Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, USA
“Dolly Parton has a good roller coaster taste”
Greetings from Pigeon Forge. Uncharted territory for most Europeans, but this is a beloved holiday destination for Americans. Although it lacks the desert, the sins and the gambling, it actually looks like Las Vegas. Pigeon Forge boasts a main boulevard (a.k.a. The Strip) with dozens of hotel resorts, souvenir shops and expensive tourist traps. I’m intrigued by a Titanic replica, the giant King Kong which is attached to a NYC skyscraper and the oddly looking Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride. It’s quite charming, but it all feels a little dated as well. Would you expect that there’s a world-class theme park within a few miles from this place? Nope, me neither.
But still, there’s Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s own theme park. As a Belgian, I’m familiar with country singers opening their own amusement park. We have Bobbejaanland, a park with a similar background story. This park was once owned by the Schoepen family and they invested in new rides almost every year. Dollywood remembers me of those days, as this park is still expanding rapidly. In fact, 5 of Dollywood’s 8 roller coasters have been inaugurated during the last decade. Dollywood is a park which should be on every theme park enthusiast’s bucket list. And the addition of a huge RMC machine only made things more interesting.
May I give you a tip? Walk to the left hand side of the park in the morning. The main street automatically tries to pull every visitor to the right hand side and practically nobody seems to find the small pathway on the left. This path leads to an area with several must do rides, including Thunderhead. This wooden coaster opened in 2004 and it’s built by GCI. Thunderhead is beautiful to look at and extremely fun to ride. The first descent is intense, the bends are powerful and there is a good amount of airtime.
Thunderhead’s neighbour is even more surprising: Mystery Mine is a so called Eurofighter, constructed by the German company Gerstlauer. If you’re familiar with Eurofighters, you may know what to expect: strange pacing, uncomfortable vertical lift hills and some rough transitions. This isn’t any different at Dollywood, but the park did an amazing job with the theming of this ride. It’s set in an enormous mine shaft and it features some very cool surprise elements.
There’s something for every age group at Dollywood. Thrill seekers will appreciate the presence of Tennessee Tornado (a smooth, enjoyable Arrow machine) and Wild Eagle (a mediocre B&M wing coaster which towers over the park, as it’s located on a hill top). Not interested in inversions? Then Firechaser Express may be the family-friendly coaster you’re looking for. This ride is fun, fast and it’s surprisingly well themed. The background story is amusing as well: it’s about a fire department hurrying to a burning fireworks warehouse. Unfortunately, the firefighters are a little too late and Big Bertha (the biggest rocket of them all) is about to explode. At that moment, the train is launched and the coaster continues backwards.
And last but certainly not least, there’s Lightning Rod. The ride can be found at the stunning Jukebox Junction area of Dollywood and it looks absolutely amazing. The ride itself is at least as impressive, by the way. The amount of airtime Lightning Rod produces is simply absurd. My thighs are constantly pushed into the safety restraint with such an incredible force that it even starts to hurt. I have ridden some breathtaking airtime machines before, but I never experienced it so intensely as here. Between all those moments of ejector airtime, the train speeds through crazy curves at the speed of light (pun intended). Especially the curve which is banked 90 degrees ‘in the wrong direction’ is legendary. Lightning Rod is pure coaster goodness, but be warned: it’s very unreliable and technical difficulties occur regularly.
Is it a coaster or is it a dark ride? Blazing Fury actually deserves both of these labels. We get seated in a coaster train, there’s a drop and it’s on coaster count, but this attraction feels more like a classic dark ride. Despite its respectable age – it has been here for over 40 years – Blazing Fury remains a fantastic ride. The scenes offer some funny details and the finale (ha! that’s why they call it a coaster) is very surprising during a first ride. You could define it as an old-fashioned and uninteresting dark ride, but you can’t deny the fact that it contains a soul.
Be sure to spend a moment at Craftsman’s Valley and Owen’s Farm while visiting Dollywood. The busiest spot in this area is the Dollywood Grist Mill. This place sells the famous cinnamon bread and there’s even a decent queue during these quiet spring days. Don’t be scared by these lines, because you definitely need to try Dollywood’s signature specialty. It’s absolutely delicious.
Dollywood is famous for its theatre shows, but in all honesty… we are not impressed. Heartsong turns out to be a rather boring film screening and Enra at the Showstreet Palace Theater loses our attention after 15 minutes. Sorry Dolly!
The Great Smoky Mountains and Tennessee can get quite hot. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Dollywood offers a good amount of water rides. The park has a Splash Battle (it closed a few months after our visit, though), a flume ride called Daredevil Falls and the surprisingly refreshing Smoky Mountain River Rampage. After boarding the raft, a fellow passenger warned me that my jeans probably wasn’t the best choice for this ride. I quickly understood why: the rapids are wild, the waves are tall and spectators can make it even worse with several water guns. Soaking, but fun.
WORTH A VISIT?
I fell in love with Dollywood almost instantly. My expectations were pretty high, but Dollywood exceeded them with great success. This park really offers anything I could possibly desire: the attraction lineup is top notch, the F&B department offers value for money, theming is at a high level and the (mainly elderly) employees are amazing. Put all those elements together to create a place with an incomparable atmosphere. I haven’t felt this way about a theme park since my visit to Tokyo DisneySea.
Photo Gallery 2017
Did you appreciate Dollywood’s unusual atmosphere? Is Lightning Rod one of the world’s most intense roller coasters? And do you share my love for the park’s signature cinnamon bread? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.