Dollywood Summer 2005

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My plan for 2005 was to visit a park every month from March to December. Well, plans change.  I did a SoCal trip in March, but had to skip Camden Park in April because I was very busy. Then May came and went and I had to skip Carowinds. Twice. But June lead me to Kennywood, one of my favorite parks, and in July I would be in Johnson City TN for 3 days regardless, so I decided it would be easy to go down a couple days early and hit Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg for some rides and fun. Well, my mother had to be out of town for most of 2 weeks for training on her new job. Couple that with some other obligations early in the week and I had to scale the first part of the trip down to one day of Dollywood. Unfortunately, I had to take 3 days vacation and a holiday, which I could have used later. Oh well…

Since I worked nite shift I usually spent the entire nite awake and slept all day, even on my days off. During the previous weeks I’d had a problem doing this on my days off, which would not have been a problem since I needed to be up during the day Thursday-Sunday. Right, like anything is that easy. So, the Wednesday nite before I was to leave I didn’t sleep because I was up till 3pm the prior day. I kept thinking “I can’t go to Dollywood on no sleep, I need to get to sleep” all nite. But sleep never came. Of course, I got sleepy at 5am, right as I was getting ready to leave.

I got ready regardless and made my way to town for an ATM stop, then in the opposite direction towards Pigeon Forge. The drive was just about 4 hours. It isn’t a hard drive, and certainly not a boring one, but I would have liked to have had company. I arrived at Dollywood at about 11am. It was hot, humid, and extremely crowded. And that was just the parking lot. On top of that I was totally exhausted. I didn’t know how I was going to enjoy anything. I had planned to leave the park around 8 PM when the park closed, but I knew I would leave way before that. I honestly flirted with the idea of sleeping in my car a couple hours before I went in. No deal, Thunderhead was only a short ways away so I paid my money for parking and headed in. Thankfully, they offer tram service.

My only other trip was the previous December with 7 others. This time I was by myself.  Plus, all the rides were running. This trip was during Kids Fest, and let me tell you, it was crowded. But you know what I love? Elderly people. Why? Because they keep a park like this in business, and yet they don’t ride any of the coasters, for the most part. I love crowded parks that have short lines.

I arrived at the front gate, paid, and walked in, stopping briefly to grab a park map on the way to Thunderhead. I felt the need to gloat so I called Tina to leave a message for her that I was on my way up the hill to ride Thunderhead.

I got in line for the first ride of the morning. This was the longest I saw the line for Thunderhead all day, down the stairs and actually stretched back to the entrance. The sign said 15 minutes wait but I didn’t wait that long. After getting to the top of the stairs they were yelling for a single rider. The wait on this isn’t long because they have great capacity, usually run two trains, and try hard to fill every single seat without requiring every train to be full.  I raised my hand to be a single rider, and got picked.  Imagine my surprise when the ride op looks at me, and I recognize him. Before he could turn to me, I said “Hey, this is a long way from Petersburg”.

Some backstory, I used to live in a little town in the North-Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia called Petersburg.  I worked at the Sheetz there, as a supervisor, before moving to Fairmont (and transferring jobs to Morgantown).  I knew and/or recognized most of the people, esp. teenagers in the town.  This ride op’s name was Curtis.  We never spoke much, but he knew who I was, and I knew who he was.  In fact, I was surfing the net one nite, and ‘bumped’ into him on another site.  He goes to college close to where I live, so we actually spoke on line.  So, while we don’t really ‘know’ each other, we are acquaintances, and recognized each other so far from where we were acquaintanced, and also a long ways from where I live, and he goes to school.

ThunderheadAnywho, I got on in the middle with another person, and we departed on the first ride of the day. “Let the THUNDER Rooooooooooolllllllllllllllllllllllll…”  Still has decent laterals in the beginning helix to the lift hill. That lift is still quick. When we were there in December the misters near the top of the lift were obviously not on as you don’t have troubles with bees making nests in Mid-December. But they were on this day in full force, and I liked it. A nice, refreshing break from the heat and humidity right before the plunge. In fact, they should add the misters all the way up the lift. No major ejector air but there is plenty of floater. Not only that, but there are great laterals, and the ride is just fast paced, and doesn’t let up the entire time.  I like the station fly through, and the dip after.

That woke me up a bit. After grabbing my hat and exiting I walked around and noticed the line was even shorter. I ducked under the railing and headed up the stairs half way to meet the end of the line. This time I got in a small line in the back and didn’t wait more than maybe 10 minutes. Again, a great ride, with a little more floater air in the back. I love this thing!

Next I walked over to the restroom then stopped for a drink of water. I can see where the (now since removed) Timber Tower was going in, and they had posters up in the park for the new ride. A good family flat, nice addition for Dollywood. Now it was time for the long journey to Tennessee Tornado. I knew the journey was long, and much provisions would be needed. But there was something else I came to get done today. I headed down to County Fair, stopping for food at one of the Papaw’s sausage and beef steak stands.

It was good but I should have gotten more napkins. I had taken my ginger pills and aspirin, so I headed to the next thing I really wanted to do, the Dizzy Disk. I’d been wanting to ride a Zamperla Disk-O and I was ecstatic that Dollywood added one. I’d heard nothing but good things; would it live up to the hype?

Dizzy Disk-This was probably the second longest wait in the park. Not because it has bad capacity, and not even because it only has one op working it. But they ran a fairly long cycle, spinning one way, then stopping and swinging the next. I waited 2 cycles to get on. I didn’t know what kind of restraints it used. Then I got on and found out. They were odd.  Not bad, just odd. The ride itself is fun but not really what I expected. Definitely a great addition to a small park looking for flat rides. This was much needed at Dollywood.

The County Fair section was so crowded that lines were long. I wanted to ride a couple of other things, but didn’t. I even skipped the new kiddy coaster because of the line. And, am I just imagining things, or was the Ferris Wheel not located here last year? I may be wrong, but I don’t remember it in County Fair. Now it was time for the 2nd longest walk of the day. I walked up the hillside to Tennessee Tornado, stopping off for a water break as I was sweating profusely. I hiked up the mountain and saw the familiar sign for the best Arrow Looper ever. Would the line be like Thunderhead?

Tennessee TornadoNo, it was longer. It was actually down to the switchbacks. The reason? One train operation. I figure this is capable of two train op, and they have 2 trains.  If Corkscrew at Cedar Point can do 3 trains, this can surely handle 2? Oh well. I rode near the back. Up the lift, down, around, through the tunnel. I swear, that loopscrew is the best inversion I’d ever been through. The banking and inverting and hang-time  I only wish that Tennessee Tornado had the newer, sexier Arrow trains like Canyon Blaster and Drachen Fire. It is such a shame that this coaster was the last Arrow Looper. Had they been doing this earlier, Arrow could still possibly be an industry leader. Smooth, fast, with great negative and lateral forces. My only complaints are the small length and I don’t care for the trains. But I didn’t get any knee banging into the brake run this time, so that was good.

I had planned to ride again but I wasn’t waiting in that line right now. Instead I walked down to Blazing Fury. The sign said 30 minutes, and they were right. As far as I could tell, they were running 2 or 3 trains, filling them as best as possible. The station didn’t smell as musty as it did in December.

Blazing FuryNice, air-conditioned queue, yay! The line was rather long, but with shade and cool air I didn’t mind. I rode in the middle of the train and off we were. The dark ride portion could be updated, but the coaster elements are interesting, if a little rough. And this time I got quite a bit more soaked than in December. I guess they control the amount of wetness in the winter months.

A sign near Blazing Fury said ‘Seven Miles to Daredevil Falls’, and it is almost correct.  Actually, it isn’t quite that far. I was looking for Mountain Slidewinder, but found Daredevil Falls first. The themeing in this part of the park is really great. It actually really reminds me of West Virginia and many of the caverns you can tour there. I made my way up to Daredevil Falls. I had seen it on TV, but never in person before. It looks great in person. There was no line so I hopped in the queue.

Daredevil Falls-The first part reminds me of the first half of Jurassic Park at Universal Studios somewhat. I likeed this ride a lot. The section is very nicely done, the drop is fun, and themeing is cool as well. I highly recommend it if you feel like getting wet.

Next up was the longest walk in a park I’d ever done. The area leading to Mountain Slidewinder is really nice. Theres a kid’s water play area. Little did I know I would be walking to Tibet to get to my next ride.

Okay. I know I’m out of shape. But c’mon, Dollywood! The hike to this thing is ridiculous!  One thing I will say is that I like that Dollywood hides their rides. You can’t see any other major rides when you’re standing at a ride a lot of the time, unless you are at the County Fair. You couldn’t see anything from Slidewinder, though. I didn’t know this would be the scariest experience on a ride I’d had in a while. Upon trekking to the top of the mountain I arrived at the beginning of the rather short line. I was a single rider, so they put me with a family of four to weigh us (you have to be a certain cumulative weight to ride).  The family was mommy, daddy, and a small son and daughter. We waited for our turn, and I was asked if I minded the front. I didn’t, but I didn’t know it would be hard to hold on up there. For those of you that don’t know what this ride is, its a park made waterboggan, with larger rubber five seater vehicles. It is a one way ride, you have to get to the top, but the ride vehicles travel up the mountain on a conveyor belt.

Mountain Slidewinder-Eventually, we were off. The ride is fun, no doubt. Voted best non-coaster attraction in the U.S.A., if not the world, several times. I would have enjoyed it more, but it was hard to hold on the front seat, and there are no restraints. Add to the fact that the vehicle is rubber, and very flimsy, and you have me almost flipping out of the vehicle on the way down. I lost my grip around a highly banked curve and hit my shoulder on the outside slide. It scared me and the family I was with. Fun, and I’d do it again, but next time with friends, and I’m sitting in the back!

I was drenched. In fact, walking back over to Thunderhead, some random employee looked at me and said “They put you up front, didn’t they?”  I smiled and said yeah as she laughed. That’s one good thing about Dollywood, the employees are incredibly friendly.  Everyone is happy. Good rides, good food, good coasters, beautiful park.

I walked down into the 50’s themed area next. I wanted water but couldn’t find a fountain. I was going to do the motion theater, but it was the Spongebob 3D movie, and I’d seen it. I did go on a nice, highly air conditioned self guided tour of the Dolly Parton museum. This was 30 minutes of air-conditioning in already wet clothes. I planned to do more in this section. There were some kids performing a jump rope routine for Kids Fest, but I didn’t stay to watch them. Instead I walked back towards Thunderhead.  I stopped in front of the theater right before the Thunderhead Gap hill and sat to see if there were any interesting shows. One looked interesting.

A ‘Mad Science’ production of some movie magic thing. I’m spoiled by Paramount Parks Magic of the Movies show I’d seen the previous year (in which I got to participate) so I thought this might be fun. I had 30 minutes to kill, so I walked over to it and waited till the doors to the air-conditioned (see the theme here?) theater opened. This was the worst show I’d ever seen. It featured some people and the Pink Panther, audience participation, and they shot scenes for a movie, and edited them together. It was really terrible. The ‘hosts’ were annoying as can be, and the edited result was not good. I know it isn’t the park’s fault, but it was bad.

Oh well, one bad part of the day saved by cool air. So I walked back up to Tornado again for another ride. This time, I waited for the front. Took about 40 minutes. I wouldn’t have done it, but I needed to kill time to get my money’s worth of Dollywood. This ride was just as good. This also has the best first drop on any Arrow I’ve been on, save for X.  Desperado and Magnum are close seconds.

Then it was back down the hill. I went through a few shops briefly and then headed to the front of the park to speak with someone about a group event later this year. The person I was supposed to talk to wasn’t available, so I got her number and headed to Thunderhead for four more rides.

The first of the four were in the front and I waited a few minutes longer for this. The misters felt good. The ride however, was amazing. It was really tearing up the track this time. The ride had seriously warmed up! I got off, went under the rail, and got back in line for the back. It was great again. Then afterwards I got off, went under the rail, and rode again. And again. Four times in a row. I would have done more but I was exhausted.  I needed to head to Johnson City. I toyed with riding it again, but decided to throw in the towel.

I got to the bottom of Thunderhead Gap, then left the park, making some calls. I took a tram to my Xterra as I was talking to my friend Jamaal who was on his way to Johnson City. I passed by the NASCAR Speedpark. I need to stop there eventually. Then I noticed 2 new things. One of the FECs right near Dollywood had a brand new Screamin’ Swing (the single arm 8 seater) that seemed, from my vantage point, to have a longer cycle by about 2 swings. Then, one building was being turned into a ‘Jurassic River Adventure’ ride on the drag in Pigeon Forge.

Dollywood is a great park. One with great food as well. If you haven’t been down there, do it soon! Thunderhead is good in the morning, great in the evening, and really amazing at nite. Tornado is a rare awesome Arrow looper. The new County Fair section was great.