A theme park gift under $10? Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
The weather was amazing for the two days we visited (high 70's low 80's), and the park was in great shape. All the rides were operational, although Powder Keg (the park's premiere coaster, imho) did have some early season jitters. The park's international festival, World-Fest, was in full swing, and the streetmosphere and decorative touches for the occasion were top notch.
For this visit I brought a friend of mine who was visiting the US from our company's Bangkok (Thailand) office. Seeing the park though his eyes, and gearing the trip for his enjoyment, really added an extra bit of "magic" to the visit.
By the way, he LOVED the park.
And why wouldn't he? For those who have never visited this gem of a theme park you are really doing yourself a disservice. With a wide range of attractions including excellent coasters, fun dark rides, thrill rides, family rides, water rides, Broadway caliber shows, skilled craftsmen demonstrating their wares, amazing live entertainment, tasty food, and a one-of-a-kind cave tour, there is so much to do at SDC that the park cannot be accomplished in a single visit. Even in our two days of touring we were forced to leave several attractions on the cutting room floor, much to my chagrin.
SDC is the complete package folks, a park filled to the brim with sights, sounds, wholesome family fun, and amazing customer service. If you have not visited the City, and you call yourself a theme park fan, then your street cred just took a major hit.
We started our day in the central hub, participating in some pre-opening entertainment, as well as the pledge of allegiance and the daily flag raising ceremony. Once the park opened we made a beeline for Powder Keg, and the adventure began in earnest.
Traveling during late April on a Wednesday and Thursday (an opportunity afforded by the supreme homeschooling skills of my lovely wife of 21 years), the crowds were non-existent. Everything was basically walk-on, so touring was a breeze. We rode all the best rides (multiple times), ate great food, watched a few shows, listened to some live entertainment, and visited with the cast members we have befriended over the years (we even toured for a bit with a couple of them once their shifts ended). We finished our second day with a visit to the Marvel Cave (included with park admission), and then a few more rides on Powder Keg (which had been out of commission for most of our second day).
Leaving the park with loads of souvenirs, candy, and a few baked goods from Eva and Delilah's bakery, we headed home to our mundane lives, completely satisfied with yet another great visit to the best theme park west of Orlando and east of Anaheim.
One big note: when riding the train, we passed the construction site for the park's new roller coaster, a wooden beast (hybrid?) custom built by the Rocky Mountain Construction Group (of the New Texas Giant fame). While not officially announced, and not set for opening until 2013, the work has already gone vertical. I snagged a few photos which I will post later as I add some details to this report.
For now, I have some catching up to do... but I'll be back!
The main hub of the park opened at 9 AM both days we visited, but access to the rest of the park was not open until 10 AM. This first hour is a perfect time to explore some of the shops in the main hub, or better yet, for a stop at Eva and Deliah’s bakery where they serve breakfast sandwiches, Kolacky, pastries, pretzels, and other assorted desserts.
We had already feasted on some breakfast bars during the drive to the park, but we did purchase a few strawberry cupcakes for dessert later on during the day. Tip: everything is baked fresh here and in somewhat limited supply, so if you want to be sure to get your favorite dessert (like their delicious strawberry cupcakes) buy them early in the morning and have the nice folks at Eva and Deliah’s hold your purchases behind the counter so you can return later and pick them up.
After the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, the park is fully open for business!
(More to come…)
After several rides and re-rides on this masterpiece, we headed to the Wilson’s Farm area to ride the Giant Swing, an S&S Power Screamin' Swing attraction set inside a huge red barn. This intense midway ride is a whole lotta fun.
Granted I wouldn't want to wait in a long line to experience it, but on a less crowded day when you can ride with minimal waiting, it is a very fun attraction. We rode twice since there was no line at all, and the thirty second cycle time is hardly long enough to appease most riders.
Next up, we headed to the Grand Exposition which is the park’s midway ride area. While the Expo is nicely decorated and extremely clean and maintained, it still falls far short of greatness just because the attraction selection is pretty standard. You can experience most of the same rides at your local park, so there’s no real reason to spend the time here. However, there is one less common ride, Electro Spin.
Electro Spin is a Zamperela Disk-O flat ride, similar to the Dizzy Disk at Dollywood. It features a half-pipe of coaster track with a disk that holds 20+ riders. The disk spins and the ride moves back and forth in the half-pipe making for a fairly intense spinner. I recommend a spin, but not if there is a long wait.
After Electro Spin we headed over to ride the park’s oldest coaster, Thunderation, one of Arrow Dynamics' largest and fastest mine train coasters, with a 3,000-foot-long course and a top speed of almost 50 miles per hour.
While not the most thrilling coaster in the world, Thunderation is fun for the whole family, and not to be missed. Furthermore, the natural scenery is pretty amazing. Sadly the option to ride this coaster facing backwards was removed before the 2011 season, most likely never to return. While still fun, it is just not the same....
One cycle of the park complete, we headed back round to the front of the park, over the Swinging Bridge, one of the SDC’s oldest attractions, and then down a big hill to Wildfire, a B&M looper.
Wildfire is the tallest and fastest ride at SDC. This sit-down coaster features a highly themed station, four-across seating, a 150-foot first drop, speeds in excess of 65 mph, and several inversions including an Immelmann loop, a large standard loop, a cobra roll, and a corkscrew. However, the most striking aspect of the coaster is how it sits on the outskirts of the park on a hill, making all the highs seem higher, and the drops seem steeper. We rode in front and in back several times before taking a break to get some lunch.
Speaking of taking a break, I’ll be back a bit later to give more details, but there is work to be done around the house…
(Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of this meal, but we were pretty hungry and the food was devoured almost before the “Amen” part of “Grace” was finished!)
Incidentally, my wife opted to head over to the Riverside Rib House and ordered a new item, the BBQ Wrap, which includes sliced brisket with cole slaw and cheese rolled in a tomato wrap. I guess she wanted to be a bit healthier than the rest of us slobs!
TIP: plan on eating at the park when you visit SDC. Unlike Cedar Fair or Six Flags parks, the food at SDC is part of the attraction. While somewhat expensive, the food is not outrageously priced, and you do get high quality, fresh meals for your money. However, one thing to avoid, at least during World-Fest, is their Chinese food. To me, it is on about the same level as Panda Express, which imho, is pretty lousy. Stick to meat and potatoes dishes and you will not be disappointed.
Lunch complete, we headed off to see one of the featured World-Fest shows: The Mariachi Divas, a Grammy Award-winning, all-female music ensemble. The performers were extremely talented, and the music was definitely catchy, but was not necessarily my “thing”. I prefer the Chinese Acrobat show that used to be part of this festival, although I do like that SDC keeps trying new things.
After the show we rode the venerable Fire In The Hole, which is more of a dark ride than a coaster. A 12 person “train” propels riders slowly past various scenes of stalwart firemen battling a blaze set by a group of vigilantes known as the Baldknobbers. The experience feels like a budget version of the Magic Kingdom's Pirates of the Caribbean, but overall I think the ride is quite fun and imminently repeatable. Just remember this ride is not a fast moving indoor coaster, and you will have a good time.
Finally we headed over to the Geyser Gulch play area to “relax”. The Gulch is a huge and varied playground, so expansive that you could easily lose your kids if not watching carefully, but because there is only one way in or out, it is a great spot to take your kids to burn off some energy. Of course my kids are a bit long in the tooth for this sort of thing these days, so we ONLY stayed for about 45 minutes… =)
We then headed up to the front of the park, grabbed our Strawberry Cupcakes, devoured them like ravenous wolves, and headed out to the car to change into our swim suits. The water ride portion of the day's tour was about to begin…
We had intended to spend the last two hours of day one getting soaked on a succession of water rides (American Plunge - log flume, Lost River of the Ozarks - white water raft attraction, and Tom & Huck's River Blast - dueling boat ride), but by the time we changed to swim suits and soaked ourselves on successive American Plunges, the Lost River had closed of the day (one hour before park closing at 6 PM). Total choke by a supposed insider like me to not know....
However, we ran into a cast member friend of ours, "Roach", who had just finished his day and clocked out. Roach is a great guy who we met a couple years ago when he worked on the staff of Powder Keg. Smart, witty, crazy, and full of life, Roach toured with us and kept us in stitches until the park closed at 6:00.
After soaking some innocent bystanders on Tom & Huck, we headed over to the Giant Swing to dry off... and then ended the day with a final ride on Wildfire before heading out.
There are a lot of terrific people working at Silver Dollar City, and getting to spend 90 minutes with one of them was a real treat. I have great appreciation for outstanding customer service, but when you see your kids give a "cast member" a hug good-bye, you know that particular cast member has gone above and beyond the call of duty. WAY above and beyond!
We checked into the Comfort Suites on Gretna (great hotel, great price, great pool, and great 15% SDC season passholder discount) then headed down to Branson Landing (an outdoor shopping area) to eat dinner at Cantina Laredao.
Still the guacamole alone was worth the cost. Finally we headed back to the hotel so the kids could swim and ended up crashing at about 11:00 PM.
Day two coming tomorrow. Thanks Amanda and Rob (and anyone else reading) for bearing with me while I slowly tell the tale....
The Comfort Suites on Gretna Road serves a fine buffet, pretty standard, but clean and fresh. I just grabbed some yogurt and a Kashi bar (which I brought), while the kids and my Thai friend loaded up on waffles and biscuits and gravy. Oh to be under 30 again...
We packed up and checked out, then headed back to SDC making it to the park by 9:20. We successfully averted the waiting photographers at the entrance by splitting up into what looked look a series of single visitors. The things we do to avoid those pesky, time consuming, photos!
We snagged a locker ($0.50) for our frozen waters, then headed into the main street area, bypassing Eva and Deliah's for now...
After the opening ceremony we headed straight to Powder Keg... which was down. Yikes. Never had that happen before. We shifted gears and grabbed a few rides on Wildfire to help wake us up and get our theme park juices flowing.
After Wildfire we headed back to the front of the park and to McHaffie's Homestead, an 1880's Ozark homestead where you can tour a real, hewn-log cabin, interact with members of the McHaffie family, and listen to some down-home singing, "picking", and story-telling. Here we waited for the next show of the Homestead Pickers, a group of supremely talented players and singers who are not to be missed on any visit, imho. Sometimes the Pickers will even pull someone (like one of my boys in 2010 - see the vid below) out of the audience out to help them "fiddle around", which is just a hoot.
After the show and visiting with the Pickers for a bit, we headed over to Grandfather's Mansion for a quick tour through his house of oddities. I won't give too much away, but these kinds of walkthrough attractions are becoming far too rare, so stop in when you visit the park and enjoy this simple, yet fun diversion.
After the train ride, we headed into the Flooded Mine to get some target practice. The Flooded Mine is a Buzz Lightyear-style shooter set in a flooded coal mine. I enjoy this attraction quite a bit, and if you take the time to consider it fully, you will find there is a depth of theming at work here that is truly Disney-on-a-budget (intended as a compliment), not just some off-the-shelf effects flown in from Sally Corp. There is usually no line for this ride, and it is not uncommon to ride it several times in a row without getting out of your boat - we rode twice. The first time I got about 600,000 points (my gun had a nice little "broken" that helped me cheat), and the second time I just snapped a few photos:
After cooling off in the Mine, we headed to the Frisco Barn to grab some eats inspired by the World-Fest theme of the current festival. We ordered several items to share including a Sonora Dog (a hot dog wrapped in bacon set in a bun with beans and topped with tomatoes, onion, mustard, mayo and jalapeno sauce), a Calzone (folded Italian pizza crust stuffed with Italian sausage, pepperoni, ham, provolone cheese and marinara sauce), a Twisted Tater Dog (a foot long dog blanketed by a spiral of fried potatoes), some Dublin Nachos (potato fries with roast beef and gravy topped with shredded cheddar, sour cream and green onions), Pommes Frites (fries dipped in Dijon mustard and fry sauce), and Vietnamise Fries (sugar sprinkled with a dollop of melted butter).
All of the food, even the weird sounding stuff, was very good. Sorry I did not grab pictures of the Calzone or the Dublin Nachos, but they were late additions to the table, and I was too busy stuffing my face to mess with photos again! We also grabbed a cannoli for desert which was surprisingly good. And fresh. Again, as long as you stay away from the Chinese food you will be very satisfied with the offerings at SDC.
Lunch over, it was time for the Marvel Cave Tour, which I will discuss in my next update when I close out this trip report once and for all.
One thing I need to note is that despite the verbosity of this report, there are many smaller adventures we accomplished that I have not covered in the interest of keeping the narrative a bit more concise. At SDC, there are a good number of shops, demonstrations, shows, and little streetmosphere activities for visitors to enjoy, and while we accomplished many of them, I did not include those "mini-adventures" here. Instead, I leave it to anyone who visits the park to discover the subtle nuances that make it more of a Disney-style destination than a thrill park.
One unique adventure available to all guests is the Marvel Cave Tour. Back in the old days, this tour was the only real attraction at the park, and it still stands out as a must do during any visit, something we generally save for the last day of our adventures.
Cave tours depart approximately every :40 minutes and last about an hour (depending on the size of the group and the number of questions folks have), with most of that time spent traversing nearly 600 stairs into and out of the depths of the Earth. A trained cave guide hosts the journey and provides visitors with anecdotes of historical or geological importance.
We lined up for our cave tour at about 1:30, making sure everyone in the group was comfortable with the activities to come. Please note: all those who wish to tour should be in decent health, with no phobias about cramped places, heights, the dark, or bats!
Once in the Cathedral Room, a photo is taken of your group, which can be purchased at the end of the tour if you so desire. The journey continues as you wind your way through various passages and rooms in 60 degree coolness (during the summer) and 60 degree warmth (during the winter). The cave is breathtakingly beautiful, meticulously maintained, and simply awe inspiring. Enjoy the adventure!
I find the Marvel Cave Tour to be outstanding and well worth an hour of your time. There is a lot of walking, and some tight, narrow spots, so be prepared, and take the tour guide seriously when he or she explains what is going to take place on your journey. Furthermore, if you want to ask some questions and interact, your tour guide is more than willing to offer insights and tell stories about the cave's history. The Marvel Cave is a unique experience at a theme park, and something that should not be missed.
On the way out of the park we ran into another one of our cast member friends, "Becca", and together we made a pit stop at at Hannah's Ice Cream Factory (where you can watch an actual 4-bucket ice cream churn in action) for dessert and some spirited debate. We discussed the park's 2013 coaster addition (I knew more about it that Becca did!), the changes to Powder Keg's dialogue ("James, you're being way too picky!"), Joel Manby's upcoming book, LOVE WORKS (Joel runs the Herschend Corp), and the general state of the world and our beleaguered economy (UGH!). I know some folks like to solve the world's problems over booze, but since SDC is a dry park (and since no one in my family partakes), Hannah's homemade delicacies are simply the best way to go!
Finally, we parted ways with our friend Becca, and headed out to the car for the four-hour drive back to the KC area.
I cannot say enough about the greatness of Silver Dollar City, and I encourage all theme park fans - those who are interested in more than just coasters and thrill rides - to plan a two or three day visit. While not quite up to the level of theming and narrative of a Disney or Universal park, SDC is still a destination worthy of your time and money. The place is immaculate, fun, brimming with adventure, and filled with great people who go out of their way to make your visit special.
Silver Dollar City: You've Got A Great Past Ahead Of You!
I tell everyone I know that Silver Dollar City is among the finest parks outside of Disney. Along with Dollywood, SDC has the most genuine and friendly employees we have ever encountered (Disney included). The food alone puts them well ahead of the rest.
If you enjoy theme parks, food, music, and/or happiness in general do yourself a favor and visit Silver Dollar City as soon as possible. You'll be glad you did!
Incidentally, I went to Worlds of Fun this past Sunday and I feel no desire to write a trip report about it. The place is virtually unchanged this year (it actually may have gone down hill a bit) and except for Prowler, Mamba, and Patriot, there is little of interest at the park. My mistake was probably in visiting a stationary carnival like WoF right after a two day stint at Silver Dollar City!!! Won't make that mistake again!
For a touring plan at Dollywood you could shape your day somewhat like you would with SDC in terms of decided which of the major shows you would like to see and going from there. At the start of the day nearly everyone will turn left and head up into Timber Canyon towards all the major E-tickets (Thunderhead, Mystery Mine, and Wild Eagle). As you'd imagine most are heading directly to Wild Eagle first. Right now the crew there hasn't been hitting the best intervals so the early morning flood seems to overwhelm the ride somewhat. We found that we were able to ride Thunderhead and Mystery Mine in short order because of the pull of the crowd towards Wild Eagle. You could probably check back later in the day and find a more reasonable wait.
Interestingly we have also noticed that Dollywood quiets down considerably after dinnertime. Like SDC the park has relatively early closing hours, perhaps due to all the activities available in the surrounding area. Nearly all of the major attractions seem to have little to no wait in those last few hours.
Generally speaking though Dollywood is a park that you soak in much like one would with SDC, so once you get those major rides in you can take your time and do whichever attractions strike your fancy. And of course be sure to leave plenty of time for the food. Miss Lillian's Chicken House in particular has some great good and, of course, Miss Lillian herself.
I am thinking about arriving at 3:00 on a Wednesday so my park tickets will be good for the following day as well. If it truly is like SDC, then you are right, we can probably hit the big coasters in that last couple of hours on Wednesday rather easily, then focus on shows, crafts, food, and ambiance on day two.
Are there any little "acts" at DW like the Homestead Pickers at SDC that are off the beaten path, but are "must see" during the visit?
If you're visiting during the week in May or June the park will likely be pretty mellow so you should have more than enough time between the two days to do what you want to do. Of course like Silver Dollar City it can never feel like enough time. We're always sad to leave the park.
In terms of "hidden" entertainment, Dollywood doesn't quite have as much as SDC. That said, Miss Lillian is probably the fan-favorite of the off-the-beaten-path performers. If you stop by Miss Lillian's Chicken House you probably won't miss her. The park does feature a very strong show line-up, as you'd expect. Dreamland Drive-In is particularly good and even manages to pack a bit of an emotional punch (for a theme park show). All of the live music throughout the park is usually great too.
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