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.
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.
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! ;)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We also bought some Cinnamon Bread at the Grist Mill. It was delicious. And their immense chocolate chip cookie sandwich... amazing.
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.
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.
And Tim, thanks again for all the great pre-trip advice. Folks if you need Dollywood tips, Tim is the man!
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.
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.