USA 04/19 – Dollywood + Pigeon Forge
Today we drove from Massachusetts to Tennessee, a drive time of nearly 12 hours, despite what you’d imagine though we had a great time. 2 best friends chatting about anything and everything, eating the many snacks that littered the car and blasting K-pop, that’s a pretty good time to me.
This 12 hour drive also forever hardened us, what’s a 6 hour drive to a park when you’ve driven 12 to Dollywood?
Upon arriving in Pigeon Forge I was instantly buzzing, I know some find these so called tourist traps tacky but to me Pigeon Forge was alive and bursting with energy. Though we only scratched the surface of what the place offered it felt amazing knowing that there was always something happening and something to do.
To increase my excitement, when I turned on the TV in the hotel it started on a channel about all the things to do in Pigeon Forge and I was presented with a friendly Southern man unironically telling me not to feed the bears for everyone’s safety.
Pre Lightning Rod, Dollywood looked to be a beautiful park to visit, in a beautiful setting, with a solid coaster line up. The kind of place you know you need to visit one day and know you’ll realy enjoy it. Then they added the Rod and everything changed. The park and that coaster became unmissable.
It was dark we when arrived in Pigeon Forge last night, so just imagine our reaction on the 10 minute drive from our hotel to the park. Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountains are stunning and the perfect setting for a park.
We pulled into the car park still in awe of our surroundings and soon found ourselves on the tram to the park entrance. The tram itself was such a nice experience and I couldn’t think of a better introduction to Dollywood. I’d never felt more welcomed to a park than how the staff running that tram made me feel. We haven’t even entered yet and I already love Dollywood.
I struggle to think of a recent coaster that’s hit the scene with as much impact as Lightning Rod.
When announced it set the scene on fire, once opened it instantly became a legend and even bested the immense hype during it’s contruction to become the favourite coaster of many. Then the rod had it’s imfamous period of unrealibility but this only helped to build a character for the brand new coaster.
I was desperate to ride Lightning Rod from the moment I knew of it’s existance, long before I knew how awesome RMCs were. Did it live up to my very high expections then?
Not quite but I’m not at all disappointed.
The Rod’s launch lift is unlike anything else in the World, it’s ridiculous but fantastic. Dolly’s humps don’t deliver airtime as strong as I was expecting but they are still very enjoyable. Lightning Rod’s main drop ejects you and pins you to the restraint the whole way down, stealing Wildfire’s best feature. Then you hit the pot hole at the bottom of the drop, more character on show from the Rod.
From here until the quad down things are really good fun but in my opinion nothing mindblowing. If you’ve ridden other decent RMC creations then the middle section of LR probably isn’t going to blow you away.
Then the quad down happens and Christ do things turn intense suddenly. From the moment you hit the first part of the quad down, until the turn into the brakes things get serious. The ejector air starts vicious but keeps getting stronger until the speed hill under the brake run tries to break your legs it ejects you so hard.
Finally you hit the brakes at what feels like 50 mph, just after things have gotten insanely good. The Rod is a short ride as it is, so it’s a bit of a tease that things end this way. Would keeping the coaster going have led to it’s ending being weaker though? It’s possible.
After 20 laps over 2 days I ended up ranking Lightning Rod just below Wicked Cyclone and that’s far from a bad place to be.
Praise must and will be given to awesome ride team that were in charge of the Rod during our 2 days at the park. They were extremely friendly and sounded genuinely interested during our conversations with them. Wonderful bunch of people making a fantastic coaster just that little bit more special.
That’s enough Rod for now, let’s see what else this beautiful park has to offer.
The park’s rapids and log flume were next, both were really good fun and both were amazingly themed and landscaped.
It’s now I need to mention that just walking around Dollywood is a pleasant experience. The sights and smells at almost every turn really help take you to a place and time I’ve never been before but wish I never had to leave. On route to Blazing Fury I remember stopping mid sentence and shouting “oh my God, they have eagles”, before running off to get a closer look.
Blazing Fury, the park’s legendary dark ride/coaster hybrid was great fun. The dark ride sections were charming and the surprise drop had more ejector than Superman.
This coaster was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, it was smooth, it had a fun layout but it’s still just an Arrow Looper though. More enjoyable than the actual coaster was a man behind us making really loud comments throughout the entire layout. With my favourite being, “here comes the WORST PART”, just as we started to descend the drop.
Wild Eagle was my first B&M Wing coaster that understood how to properly use the hardware. Soaring through beautiful scenary and elegant drawn out inversions with the Eagle just felt right and made for a fantastic experience.
The operator of the Eagle needs a mention too, I can’t think of another time the operator of a coaster has started a meaningful conversion with us.
Next up was FireChaser Express, Dollywood’s Gerstlauer family coaster and my God was it awesome.
Don’t you dare look at this coaster’s stats and judge it poorly because I’m telling you now it’s much more enjoyable than coasters double it’s height and speed. This little beast has everything, launches, airtime, a backwards section, amazing theming (including real fire) and a stunning location.
We rode this thing countless times over our 2 days in the park and it never stopped impressing me.
On route to Mystery Mine we discovered some empty rocking chairs overlooking a beautiful fountain. More so out of curiosity than anything else we decided to take a seat. This few minutes of bliss allowed us to fully comprehend just how lovely Dollywood is in so many ways.
While we rocked and an employee with a banjo played a tune to the couple sitting near us, me and Heartline both had the same thought, Dollywood might be our new favourite park.
I’d been interested in checking out Mystery Mine for a long time and this heavily themed Gerstlauer Eurofighter didn’t disappoint.
While it’s fair to say the coaster rides strange and jerky in places thanks to being an early example of the Eurofighter, I found these flaws quite endearing and amusing. That said it’s the extremely high levels of theming that really make Mystery Mine a must ride. Oh, and the soundtrack.
Next up was the park’s Funtime drop tower, these guys make some of the best tower rides out there and this one, named Drop Line, was equally awesome.
Whistle Punk Chaser
Ticked off the park’s kiddy cred next, there was no strange looks or comments by the operator though, he was far too friendly and content for any of that crap. I forgot to take a picture but believe me when I say this tiny coaster looked fantastic, possibly the best themed kiddy coaster I’ve ever seen.
Would all the powers of Dollywood make this GCI creation a suprise hit?
Not quite, it’s still quite a fun coaster though, if a little forgettable. I’d have happily kept riding it if wasn’t for the fact it was quite rough and started to give me a headache.
Next we went to try Dollywood’s famous cinnamon bread. I’d read everyone online raving about it but I always thought nah, it can’t be that good, oh it was.
Special mention to the staff in the shop, who despite working flat out to meet demand were incredibly friendly.
We spent the next 20 minutes in rocking chairs, tearing into our cinnamon bread, getting dangerously sticky hands and watching the Rod in the distance, if that doesn’t sound appealing to you then we can’t be friends.
After letting the bread settle and washing our hands, we stumbled onto Barnstormer, the park’s Screamin’ Swing. These rides are always great fun and Dollywood’s example, to no surprise, was heavily themed.
With that we’d done everything we wanted, including many re-rides, so we opted to spend the rest of the day with the Rod, absolutely content that we’d be back again tomorrow to do it all again.
Not wanting to spoil it and have too much of a beautiful thing, we decided to start today by checking out a few +1s located in Pigeon Forge.
First up was the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, my first ever alpine coaster, I loved it.
The never ending lift past beautiful scenary made me feel quite emotional actually. This didn’t last long though and I was soon flying back down the mountain at full speed. It was pretty intense actually, mostly because you’re fully aware you’re sitting on a small plastic tray hurtling down a mountain.
Next we went to Island in Pigeon Forge to tick off their SBF spinner, was too easy, next.
Following that we headed to NASCAR SpeedPark to try to ride their Zierer Force but it wasn’t to be. We walked in and up to the desk, “is the coaster open today?”, the women gave a slight look of disgust before replying with, “no”.
Finally we stopped off at Rocky Top Mountain Coaster, another alpine coaster, this time right outside of Dollywood.
Whereas Smoky Mountain was 1 massive lift and 1 long descent, Rocky Top was several lifts and much smaller decents, this made for a slightly weird experience but it was different enough from Smoky to avoid repetition and still good fun.
The views were equally as stunning as before but my favourite moment was when I was climbing one of the lifts and an announcement played saying the bears were coming. Is this a genuine warning I need to take notice of or a joke? I seriously don’t know and I need to get off this slow ass lift and lay down some power just in case.
I’ll take you on a mostly photo only tour of how we experienced our second day at this wonderful park.
Lightning Rod many times.
Blazing Fury, still not prepared for the violence of the suprise drop.
A few laps with the Eagle.
Several with FireChaser.
Back in the mine.
Ride Thunderhead till it gives me a headache.
Now back at the start of the park, we got some drinks and snacks before deciding to ride the train, this was a genius idea.
Dollywood’s train isn’t your normal theme park train, this was a full size steam locomotive and it took you on a seriously long route around and outside of the park. This was far better than your normal 5 minute sit down on a park train. The staff were fantastic yet again and the train seriously felt alive as she shot embers everywhere and scared children with her whistle every 2 minutes. Everything at Dollywood is above and beyond, it’s wonderful.
With that, all there was left to do was ride Lightning Rod until we had to leave. The perfect way to end 2 incredible days at one of the greatest parks in the World.
Thanks for reading, click here for day 10 of my report, where we visit Carowinds and I’m massively disappointed by Fury 325…