tables, and we got a really great waitress. I had Sirloin Tips with fried corn and onions, mashed potatoes, and of course, fresh baked bread (I think it comes with all entrées, ya know).

So we sat and ate, Jamaal, Dawn, Diana, and myself at one table, and the hooligans at the other. The food was good, the service was better than most regular restaurants, and the bread was really awesome.

After lunch, we headed back towards Thunderhead Gap. I’m glad they’re getting a fairly good expansion next year, but can we please get something to transport me from Thunderhead over towards Tornado (or, for that matter) anywhere else in the park but Thunderhead Gap) there sometime soon? A chairlift would be okay with me, if not just a path. We kept getting told that Thunderhead will shut down at 40*, so we wanted to get in quite a few rides before that happened. The day was already cold, the sun barely shined (except at sunset), and the wind was picking up. It was around 42* as it was. So we all got inline at Thunderhead after meeting up with Beth’s friend Nathan. Mike, wanting to try out the Beaver, had to ride with me. I got in the back of the train with Mikey, and after about 10-15 minuets, we were off.

Thunderhead (again and again): The back seat ride was even better! Half the gang was on just before us, so we waved and I yelled on the helix before the lift. Again, the first drop is great, and there does seem to be a little more air in the back of the ride. I really love the MilF trains as well, very comfortable. It was getting rather cold with no gloves and hats, darn me for forgetting them. The second ride was better, much more twisted to be on it with Mike, and I started falling in love fast.

So after a back seat ride on Thunderhead, we all got inline again. This time, I rode with Jamaal in the middle. Again, the ride ops were really cool, and we even did some hand slapping between riders in the train and us waiting to get on as the train was rolling into the station. I was going to get my gloves and hat before this ride, but the temp. was dropping. For this trip, however, the wait was even longer because someone who was told not to wear a rimmed hat on the ride lost it, so they had to cycle the train empty, then with only a ride op, then had to stop again before we got on because someone found the hat on the coaster. Why can’t people listen to the really cool ride ops here? Anywho, this ride was, again, better than the last. I was falling for Thunderhead hard and fast. The ride is relentless, even the trip thru the station ceiling was fast and furious, right before that dip down and then up into a banked curve.

So everyone was going to ride even more, but I needed gloves and hat. I left the group for a few min. to run to the tram, then the car and back for my things. I like the ticket idea at Dollywood, much like the way you ride the Metro in D.C. You get your admission ticket, stick it in a machine that runs it thru, then the ticket card pops out the top and you can go in. Really nifty, and you don’t have to get a hand stamp that I’m always afraid I’ll sweat off.

So I met the group at Thunderhead, and we walked in the park over towards Tornado. The sun was definitely setting, and I wanted at least another ride on Tornado incase the temp. dropped and we didn’t get any nite rides, which we were all kinda hoping for. Mike and Kristin went to the car to get something, so the group was waiting for them in the middle of the park, where I think they did some quick shopping, and Dawn got more Dollyfood. I told them that Jamaal and I were going to head to Tornado and Blazing Fury, and that we would meet them over there. It is a lot more confusing to get to Tornado in the nite.

I wanted to do the motion sim, but never got around to even going into that little section of the park, or the other end of the park that dosen’t have a coaster. That must have been where the water rides were. Oh well, there’s always next summer for that. So we stopped by Blazing Fury next, which didn’t seem to have a line. It looked cool outside; I was excited to see inside.

Blazing Fury: I didn’t know what to expect. The queue was kinda neat, and the station was nicely themed. My only problem was that it had an odd odor that wasn’t so good. We walked onto the back seat. Unlike Thunderhead and Tornado, Blazing Fury was running two trains. So off we were. I didn’t know what to expect. The dark ride elements are very nicely done, though there could be some sound effects at some of the more quiet moments. I was wondering when I was going to see some real action. It was just like going…going…going…going…drop. I won’t ruin the ‘surprise’ for anybody that has yet to be on it. I did enjoy the drops, and the last one, while thankfully not wet (is that controllable?), was rather dark. I would have liked to see more of the surroundings. It was very fun for a few times, and thankfully, it dosen’t close for weather.

After the back seat ride, we headed for the front, and actually had to wait a train. The front actually got me wet a bit. I took my gloves and hat off for it this time, and unzipped my jacket. The drops were much more violent (in a good way) in the front, and I actually seemed to get more air on one that in the back. A fun ride, and good for younger, budding enthusiasts.

So after Blazing Fury, we walked back to Tornado. This time it was the front for Jamaal and I. We did wait for I think one cycle to ride in the front. One thing that they do enforce is a single rider rule. It’s posted that no single riders after dark, but they will let you on as a single rider if there are at least 3 people in the car with you. I find that odd, is that an Arrow thing, and why is that?

Tennessee Tornado (again and again): Jamaal is quite shorter than I, and did get a bit of head banging on the horse collars in the middle of the ride. The front was different for both of us though, as the restraint came down on me more and his head cleared it. Its odd, I’m not that tall, but because of my height and my shoulders, Arrow restraints don’t come down too far, and I’m usually getting around 7 inches from chest to restraint. They do their job, but with the hang time on this one, it was kinda weird. The restraint came down to my chest on the front, however. This ride was at nite, and, though it was cool (and dark) in the tunnel, the course is lit. I think it would be much better with the lights off, because you’re in between a small indention in the mountains, and it would be very dark. Again, good forces, and I really liked the front seat.

After that, we rode again in the middle. I really like the smoothness and forces on this ride. Maybe one day, Arrow will get a contract for another looping coaster.

I called the group to see where they were, and they had headed over to Thunderhead, which was still running. So we hurried over to Thunderhead Gap once again (darn that walk!), and headed to meet the group.

Thunderhead (again, and again, and again): This time I was much warmer. I got on with Jamaal in the front for the first nite ride. This, however, was much different than earlier’s front seat ride. Thunderhead is good in the day. Thunderhead rules in the nite! This was almost a life changing experience. It’s totally out of control! There seems to be more air, you don’t know where you are going in the dark, and when that train races thru the station, you don’t see much of the line, and the people in line don’t see any of you. Very dark indeed! I wasn’t as cold this time around with my gloves and goofy hat that ‘Uncle Gap’ made for me. Later on, one of the older gents running Thunderhead who had flashing lights on his hat said that I made him feel less silly. Great ride ops! I really do want to clone them and send them everywhere.

After that, we got in line again, and I rode with Danny in the back. This time, since it was dark, I took my glasses off to see less. This ride is just intense anyhow. But it is so much better in the dark. It seemed faster somehow, and every element just seemed to deliver.

Again, I wanted another dose. At night, Thunderhead moved Villain out of my #2 spot as Thunderhead roared in. Sorry Villain, you only reigned for 3 1/2 months, but all good things come to an end. Danny and Jamaal sat this one out as Jeff and I got in the middle. I slipped and hurt my hand going up the stairs, but it didn’t detract me from riding. The middle seemed to have the best air at nite and riding with Jeff was fun, the laterals sent us flying into each other at each turn (he was the only person on the trip that was close to my height, and no, I’m not that tall, its just everyone else was that short).

The plan was to go to ride the train, which I wanted to do as well, and Dawn wanted to watch a Christmas show with lighted trees, but she missed the first showing, and thought it was over (though it would be playing again as we headed out of the park). Instead, we headed for our last rides of the nite on Tornado. On the way, we stopped to get some Cinnamon bread that was out of this world, and cheaper thanks to Dawn’s gold season pass. But it was still time to get blown away on Tornado.

Tennessee Tornado (again and again and again): Everyone got in line, and Jamaal and I got in the back. He kept saying “We’re not going to ride with everyone else if we get in the back” because there was a 1 train wait, but I wanted my back seat ride. Everyone left in the train, but no one else got in line, so when the train unloaded the group, Jamaal and I were the only two people to get on. I had jokingly asked the ride ops to let us ride by ourselves, and they said they’d do all they could to try. As soon as the train was unloaded, they opened the gates and we got on, the op at the controls gave a quick spiel, and dispatched us before anybody could get on. Did I say these were the best ride ops in the world? They smiled and waved, and Jamaal and I got a great ride all to ourselves.

The restraint in the back didn’t come down as far as I thought it was, and because of the hang time, I was being held in by the restraints. It was scary cool, but I will staple myself next time, as it was slightly more scary than cool. Everyone seemed to disappear, and Jamaal decided to sit one out, so Jeff, Kristin, and I rode again. I was in the front and they were behind me. I will be ranking Tornado very highly in the Steel polls from now on. I’m glad I waited to rank my steel until after this trip.

So that was my last coaster ride of the nite. We walked down the hill, and as the gang was heading towards the Steam Train, Jamaal and I said our good byes, hugged everybody (well almost), got molested my Mike, and headed our separate ways. The ride home was long and eventful. I slept most of the way while Jamaal drove. In Wytheville, VA, he took a wrong turn and ended up going the back roads till he hit a deer (did I mention we were in my Xterra?), screamed, and woke me up. Thankfully, the deer ran off unkilled and my Xterra was fine. I went back to sleep. He found a way back to I77, and we headed home. We arrived in good ole’ McDowell County around 3 a.m., tired, hoarse, but fulfilled.

I’m glad our trip was a success. I met some really cool, nice EmGees, and one non-EmGee. The park was beautiful, the staff was more than friendly, the food was great, and the coasters were outstanding. All of that pales in comparison to meeting the people I did. Thankfully, no one was attacked by Zombies. See you guys next year? *** Edited 12/14/2004 8:20:51 AM UTC by TeknoScorpion***

So you liked Silver Dolly City? For a park with a similar layout to SDC, it must be very similar to where the rides are. Yes, the only thing that doesnt almost sound exactly the same to SDC is paying for parking! That just frightens me!


its in the woods.........
I'm glad you had a great trip!

You'll have to visit the park next summer when all the rides and park areas are open!

coasterqueenTRN's avatar

It was a blast finally getting to meet you and hang out with all the usual peeps. :-D

It was cold Saturday but not too unbearable, and we REALLY lucked out with the rain. We probably had a little bit of drizzle, if any!

Thunderhead was total walk-on during the first couple of hours or so, and we figured we would just stay on the coaster until everyone in our group showed up eventually. :-D

Tennesse Tornado was running like a dream. It was dark, cold, damp, and the coaster was empty the entire day and night. Pure Bliss!

I admit it felt strange being in an amusement park in the middle of December, but it was a blast and I am glad I went.

The park was absolutely beautiful decked out in all the Christmas lights. The whole experience was like a dream.

Clint, Jamaal, Kristin, Danny, Jeff, Mike, Beth, Dawn, Diane......thanks for the cool times!


Oh, and Brian, Gator and Kris, we still hate you for not showing up. ;-)


Ha, trafic in Pigeon Forge never changes. Great Report, and glad that you enjoyed the park.

I thought that the front seat was tops, just because of the open front and the twisting first turn, but then again, all of the seats were great!

coasterqueenTRN's avatar
I think I like the front seat the best as well. The visuals just cannot be beat.

But I agree, I haven't discovered a *bad* seat on Thunderhead yet. ;-)


The front is still my favorite seat although Dawn and I found the third seat back to be highly enjoyable as well and the back delivered the best ride of the night (which was also my last and coldest ride of the night, but I didn't care). Tornado was also running really well, but following up the heavenly cinnamon bread with Arrow loopiness left me a little arrarrarr, but it was still great.

I'm going to say this in the nicest possible way, so don't hate me... I think Dollywood is better than Holiday World. *gasp* I guess I can blame it on being a sentimental fave too since I've gone there almost every year since I was 3, sometimes more than once a year (including this season). Should have bought that season pass.

The lights were definitely beautiful and while I'm a little sad we didn't get to see any of the Christmas shows, it gives me another reason to come back next Christmas... I think my mom actually wanted me to go back with her next weekend. ;)

Echoing Tina, thanks Clint, Jamaal, Kristin, Tina, Jeff, Mike, Beth, Dawn, and Diane for a wonderful time.

Kris "the weather is going to suck and we won't be able to ride anything" Allen, Brian "I wouldn't take Viagra to stiffen my sore throat" Yarborough, big Al-"I made Brian sick"-icia, Keith "my car will get wet and its too cold- since I used to live in Chicago" McVeen, Joe "I was just there yesterday and I live in Florida now, so be jealous" Campanella, and Bill "what excuse do I have again? I'm just avoiding Danny" Lentzsch... should've come! I'll excuse you this time. ;)


coasterqueenTRN's avatar
LOL! That pretty much sums up the wimps. Ahhh, we love them anyway. ;-)

Danny, you were pretty much "arrarrarr" the whole day, with or without the sugar and G-forces. :-D

I really need to get in on this Ipod thing you guys love so much. ;-)


rollergator's avatar
I'll forgive you JUST for spelling my name right, Danny....:)

To reiterate my latest (NOT lamest)'s too friggin' cold to cross the FL border until Memorial Day!

P.S. Exceptions only allowable for Solace and for the short trip to South Georgia to see if Cheetah has improved at all...noting how fast Cheetah dropped in Mitch's poll...just like the thermometers at Dollywood...;)

Thanks to Clint, Tina, Danny, *wifey*, *hubby*, Dawny, Beth, Mike, and the entire crew that invaded DaWood...important to remind these parks that "satisfying enthusiasts" should come first and foremost in their business plans...:)

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

Hey Bill, at least you got chewed out for missing it! I feel so... so... unchewed :(

-Jim, thinking if Dollywood, the rest of them probably would too ;)

coasterqueenTRN's avatar
I chew you out all the time, Jim. What are you complaining about? ;-)


Bill, Danny and Clint are now *husbands* and *kids* as well. Get with the program. ;-)

She did make me sick. Girls do that you know! *Grumbles*


Did y'all go with the Coaster Zombies? I didn't see that mentioned and I wondered...
We came with ourselves, but we spotted a couple Zombies on Saturday. And mullets. And bears. Oh my!

+Danny, coming in April

I believe that "The THUNDER in December will be a yearly event from now on...
I'm jealous of your night rides on Thunderhead. We went the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving and due to temperatures and rain we didn't get any night rides whatsoever! The traffic in Pigeon Forge was a nightmare! It took us over 2 hours to drive the 17 miles from our hotel to the park. There has to be a better way!
The name is escaping me but we did ride that giant spinning needle thing located on the strip just before the turnoff for Dollywood. Half of the ride I was screaming like a banshee and the other half I was praying out loud to all of the Gods I could think of for it to be over. Wow that was really a cool ride. I love'em when they scare the crap out of me! ;)

Millennium Force Laps-169 **Vertigo Launches-21** Dragster Launches-53

macho nachos said:
There has to be a better way!

Yea, stay closer to the end of Pigeon Forge that Dollywood is in (or better, stay in Gatlinberg which isn't as traffic-congested, and if you take Parkway back towards Pigeon Forge, its probably only 10 minutes through the forrest, and Dollywood is within a mile of "emerging" out of the forrest and into Pigeon Forge)

There are some nice cabins and hotels in the area, or even over in Seiverville, you could take the back road that Dollywood is on and have virtually no traffic.

rollergator's avatar

coasterqueenTRN said:
Bill, Danny and Clint are now *husbands* and *kids* as well. Get with the program. ;-)

As long as they don't take you, or April, or Kim, (or Kristin ;)) or Katie, or Jodi, or Diana, or any of my OTHER wives, then they can stay.....for awhile....if they behave themselves...;)

rollergator said:

coasterqueenTRN said:
Bill, Danny and Clint are now *husbands* and *kids* as well. Get with the program. ;-)

As long as they don't take you, or April, or Kim, (or Kristin ;)) or Katie, or Jodi, or Diana, or any of my OTHER wives, then they can stay.....for awhile....if they behave themselves...;)

Hold it Bill, I am the daddy and you have to go through me for them. Your lucky to have at least one vowel in your name, thats at least a +, but just having a last name like that is a -. :) So your still on thin ice.

Tina, you just lead the guys on :P

Clint, will you stop writing novels? Yet you want everyone to gather and freeze their tails off with you? Do you think we are all crazy?

Homey, your a wuss anyway

Invy, no one wants to chew you :)

Did I forget anyone?

Great TR Clint, Sounds like a great time for all you kids and I am happy to hear that such a big group could traverse the park so easily. Maybe daddy will give up his body for fun next year.

Oh forgot Danny, well that is easy :) Doesn't everyone?


An Old Coaster fart that refuses to grow old, I just wish many of my friends could have as well!

coasterqueenTRN's avatar
Bill, you went from *kid* to *husband* since you are older than me. It only makes sense.

I am your MAIN *wife* The rest are sub-wives.

Ed is grand daddy.

I am now confused.



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