Twelve Park Tour - Part 9 (Dollywood)

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We had a pleasant drive from Charlotte to Gatlinburg. Since David was joining us at Dollywood and we were heading to Georgia from there, we took two cars. Tim rode with David for the first half of the trip and I rode with him the second half. The final quarter of the trip was interesting as we wound our way through the dark mountains with businesses few and far between (and most of the ones we did see sold fireworks), then suddenly the town of Gatlinburg appears out of nowhere. We settled in to our hotel, and went out for a late dinner. Gatlinburg looks like a fun place, they had all kinds of restaurants and shops, an observation tower, and an aerial tramway and chairlift up to the top of the mountains. I wish we could have spent more time there.

The next morning we had maybe a fifteen-minute drive to Dollywood. We arrived just in time for the park opening and headed up the winding path to Thunderhead. I’m sure you’ve all read about it by now, so you don’t need a blow-by-blow description. The ride is definitely exciting and a lot of fun to ride. It’s not in my top ten, but it does come close. I loved the very steep banking, the airtime with a twist, the sustained speed--everything about it is good. With all the banking, turns, crossovers, and use of the natural terrain, this coaster is a beautiful piece of work and an engineering marvel, which most GCIIs are. We both rode Ozark Wildcat last year, and in comparing the two, we both slightly prefer Ozark Wildcat as it seems a little more forceful—more laterals and more pronounced airtime, even though it is a shorter coaster. Still, Thunderhead is absolutely worthy of any travel plans, as is the park.

After taking a couple of spins on Thunderhead we decided to head back to the car and pick up the cameras. Since you must exit through the large gift shop we decided to get that out of the way and take our newly purchased items to the car. What should have been a quick and simple task turned out to be a little more involved than that. Dollywood is loaded with all kinds of souvenirs, with several choices for each type of item available. We loaded up on magnets, shot glasses, coffee mugs, postcards, and I think we even bought five different Christmas ornaments (and that was after we narrowed down the choices). We were in the park less than an hour and already shot their per caps through the roof.

After getting our cameras we set about exploring the rest of the park. All of us had been there before but at different times. Tim’s previous visit was the longest ago; when he was last at the park they still had the mine train. I visited in 1999 the year Tornado opened, and David was here within a year or two. We worked our way up Craftsman’s Valley and stopped for a ride on Daredevil Falls. This is one of only two Hopkins’ super flumes, the other being at Fiesta Texas. Both have large logs holding eight people sitting side by side in four rows, like the logs at WDW. The themeing here is kind of cute as we traveled through caves and past various backwoods scenes. The final drop is pretty big and looks beautiful with waterfalls on either side of it. Water cannons fire as the boats hit the runout, but they aren’t overly drenching. We got off heavily splashed but not soaked.

We headed over to Blazing Fury, the indoor dark ride with a few coaster-like drops near the end. This ride is almost identical to Fire in the Hole at Silver Dollar City, but I think FITH is better narrated with the Baldknobber storyline. However, both are wonderful dark rides that we dearly love.

Once we finally made it to the back of the park, we rode Tennessee Tornado. This was the last traditional Arrow looper ever built. This one is pretty smooth and it has a very large loop with some weird directional changes in it. It’s kind of on the short side, but still a lot of fun. The first drop through the tunnel is quite good in the back seat.

We decided to eat lunch at Aunt Granny’s near the front of the park. As we worked our way back toward the front, we stopped by the Mountain Slidewinder. There are only two of these rides that I know of, the other being at Dollywood’s sister park Silver Dollar City. David decided to sit this one out, so we gave him all the camera equipment. Tim & I ended up riding with a family of three so we had a full boat, probably close to the weight limit. This is an exciting ride as the heavy boats really climb the sides of the chutes more than a typical waterslide tube would. We both got pretty drenched on the way down, and I was a little concerned about heading into an air-conditioned building for lunch while soaking wet.

David and I enjoyed our meal at Aunt Granny’s, which is an all-you-can-eat buffet. I think Tim would have preferred a few more choices as he doesn’t care for meatloaf or Salisbury steak, and the chicken unfortunately was down to just wings and legs. They had a salad buffet, a long buffet with plenty of hot items, a buffet table with just fruit, and a dessert buffet.

After lunch we headed to a show, Buddy Baxter’s Bandstand USA. This was a sixties show, that ran fairly long (50 minutes). The talent was pretty good, especially the guy who played Buddy Baxter, but I thought the show lacked something. It just didn’t flow well, and at times it got repetitious to the point of being annoying. Dollywood is known as a show park, and I always make the inevitable comparison to Fiesta shows. I didn’t think this show could hold a candle to the Rockville shows (there are two now) at Fiesta Texas, but compared to most theme parks, a very strong performance.

We headed over to the Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure Tour, an Iwerks ride simulator. This was our longest wait of the day, and it was not worth it. The premise is that Dolly’s cousin Clovis invents a vehicle that gives tours of the Great Smoky Mountains. We spend most of our time bumping and running into things. I saw a lot of potential here, they used Dolly in the production and the theme was a good idea, given the location of the park, but the execution was poorly done. On my last visit I rode what was then Thunder Road in this theater and I thought that was much better.

We then headed over to the train to check out the schedule, but were informed that the train would not be operating at all today. That would be the second time I missed the train so to speak. I was hoping to get on it this time as this is a full size steam locomotive, not like the narrow gauge trains at most other amusement parks.

We took a spin on the old log flume, which I believe is Arrow log flume number three or four. It came from the Texas Pavilion of the New York World’s fair. While we were in line it started to rain. This flume reminded me a lot of the Mill Race (Arrow #2) at Cedar Point, which was of course from the same era. We got wetter than we expected from the drop and from the light rain.

It looked like the rain wasn’t going to let up so we sought shelter in the Valley Theater where the Country Crossroads show was scheduled to start shortly. David headed out in search of a funnel cake and was successful. He especially likes the ones here at Dollywood because they come with a glaze-like topping that you would normally find on the outside of a Krispy Kreme donut. According to David this is the traditional way to make them and it’s hard to find funnel cakes with this topping nowadays. I’m not a big country-western fan but I can certainly appreciate the music. I thought the performance was good, but not as good as the country show at Fiesta Texas. By the time the show was over, the rain had stopped—for now.

After the show David decided it was time for him to head back to Charlotte. We walked him back to the car and dropped off the photo cameras. Once back in we headed back into the park, and worked our way back to Blazing Fury. After one ride it started to pour, so we walked back around and rode it a couple of more times while we waited for the rain to stop. When the rain finally let up to the point where we could walk without drenching our shoes, we headed back toward the front of the park in search of the candy store to buy some taffy. Eventually the rain stopped but it was only about an hour before closing. We were curious if any of the coasters would reopen but from where we were each was a trek.

Tim wanted to shoot some video of the park so he headed back to the car to drop off the taffy and pick up the video camera. I didn’t need to follow, so I thought I would pop into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum. After a few exhibits I realized I still had the car keys, so I quickly exited and headed after Tim in the parking lot. By the time I caught up with him we were almost to the car. We weren’t all that far from the entrance but with so many people gone, we moved the car even closer, as close as you can get without parking in a handicap space. We opted to take our chance that the coaster would be open and climb our way back up into Thunderhead Gap. As we got near the top they started cycling Thunderhead. We both took one spin, then I rode while Tim filmed. He didn’t get much filming done as the camera battery was giving him trouble. They were only running one train, and the crowd was slowly building. After a few more rides we found ourselves satisfied, and deemed the line too long to wait. We thought we might try Tornado again, and hiked all the way to the other end of the park. We finished the evening at Tornado, where hardly anyone was riding. We rode three times in a row, and then decided that was enough. By then the park was approaching closing time.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Dollywood. Like Silver Dollar City it has a completely different feel to it than the normal amusement park. The clientele is older and well-behaved, the employees even more so. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and courteous. The ride ops were efficient and attentive and very friendly. I’m giving them my Golden Ticket vote for friendliest park staff this year. The park itself has a wonderful mix of natural beauty and well-manicured landscaping. What it lacks in thrill rides, it makes up for in character.

After leaving the park we headed to Chattanooga for the evening. Tim was wearing a Silver Dollar City T-shirt and when we stopped for gas just outside the park, someone commented that it must be a really old shirt as it hasn’t been called Silver Dollar City since the eighties. Apparently they weren’t aware that there was another one in Branson.


Next stop Six Flags Over Georgia.

Nice TR and I absolutely agree with you about the Ozark Wildcat, compared to Thunderhead. It just has so much more pronounced air and laterals than Thunderhead did, especially with it's wild finale. I assume because of it's more compact nature. Don't get me wrong, Thunderhead is no slouch either and both definitely warrant a trip to their respective parks.
Of course, the few of us who don't rate a ride soley on G's love this ride.

Dollywood is a great park with a great staff.

Glad You came and saw us at Dollywood!

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Jeffrey Seifert said: We then headed over to the train to check out the schedule, but were informed that the train would not be operating at all today. That would be the second time I missed the train so to speak. I was hoping to get on it this time as this is a full size steam locomotive, not like the narrow gauge trains at most other amusement parks.

So sorry you didn't get to ride the DW Express. It's one of the best rides in the park. Unfortunatly, it seems to be having a string of bad luck lately, whether it be people falling off or #70 having mechanical problems. Better luck next time! :)

CoastermanX said:
Of course, the few of us who don't rate a ride soley on G's love this ride.

Heh, I love Thunderhead too. I just love the Ozark Wildcat a little more. I would really love to have either one in my backyard like you guys do ;)

I'll trade Twister for the Ozark Wildcat or Thunderhead! As a bonus I'll even throw in the Whirlwind and I'd even consider the Flyers too!

No Phoenix or Bumper Cars though!

The Flyers just might be what get's the deal done.
And I'm a huge Flyer fan too. It would be a sacrifce, especially on Bargin Nights.
This great trip report makes me more anxious for my upcoming visit. I was surprised to hear that the Dollywood Express train wasn't operating. Does anyone (maybe Coastermanx) know if there is an ongoing problem or was it just a fluke that day that the train wasn't running? I would hate to miss out on the train during my visit.
I'd like to know what's been up with the train lately as well. Aside from the woman falling off, it seems the train has been closed 2 or 3 days every month this season from the TRs I've read. Hopefully it's not because of a budget cut or anything along the lines of that...

Maybe the DW Express will have a more solid operating schedule when they switch out engines and #192 starts running in August.

*** Edited 7/22/2004 9:57:36 PM UTC by Dukeis#1***

Im quite sure it isn't budget cuts. They are probably having problems with Cinderella. They really hate to use Klondike Kate anyways.

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It isn't budget cuts, I think it is mainly just using engine #70. Last year they switched the engines back and forth so it was much smoother. Right now I think #192 is about ready so hopefully it will be better. They are running about 3 train rides an hour so just think how much wear on #70.

Let the Thunder RROOLLLL!!!
The Thunderhead
The Wildest Ride in the Woods!

I wonder if they will start two locomotives on the track soon? They are fixing up a new one, making them have three engines, they only use one at a time...

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After inquiring to one of the engineers the other day, (I think he was the lead Supervisor) I was told that #71 (Named "Beatrice" :)) was just pulled out so they could work on the track where it was parked behind the locomotive repair building. They plan to move it back whenever the track work is finished.

He said that they may one day fix #71 up to operating condition(It's missing a lot of parts), but #70, Cinderella or #192, Klondike Katie will have to croak first.

Dollywood might also sell #71 someday if the right price is named.

*** Edited 7/26/2004 4:31:55 AM UTC by Dukeis#1***

What is the engine that sits at the Dollywood Information Center on the Parkway?

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^That's old #107. It was built in 1887, making it 117 years old! It's from the Smoky Mountain Railroad which ran from Sevierville to Knoxville until 1962.

When the SMRR shut down, it was purchased by Rebel Railroad (One of DW's predecessors) for static display, and to serve as a billboard for the park.

It's too big for the tracks at Dollywood. Dollywood's tracks are narrow gauge (3ft between the 2 rails), but #107 is standard gauge. (5ft between the 2 rails)

At one time there was also another locomotive out on display next to the Info Center. I think the park sold it to a Chattanooga Hotel in 1990.

Sorry for the history rant! ;)

The DW Express always fascinates me. Being one of the only parks in America to run full Steam Engines strike pride into me. None of that plantation crap here.

I would like to learn more of DW's history. Someone should write a book on DW like Patton did for SDC.

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^I agree. Somebody should make a suggestion to the merchandise department to do that.

They could have it published for Dollywood's 20th Anniversary in 2006.

Maybe they could also do an updated version of the "Memories Worth Repeating" Video as well, that could include Thunderhead, Tennessee Tornado and the new Dolly museum.

*** Edited 7/26/2004 7:06:01 AM UTC by Dukeis#1***

Maybe someone will. ;)

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