My theme park season started with this cool, beautiful spring trip to the best park in Tennessee, Dollywood! Crowds were nonexistent, with wait times for rides never over 10 minutes. Dollywood’s Festival of Nations was in full swing, so the park was decked out with lots of different world culture activities and shows.
Lightning Rod, Dollywood’s new RMC woodie, was still closed, but the site was very active as crews were installing brakes on the launch hill, and I even caught some video of the trains being installed on the track! This ride looks absolutely incredible in person, and I think I speak on behalf of all coaster enthusiasts when I say I cannot WAIT to get my rear end in the front seat of this thing.
Dollywood is one of those few parks that just overflows with charm, with the attitude and culture of East Tennessee filling every ride, every walkway, every building, and every bit of landscaping. Cedar Fair and Six Flags parks, take note. THIS is how you do a regional park the right way.
Now I’ve been to Dollywood several times as it’s in my home state of Tennessee, but I’ve never been this early in the year, and it was probably my favorite trip to this park so far. The light crowds meant plenty of re-rides, so I really got to spend some time evaluating the parks ride line-up, and boy is it awesome!
ROLLER COASTER REVIEWS
TENNESSEE TORNADO: It may be one of the shortest Arrow coasters ever built, but rest assured that this is, in my opinion, the best. It’s fast, intense, and most importantly, smooth! Being built after the Ron Toomer era and designed by Alan Schilke, this ride is the ONLY Arrow looper to feature “non-standard size” loops and use modern track-bending techniques to produce smooth transitions, and it’s head over heels above every older looping coaster in Arrow’s arsenal. That being said, this one is starting to show its age a bit. It had some bad vibration in a couple of areas that gave me a small headache, but it was still a lot of fun. RATING: 8/10
BLAZING FURY: I have a big love for old, cheesy dark rides, and this one has the plus of including a coaster section! The trains are themed to look like fire engines, and the ride takes you through quirky scenes that feature funny animatronics and lots of buildings on “fire” before going down three small drops for the finale. I love how Dollywood continues to update this old attraction with new effects and additions to the scenes. It shows how much they love it and want it to stay for a long time! FIRE IN THE HOLE!!! RATING: 7/10
MYSTERY MINE: Somehow this little gem of a coaster slips under the radar of many, but this thing is one of the best themed coasters I’ve ever come across. The ride story goes that a series of superstitious accidents led to the closing of a mine in the Smokies, and riders have a chance to explore that mine by jumping into one of seven mine cars and going for a ride, but they quickly learn that it’s nothing but trouble and must find their way out, but not before dodging a rock crusher, crossing a rickety trestle, and finally plunging 85 feet straight down a mine shaft! Seriously this ride is a TON of fun. The only negative part of the ride is that it’s a bit of a headbanger at times, but it’s nowhere near as bad as other rides I’ve done. RATING: 8/10
WILD EAGLE: Ah yes, the first B&M wing coaster in the US, and boy is it majestic sitting up high on a hill right in the middle of the park! Just like an eagle flying through the sky, the ride is smooth and graceful, but also powerful. It’s definitely not as intense as other coasters at the park, but I consistently noticed how popular it was among guests. They love Wild Eagle! Again I think that goes back to its comfortable ride and huge presence in the park. For this thrill seeker, it wasn’t my favorite, but it certainly does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and to me that’s all that matters. RATING: 7/10
FIRECHASER EXPRESS: This is another little gem of a coaster that is a lot more fun than you might think! The park markets it as a family coaster as it has a very low height requirement (39 inches I think), but this ride does a lot of cool stuff! Most notably, it features a layout in which the train travels forward AND backward, but it’s still a continuous circuit coaster, sort of like a mini Expedition Everest without the high level of theming. Speaking of which, the theming for this ride is pretty cool, too, as the trains look like fire engines and the station a fire dept. station. The story is that riders are firefighter recruits and are sent out on a mission to go put out a fire at a fireworks shop. Lots of fun for kids and adults alike. RATING: 7/10
THUNDERHEAD: (No picture, but heavily featured in video) Currently my favorite coaster in the park. This GCI woodie is the perfect example of what a good twister coaster should be: tight turns, high banking, lots of crossovers, and lots of speed! Also, despite the fact that there are no large hills for airtime, there are a TON of small airtime pops throughout the course that always catch me off guard. My understanding is that Thunderhead has won the “best wood coaster: award from Amusement Today a few times, and I can see why. It’s currently running a little rough, but not horribly rough in my opinion. Still a great coaster. RATING: 9/10
More park pictures below.
Other notable rides include Daredevil Falls (a fantastic log flume), Barnstormer (a big S&S Screamin’ Swing), Smoky Mountain River Rampage (a drenching rapids ride), Mountain Slidewinder (a wet and wild toboggan slide down a mountain), and the Dollywood Express (a 5-mile train ride aboard a beautiful authentic steam locomotive).
Dollywood just oozes with southern charm, which is why it is one of my favorite parks in the whole country. Everyone needs to check this place out. You won’t be disappointed. Let me know your thoughts on this park in comments below.
PARK RATING: 9/10 (Excellent!)
Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!