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Photo TR: Canobie Coaster's 2017 US Adventures


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Busch Gardens Tampa

 

As tempting as it was to visit Legoland, I have to be honest; Busch Gardens Tampa was my most anticipated park of the trip. I absolutely love the Williamsburg park, so I was interested in visiting a park that receives similar praise.

 

I had parts of two days at Busch Gardens. I had about 3 hours in the evening on Sunday and another 6.5 hours on Monday before my flight. Fresh off the purchase of my platinum pass, I knew I’d receive free parking. What I wasn’t expecting was that I received free preferred parking. I’ll take that. Especially since the lot afforded some great views of Montu.

 

Busch Gardens was clearly in the Christmas spirit. The park’s lush landscaping was adorned with an endless barrage of lights. Simply put, the park looked spectacular. As a first-time visitor, navigating the park in the evening was challenging. It was difficult to see signs and pathways in the reduced lighting.

 

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I'm absolutely in love with all the holiday events that parks have now.

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It was quickly apparent that the Tampa park looked as great as the Virginia park.

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It's so bright!

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The park definitely didn't have a shortage of Christmas trees. Sorry I meant holiday tree if we need to be politically correct nowadays.

Going in, I expected waits on two rides- Cheetah Hunt and Cobra’s Curse. One is probably the park’s most popular coaster and the other is the park’s newest coaster. So I decided to knock these two rides out first. Cheetah Hunt was posted at a 25 minute wait and that was fairly accurate, but I decided to wait an extra 15 minutes for the front.

 

I probably watched a POV of Cheetah Hunt’s layout a while back. All I remembered is that it had that funky elevated turn and a zero-G roll somewhere. The first launch was a fake-out. I was confused how weak the initial launch was, but after crawling around a sweeping turn, I was plastered in my seat for the first major launch.

 

The ascent up the tower treated me to a fantastic pop of air. Then the elevated turns were as funky as they appeared. They were taken very slowly, but it afforded me a chance to take in some views of the park. It was hard to notice just how massive Busch Gardens was. Kumba looked a good mile away. But that was interrupted by the steep plunge into a subterranean trench.

 

The subsequent S-hill provided a solid pop of air. Then came the zero-G roll. I knew it was coming, but it took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be hidden behind a tree. The maneuver was prolonged with some wonderful hang-time. A MCBR saps a good chunk of the ride’s speed, but in retrospect that was necessary. Otherwise the low-to-the-ground turns over the river could have been pretty uncomfortable.

 

The second half kicked it back into overdrive with another powerful launch followed by the ride’s best airtime moment, a large parabolic hill over the safari. Then there are a few mild S-hills with some weak pops of air before hitting the brakes. Cheetah Hunt is a great coaster. It does a little of everything. It was especially great at night since a majority of the ride’s layout took place in total darkness. It’s not the most thrilling coaster out there, but it’s undeniably fun from start to finish. 9 out of 10

 

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As impressive as the lights were, the coasters were the real reason for my visit.

Cobra’s Curse had a posted 25 minute wait, but I was impatient. I heard the roar of a B&M invert a mere hundred yards ahead of me. I couldn’t resist Montu and it was a walk-on. I decided to try the front row for my first ride. Montu and Alpengeist are often compared. They’re two of the largest and best reviewed inverts out there, and they’re in the same chain. But there’s no contest. Montu kicks Alpengeist’s keister.

 

The first drop has the snap of a Batman the Ride clone. It’s rare to find a larger invert with the same power, but Montu had it. The vertical loops and Immelman were fantastic, but it’s the following inversions that define Montu.

 

Zero-G rolls are my favorite element on inverts and Montu probably has the best I’ve experienced. I felt like Montu was trying to eject me from the ride. But Montu one-ups itself with the batwing. Holy moly is that element ridiculously intense. Everything about it was unbelievable. The snap, the Gs, the speed. It was the whole package. And this was just in the front row.

 

Instead of coasting to the brake run (cough: Alpengeist: cough), Montu has an impressive trick up its sleeve (or up its feathers). The final two inversions are taken below ground level. Not only does this create some wonderful foot-choppers, but it also allows Montu to rebuild its speed and absolutely haul through the second vertical loop and corkscrew.

 

I knew I had to try Montu in the back. I made sure to grab the back right per coasterbill’s recommendation and it was even better than the front row. Sure I didn’t have the same visuals, but I was at Montu’s mercy. The final 5 inversions were violent (in a good way). The batwing in particular knocked my socks off figuratively and tried to do so literally as the blood rushed to my feet. Usually I prefer airtime to positive Gs. However, Montu’s combination of theming, layout, and forces is flawless. 10 out of 10

 

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Montu and Alpengeist are siblings. And like any older brother, Montu is stronger and dominates the younger one.

I could have ridden Montu the rest of the night and been content with my decision, but I decided to tour the rest of the park. Cobra’s Curse still had a 25 minute wait. The queue is impressively themed. In particular, I loved the projection of the snake in the final queue room. The queue was constantly moving, but it moved at the pace of a snail due to the ride’s capacity.

 

Visually the ride is striking. What’s not to love about a massive cobra and elevator lift? The ride is a pretty funky spinning coaster. The first half has no spinning whatsoever and was pretty forgettable outside of the cobra encounter. The second half was far from forgettable. The spinning picked up and the coaster used its surroundings well.

 

Had Cobra’s Curse spun for the entirety of the ride, it would have easily been one of the best spinning coasters out there. But the lackluster first half does take some of the shine off the coaster. It’s a fun coaster, but since I could alternatively ride 3 other superior B&Ms with no wait, one ride on Cobra’s Curse was sufficient for me. 7 out of 10

 

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The cobra looked absolutely stunning at night.

My stomach was growling louder than the animals on the savannah. I filled up on some chicken nuggets from the Ginger (aka Wendy’s) on my way to Busch Gardens, but I needed something more. Since I was at a Busch Gardens park, I knew what I needed. Pretzels. Big, buttery, mouthwatering pretzels.

 

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Auntie Anne's and Wetzel's Pretzels have nothing on Busch's pretzels.

Pantopia was significantly brighter than the front of the park. And immediately I was drawn into the pretzel place. I’ll say it again. Busch Gardens pretzels are the best singular theme park food item I have ever had. Cesari’s Pizza and Dollywood’s cinnamon bread can read that statement and weep. I went with the standard pretzels on this evening, saving the bacon heart attack for the next day.

 

After leaving my doughy coma, I decided to get high as a kite. I mean that in the literal fashion, not the way Josh Gordon interprets that statement. Falcon’s Fury was also a walk-on. Unfortunately I forgot my glasses strap, so the sheer height of the ride was sort of lost on me. Everything was a blur. I couldn’t have visually told you the difference between 100 feet or 300 feet.

 

I rode Ikaros at Grona Lund, so I had a good idea what to expect. The transition to face down is pretty unnerving. It’s pretty freaky going into that position on any ride, let alone a drop tower. Like Ikaros, the drop felt a bit slow. Don’t get me wrong, it was still one heck of a rush. It just lacked the gut-wrenching sensation of other drop towers. Still it’s uniqueness makes it one of the better ones out there. 9 out of 10

 

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Pantopia in all its technicolor wonder.

I planned to save Scorpion for the next day, but since it was a walk-on, I decided to grab a ride on the classic Schwarzkopf. It’s rare to see a major coaster like this with a single train operation, but I appreciate how the park has kept this coaster around.

 

The ride’s stats aren’t impressive, but the ride packs a nice punch. The intensity on the vertical loop was expected; it’s a Schwarzkopf after all. The surprising bit is just how forceful the helixes are. It’s not going to be anyone’s favorite at Busch Gardens, but it’s a nice little coaster. 7 out of 10

 

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I'm glad Busch Gardens kept this classic Schwarzkopf around.

It was an hour to closing, so I decided to hit the final two B&Ms. I would have preferred to hit SheiKra first and close with Kumba. Despite ShieKra being fully visible from Pantopia, there was no easy way to get there. So instead I hit Kumba first.

 

Kumba was one of B&M’s first coasters. It’s also universally considered one of their best. I’m not sure if it’s the ride’s capacity, location, intensity, or a combination of the three, but the station was completely dead. I could count on zero fingers how many people were in the station, and that’s not an exaggeration. I decided to start in the front row in case an influx of people arrived (spoiler alert, they didn’t).

 

Like Montu, coasterbill swears by Kumba’s back right seat. I made sure to try this seat after my front row ride, but I have to disagree. I prefer Kumba up front. I also didn’t notice a difference between the left or right sides. But I do agree that Kumba is a fantastic ride.

 

All of the inversions were forceful, but the highlight is that wipeout zero-G roll. I thought Montu’s zero-G roll was intense, but I think Kumba surpasses it. That maneuver is ferocious. There’s no other way to put it. I remember seeing someone post that Kumba was rough on the BGT Thread. Outside of one predictable spot before the first corkscrew, Kumba was mostly smooth. It was aggressive, but smooth.

 

The way Kumba flows from inversion to inversion is impressive. One coaster it’s often compared to is Dragon Khan and in many ways they’re similar. They are both two of the most intense loopers out there. I preferred Montu and even Cheetah Hunt (I’m prepared for pitch forks), but Kumba was a great ride in its own right. 9 out of 10

 

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Usually a roar in the middle of the night is a bad sign. Kumba was a different situation.

I finished off with SheiKra. One of my best friends lives in Orlando and swears SheiKra is the best coaster he has ever been on. While I respectfully disagree, I do enjoy dive coasters and SheiKra is one of the best. Valravn may have a more complex layout, but it also has the newer vest restraints. On dive coasters, I prefer the traditional B&M OSTRs for the freedom they provide.

 

Both vertical drops provide copious floater air. The massive Immemlman is also more intense than I expected. The rest of the layout doesn’t do too much, but it’s a heck of a lot better than Oblivion. The one thing I did notice with SheiKra is that it did rattle. Before this, I’ve only been on dive coasters that have been immaculately smooth. Now it did rattle, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the ride.

 

I finished off the night with 4 straight SheiKra rides. I can’t put it ahead of Griffon. SheiKra’s first half is identical, but Griffon does a whole lot more during its second half. Still SheiKra is a wonderful coaster that compliments the rest of the park’s lineup perfectly. I also saw an intriguing looking wooden coaster from the lift, but for some reason I couldn’t find the entrance… 8.5 out of 10

 

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SheiKra was my closer...unless you count the Wawa after the park closed.

It was now closing. In just 3 hours, I had ridden all of the park’s major coasters. I casually continued counterclockwise through the park towards the main entrance, enjoying the Christmas lights along the way. Busch Gardens is really one of the most beautiful parks out there.

 

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I can't emphasize how great the park looked.

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It was hard to pick my favorite decoration.

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Scratch that, this elaborate lawn ornament was my favorite. I couldn't believe the park erected a 100 foot tall sculpture just for the holidays. This must have took at least a year to build.

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In all seriousness, it was weird seeing all the Gwazi themed games still standing yet the coaster itself has been closed for a while.

Day 2 began much like the first. I was first in line at the turnstiles and they let us in the park around 9:45. Did the park open early? Not quite. They staged us by Cheetah Hunt’s tower. At 10, the rope dropped. Remember how I was stunned by how relaxed and leisurely everyone was at SeaWorld at rope drop? There was no such thing at Busch Gardens. There was a mad dash to Cheetah Hunt.

 

I decided to walk instead of trampling over teenagers who were snapchatting the whole thing. Despite walking, I still ended up on the second train of the day in the front row. It was interesting riding during the day. At night, I couldn’t see anything. During the day, I was amazed just how close the coaster came to the wildlife and river on the far end of the ride.

 

I was hopeful I could grab a second ride in the back before the masses reached the ride. By the time I got back in line, the wait had already crept up to 20 minutes. I figured it wouldn’t get any better and I was right. Later in the day, I saw the wait posted at 50 minutes. The coaster was definitely better up front for the visuals, but I also enjoyed it in the back. The trench drop in particular stood out. I would have loved to ride Cheetah Hunt more, but I just couldn’t do it when the B&Ms were walk-ons.

 

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WTF tower was as odd as it looked but the drop after it was probably my favorite part of the ride.

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Hmmm an empty Intamin train. I'd say the coaster didn't have a line, but coaster enthusiasts know better.

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Cheetah Hunt is definitely the most popular coaster at the park with the GP.

Cobra’s Curse was already up to a 40 minute wait, so I grabbed two more rides on Montu before heading back to Pantopia. It was a bummer I didn't get a second ride on the park's newest coaster, but Montu quickly made me forget.

 

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As they say in a Catholic school health class, watch out for the snake ;)

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Cobra's Curse uses trenches well.

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Montu uses trenches really really really well.

Since it was daylight, I was able to appreciate the wildlife along the way. I can’t believe I unknowingly passed all of these animals the night before. Then again I'm pretty blind at night. Despite being more well-known for their coasters, Busch Gardens has an impressive animal collection.

 

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The obligatory lazy lion shot.

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Watching heavy animals eat is entertaining. That's why My 500 Pound Life exists.

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For an upcharge, you could feed the giraffes. I preferred to pay to feed myself.

Most of the crowd was still in the front of the park, so I grabbed two quick rides on Scorpion and Falcon’s Fury while they were still walk-ons. Falcon's Fury in particular was better during the day. I still had trouble fully appreciating the height without my glasses, but at least I had some definition in the distance as opposed to seeing the equivalent of a poorly tuned television set.

 

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It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Super...no it's actually a bird this time.

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Dorney fans, does it sting seeing a similar coaster still operating?

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It's funny because they replaced Laser with Stinger.

Afterwards, I knew I should hit Sand Serpent. I probably waited about 15 minutes, but in the time I was queuing for the coaster, the line had more than doubled in length and was spilling onto the midway.

 

Unlike Project X, the hairpin turns were unbraked and provided some side-splitting laterals. The first two drops in the second half were pretty zippy as well. And then came the bunny hill. Wait, where is the bunny hill? It turns out Sand Serpent is a rare Mack mobile wild mouse. In layman’s terms, that means the ride is missing the final two bunny hills. It was certainly odd, but I didn’t miss them too much. 6 out of 10

 

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It looks like a normal wild mouse except for one slight difference.

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Can you see it?

It was pretzel time. Specifically it was bacon pretzel time. Every bite was an orgasm in my mouth accompanied by an angelic choir. If I died of a heart attack in that moment, at least I would have gone out happy.

 

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Pretzel Bacon Fury is English for mouth orgasm.

After my meal, I noticed Scorpion and Falcon’s Fury had each built up waits. I wasted no time making my way back to Kumba. Compared to last night, Kumba was mobbed. It was a whopping one train wait. Three if I wanted the front. I grabbed three more rides on this classic B&M. It’s such a good coaster flowing from element to element. And riding during the day, I could really appreciate just how well the coaster interacts with the surrounding trees and pathways.

 

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If only Virginia got a B&M instead of the Arrow gone wrong.

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The layout is as you'd expect, but it nails every single element.

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Wait for it.

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Signature shot.

It was now the heat of day. The flume was closed the night before, so I was eager to try Stanley Falls to cool down in this 80 degree weather. As I made my way towards the flume, I was amazed to see troughs on both sides of the pathway. Wow I didn’t realize Stanley Falls was this big of a flume. I didn’t see the flume cross over the pathway, so was there an underground tunnel? I was pumped.

 

After a 15 minute wait, I was seated in the front of the boat. The first drop was solid. I saw the rest of the ride’s layout ahead of me. It was decently long, but there was no tunnel. How does it connect to the trough across the pathway? Then I realized the park pulled another Gwazi. The park kept their old shoot the chute ride standing but not operating.

 

My spirits were slightly dampened, but shoes were about to get a whole lot damper. The final drop was taller than the first and equally as good. But I was caught off-guard by the splash. It looked innocent enough off-ride, but it sent a lovely wall of water over the side of the boat into my lap. Still it was perfect after experiencing sub-40 temperatures prior to my trip. 8 out of 10

 

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Well this got me wetter than I expected.

I planned to hit SheiKra before continuing the loop around the park, but unfortunately it was down for technical issues. The coaster had just started testing, so I figured it wouldn’t be long. If only there was another ride nearby. I was in luck, there was the park’s final coaster to whore out on.

 

The park’s Sesame Street area looked fantastic. The massive play area appeared to be a hit with kids, but I was there for one reason only, Air Grover. Like Shamu Express, Air Grover was quite a bit larger than I expected. But unlike Shamu Express, this one was comfortable. It also had a much better drop and helix than expected for a junior coaster. It was a surprisingly enjoyable little coaster. 4 out of 10

 

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Compared to the rest of the park, the landscaping around Air Grover felt kind of empty.

I doubled back to SheiKra and it had just reopened so I grabbed two extra rides. Maybe I was just sleep deprived or delusional the night before, but I noticed no such rattle today. It was the glass smooth B&M dive machine I’ve come to know and love.

 

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Not a single rider was scared of this drop. Not a single rider was on the train

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SheiKra was doing it's best Intamin impersonation, cycling empty trains and all.

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The photo probably would have looked better if I waited a split second. But I also wouldn't have had time to avoid the wave. So this is the best you'll get.

I had just over an hour before I had to leave for the airport. I knew exactly where I wanted to end, Montu. If only there was a fast and efficient way back towards the front of the park. Wait there was, the Sky Ride. After 5 minutes, I was off on one of the best sky rides out there. The first leg provided some great views of Kumba and Pantopia.

 

I say first leg since the ride is broken into two segments. I am guessing there used to be a third station at some point. I felt sorry for the few employees whose job was to push the buckets to the next leg on the ride. But soon enough I was back in the air, being afforded some spectacular views of Cheetah Hunt and the park’s wildlife.

 

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Hi Kumba, I'd stick around but I had a date with a B&M across the park.

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Cheetah Hunt came extremely close to several animal exhibits. I completely missed that at night.

Despite Montu’s awesomeness, it was still a walk-on in every seat but the front. The latter was probably a 3-4 train wait. Because of fast dispatches and the low crowds, I was able to grab 9 rides in the hour. Each ride was better than the first. As the train surged into the brake run, my legs were tingling after every ride, a sensation only Batman the Ride has been able to provide at this point. Montu is an amazing coaster and was the highlight of my whole Florida trip. I'll finish with a litany of Montu pictures. It looks as great as it rides.

 

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I knew I'd like Montu, but I liked it far more than expected.

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It had the powerful of Batman the Ride except a custom layout and size to go with it.

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This was the best zero-G roll I had experienced for a grand total of an hour. Then I rode Kumba.

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As football coaches say, it's won in the trenches.

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Not only is it a nice visual, but it lets Montu regain its speed for the final inversions.

I would have loved to stay, but I needed to get to the airport. But before I left, I was treated to a lovely parting gift (read with sarcasm). Some a-hole had smashed my rental car with their door. The car next to me was missing, so I wonder if they drove away… Thankfully Hertz didn’t think the damage was too minor and didn’t charge me anything.

 

Busch Gardens was easily one of the best parks I’ve visited. It didn’t have much in terms of flat rides, but let’s be honest. I’m visiting for the coasters. And Busch Gardens has a really great collection. They have the star in Montu and three other great coasters. Along with these coasters, they also have an awesome drop tower, the world’s best pretzels, and absolutely amazing theming.

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Thanks for the detailed reply! How did Krakatau compare to the other master blaster slides you've ridden since that's my top reason for wanting to visit? It's a bummer it went down a few times for different things, but at least the tapped wasn't the insanity of opening weekend for you.

 

It sounds like I maybe would have been ok visiting in late November when the "cooler" temperatures scared people from the water rides and Aquatica. 80 degrees still sounds perfectly fine for a water park to me.

 

I've only ridden a few Master Blasters so its definitely the best one I've been on. If I hadn't waited an extra 30 min in the station I probably would have liked it better. Some of the other slides were really good and the whole atmosphere of the place was great, like you were on a tropical vacation. You would have totally been fine in November if I was fine in the last week of August. I probably would have done everything then some if I went in November.

 

I doubt I'll ever get to this park since there are so many amazing parks in the same general area, but it seems like a really nice place.

Same here on the FL Legoland.

 

I feel the same way with the SoCal location though. There's no way I could justify a day at that one over SFMM, Disneyland, Knott's, SeaWorld, or Universal (the latter I've never even been to) since I haven't been out that way nearly as often.

 

I still haven't been to the CA one yet, but I'll have to eventually visit it. If I visit a Legoland, it will most likely be the CA one.

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I preferred Montu and even Cheetah Hunt (I’m prepared for pitch forks), but Kumba was a great ride in its own right.

...welcome to my sh*tlist.

 

Awesome report of the home park. 100% yes on the pretzels, they're like salted diabetes.

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Great report of a great park! I'm pretty sure that Skyway station was always a turnaround station and nothing more. I feel like Magic Kingdom had a similar bend in theirs, but I could be wrong.

 

Dorney fans, does it sting seeing a similar coaster still operating?

No, because I visit Busch Gardens Tampa way more often than I visit Dorney even though Dorney is 2 hours from the house because... well... Dorney.

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I said Dorney fans not Dorney homers.

 

The last time I went to Dorney wasn't by choice. I was in eastern PA on a Friday in September. I checked Knoebels. Closed

Hershey. Closed. Six Flags Great Adventure. Closed. Meanwhile Dorney was open. They have great operations and some good rides; they just pale in comparison to all those places.

 

That's interesting on the Sky Ride. It was weird but I'm glad they did it since it let me experience two distinctly different segments.

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No shame for going to Legoland. Legos aren't toys. They're a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system.

 

Every TR I've seen of Busch Gardens makes the place look incredible, and this one doesn't break the chain. Glad you had fun, but I get the vibe that it's impossible not to.

 

Loving this report! Can't wait to see what park you visited next!

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No shame for going to Legoland. Legos aren't toys. They're a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system.

 

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They're both. I still have all my old Legos and use them to design alien species for a graphic novel series I'm writing.

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^ Who needs a toy store now when you have the Lego Store.

 

No shame for going to Legoland. Legos aren't toys. They're a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system.

 

Every TR I've seen of Busch Gardens makes the place look incredible, and this one doesn't break the chain. Glad you had fun, but I get the vibe that it's impossible not to.

 

Loving this report! Can't wait to see what park you visited next!

 

Thanks! Busch Gardens definitely was as nice as it looked.

 

I may be able to fit in one or two more park winter events but it all depends where and when family Christmas parties are.

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Super report from your time at BGT! I've never been there and was actually talking to someone last night about getting down there in the next year or two. Between all the spectacular xmas lights and cooler temps it would seem to me that the best time to visit is towards the end of the year like you did. How much larger would you say BGT is than BGW?

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Super report from your time at BGT! I've never been there and was actually talking to someone last night about getting down there in the next year or two. Between all the spectacular xmas lights and cooler temps it would seem to me that the best time to visit is towards the end of the year like you did. How much larger would you say BGT is than BGW?

 

I haven't been to the Williamsburg park in a few years, but the park felt comparable in size. It takes a good 15-20 minutes to get to the park of the park. And I definitely plan to return to Florida around this time as well. The weather was perfect! It was 60-80 degrees so I wasn't sweating buckets like usual. The only thing to watch out for is the weekend after Thanksgiving with regards to crowds.

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Awesome report! Busch Gardens is one of my favorite parks out there. I haven't been since Cheetah Hunt or Cobra's Curse opened but they both look like a lot of fun. Montu, Kumba, and SheiKra are all my favorite versions of their ride types. I think SheiKra's immersion in the area around it and the themeing put it ahead of Griffon for me.

 

Idk why but I find it hilarious they serve a side of potato chips with a salty, buttery bacon pretzel. Either way it looks amazing I'm definitely going to get one next time I'm at Busch.

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Awesome report! Busch Gardens is one of my favorite parks out there. I haven't been since Cheetah Hunt or Cobra's Curse opened but they both look like a lot of fun. Montu, Kumba, and SheiKra are all my favorite versions of their ride types. I think SheiKra's immersion in the area around it and the themeing put it ahead of Griffon for me.

 

Idk why but I find it hilarious they serve a side of potato chips with a salty, buttery bacon pretzel. Either way it looks amazing I'm definitely going to get one next time I'm at Busch.

 

Thanks! Griffon doesn't have as much theming as SheiKra, but in my opinion Williamsburg works that ride into the park extremely well there too.

 

As for the chips, I asked if I could get the bacon pretzel alone initially, assuming there'd be a slight price difference. But I was shocked to find the bacon pretzel automatically came with the chips and if I had them removed, it was the same cost. I was already eating a bacon pretzel and trying to clog my heart, so what harm could a few more chips do.

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I've got to stop reading and take a minute to highlight this brilliant two-hitter, haha

 

My stomach was growling louder than the animals on the savannah. I filled up on some chicken nuggets from the Ginger (aka Wendy’s) on my way to Busch Gardens, but I needed something more.
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I’ve been cursed when it comes to Lightning Rod. Last year the ride ran less than Tom Brady. Still and stationary. This year, the ride has run more like Russell Wilson. Usually running, but inexplicably has spells where it stops running. Unfortunately both my visits were during these times.

 

The ride tested non-stop during my weeklong June vacation, but didn’t open until 2-3 days after I left. After foolishly thinking all issues were resolved and it would be all rainbows and butterflies, I visited my friend in Georgia and happened to visit the one weekend in July where the ride closed for unknown reasons. Sure enough, it reopened 2 days later.

 

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The Lightning Rod shot glasses are perfect for enthusiasts who miss out on Lightning Rod. Simply take a shot if it's TC or CW and finish your entire bottle if it's closed for the day.

When I saw a cheap flight down to Atlanta in mid-December, I jokingly figured it was an opportunity to finally ride it. What could go wrong in the midst of winter? My girlfriend has family just outside of Atlanta, so the plan was to spend one day there and leave the second day for a park. If Lightning Rod was running, it would be Dollywood. If not, it would be Six Flags Over Georgia.

 

Since I have heard incredible things about Smoky Mountain Christmas, I was hoping it’d be Dollywood. A snowstorm in the week preceding my visit closed Lightning Rod, which was understandable. But after every other coaster reopened and Lightning Rod stayed down, I had that feeling of dread the coaster would dodge me yet again. But then lightning struck, it reopened on Thursday.

 

Along with being an outstanding park, Dollywood has a fantastic location. It would have been a crying shame to completely ignore the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge. It’d be a long, busy day, but we both knew it’d be worth it.

 

So we began with a trip through the Smoky Mountain National Park. We had both been there before, but this time we wanted to do something different. Something often reserved for people twice our age who rise well before the sun. We both wanted to see the sunrise creeping above the mountains. It was definitely hard getting out of bed, but this view made it all worthwhile.

 

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I can't believe we got up before the sun on vacation.

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However these views made up for it.

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My phone's camera really doesn't do the Smoky Mountains justice. And if you think it does, go there and prepare to be even more amazed.

We needed something to keep us going and coffee wasn’t going to cut it. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg definitely aren’t at a shortage of restaurants, so we decided to grab a massive breakfast at the Log Cabin Pancake House. I know. Many of you are probably thinking we’re heathens eating such a meal before going to Dollywood. But we knew the aroma of fresh food would make us hungry again in the park.

 

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I present the bacon waffle. A waffle with bacon on top and bacon bits inside the waffle. Because a measly side of bacon is too healthy down south.

After breakfast, we still had an hour to kill before the park opened, so we decided to see if any of the mountain coasters were running. It was a clear and sunny 50 degree day, so I was optimistic at least one of them would. Turns out, all of them were running! That quickly narrowed it down to either the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster (SMAC) or the Goat Coaster. It’s a toss-up which of the two I prefer from a ride standpoint, so we picked Goats on the Roof because goats are on the roof.

 

Actually in the cold, the goats were on the ground. But they were out in full force devouring anything in their sight. Hay, kibble, poop. They didn’t discriminate. I think we were also the first riders of the day on the mountain coaster. While it isn’t as long as SMAC, the Goat Coaster is the more intense one in my opinion as it maintains its speed better.

 

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Goats on the Roof!

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Or should I say Goats on the Ground?

We made it to Dollywood just before opening and didn’t find ourselves parked too far back in the lot. As we passed the ticket booths, I noticed something different. Was it the Xmas decorations? Those were probably there, but it wasn’t that. No, it was the omission of Lightning Rod on the closed ride list!

 

That was step one. Step two was actually riding the coaster. Since I was down south, I joked that “if God giveth, God taketh away.” I figured if Lightning Rod ran, another good coaster like Wild Eagle or Firechaser would be down. No, I was far too naive. The universe instead did something far crueler. It just so happened the world’s largest airport had a power outage.

 

And of course that was the Atlanta airport that we used. Go figure. I’d say getting to ride Lightning Rod would have wiped away all cares in the world, but it really would have sucked if our flight was cancelled since those affected were told it’d be 5 days before they could get a ticket. Thankfully our flight wasn’t impacted! But many leading up to our flight were cancelled.

 

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Look a tree. I don't know what all the fuss is about. Dollywood already has a ton of them around the park.

Back to Dollywood. Our first stop was the Timesaver booth. For a few moments, we questioned if our Timesavers would be necessary, but we kept reminding ourselves that the beautiful weather and chance to ride Lightning Rod would make it worth it. We also expected high crowds since there were no wheelchairs available when I looked online.

 

Wheelchairs? I wish my inquiry into them was just to gauge crowds. No it was more than that. The week before my trip, I partially tore an ankle ligament. Thankfully I had a beefy brace that allowed me to hobble around and ride most attractions.

 

We hobbled (actually just me) over to Lightning Rod. But then I saw an all too familiar site. The coaster was closed. Except this time, it was due to weather and not a launch, sensor, train, track, or whatever other defect was speculated upon by the enthusiast community. So we killed time in the religious gift shop and Chasing Rainbows museum.

 

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The religious shirts are a-mason.

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Is it just me or are Dolly's arms missing in this photo?

We checked back on Lightning Rod and the Closed for Weather sign was no more! It was replaced by a beautiful “< 15 minutes”. I was hardly able to contain my excitement, so my ankle did it for me and reminded me to walk.

 

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Do my eyes deceive me or does that sign actually not say closed?

We reached the station and it was a one train wait for the front. As tempting as that was, we decided to grab the first available row. What are the odds this coaster would ever close? That row happened to be row 11, which turned out to be my favorite place to ride the coaster.

 

After a slow safety check (many people struggled to get their bars down far enough and the employees just watched instead of helping), we rolled out of the station towards the imposing hill. I’ve always thought it’d be cool to experience a rollback on a coaster, but this was definitely not one of those instances. Then the launch started.

 

The launch was really a two-part experience. The initial kick wasn’t all that strong, but once the train hit the incline, there was a second kick that was much more forceful than you’d think a 40 MPH launch would be. It felt just like the Hulk’s launch, but considerably longer. I just kept praying the coaster would clear the lift and let gravity handle the rest. And it did.

 

Dolly’s humps gave really good pops of air, but they were merely the appetizers for the airtime buffet that was to follow. Whenever people mention Lightning Rod, a lot of people breeze over the drop. Honestly, I don’t know why since it was freaking amazing. It was massive and had copious amounts of airtime the whole way down just like every other RMC drop.

 

Then Lightning Rod performed some maneuvers only an RMC could execute. The massive wave turn was incredibly disorienting and somehow managed to eject riders from their seats at the same time. Then there’s the top hat where you won’t be able to tell the difference from right and left. I think it enters banked to the left and ends banked to the right, or maybe I reversed it. But I can tell you that it’s absolutely wild and you’re out of your seat the whole time.

 

Then comes the return leg. Think of the most powerful airtime moment you’ve ever experienced. Now picture receiving that seven times in a row. Does that sound too good to be true? Not on Lightning Rod. There’s a ridiculously fast outward banked bunny hop that I completely forgot about and then there’s a double-up before the orgasmic quad down. Still not enough air? Then there’s a little speed hill where 90% of riders are screaming in terror as the picture is taken.

 

Lightning Rod has one final banked turn up its sleeve. And like every other element on the coaster, it manages to give amazing air. As we careened into the brake run, I was in shock. First I couldn’t believe I had finally ridden this coaster. But more-so, I couldn’t believe just how great this coaster was.

 

The most striking thing to me is that there isn’t a single bit of wasted track on this coaster. Even my favorites like Phoenix or Iron Rattler sneak a turn in that doesn’t really do much compared to the rest of the coaster. Not Lightning Rod. Each turn is taken at a breakneck pace and manages to provide ridiculous amounts of airtime at the same time.

 

I knew Lightning Rod was unquestionably my new number one coaster. It had everything. It was intense. It was wild. And it has one of the best settings of any coasters out there. My girlfriend loved it as well and immediately placed it above SFNE’s Superman and Boulder Dash as her favorite coaster. We both knew we had no other choice then to get back in line. 10 out of 10

 

I also want to note that I heard temperatures needed to hit 40 degrees for coasters to open. However, I think Lightning Rod may need something a tad higher. The Wednesday before my visit had a maximum temperature of 40 degrees and everything operated except Lightning Rod. When the coaster opened on Saturday, my handy dandy Weather app said it was 42 degrees out, so take that with a grain of salt.

 

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After many failed attempts, I was afraid I overhyped Lightning Rod but it absolutely delivered. It's my new number one coaster.

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The ride's pacing is insane. From start to finish, the coaster doesn't let up. Unless it breaks down.

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I'm pretty sure I was out of my seat more than I was in it.

As distracting as Lightning Rod was, we remembered we had the whole rest of the park to explore. I had ridden everything else in past visits, but my girlfriend was a first-timer so she was soaking in everything. We slowly made our way through Craftsman Valley. Me because of my ankle and her because of her fascination with the glass blowing, blacksmithing, and candle making.

 

We considered riding Blazing Fury, but the line was spilling outside the building and it’s a rare ride not on Timesaver. So instead we skipped a half hour wait at Tennessee Tornado. This used to be tied with Wild Eagle for my favorite coaster in the park. While it lost that crown, it’s still a great coaster.

 

I absolutely love that first drop down the mountain. It’s unique, fast, and has a ton of air. The following loop is funkily profiled, but it’s floaty and glass-smooth. Actually the whole coaster is somehow glass-smooth. The final two inversions are considerably more intense and mess with your equilibrium. 8.5 out of 10

 

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Tennessee Tornado was a bit more visible without all the leaves.

Wild Eagle was next and we grabbed my favorite seat in the back. Wild Eagle’s first drop is one of the most underrated drops out there as it really flings you over the top. The inversions on wing coasters are often a complaint of enthusiasts, but I love the hang-time they provide. Unfortunately my girlfriend wasn’t as big a fan of Wild Eagle. She said the slowness of inversions made her a bit queasy. 9 out of 10

 

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Still my favorite wing coaster after GateKeeper.

After a quick water break, we bypassed a 50 minute line at Firechaser Express. This is still one of the best family coasters out there. It really does provide a little of everything. It has launches, some laterals, pops of air, and theming. It also goes backwards which is a rarity for any coaster. This coaster won’t ever be a top amongst enthusiasts, but it really does please everyone. 8 out of 10

 

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The perfect family coaster.

We then hit Mystery Mine. I’ve seen many people call Mystery Mine rough while others have defended it. I think I just have a higher tolerance to resist headbanging since I had another reasonably smooth ride. Meanwhile my girlfriend swore the coaster wasn’t much better than Mind Eraser (I know that strikes a never with some of you). I gave her a tip to lean her head forwards, but she said that makes her sick so it was the lesser of two evils.

 

The second half is really where Mystery Mine shines, but the compact first half is still a ton of fun. The trestle drop always catches first timers off-guard and has a surprisingly powerful pop of air. Then the rest of the turns are really slow, but they’re so tight that they’re surprisingly wild. 8.5 out of 10

 

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Mystery Mine probably had my favorite lighting of any coaster.

Thunderhead is another coaster that has garnered a reputation of being rough. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but it’s definitely a bumpy coaster. Under normal circumstances, I would have ridden it since it has a great layout and some good pops of air. But with my ankle I decided to play it safe and save it for another day.

 

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Fully healthy, I would have ridden Thunderhead. Instead I stuck with the other woody.

After completing a lap around the park, we decided to reward ourselves with treats. My girlfriend had one thing on her mind- cinnamon bread. She loved every single bite of the diabetic delight. I’ve said it in past reports, but I’m the one enthusiast that can resist cinnamon bread since I have a burning hatred for sugar. I’d rather eat a plain wafer or even ride a SLC. However, I can’t deny the awesomeness of a one pound turkey leg.

 

Lightning Rod amazingly hadn’t shut down once, so we returned back to our new favorite coaster. Due to the crowds (which were picking up) and the one train operations, Lightning Rod’s wait was at 90 minutes. But with Timesaver, we bypassed that line several times. In total, I think we got 7-8 rides on Lightning Rod.

 

The rush of wind in the front was amazing, but our favorite seat was definitely the back car. I slightly preferred row 11. I noticed it with Wildfire, but the back row on the wooden RMCs reminds you it’s a wooden coaster. It’s definitely not rough, but I’d say it’s like El Toro. You notice an extra few bumps, so if I have the option to ride in a seat with just as much airtime and a slightly smoother ride, I’ll take it.

 

The day was definitely a popular one for other coaster enthusiasts. While my girlfriend and I were discussing potential dinner options and which shows to watch, we couldn’t help but overhear a few other coaster enthusiasts discussing Lightning Rod. How’d we know they were enthusiasts? I’m willing to bet no other guest would call Lightning Rod a credit, tell an operator she’s “known to be the best in the community”, and spend 10 minutes comparing Lightning Rod and Outlaw Run element by element. Though if their opinions are correct, I really need to go out and ride Outlaw Run.

 

By day, Lightning Rod was already our top coaster. At night, Lightning Rod further distanced itself from the rest of the pack. I’ve been on several great night rides such as Boulder Dash and Beast. The former is somewhat illuminated by the nearby pathway and the latter by a few flood lights. But overall they’re insanely dark. Lightning Rod takes it to a whole different level. The entire first half has no lights at all.

 

That made the insane elements all the crazier. But I think my favorite part was cresting the double up. Was it because the quad down was about to begin? Well yeah, but I also loved the beautiful site of cresting the hill and seeing the dazzling Christmas lights below. I can’t describe the feeling being launched towards the sky as you see the technicolor delight of season in front of you.

 

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It already claimed my top spot in daylight. At night, Lightning Rod distanced itself from the pack. It was darker than most indoor coasters.

This forum and the Timesaver employee strongly recommended that we see It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ll admit, I’m a virgin when it comes to this revered holiday classic. I really can’t give a good reason why I’ve never seen it. My girlfriend was appalled and shocked to learn I had never seen it, so apparently that will be what we watch this weekend.

 

Without Timesaver, I don’t think we would have seen the show. It was definitely a full house and apparently people started queuing an hour before the show. I couldn’t possibly wait that long for a show when I could be spending that time riding a coaster. I was really impressed by the show. The sets, story, and music were all well executed. It definitely didn’t feel 65 minutes long.

 

My girlfriend is a bigger fan of theater and since she had seen It’s a Wonderful Life, she had a better critique of it. She was amazed how well they incorporated songs into the story since the real film isn’t a musical (something I didn’t know). The only negative she had was the pacing. She thought the Pottersville segment was incredibly short compared to everything else. But otherwise she loved it.

 

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Great show! Verdict is still out on the movie. I'd say I'd watch it this weekend, but I've said that every Christmas for the past 15 years.

Unfortunately Lightning Rod was now closed due to weather, but we had some time to kill before the Parade of Many Colors. So we made our way towards the back of the park to get night rides on Wild Eagle and Tennessee Tornado. Both were even better at night.

 

We were on the fence about seeing the parade, but after hitting a wall of people blocking the pathway, we figured we mind as well stop to enjoy the show instead of battling through everyone. The parade was very short (no more than 7-8 minutes), but the floats were definitely bright and well-decorated. Having said that, I’d probably skip it in favor of more night rides in a future visit.

 

I had noticed that temperatures plunged below 36 degrees during the parade, so all of the outdoor rides closed. We decided to leave and grab dinner. Apparently everyone else had the same thought. After the parade ended, it was a stampede for the front gate. We were trying to avoid being trampled like Mufasa as everyone powerwalked towards the gift shop like Black Friday shoppers.

 

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"Is that the last float?"

"I think so."

[Moments later] "Stampede!"

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What better way to clear out thousands of people than to funnel them through a gift shop?

Thankfully we got on the second tram and were in our car and out of the lot 20 minutes later. We went to my favorite restaurant in the Pigeon Forge area for dinner, Mama’s. It’s a family style restaurant where you get three entrees (including the best fried chicken I’ve ever had), five sides, mouthwatering biscuits, delicious vegetable soup, and desserts (if you’re into those). And it’s unlimited food!

 

Overall Dollywood provided another exceptional day. I was already a big fan of the park in my visits during the summer, but this visit was even better for a few reasons. The biggest and most obvious was that Lightning Rod was open. Having the world’s best coaster (in my opinion) operating is a major plus and completely changed my touring plan at the park in a good way. With an operating Lightning Rod, the park is top 5 in the world when you add it to everything else.

 

I also loved being there for Christmas. Not only were the lights and shows (well the one I saw) fantastic, but the temperatures were a welcome change from the oppressive and sticky 90-100 degree heat I’ve had in all my other visits. I’d much rather being walking around in 40-50 degree temperatures. Having the great water rides closed was a bummer, but I finally got on Lightning Rod and that in itself made the visit worthwhile.

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Thanks! It's still a 4 hour drive from downtown Atlanta. However, half the drive is a scenic route through the mountains so it feels much shorter.

 

The other options for me are to fly to Charlotte and also drive 4 hours or fly to Knoxville on a connecting flight and then drive an hour to the park. In the end, they all take the same amount of time so I went with the cheapest option in Atlanta.

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Dollywood at Christmas looks great, as long as the coasters are running I'd almost prefer to make a trip there in the winter than the summer. Christmas or Thanksgiving in the mountains is sounding pretty good for next year.

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Most days the rides will be open in the afternoon, but quite a few nights dip below 36. Unfortunately if you're coming in by plane, you can't avoid the risk of a really cold weekend. That was why we had a back-up plan just in case since Six Flags doesn't have a care in the world running things in low temperatures.

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Great report! We were in line four times for LR on our visit to Dollywood this year. It shut down three times, once when we were next in line. Luckily we got a walk-on (back row) and one train wait ride (front row) as we were preparing to leave the park. I can't wait to go back during the day. Our first rides on this coaster were after dark and that ride is seriously dark! It was interesting not knowing what was coming next.

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