Lex and I were long overdue for another road trip. For us, it was easy to choose where we wanted to go next. We packed our bags, hopped on the highway and drove until we were enveloped by the beautiful Smoky Mountains:
Once Lex and I fell in love with Silver Dollar City a few years back, I knew we had to make a trek to the former “Silver Dollar City Tennessee.” I was able to go to Dollywood a decade ago when I was in high school, but the park has changed a lot since then. What especially piqued my interest were the 3 new coaster additions: Wild Eagle, FireChaser Express, and Lightning Rod.
Let’s be honest, if you are a roller coaster enthusiast, Dollywood became a “must-hit” park once the On-Ride POV of Lightning Rod was released in 2015.
The Rocky Mountain Construction beast maneuvers the terrain of the Smoky Mountains with ease, and toots its horn as the world’s fastest wooden coaster.
A launched lift hill is one of the most unique, and challenging, elements on Lightning Rod. Now, for me, when I think of launched lift hill, I think of Maverick. This launch is nothing like Maverick. Lightning Rod accelerates you up the lift at 45mph, and itt is by no means a casual launch like you experience on Maverick.
The equipment required to execute this launched lift is, as expected, very complicated. Word on the street is the large amount of downtime Lightning Rod experienced in its first season was due to the launch.
The majority of Lightning Rod’s layout is hidden from guest view, which is one of many awesome things about the coaster. Trust me when I say that this layout is absolutely insane.
We rode Lightning Rod a total of about 6 times on a Friday in mid-April. This is not going to be the case during the peak Summer hours, so we suggest you head to Lightning Rod right away after park opening. I am also a huge fan of the “Hot Rod” trains.
My personal opinion of Lightning Rod is going to surely bother some enthusiasts. Before I drop that bomb, let me preface it by saying that this ride is without a doubt a world-class roller coaster. My issue is that Lightning Rod is too fast. I know, I know, I’m a bad roller coaster enthusiast. But seriously, this coaster could go 5mph slower and still have ejector airtime everywhere.
The airtime on the quadruple down on the side of the mountain is Skyrush-esque in the sense that your thighs are getting crushed against the restraint.
We also came to the conclusion that this is a front-seat coaster. The back was insane, but the jolt at the bottom of the first drop was brutal.
Even heading into this turnaround, the ride easily is still going 60+ mph. Here is how I’d explain my slight distaste for the ride: think about pretty much any Arrow Looper you have been on. You know how you have to tense your neck up and try to have it not hit the restraint? Not a big deal, but regardless, you are actively preparing yourself for the next transition. This is how I would describe Lightning Rod. A level of preparation is necessary since the ride is going so fast through these ridiculous elements. If you were to try to go hands up and fully limp during Lightning Rod, the ride would toss you every which way.
Without a doubt Lightning Rod is the most thrilling, intense coaster at the park, heck maybe even the entire southeast, but for me it was not the most enjoyable.
After Lightning Rod, we took advantage of the morning and did a complete loop of the park. From Lightning Rod, you can work your way counterclockwise and get on Blazing Fury, Tennessee Tornado, Wild Eagle, Firechaser Express, Mystery Mine, and Thunderhead in that order. It was close to 1:30 pm by the time we finished the main park loop with no lines whatsoever, so we opted to get a quick lunch.
We had a delicious sausage sandwich from Market Square that was enough for the both of us. As a side note, Dollywood opened the Front Porch Cafe, a full-service dining experience. While we did not get a chance to eat here, it is great to see Herschend recognizes full-service dining as an important guest experience.
Did I mention Dollywood is a gorgeous park? Well, it is.
We began our second loop around the park, but this time we took a lot of pictures. Red’s Drive-In is a 50’s diner with burgers and fries right across from Lightning Rod.
Rockin’ Roadway borders Lightning Rod in the Jukebox Junction area of the park.
Similar to Silver Dollar City, Dollywood’s river rapids attraction, Smoky Mountain Rampage, was very popular.
I’m all for a good river rapids ride, but I never understand when they possess one of the longest waits in the park. I had flashbacks to the Lost River of the Ozarks where we waited 45 minutes for a lackluster attraction, so we opted to pass on Smoky River Rampage.
Instead, we took a ride on the Dollywood Express, which offers great views of both the park and the looming Smoky Mountains. Quick side note here, the Smoky Mountains are absolutely stunning. If you have a chance to go on a hike at America’s Most Visited National Park, then please do so.
Back to the theme park, the Country Fair section of the park is adjacent to the Dollywood Express, so we took a quick lap to see what the area had to offer.
I always love seeing the turf patches in parks, since people seem to gravitate towards them.
The Country Fair had a plethora of flat rides for the kids. All of the rides had fresh paint and were extremely vibrant.
Who doesn’t enjoy a classic Scrambler attraction?
The Waltzing Swinger is another resident of the Country Fair.
While every area of Dollywood is beautiful, I think the true bread and butter of the park is the Craftsman’s Valley. This display greets you as you enter this area of the park: “If you work with your hands, your mind, and your heart… you are a craftsman”.
This modest building is also immediately to your left as soon as you enter.
The Grist Mill is home to Dollywood’s famous Cinnamon Bread.
This isn’t another example of poorly marketed mediocrity that we are accustomed to seeing in theme parks. Destroying a loaf of cinnamon bread is almost a rite of passage if you are visiting Dollywood.
It is definitely AT LEAST a two person task. Lexie preferred the side of homemade apple butter, while I preferred a cup of sugar commonly called icing.
If you are going to eat anything at Dollywood, make sure it is this cinnamon bread. Park enthusiasts talk it up, but it deserves all of the praise it gets.
Now that we were feeling ill from inhaling our cinnamon bread, we continued to make our way through Craftsman Valley, stopping at shops along the way.
Be sure to stop and take in the scenic beauty of the park. There are plenty of gorgeous theme parks in the world, but Dollywood feels natural and untouched.
I also love the various props throughout the park. Details like this do not get much attention, but they really help create a great park atmosphere.
Next, we took a ride on Barnstormer, the park’s S&S Swing.
I wonder how similar the footprint is to the Giant Barn Swing at Silver Dollar City.
No matter, these are always fun rides to go on.
My attempt at an artsy shot. Hey, at least I made an attempt, right?
A little way up from Barnstormer is Dare Devil Falls, the park’s flume attraction.
It was a solid attraction and it definitely gets you wet.
Happy riders about to get splashed.
Up next was one of the park’s many shows, Wings of America. I thoroughly enjoyed the show since I am a sucker for birds of prey. It is incredible how smart some of these birds are. Adjacent to the theater there is an outdoor exhibit of bald eagles (‘Murica) and smaller exhibits that house the birds in the show. George, a vulture, was my favorite. He is 30-some years young and is extremely smart. It may have been in my head, but when I was observing him in his exhibit, he really did seem to respond to his name!
Like I mentioned, there are also a lot of bald eagles.
I love hearing how they are making a comeback. I have been able to see two in the wild in my life and they are always so majestic to watch.
Continuing on, here is yet another example of awesome attention to detail.
Blazing Fury is the park’s oldest roller coaster by 20 years! It’s more of a dark ride than a coaster, but it has a few fun drops. I don’t think the ride ever had a wait during our time at the park, so it is definitely worth a lap or two.
Now we are headed into coaster territory. Tennessee Tornado is the newest Arrow Custom Looping Coaster in the USA and opened in 1999.
Nestled in the woods, it is an enjoyable coaster. Erase all of the preconceived notions you have about Arrow Loopers because this ride is smooth.
Yes, even this highly-banked turnaround is very smooth.
If I had to nitpick anything about the coaster, it would be that it is too short. Seriously, you can enjoy this coaster in pretty much any row, but I’d suggest the back.
Dollywood’s B&M Wing Rider, Wild Eagle, is around the corner from Tennessee Tornado.
This giant scenic piece greets you as you enter the attraction area. It is a great place for a nice photo opportunity.
See? It has a beautiful backdrop and everything.
Unfortunately for me, the sun was not letting me get nice pictures of this ride, even though it is arguably the most picturesque attraction in the park.
I was a huge fan of the queue, though. The ginormous station had a ton of awesome detail work. Even the exterior queue shown above was pretty.
Wild Eagle was an enjoyable coaster, but the vests get extremely tight towards the end of the ride. I usually do not mind this too much, but it was uncomfortably tight while sitting on the brake run.
Continuing on from Wild Eagle, we took a few laps on Firechaser Express.
Unlike Wild Eagle, I was able to get a lot of quality pictures of this attraction.
Firechaser Express is an elite family coaster. Often when people think of thrilling family coasters, they think of Big Thunder Mountain at Disney or something of the sorts. While I definitely agree, it is often not feasible for parks to make that level of investment in scenery.
That’s why I think Firechaser Express is the perfect reference of a thrilling family coaster. It definitely requires it’s fair share of investment in scenic, but it’s not an ungodly amount by any means.
The ride is also extremely unique since it offers two launches, one forward and one backward, and a lift hill.
The interaction with the surrounding hillside is also worth noting.
We could go on and on about how much we loved Firechaser Express, but we won’t. It is not a thrill machine by any means, but it is a fun, enjoyable coaster that is an excellent addition to this Dollywood park.
One last look at Firechaser before we go on one of our favorite water rides.
Lex and I are big fans of Mack’s Interactive Boat Rides (Splash Battles).
River Battle is not quite as good as Tom & Huck’s, but it still provides plenty of opportunities to surprise innocent guests walking by the attraction.
Each rider is in charge of their own water-gun. Throughout the ride, there are opportunities to hit targets that will trigger an interactive element.
Continuing our journey, Mystery Mine was the next coaster that crossed our path.
The facade of the attraction, for me, is the best part. It has impressive details and looks great from multiple different angles.
Mystery Mine is a 10-year-old Gerstlauer Eurofighter. While the finale of the attraction is awesome, the rest of the ride has a few too many uncomfortable jolts.
The hangtime in this element is easily my favorite moment of the entire attraction.
Dollywood’s newest attraction, Drop Line, was testing the entire time we were there.
Drop Line has since opened to the public and has been very well-received! This will be just another reason to return to the park in the future for us.
Thunderhead, the coaster that really put Dollywood on the map in 2004, is right behind Drop Line.
My camera had died at this point, so I was only able to grab stills from the GoPro footage. Thunderhead is tucked back behind guest view, but this Mike Boodley Twister is a truly spectacular wooden roller coaster.
Thunderhead has aged since I last was able to ride it nearly a decade ago, but not to the point where I’d say it’s rough. It definitely has its spots of shuffling, but it still features the random pops of airtime we’ve come to love from GCI.
I’ll end the report on a shot of Drop Line from the Mystery Mine queue.
Dollywood seriously is a fantastic park. It deserves all the recognition it gets among theme park enthusiasts, whether it be for food, coasters, or overall atmosphere. Time flies at the park, so it is important to just enjoy the environment you are in, whether it be eating a loaf of Cinnamon Bread or taking a stroll through Craftsman’s Valley.
While Lightning Rod isn’t an immediate “Top 10” coaster for me, there is no doubt it is one of the most intense coasters in the USA. All of the other coasters in the park’s collection are awesome in their own right and can entertain guests of all ages. Dollywood truly is one of the more well-rounded parks in the country, especially with the addition of Drop Line to their flat ride lineup. I would like to see an interactive shooting dark ride come to the park next.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the trip report, please share on your social media outlets or comment below. Have a great Memorial Day everyone!