TR: First time at Dollywood (09/25/11)
Place: Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN)
I know this is three weeks late, but I wasn’t able to log in to URC for a while.
People that know me know that I rank Busch Gardens Williamsburg as my #1 overall theme park. There’s just something about that park that really does it for me. The place is beautifully landscaped, has relatively friendly employees, has outstanding food, and has several rides that are a notch above those at standard theme parks when it comes to theming and design (DarKastle, the defunct Big Bad Wolf, Escape From Pompeii, etc). Parks like BGW are very hard to find in my book. But a few weeks back, I finally found a park that ranks right up there with BGW. After years of wanting to visit, I made my long-overdue pilgrimage to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. Dollywood had grounds that were beautifully landscaped, employees that may be the friendliest I have EVER encountered, food that was fresh and delicious, and some rides that were very well-themed. While I didn’t get to take in any of the shows due to limited time, I still had a blast at Dollywood and hope to return in the not too distant future.
Despite being located in Pigeon Forge, TN, my first impression of Dollywood was a good one. The Pigeon Forge “Parkway” area of Tennessee for the most part is an absolute dump. It’s a 3 mile stretch of go-kart tracks, Hillbilly t-shirt stores, gaudy attractions, several “half Skyscraper” rides (there’s a car on only one end), Old Timey Photo stores, and other tourist traps. Thankfully Dollywood is set two miles off the main Parkway in a beautifully wooded and secluded area. You can’t see any of the park at all until you’re actually in it, which I thought was a neat touch. I know driving down the Cedar Point Causeway is a thrill as you get to see an amazing skyline of rides, but there’s also something about entering a park you’ve never been to that isn’t visible from the road. It sort of builds a sense of anticipation for what’s to come. As I entered the park, everyone was just incredibly nice. The lady who handed me a map smiled and told me to have a blessed day. I rented a Q-Bot for the day and the Q2Q guy gave me a personal 5 minute overview on how to use the device. Employees strolling on the midways smiled and said “Hello”. It was such a refreshing change from the usual apathetic amusement park workers. As I wandered the gorgeously maintained midways, I enjoyed seeing several waterfalls, water wheels, fountains, and even seeing a chapel in the middle of an amusement park. Dollywood definitely has a unique feel to it and it is one I thoroughly enjoyed.
My first ride of the day would be Tennessee Tornado, which I believe was one of the last coasters built by Arrow Dynamics (pre S&S takeover). Dollywood’s theming was evident here as the area leading to the coaster had numerous objects that appeared to be blown over by a tornado. The station exterior continued this theme with its tattered appearance. The ride itself seemed to be a departure for Arrow as the three inversions seemed much different and larger than anything they had done prior. The ride consists of a rollout of the station where en route to the lift, howling wind noises are heard. You then climb a rather impressive lift hill, turn, then plunge down a sort of tunneled first drop. The drop was rather smooth, as was the entire ride. There were two large loop inversions and a sidewinder along the course and that is pretty much it. TT is a rather short ride, but it's a good one and its setting in the woods of Dollywood really enhances the ride experience. My only gripe was the sort of confusing exit that dumps you into an arcade. Definitely a good way to start the day.
Next stop was Blazing Fury, which would wind up being my absolute favorite ride of the day. This Silver Dollar City original starts off as a powered dark ride. Riding in a train with only a simple lap bar restraint, guests pass a variety of severely outdated scenes and horrid animation of a town that's caught on fire. While that may sound like a complaint, it really isn't. It reminded me a lot of the old Earthquake ride at Cedar Point. Halfway through the course, we enter a closed mine shaft that suddenly collapses and the train rolls down a small drop. Cool! Next, riders hear a train whistle and see smoke up ahead and roll directly towards a locomotive. At the last minute, the train drops down another hill to safety. Or does it? The train momentarily stalls on a small incline, a voice yells out "Fire In The Hooooooole!" and the train drops down a large drop into what I believe at one time was a splashdown area before rolling back to the loading area. The ride is so incredibly fun I had to do it again later in the day. My QBot (which at $15 was an absolute steal) got me on in the front seat and it was even better than my first ride. A great ride that I can't wait to ride again on a return trip to Dollywood, or a trip to Silver Dollar City in Branson!
Mystery Mine was next and on my way there, I passed the construction site of the Wild Eagle wing rider coaster going in for 2012. The brake run was up and several other supports are as well. I think that will be a great addition to an already great park. (After a few weeks, the ride is almost half done it seems. They are really moving along nicely.) Anyhow, Mystery Mine is a highly themed Gerstlauer Eurofighter that has its good and bad points. The ride looks awesome from the midway with an outstanding theme job. Once through the line (or skipping it with Q-Bot) I boarded in the front row. Upon dispatch, the 8-passenger car immediately drops down a small but steep dip out of the station and into a dark ride-like area with bats, closed mine tracks, and other brief scenes. The car then pauses momentarily to climb a vertical lift that leads to an outdoor section of twists and turns. I found this section to be very painful as my head ricocheted off the shoulder harness several times. The train then rolled back indoors and set up to climb the ride's second vertical lift. This time, as we climbed towards the top, lightning flashes and a sign crashes over the "opening" that the train was supposed to escape through. Once at the top, the car pauses, three flame cannons shoot off just inches from your face, and then the car drops down a near-vertical hill into an inline twist and then a unique twist-and-dive inversion (similar to the element found on the Manhattan Express/Roller Coaster at New York New York in Las Vegas) before hitting the brakes. It really is an awesome experience, and the theming is top notch. I just wish it wasn't quite so rough during the outdoor portion. In any case, MM was a winner on the two times I rode it.
The park's new ride for 2011 was Barnstormer, a 32-passenger S&S Screamin' Swing (identical to the SwingShot at Kennywood) themed to flying through a barn. As a fan of these rides, I gave it a try. The theme job is simple but effective and the program seemed to be a good one. The GP also seemed to love it as they were all applauding and "yee-hawing" at the ride's conclusion. Only one side was in operation though, which caused the line to be a little longer than necessary. Of course with Q-Bot, that really didn’t matter!
I decided to eat an early lunch and ate at an all-you-can-eat chicken buffet near the Dollywood Grist Mill. All the food was hot, fresh, and very tasty. No wonder Dollywood is known for their outstanding food. Yes, it was $15, but it was all you can eat.
My next stop was the Country Fair area, a nicely done area of smaller “traditional” rides such as a standard Eli Bridge Ferris Wheel, a Zamperla Disk-O, a Chance Aviator, what I believe was a Chance Carousel and an Eli Scrambler. While in the area, I took a spin aboard the Waltzing Swinger. I'm not sure if this was a Moser or Zamperla model, but it was still a fun ride that offered a long ride cycle and had a ride operator that sounded exactly like Boomhauer from King of the Hill.
Since the Dollywood Express was just arriving, I headed over to board the park’s gorgeous coal-powered locomotive train. While waiting, a staff member performed magic tricks for families on board which I thought was a nice touch. A recorded announcement also warned riders that they will get soot on them from the train and if it should get in their eyes, they will be taken to First Aid to have it "gently removed". Wow, this ride is dangerous! The actual ride is fantastic as it is a 5-mile, 20 minute trip through the woods and back. You'll even catch a nice glimpse of the Smoky Mountains in the distance. The on-board live narration was also a nice feature as he invited us to all show the guests on the midways what a friendly park Dollywood is by waving and saying “Howdy”. I love southern hospitality! If I had to rate train rides, this would be my new #1, dethroning BGW's after many years at the top.
Thunderhead would be my next stop. This GCI wooden coaster looks awesome with its many twists and turns and its Millennium Flyer trains, but overall I found the ride to be a bit rough. Even though I rode it twice (near walk-on both times), I couldn't tell you what happens on the ride as it all happens so fast after the first drop. The trains fly through severely banked turns and speed over some good airtime hills, and by the end of the ride I was just plastered into my seat and could barely move. It's an incredibly intense coaster, but in my opinion, the roughness definitely knocks it down a few notches. Its wooded location was nice though.
My final ride of the day was a big surprise to me. I decided to give the park's Daredevil Falls log flume a try, and boy am I glad I did. The ride features a very nice course with fast moving waters, theme elements such as a bat cave, a sawmill and others, and after a long climb to the top, the boat finally drops 60 feet down a huge drop into a geyser-enhanced splashdown. I escaped relatively dry which also made this ride a hit. I have never heard much about this flume, which is surprising given how awesome it is. A great way to end my five hours at the park. Was this an Arrow creation, or did the park build it in-house?
Dollywood really is awesome. The staff is the friendliest I have encountered at any theme park (sorry Holiday World), the grounds and midways were spotless, the theming and landscaping is spectacular, and the rides are all very well done. I cannot wait to return to try Wild Eagle and to check out some of the park's live shows. My time was limited, so I focused on the rides instead. I highly recommend Dollywood to anyone that enjoys well-themed amusement parks.
While in the Smoky Mountain area, we stayed in a cabin which offered stunning views of the mountains. For the price, it couldn’t be beat. Yes, we were about 10 miles from the action of the Parkway, but I sort of liked being a bit more secluded than having to deal with the insane traffic that passes through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. I also had the chance to visit Ober Gatlinburg and its aerial tramway, the Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, NC, the Smoky Mountain National Park, the former 1982 World’s Fair site in Knoxville with its fabulous Sunsphere, and several minor attractions including the horrendously awful Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride in Pigeon Forge. I had heard it was one of the worst attractions ever, so that made me want to go even more. The reviews were true. It's nothing more than an elaborate spook house where the animatronics may or may not work. $15.70 to ride was also a complete rip-off. I told my friends that if Ed Wood (of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" fame) ever built an amusement ride, this would have probably been the result. Beyond bad, but funny at the same time. And if anyone wants a food recommendation, I HIGHLY recommend the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grill. Delicious food, great service and awesome desserts.
Dollywood Pics can be found here: http://rayp.smugmug.com/Travel/Dollywood-2011
Other Tennessee pics (mostly of mountains and such) can be found here: http://rayp.smugmug.com/Travel/Tennessee-2011
And there’s a long (9 minute) video of some random Tennessee stuff including a few Dollywood clips and 3 minutes of the Jurassic Jungle ride here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWXuEu9FGhE
Thanks for reading.
Glad you're back Ray. Awesome TR. I also really like Dollywood. I voted Dollywood for friendliest park. The employees really go out of their way to make you feel like their guest. I also really liked Tennessee Tornado. I thought it was the smoothest Arrow looper I've ridden. Blazing Fury is unique and the theming on Mystery Mine is Disney caliber. I'm very surprised by your review of Thunderhead. Last year I rode it 20 times strait, 10 in front and 10 in the back. The thing that was most most impressive was how smooth it was. In fact the only wooden coaster I've ridden that's smoother is El Toro. Even coasters like Boulderdash and Lightning Racer and Ravine Flyer II are not as smooth as Thunderhead. I guess that shows how temperamental wooden coasters can be. I was there on Oct. 1st 2010 and your visit was this past Sept. To me that's amazing how a coaster can change in a year. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. Dollywood is a place that coaster enthusiasts and amusement park enthusiasts can enjoy.
Another very well written, detailed TR from ray p.
I'm glad you were able to get to Dollywood. I've only been one time, two years ago, and it's one of my favorite parks - easily one of the best parks in the country.
Great rides, great theming, great setting, great atmosphere, and spectacular food.
BTW, since you haven't been around for a while... I finally made it up to Waldameer this summer, as well as Holiday World. TR's are on here somewhere.
Well done TR Ray. You described everything so well in detail, it brought back memories of my trip there. You're right about the Pigeon Forge Parkway (or whatever it's called) That stretch is extremely tacky; It kinda had that "Intl' Drive in Orlando" feel with cheesy stuff like eighteen mini golf courses, Wonderworks etc LOL. I love Dollywood. While I seen theming that was well done at other parks, but BGW, and Dollywood (esp the Timber Canyon area) had me in awe.
Mystery Mine definitely has some rough areas throughout the course; I really wish that they could replace those OTHR's maybe with some shoulder strap style restraints. When I rode Thunderhead is was very smooth; Like Frontrow said earlier, maybe that temperamental factor is in play. I loved Daredevil Falls. That's a very underrated boat flume IMO; The theming was awesome. Thanks for the TR.
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Wow, that was an awesome report! I was in Gatlinburg back in August staying in a cabin and we just didn't have the money to make it to Dollywood. After reading this though, it seems more than worth it!
Dollywood sounds like CP's 'Frontier Town' done much better and on a huge scale! While you were 'ober' Gatlinburg, did you get a chance to ride the Alpine Slide? I rode it in August, but being the only one I've ridden, I'd love to know how/if it compares to others.
I'm glad you rode the Jurassic Park ride on the 'strip.' We drove by it several times and were quite curious. You should check out the Hollywood Stars Car Museum in Gatlinburg, it was one attraction that WAS worth the money.
Thanks for an awesome, detailed report! I'll be punching my ticket to Dollywood as soon as I get the chance!