This past Saturday, myself, my wife Kim and our friends Paul and Faith took a little trip to Pigeon Forge, TN to see what all of the hype surrounding some little coaster called Thunderhead was all about. We left Charlotte, NC around 4:30 AM and got to the park around a little after 9:00 AM. The drive should have taken about an hour less than what it did but stops for breakfast and restroom breaks slowed us down. We took the back way into the park and found almost no traffic on the way. After parking and taking the tram in, we immediately got our season passes processed. We headed into the park and from here split up. Paul wanted to ride the Tennessee Tornado first, so that Thunderhead would be his 200th credit. He and Faith headed that way, while Kim and I immediately hoofed it towards Thunderhead Gap.
The Gap had some nice themeing, including places to stop and take pictures with various props, as you make your way up a long and winding path towards the coaster. Thunderhead itself is awesome to behold and the sight of the trains whizzing around the front area of the queue and barreling through the station immediately gets you fired up to jump in line. After only about a ten minute wait we were ready to ride the back seat. Let me first mention thought how awesome the fly-through is. Nothing is cooler than standing there, jazzed up to ride, and suddenly a full train of screaming riders comes tearing right through the station at 40 mph. The look on some of the people in line faces was priceless. We headed up the lift and the rest was coaster heaven. Pretty much everything everyone has been saying about this coaster is true and then some. It has it all. An awesome curving first drop, tons of air, wicked laterals, relentless speed, some of the most extreme banking seen on a wood coaster, and the aforementioned station fly-through. It doesn’t get much better than this. The banking is so extreme in some places, you feel as if your arms were any longer you would be knocking your hands on the nearby side rails. If I had to compare it to another coaster, I would say that it is a cross between Lightning Racer and The Legend, with some Ghostrider thrown in.
My only complaint was that the lap bars on the Millennium Flyer trains are very touchy. You really have to be careful that you don’t get stapled (especially going up the lift where it can easily fall back an extra click) because you will definitely want to have a little extra room to feel all of the airtime this thing delivers. I also must give kudos to the excellent crew who did a great job all day. They were very enthusiastic and kept stacking at a minimum even though it seemed like every train that went out had a least one person that was either too big to ride or was scared and wanted to get off (the fly-through doesn’t help matters). After a back and front seat ride, Paul and Faith showed up and we rode with them some more, including a front seat ride with Paul for his 200th credit. We rode about 10 times during the course of the day and actually found that the middle delivered the best rides for us. It seemed to just have that perfect mixture of everything there, though the back is the best for the first drop (air all the way down). We could have ridden Thunderhead all day but realized that we had a whole rest of a park to explore.
We decided to head towards the back of the park and try out the Tennessee Tornado. I was very impressed by the themeing in this area. Lots of tangled and twisted debris is scattered about as you make your way towards the coaster. The TN Tornado itself was the biggest surprise of the day. The mini drop off the lift builds up some nice speed heading into the big drop down the side of the mountain that delivers some of the best air (we were in the back) that I’ve ever experience on a steel looper. The inversions come fast and furious but were still very smooth. My only complaint is that it is over way too soon. It’s a shame that this was Arrow’s final looper, as I really feel like this was their best work. We then went next door to check out Blazing Fury. I really liked this coaster/darkride. The effects were kind of out of date but the drops, including the final splashdown, were fun. We especially liked how every time the operator would dispatch a train, he would say “Here we go, fire in the hole!”, which became our official catchphrase of the day.
We spent the rest of the day, wandering around the park taking in the atmosphere. We took a ride on their Carousel, which was very colorful, with many vibrant looking animals to choose a ride on. I did mine on the red rooster. We also took a ride on the Dollywood Express. Everybody who visits the park should make it a priority to take a ride on this, as you really get a great look at some of the back parts of the park and surrounding mountains and views that you wouldn’t normally see. You just have to watch out for flying embers and ash that can float back from the engine. Unfortunately, one of the rides I was most looking forward to, The Smokey Mountain Wilderness Adventure, was a complete letdown. The theme work in the queue was nicely done, but the simulator itself was pretty poor. Definitely one of the worst simulators I have been on. The chairs just had no synchronicity with the action on screen, which just consisted of various crashes into woods, water, buildings, etc. For a while I was thinking that maybe I was being too rough on it but then we rode the Sponge Bob one at Carowinds the next day, and were reminded that this is how a simulator is supposed to be. I had wanted to ride the various water rides that the park had to offer, especially the Mountain Slidewinder, but no one else was willing to go get wet. Plus the thought of walking around in soaked jeans in mid 60s temps wasn’t that appealing anyway. Oh well, I’ll get them when we come back later this summer.
All in all, we really enjoyed Dollywood. The park was spotless, the workers were very friendly, the food was good, and they have a great collection of rides. It seems like Dollywood has really taken a step into the big time with Thunderhead and it was a pleasure to see that neither the coaster nor the park disappointed.
*** Edited 4/17/2004 5:59:16 AM UTC by Pale Rider***
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