Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Dollywood
By Robert NilesWe awoke this morning in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to a steady rain. A quick check of the forecast called for showers all morning, followed by thunderstorms in the afternoon. Looks like we'll we doing Dollywood in the rain.
Published: August 2, 2009 at 6:05 PM
Now, lots of folks won't bother visiting a theme park in the rain. Which is why I say... all the more reason to go. Folks not visiting means shorter lines for the rest of us.
So Natalie and I walked right on to Thunderhead...
...and Mystery Mine.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed Thunderhead more if I hadn't ridden substantially the same ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain earlier this spring. And if I hadn't been spoiled on wooden coasters by Holiday World's world-class trio. But after riding those, Thunderhead just didn't wow me the way it had so many other riders in the first few years after its 2004 debut.
And Mystery Mine? I hadn't been on a Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter before, despite the fact that Mystery Mine had won our Theme Park Insider Award for best new attraction in 2007. The best way I can describe this unique coaster is as if a wickedly talented designer had pulled apart a Wild Mouse and rebuilt it for extreme moves. You've got two 90-degree lifts, a heartline roll and dive loop, as well as a couple of jaw-rattling sudden dips.
I mean that last part literally. The position of the over-the-shoulder rests just under my jaw about near knocked my teeth out on one of the early dips. Mystery Mine is to roller coasters what the 12-tone scale is to music - a radical design that engages students of the genre but just doesn't feel like much fun.
We had a much better time on Lumberjack Lifts, a 25-ft. pull-up tower.
Frankly, the rides at Dollywood just didn't do much for me. We had started our day on the Journey to the Center of the Earth 4D ride, which was little more than a clip job from the Brendan Fraser movie. While the Tennessee Tornado offered a smooth triple loop in a lovely mountain setting, Blazing Fury served up three small drops within a crudely animated dark ride. And while River Battle could have been a hoot on a hot, crowded day, on a rainy morning with no one else on the ride, it felt kinda pathetic. Who are we gonna get wet?
Our day picked up with lunch, though, as we took Theme Park Insider readers' advice and opted for the all-you-can-eat chicken buffet at Miss Lillian's Chicken House.
At $13 for adults and $6 for kids (11 and under), this is a steal of an all-you-can eat deal. The salad wasn't worth filling a plate with, but the fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, pepper gravy and chocolate cake all earned thumbs up from the family. The biscuits were especially tender and tasty, though we missed not having jelly to smear all over them.
Miss Lillian even stopped by to help Brian find his inner "chicken spirit."
Okay, the food was good, but that wasn't enough to earn the praise I'd hear from so many readers over the years about this park. If it wasn't the rides, what could it be?
Well, duh, Robert, this is Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park. What makes this park impressive became apparent as soon as I walked into a musical show.
Dollywood's top show this summer is Sha-Kon-O-Hey!, a tribute to the people and spirit of the Smoky Mountains. A phonetic transcription of the Cherokee shaconage, the title means "Land of Blue Smoke." The 45-minute show features singing, acrobatics and a live bluegrass band accompaniment, with eight original songs composed by Parton herself.
The story opens with a Depression-era Smoky Mountain family packing up to move west, in pursuit of work.
But the family's young boy doesn't want to go, and retreats to an old tree, where he wishes to the spirits to stay.
The boy's wish reveals an enchanted valley, where the spirits of generations past dwell. (And sing and dance, of course.) He's joined there by his sister and grandmother, who'd come looking for him.
Grandmother is the kids' bridge to the past, teaching them the "old ways" and the stories of her youth, but the kids can't run away from their father. The boy returns to the tree to amend his wish.
The kids reunite with their father for the trip west, while grandmother will remain home, with the people and spirits of the Smokies.
By the time we exited the theater, the skies outside had cleared and the sun shone brightly. So let's let the symbolism beat us over the head, shall we? You want to find the real attraction at Dollywood? Just listen for the music.
Update: Laurie wrote her take on Dollywood over at Violinist.com.
Next stop on the roadtrip: Orlando
Previously on the Summer Roadtrip:
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