Early Monday morning (May 23rd), I left my house in Illinois to make an 11+ hour journey to Tennessee. It was my first time visiting Tennessee since I've only ever flown over the state so I was pretty excited to visit Dollywood and see the Smoky Mountains. I arrived in Pigeon Forge around 4:30 PM and immediately went to our cabin to check in. I had received word that Dollywood started "technical rehearsals" on Lightning Rod so I wanted to hurry up and check in and race to the park for the last couple hours to see if I could get on. Side note: This trip had been booked since January and the deadline for the reservations for the cabin were already passed before Dollywood announced the delay for Lightning Rod back in March. Ride openings are never guaranteed, especially on innovative attractions but I still would've been sad (not mad at the park, just sad) if I missed the ride by a matter of days.
Unfortunately problems started as soon as we arrived. We needed a cabin that was handicap accessible for one of my family members but the steep and narrow roads made it a little tricky for our jeep that was already hauling all of our suitcases and a lift with a power chair on the back. When we arrived at our cabin, we were greeted (rather startled) by a maintenance guy who said the cabin had no running water and he was trying to fix it. After about 4 hours, they still couldn't fix it so we had to be moved to another cabin. It was sort of a blessing in disguise because they ended up moving us right next to the Pigeon Forge strip and we were now only 4 miles from the park. At this point, we were all tired so we got some BBQ off the strip and went to bed.
The next day we arrived at Dollywood very early. They let us in about 30 minutes before it officially opened so I was able to activate my season pass in less than 2 minutes and made my way over to Lightning Rod. We were told at the entrance of the ride that they would be doing technical rehearsal again but probably not until later in the day. Since it was our first time at the park, we didn't want to waste any time so we headed on over towards Mystery Mine. I was told to do that and FireChaser first since the capacity was bad on both rides. Mystery Mine was temporarily closed so our first ride of the day was FireChaser Express.
I was very impressed by the theming of FireChaser from start to finish. It was one of the best family coasters I've ever been on. I saw guests of all ages enjoying it. For some reason the backwards launch made me dizzy and I'm not sure why but I really liked the ride overall. You could really feel the heat from the fire effects which reminded me of Revenge of the Mummy.
I went on Wild Eagle next since I saw nobody in line for the ride. I got front row since it was a walk-on. The views from the top of the lift were beautiful and I really liked the first drop. I think I still prefer X-Flight's drop but I liked the pacing of this coaster more. I just wish they wouldn't lock the vests on either coaster.
I headed towards Mystery Mine again but saw it was still closed. However, it was testing so I decided to go to Thunderhead next and then come back. Thunderhead was another walk-on. I've heard for years that Thunderhead was a great wooden coaster but has gotten pretty rough in recent years. I didn't think it was "pretty rough"... it was very rough but I still thought it was fun. I loved the out-of-control feeling and the pacing was fantastic from start to finish. While American Thunder is a lot smoother, this was more thrilling.
I saw that Mystery Mine was finally open so I hopped in line and waited about 30 minutes to get on. I wasn't sure about this one. I've read that the theming is great and there are some fun moments but it's also a headbanger. I was assigned the front row of the car. The indoor parts of the ride were well themed and tame but the first part of the ride that goes outside is a different story. Tightening up and bracing yourself probably makes things worse but no matter how hard I tried, my ears were bouncing off the sides of the OTSR. The final drop and two inversions weren't too bad and was quite fun but I did not enjoy the first section that goes outdoors. Overall, I liked the theming but it was one of the most uncomfortable coasters I've been on.
I went over to Lightning Rod around 11:30 and saw it testing but they were still not handing out the vouchers for the technical rehearsals. One of my family members got sick at the park so I left to take them back to our cabin and grabbed a bite on the way back. After resting for an hour or so, I got word that Lightning Rod had opened up and this time they ditched the vouchers and were just letting groups of 30-60 people ride it at a time. I hurried up and flew back to the park to see if I could be one of the lucky few to get to ride it. After waiting out in the sun for 1-2 hours (not because the line was long but there were multiple delays between cycles) I was finally able to enter the queue and head up to the platform. For the last month I thought all hope was lost on getting a chance to ride this but my brain was finally processing at this point that it was really happening.
Since they were only letting a few dozen people in the queue line at a time to keep it mostly empty, I didn't really get a chance to take in most of the theming of the queue since we basically walked from the entrance directly to the station but from what I saw passing by it looked really cool! I did snag a few photos on the way too. We were greeted by Danny Robbins when we reached the station who did a great job interacting and giving updates to the guests during the technical rehearsals. I actually didn't realize it was him until I saw his name tag when I was in the station but I thanked him for the Instagram updates. I was assigned row 2 of the train.
After the train left the station, there's a quick moment of anticipation while waiting for the launch to kick in. It wasn't nearly as forceful as I thought it would be but it was a very fun launch regardless. I got some great ejector air on the first dip at the top but I didn't find the main drop to be all that extreme. It didn't give me butterflies in my stomach like Outlaw Run and Goliath does. It was still a fun drop though. The first part of the wave turn loses a lot of speed but the second half really pulls you down fast. The next two outward banked turns (I always forget what they're calling these) really pull you out of your seat. Next up, the quad down. The start of the quad down felt a little slow but by the time you get half way down, you're being pulled down pretty fast. The final turn before the brakes pushed me back against my seat a little but nothing too overwhelming. Overall, this is probably my new favorite coaster. I rode it again the next day but this time towards the back of the train where the airtime was even better and the quad down felt a lot faster. This is a great coaster and a great addition to the park.
I went back to the park on Thursday where I finally got a ride on Blazing Fury and Tennessee Tornado. I personally liked Blazing Fury and appreciated its cheesy but humorous theming. The last coaster I went on was Tennessee Tornado. I had heard that Tornado is one of the best Arrows ever built and also one of the smoothest ever built. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get myself to process the words "smooth" and "Arrow looper" in the same sentence. I had to ride it to believe it. It was short but smooth and fun. By far my new favorite Arrow looper.
The rest of my trip I spent exploring shops on the parkway and traveling to Cades Cove. I really liked The Island too and the water show was cool at night. I tried going on two alpine coasters nearby on my final day in Tennessee but one of them was down and when I arrived at the other one, I realized that I forgot my wallet at the cabin. Unfortunately, it was already really late and the coaster would've been closed when I came back to it. Overall, I had a great trip. The surroundings were beautiful, Dollywood was fantastic, the people everywhere I went were so friendly, and the Dollywood cinnamon bread was AMAZING.
Thank you for reading. I think this report is longer than any college paper I've written. I wish I had more photos of the park but most of the ones I took were from Cades Cove since I was more concerned about getting on as many rides as I could than stopping to snap photos...
View from our first cabin.
First ride of the trip... FireChaser Express!
This Eagle is so much bigger in person.
Still looks safer than any structure at Mt. Olympus.
Waiting to enter Lightning Rod!
View from the queue.
Very nice queue.
View from the stairs leading to the station.
2nd greatest moment of my life.
Greatest moment of my life.
Round 2 on Lightning Rod.
During my 2nd lap on Lightning Rod, the train missed the mark in the station so they had to manually unlock all the harnesses to get the riders out. It took about 30 minutes before they got everything up and running again.
Something we could all use a little bit of.