An Old-Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City
By James RaoThe following is an abridged account of my family's recent visit to Silver Dollar City (SDC) during its annual Christmas Festival. In order to keep the report to a shorter length (by my standards, anyway), I am going to squeeze our two-day visit into a one day report. Please note that I have taken liberties with the time line in order to fit everything into an abridged report – despite the fact that there is no way to accomplish everything detailed in this report in a single day's visit.
Published: December 7, 2009 at 7:02 PM
I first want to note that the temperature during our visit was generally in the upper twenties to lower thirties, so 90% of the "rides" were closed, something folks need to consider when visiting a theme park in December. The only rides open (with few exceptions) were indoor attractions such as Fire-In-The-Hole, Flooded Mine, Grandfather's Mansion, and the Marvel Cave tour (where it is 60 degrees year round).
However, we did not venture to SDC during the park's Christmas festival ("An Old Time Christmas") for thrill rides. As season pass holders, we've visited the park countless times and ridden all the featured attractions. This visit was to be the starting point of our Christmas season, and our only goal was to experience and embrace the yuletide spirit.
The park is beautifully arranged for the holidays with amazing decorative touches and over four million lights spread throughout, with the main focal point being a 5-story tall Christmas tree shining like a yuletide beacon in the center of Main Street. It is quite an amazing sight and a featured part of the night's jubilant Christmas festivities (more about those later). At any rate, outside of Orlando, I do not think I've seen anything quite as dressed up for the holidays as SDC. Wow!
We began our visit by purchasing SDC's signature hot chocolate to wet our appetite for Christmas joy. This rich delicacy is filled with marshmallows, whipped topping, chocolate chips, and candy canes, which melt in the beverage and provide a warm, pepperminty aftertaste. Yummy. At $1.75 a pop (in a refillable mug we bought on our very first visit in 2009), this decadent joy is not too expensive on the wallet, yet very easy on the palate, and in 30 degree coldness, quite warming to the heart! I would venture to guess my family consumed over a dozen refills during our visit. The other beverage of choice featured during the holidays is Wassail, a hot, spiced punch often associated with Christmas. It too was quite delicious and graced our second refillable mug most of our trip
Hot chocolate and Wassail in hand, we waited for the rope drop and headed for the park's featured Christmas show, "A Dickens' Christmas Carol", an original musical adaptation of the famous classic by Charles Dickens. We had great seats in the crowded Opera House Theater and sat in warm comfort for about 30 minutes awaiting the first performance of the day.
SDC does a great job with the shows they feature. Quite often I have been very impressed with the quality of the actors, script writers, band members, and overall direction of each show. I am curious how the park is passed over every year on Amusement Today's voting for best shows. I understand Dollywood's place at the top the heap, but I must admit I would really like to go to Six Flags Fiesta Texas some time and see what all the fuss is about. I can scarcely imagine a better collection of shows at any Six Flags theme park than those featured at SDC.
Despite my high expectations, I was very impressed with just how wonderful "A Dickens' Christmas Carol" turned out to be. It was quite possibly the best hour I have ever spent at a show in any theme park. We are talking Broadway quality production here, folks... a show that is honestly worth the price of park admission. I am not a professional critic by any means, but I can find no fault with this musical production, only the highest praise possible. It was simply amazing. Funny, heart warming, life affirming, and jaw-droppingly well imagined, SDC's signature Christmas show is a not to be missed event.
After a tremendous standing ovation and extended curtain call, we headed out of the theater with glad tidings of good cheer on our hearts! We then rode one of the few rides we visited on this trip, Fire-In-The-Hole, a classic dark ride that never gets old. Even this attraction was decked out for the holidays which added some nice touches to the narrative.
We then visited the Silver Dollar Saloon to see "Frontier Fa-La-La Follies" a Christmas infused vaudeville style show with singing, dancing, and broad, pie-in-your-face comedy. If you visit the park on a regular basis, the Saloon show is worth an occasional visit, but is not a must do on every trip. However, the Christmas version of the show is exemplary and something I highly recommend. The cast is surprisingly good and the mixture of big laughs with sentimental good cheer is unmatched.
Next up we took a tour of the Marvel Cave, which is included with your park admission. These cave tours depart approximately every hour and last 60 minutes, with most of that time spent traversing nearly 600 stairs. A trained cave guide hosts the journey and provides visitors with anecdotes of historical or geological importance. A cable train takes cave visitors up the half mile, 1070-foot climb back to the surface once the tour is complete. Interestingly enough, I have taken this tour four times this year, and each time I have learned something new. Additionally, the beautiful Cathedral Room (one of the largest cave entrance rooms in the United States) was fully decked out with Christmas lights that formed a gigantic Christmas tree when viewed from the floor of the chamber. It was a breathtaking illumination to say the least.
After visiting the Cave it was time for lunch (one should never eat a full meal before embarking on the Marvel Cave tour, I assure you!). We ate a Christmas buffet at Reunion Hall, a restaurant near the front of the park. The food was hot, good, and the service was fantastic. I am not a big fan of buffets, but on this occasion, I was quite pleased with the results.
Bellies full and temperatures dropping, we headed out to ride Thunderation, the park's oldest roller coaster and the only real thrill ride still open in 33 degree weather. This Arrow mine train is a very fun family attraction, but with biting winds the only option was to ride in the backwards facing seats to keep the chill wind off our faces. We had a blast, and since we were the only visitors stupid enough to ride an outdoor coaster in the frigid cold, we were able to ride about four times in a row before the chill was too much to take. The ride closed down shortly after our last ride, as the temperature dropped below freezing.
A quick visit to the Flooded Mine, an indoor shooter like Buzz Lightyear on-a-budget, helped take the chill out of our bones and prepped us for the Main Street festivities set to begin at 5:30.
In the center of Main Street, overshadowing the Gazebo Stage, is a 5-story tall Christmas tree completely decked out with decorations and lights. At 5:30 each operating night during the holiday season the tree comes to life with a synchronized light and music production. The dancing lights of the tree are quite impressive alone, but when they are combined with rest of the Main Street lights, a veritable feast of sights and sounds envelops the crowd. Again, I am not sure I have seen anything quite as impressive at a theme park outside of Disney. Once the show is complete, the entire park is awash in over 4 million lights dancing and sparkling in the darkness.
About fifteen minutes later the "Gift of Christmas Holiday Light Parade" works its way through the park. About a dozen floats travel slowly past featuring notable Christmas favorites like Santa, Frosty, and the like. The parade ends fittingly for this very Christian-oriented park with a float featuring the Nativity scene. Emblazoned in over 100,000 lights, the parade is short but imminently entertaining.
After the parade we headed up to the Grand Exposition area to see "The Living Nativity" (a 15-minute musical recounting of the birth of Christ) at the Red Gold Heritage Hall. The show is well presented and well acted, however the flat seating arrangement makes it tough for anyone not seated in the front row to witness all the action. It was a good show, but not a must visit.
Finally, we headed over to the Frisco Sing-Along Steam Train. Normally, this train attraction provides a 20-minute ride through the Ozark countryside. Midway through the excursion (while the train builds up steam for the last leg of the trip) train robbers briefly interrupt your ride with some mildly amusing antics. The Christmas version of the ride replaces the train robber scene with a grandfatherly story about the true meaning of Christmas. Furthermore, the entire route is decked out with Christmas lights and decorations, and you are encouraged to participate in a Christmas Carol sing-along during the ride. It was a wonderful excursion, with beautiful tunnels of Christmas lights, fun songs, and a warm presentation of the Christmas Story. The trip was the perfect exclamation point for a great park visit.
Overall, "An Old Time Christmas" at Silver Dollar City is an amazing experience. If you are the kind of theme park visitor who is mostly interested in g-forces and 200 foot drops, this event is probably not for you. However, if you enjoy a strong narrative theme, beautiful decorations, delicious food, and overt sentimentality, then by all means make plans to visit SDC at your earliest convenience. Honestly, the Herschend family does a phenomenal job with this park year round, but their presentation at Christmas is nothing short of astonishing.
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