The Rao Family Visits Dollywood

Dollywood: A Whirlwind Visit to a Great Herschend Theme Park!

From James Rao
Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:22 PM
The Rao Family - me, my wife (Robin), my two sons (Jacob and Jeremy), and my daughter (Emma) - took a road trip to Dollywood for a day and a half visit back on May 23rd and 24th. We arrived around 2:30 PM on the 23rd to take advantage of the "buy tickets after 3:00 and get the next day free" deal. Plus, with my Silver Dollar City season pass 50% discount, the cost of tickets really wasn't that bad (about $145 total for the whole family).

In general, the crowds were a bit of a pill (I heard attendance of 15k - 20k both days we were there) and the weather did not cooperate as it rained steadily on Wednesday. However, Thursday was beautiful all day, thank goodness.

Please note, we ended up getting a Q-bot on Thursday ($82), just to maximize our one day in the park. Hated to do it, but am glad I did. The value easily outweighed the cost this time.

Wild Eagle - Huge lines all the time - we're talking 45 to 90 minute waits or more. With the Q-Bot, though, we were able to ride at least a half dozen times in most of the key seats on either side of the train. Overall, Wild Eagle is a fine coaster, smooth as silk, compact, and, most importantly, fun. While it does not offer much in the way of new sensations (it feels a lot like a B&M invert to me), it is well worth your time and continues the trend of "nice" B&M creations. I should note that the seat restraints are very uncomfortable (they tighten automatically throughout the ride as well as crush your thighs), and no one in my family is tall or large.

Wild Eagle Signage @ Dollywood on Twitpic Wild Eagle Lines! on Twitpic Wild Eagle Loop on Twitpic

Thunderhead - The most intense coaster in the park - not up to the level of Holiday World's Voyage, but very good. More in that next tier with World of Fun's Prowler - fun, but not killer. The mid course run through the load house is awesome.

Thunderhead at Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic Thunderhead's mid course run through the load house - aw... on Twitpic

Mystery Mine - Loved this coaster. My favorite attraction in the park. I do think the first half of the course is a bit of a waste, but the theme, immersion, and overall feel of the ride is great. And the latter half is wonderful. We rode this guy about a dozen times! I also bought a glow-in-the-dark Mystery Mine T-shirt! ;)

Mystery Mine @ Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic More Mystery Mine @ Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic My coveted Mystery Mine Glow-in-the-dark Tee! on Twitpic

Tennessee Tornado - A very well maintained Arrow looper. A bit short, but fun, and worth a few rides. It was nice to see a "batwing" element again as I have not seen one since Cedar Fair (curse you!) tore the Orient Express down at Worlds of Fun a while ago.

Tennessee Tornado Lift Hill - DW 2012 on Twitpic Tenn Tornado - Big Loop! on Twitpic Tennessee Tornado - good, but short. on Twitpic

Blazing Fury - Blazing Fury is a dark ride that uses a coaster train to propel riders slowly past various scenes of a town in serious trouble. Overall the ride is quite fun and imminently repeatable. Keep in mind that this ride is not a fast moving indoor coaster, but a slow moving dark ride with a few thrills thrown in for good measure. It is a slightly lesser version of Fire In The Hole at Silver Dollar City, and I do love that the bridge effect still works, but the lack of a splashdown (removed this season) is a demerit. If they make some enhancements to the final room (now it is just an empty chamber with some flashing lights) I think it would be a great ride. As of now, I still prefer the SDC version, but not by much.

Blazing Fury (Fire In The Hole) at Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic

Adventure Mountain - Spent a fun-filled hour touring the three courses offered by this brilliant family attraction. Do not underestimate Adventure Mountain especially if you are traveling with someone in the 5 - 14 age range.

Adventure Mountain at Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic More Adv Mt at Dollwywood. on Twitpic

Rockin' Roadway: Best car-on-a-rails experience at a non-Disney park. I love that the cars are propelled for you, so there is no starting and stopping along the way. Also love the a/c in the load area and the rockin' soundtracks in the individual cars. I am not a big fan of midway rides, but this one is several notches above the norm.

Rockin' Roadway Queue - DW 2012 on Twitpic The oldest boy is just too cool for his car! on Twitpic Nice scenery along the course. on Twitpic

Smoky Mt. Wilderness Adventure Tour: Pretty lame motion theater attraction. The theater is nice, but the film is blurry and cheap. Needs an upgrade.

Daredevil Falls: Decent flume, though very short, and not much to do except wait for the final drop.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Mountain Slidewinder - The Slidewinder is a one-of-a-kind family thriller. The waits can be prohibitive, but this combination coaster/water slide is definitely worth a visit just because it is so unique. Stop by before it is removed like the one at Silver Dollar City.

Other attractions: Rides like Barnstormer, Smoky Mountain River Rampage, River Battle, and a number of the flats in Country Fair will be familiar to those who frequent Silver Dollar City and other parks. All of these midway rides are presented in the pleasant settings with those added touches that make Herschend parks a cut above the rest.

Food, Glorious Food
There are lots of great looking places to eat at Dollywood, sadly we only had time for one stop at an actual eatery. We choose the Backstage Restaurant, a table-service restaurant that we thought was very good. Steak in a Sack... yum!

Backstage Restaurant at Dollywood 2012 on Twitpic Backstage restaurant - Steak In A Sack - DW 2012 on Twitpic Steak in a sack w/sweet potato fries! on Twitpic

We also bought some Cinnamon Bread at the Grist Mill. It was delicious. And their immense chocolate chip cookie sandwich... amazing.

Grist Mill - stop here for sweets! on Twitpic Cinnamon Bread - Yummmmm on Twitpic

A stopover at The Village snack stand led to the purchase of some excellent root beer and Coke floats, filled with freshly made vanilla ice cream. And what would a visit to Dollywood be like without a stop at the Spotlight Bakery as you leave the park? Bought several "less-healthy" food options here, and loved every last calorie.

We only had time for two shows during our visit. Our first stop was Heartsong, a uniquely Dolly Parton multi-sensory (sort of) movie. It was more of a pastime than anything else. Decent Christian-themed fare, but not a must do.

Our second stop was the Dreamland Drive-In, which was OUTSTANDING. The show is about an hour long and features a full cast and live band. If you have an appreciation for oldies you will definitely love Dreamland, and if you are a romantic at heart you might find yourself a little teary eyed by the end. Some scenes (like the part of the show where they sing a medley of old love songs - Unchained Melody, etc) are flat out brilliant, and overall the storyline is quite satisfying. I rate the Dreamland Drive-In as a MUST VISIT when you go to Dollywood.

Heartsong multi-sensory theater (sort of) - DW 2012 on Twitpic Dreamland Drive In - Fantastic Dollywood Show. on Twitpic

We did not get much time to stop and smell the roses, but overall we enjoyed our Dollywood visit. I totally agree with fellow Theme Park Insider Tim Chatlos' sentiment that DW is a bit more corporate than Silver Dollar City, which feels more intimate and personal. As he says, DW is to SDC as the Magic Kingdom is to Disneyland.

DW is definitely busier than SDC... and I am not a fan of crowds, though it does explain why DW gets all the big $20m rides!

One thing I really like about DW is that you cannot see the park at all due to the terrain surrounding it. The only ride visible from the parking lot is Wild Eagle, and even it is pretty much hidden. The immersion factor is so much better if you can't see the surrounding city!!!

We will definitely have to revisit this park someday, but would be more likely to visit for a longer period (three or four days) to give us time to savor the park the way we do with SDC.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope I didn't put you to sleep! We had a great time and definitely would like to get back next year if time and money allow.

Welcome To Dollywood - 2012 on Twitpic Outside Mystery Mine on Twitpic Mystery Mine Queue on Twitpic

From James Koehl
Posted June 28, 2012 at 8:50 PM
Great report! I haven't been to Dollywood yet, but it looks like we're going to have to start making plans for a trip. I loved your use of pics.

From Tim Chatlos
Posted June 28, 2012 at 9:25 PM
Always great to hear about Dollywood. I'm glad you guys had a good time. Great pictures too!

From James Rao
Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:40 AM
Thanks fellas, I appreciate the kind words.

And Tim, thanks again for all the great pre-trip advice. Folks if you need Dollywood tips, Tim is the man!

From Betty Rohrer
Posted June 29, 2012 at 5:36 AM
your comment about not seeing the rides before you enter park reminds me of last Aug trip with young grandson. after leaving dog at Doggywood we headed into park only to have him get upset as he could not see the rides and he wanted to ride. got him to the cars and all was better. MomMom did know what she was talking about having fun at Dollywood even if you could not see to begin with.

From Zack McDonald
Posted June 29, 2012 at 7:20 AM
Mountain Sidewinder isn't going to be removed. They have a shop that rebuilds the rafts on a regular basis. SDC didn't have a crew that was dedicated to rebuilding the custom rafts and they went out and bought rafts that didn't work very good. They then removed the attraction.

From James Rao
Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:13 AM
Glad to hear it, Zack. That is good news.

As for the park being "hidden", it really is a wonder. As we drove closer and closer I kept telling the kids to keep an eye out for Wild Eagle, but we didn't see a thing until we were almost to the front gates. Quite impressive to be completely surrounded by Tackyville (Pigeon Forge), USA, and yet still hidden from sight. It really helps to maintain the overall narrative and theme of the park when the rest of the world is hidden from view.

From Mike Bianucci
Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:04 PM
Dollywood was running a bring a friend promotion for season pass holders for most of May. That is why the crowds were very heavy in may. It has thinned out considerably from Memorial day on especially with the water park open now.

From James Rao
Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:22 PM
Nice catch, Mike... next time I will be a bit more cognizant of the specials going on at the time.

From Betty Rohrer
Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:30 PM
James Dollywood has run that bring a friend in May for a number of years. it is a pass holder freebie and has been

From James Rao
Posted June 29, 2012 at 4:53 PM
I don't generally keep track of events at a park twelve hours away from my house... but thanks for chiming in now, AFTER my trip!!! ;)

From Ed Newman
Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:19 PM
Sorry I'm late on this... Great trip report. We have visited Dollywood a few times over the years. Now it's about once every 4-5 years and we are due for another visit. Last time we went (2006) we spent the money for the "Q-bot" and I have to agree it was well worth it. Good to hear they are still doing things well there. It's definitely a unique park. So glad you and the family enjoyed it for what it has to offer.

From Bradley Keith
Posted July 14, 2012 at 7:39 PM
So Wild Eagle wasn't really special? I was so excited to have a B&M in my state. I thought it'd be one of the best years for B&M with a giga coaster and the wing coasters. Neither have really impressed. Shambhala is pretty good, at least by the POV I've seen. I have yet to ride Wild Eagle myself, but I won't be shaking with excitement when I strap in.

From James Rao
Posted July 15, 2012 at 3:40 AM
I wrote: While it [Wild Eagle] does not offer much in the way of new sensations (it feels a lot like a B&M invert to me), it is well worth your time and continues the trend of "nice" B&M creations.

How that statement translates to nothing special is beyond me! Heck, I even rated the ride an 8/10 on the TPI scale, which is pretty darn special if you ask me. I was simply trying to point out that the sensations one feels on a wing coaster are similar to those one feels on a standard inverted coaster - and those are not BAD sensations, by any means.

Wild Eagle is a fine bird, probably the best ride in the park, though I liked Mystery Mine better because of the attempt at story and immersion. You will be quite happy with WE when you ride it.

Furthermore, if they could just loosen up the restraint system a bit, the ride would be a 9/10 instead of an 8/10.

From Bradley Keith
Posted July 15, 2012 at 7:21 PM
Okay. Maybe I looked at it the wrong way. I would have rather seen a B&M hyper, but I shouldn't say, I have yet to do a winger. Thanks, and great post. Dollywood can be pretty underrated, they have an Arrow looper that is still pretty good, a smooth unique wooden coaster, a very well themed... guess it is a eurofighter, and now a B&M machine. I want to go back pretty soon.

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