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Photo TR: Adam's Great Smoky Mountain Adventure

P. 3: Days 2 & 3: The Island, SkyFly, moonshine, coasters & more!

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After spending most of the last few years with minimal travel, the bug to get out of Orlando was itching and I set my sights on the Smoky Mountains... The last time I had been here was with TPR during the Deep South Tour in 2009. I'd kept up with the growth and development of attractions in the region during that time, especially of Dollywood which had nearly doubled in size since my prior visit, so I knew this could be an option to enjoy a long weekend. 

Our first day was focused on some of the nature, kitsch and touristy elements of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, saving Dollywood for our second full day. 

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Why goats? Well Goats on the Roof was our first stop of the day... Due to a storm the night before, the alpine coaster here wasn't up and running but we'd be back later in the trip to give this one a go.

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On the drive to Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge we witnessed the Shrine Fun Fest Parade under way on the main stretch. 

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Next up was a ride to the peak of Anakeesta Mountaintop Park. This "adventure park" is not unlike a ski resort with shops, dining and activities, minus the skiing. 

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It is a more modern buildout which definitely made it feel more comfortable/inviting and less "kitschy mountaintop attraction."

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They have an alpine coaster here (the region's only single rail alpine coaster) but unfortunately it was closed due to rain and fog during our visit. It is important to note that general admission to Anakeesta is required to ride the Rail Runner, plus an added cost to experience the coaster. Had this not been the case, we would have happily returned on a different day of our trip just to ride the coaster.

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Plenty of great views to enjoy here!

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They've done a really nice job dressing up the facilities to fit into the mountain setting.

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The path to the top of Anakeesta is certainly picturesque!

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Postcard worthy.

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AnaVista Tower is downtown Gatlinburg's highest point accessible to visitors.

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And the views of the Anakeesta complex it delivers are great!

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Tell me more.

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You can see Ripley's Mountain Coaster (formerly Rowdy Bear) in the distance. The Glider Coaster sits above it but is not currently operational.

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There are glass flooring sections at the top of the AnaVista Tower for those that like the thrill of having transparent flooring beneath them at heights.

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I was honestly very impressed with the design, landscaping and overall feel of Anakeesta. 

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Time for a BearVenture!

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I definitely wasn't going to trip and fall on my face in an embarrassing fashion here.

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Definitely not.

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Not sure what to make of this but here it is.

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There are some fun treehouses for the kids to explore.

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No dancing on your toes here.

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The Treetop Skywalk ended up being our favorite activity at Anakeesta and it is included in your base admission price. You can go through it as many times as you'd like!

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It's like I'm in the Ewok Village on the forest moon of Endor!!!

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Seriously fun stuff here!

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In both directions you can take the "Chondola" to/from the mountaintop or you can ride the "Ridge Rambler" which is an all-terrain vehicle that takes you on a scenic road trip up/down the side of the mountain.

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This Rowdy Bear location recently became Ripley's Mountain Coaster. This is the shortest of the mountain coasters in the region (approximately 5 minutes long). Unfortunately the pricing options were a little unreasonable with only two rides per person for $25 or three rides per person for $29 available (no single ride options available per person). By comparison, Goats on the Roof was offering single rides for $10 and several others were between $12-$15 per ride (with coupons available to bring down that price). For this reason we passed on this experience.

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I was hoping to get to ride the Glider Coaster during this trip but it wasn't open and it isn't even referenced online or in the ticket office.

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Over in Downtown Gatlinburg I couldn't visit without experiencing Earthquake The Ride. Having grown up with the attraction at Universal Studios Florida, this piqued my curiosity.

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The entry to the attraction is decently themed and there are people in line already! (Spoiler: they're not real people, they're mannequins, which is a common trick at all of these knock-off attractions.)

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I'll give credit in that the ride entrance is cleverly themed.

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Sitting down in the "train" my life choices already seemed questionable. Also these seats tilt in all kinds of wonky directions as you move (back and forth) through the experience.

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The ride starts with another train coming at you from the subway... Which makes sense.

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The ceiling collapses from the earthquake, which also makes sense... But random other things like an attacking gator start to happen around you which... Makes less sense. 

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Don't mind the angry gorilla trying to escape his crate in the subway station during the earthquake. It all makes sense.

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There's a couch (with a man sleeping on it) and a locker room in the subway station because that is exactly how subway stations are in San Francisco. It makes sense.

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Angry gorillas often break out of their cages that they were being transported in on the San Francisco metro... Authentic and makes sense.

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A flood of rats pour from the fallen ceiling... Totally logical and a great way to end our authentic, realistic, true-to-nature journey on Earthquake The Ride.

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We rewarded ourselves for surviving that realistic catastrophe with edible cookie dough.

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Also wine.

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The Moonshine Mountain Coaster ended up being our first alpine coaster of the trip.

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No photos allowed while riding but this one has a fun layout and solid speed (if you don't brake). The icing on the cake is that Mario Kart music starts to play right as you exit the lift hill to start down the track! We ended up riding this one twice during our weekend.

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We decided to visit the DreamMore Resort at Dollywood to explore the grounds and grab some lunch.

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The property is well designed with some solid resort amenities. Definitely going for a moderate-to-deluxe style feel when compared to the higher end properties at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. 

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Lunch was good and solid in The Lounge at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort.

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Dollywood's HeartSong Lodge & Resort is being constructed right by DreamMore and will open in the Fall of 2023.

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The Alpine Coaster Pigeon Forge was another great alpine coaster! We ended up riding this one twice as well.

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The layout is fantastic in that it has lots of turns, dips and helices! Plus night rides are awesome on this one!

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Back at Goats on the Roof...

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Goats on the Roof has the fastest alpine coaster in the region. 

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I love the lift hill the brings the karts over the entrance to the parking lot.

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You can feet goats on the roof by pedaling food up to them on a conveyor bike.

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It worked.

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Baby goat!

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You can also buy goat feed from inside the shop for a more up-close goat experience. 

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The real reason I came to Pigeon Forge.

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I love the trick of putting mannequins at the entrance of these knock offs to make it feel like people are going in.

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"Time... The ever flowing river..."

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The technology inside is astounding.

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Some of the dinos are actually pretty realistic...

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Others, not so much.

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My favorite part of the entire experience is a kid getting picked up by a Pteranodon and flown away. 

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Meet this dino's biggest fan.

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I feel like I'm really there.

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Feaster's on Teaster's biblical dinner theater was definitely tempting...

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I saw it and kept moving on... Like anyone should.

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What happened to the other half of the ship? Could they only pick up one half from the ocean floor?

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I strongly debated trying Paula Deen's Lumberjack Feud (I'm ashamed typing that sentence) but the ticket price and the fact that all I really cared about was the zipline coaster deterred me from biting on the rough $40 per person price of admission.

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We ended our night at the Mountain Mile... Unfortunately all three of the thrill complex's attractions were closed.

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There's a drop tower...

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There's also a slingshot on this side and a more traditional skycoaster style experience (though seated instead of face down) that swings from the arch opposite side.

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Given that I couldn't experience any of these thrills for the evening, we pivoted to moonshine tastings at the Junction 35 Distillery in the same complex. 

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  • jedimaster1227 changed the title to Photo TR: Adam's Great Smoky Mountain Adventure

Very nice TR.  Anakeesta looks great.  Last time we went to Gatlinburg (October 2019), the line to buy tickets was completely overflowing onto the main sidewalk, and this was a Tuesday!  We were later told it was Fall Break for schools in the region and that the week we picked to visit was not a good one if you don't like crowds.  Noted for future visits!  

So glad others enjoy Earthquake.  I laughed so hard the first time I rode it, especially at the "surprise" at the very end.  I recommend this to anyone who loves a classic tourist trap because despite how stupid it is, you can't help but have fun.  Ditto on Jurassic Jungle.  If only World of Illusions was still open...

And speaking of Paula Deen, we made the mistake of eating at her restaurant over at the Island.  We had heard good things.  We obviously heard wrong.  My "world's greatest" fried chicken was soggy, the mashed potatoes were like soup, and the biggest sin was that they don't have biscuits of any kind during non-breakfast hours.  How do you not have biscuits in the south?  Thankfully, the fried chicken at Applewood Farmhouse over in Sevierville was much better and while no biscuits, the "apple fritters" were amazing!  

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the Dollywood report!

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Great TR, Adam!  I was also interested in that menu item on the right of the waffle fries & cheeseburgers. Looks nice and filling. Was it?

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Awesome write-up! It's been over two years at this point since my family and I have been down Smoky Mountains way, and this is definitely making me eager to get back there.

Little surprised that the Rowdy Bear in Gatlinburg got picked up by Ripley's, but I guess they still have their other location in Pigeon Forge going strong with the tubing mountain and a few other coasters. I wonder if the mountain coaster market down there has reached saturation point yet...

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The only Pigeon Forge attraction I've done outside of Dollywood is that Jurassic boat ride. I thought it was hilarious, but the mannequins outside were scary.

 

Great report, Adam. 

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The next morning we woke up early enough to be at the gates of Dollywood about an hour before opening. This would be my first time visiting in over 13 years, so I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to experience the additions that the park had made over the last decade-plus. 

Going into this trip, I decided that no matter the crowds, getting the Timesaver Unlimited would be worth it for our visit. I'd read of reliability issues with Lightning Rod and Firechaser Express, so I wanted to make sure I had the chance to ride each of them as quickly as possible in case they went down for the day (which Lightning Rod ended up doing for a portion of our day). Timesaver Unlimited plus park tickets made this a pretty expensive visit (more than I realized it would be until I really started crunching numbers), but the time we got back for not waiting in the standby queue made our day more relaxed, guaranteed re-rides on Lightning Rod (four rides total in our one day) and allowed us to leave the park a little before closing without feeling guilty so we could spend some more time in Pigeon Forge.

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I was definitely excited to be back after so many years!

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It was neat that we were also visiting during Dollywood's Flower & Food Festival. 

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One thing I forgot about is just how many theater venues there are in this park.

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The entry plaza had this fun touch of whimsy overhead.

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There was no shortage of flowers to be found throughout the park.

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My main motivation for planning a day at Dollywood...

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I'll admit, I'd watched POVs of this coaster way more than most leading up to this trip. 

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Lightning Rod is only my third RMC that I've been on (Steel Vengeance and Iron Gwazi being the other two) and I think each has there own unique elements. I think the launch is a nifty element (though not worth the maintenance/reliability grief it has seemingly caused) but the mountainside setting of the coaster and with the six consecutive airtime moments in the back half being a delight, these are what distinguish it. That said, the coaster definitely feels a little short (it has such available momentum when it hits the brake run), and I was surprised at how shaky/rough it was by comparison to Steel Vengeance or Iron Gwazi--I did a lot of bouncing around on the track, why caught me off guard. Overall, this is a great addition for the park but I was expecting a little more for the hype.

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It was a little chilly during our visit to consider water rides in our day, but I love that parks like Dollywood still maintain tradition rapids rides in their lineup.

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The other reason why I planned a visit to Dollywood.

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I destroyed this loaf of heaven in five minutes flat. Also, don't skip out on adding the Apple Butter as a side for your order. Next level pairing right there.

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We were able to see a knife being fashioned at one of the park's live demonstrations.

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Since we visited on Sunday, the chapel was in use for services, free for any guests to attend.

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You can see candles carved live and you can dip purchasable candles in colored wax for an added price.

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Dollywood is a home to several bald eagles.

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Always impressive to see these beautiful creatures in person.

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If you know, you know.

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I had forgotten just how kitschy wonderful ride is and I was so glad I had a chance to experience it again.

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Tennessee Tornado has aged like fine wine. Easily the best maintained Arrow I've been on in the last five-ten years. Pretty ridiculously smooth despite its manufacturer. I love the layout and the non-Arrow-like maneuvers (including that funky vertical loop). I hope this one is keep around for a long time to come. 

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Seriously, this ended up being one of my favorite rides of the day.

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This was new to me.

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As was this.

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Firechaser Express is WAY bigger than I expected it to be. 

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I kind of geeked out when I realized that the station has trains enter and exit from the same side. It seems so simple considering that's part of the unique nature of the coaster, but it was so cool to me to see in person. 

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And there are plenty of angles to watch the coaster fly by from on the ground.

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I do wish I'd had a chance to experience Adventure Mountain, but Firechaser Express seems like a way more unique use of this space.

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This was neat.

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NOT THE BEES!

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As only the second B&M Wingrider I'd been on (the other being GateKeeper), I was excited to try this one. Definitely a solid coaster. Nothing crazy from a layout standpoint but the location and the views make it a worthwhile experience.

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Dollywood isn't missing out on the chance to have their coasters sold as CoasterDynamix Nanocoasters.

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Mystery Mine was one of the newer additions at the park when I last visited. I was curious to ride again having had such time pass.

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Mystery Mine underwent a slight adjustment in 2021 where the layout was tweaked to remove the u-turn element.

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The coaster ultimately links back up with its original course.

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I love that the old track is still there as if it was always meant to be a part of the ride's theming.

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This element caught me by surprise.

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This side of Mystery Mine is quite picturesque.

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The last time I was here this space was used for Timber Tower, which closed a few years later. Drop Line wasn't in operation during our visit.

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Thunderhead impressed me during my previous visit so I was excited to ride again.

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Such a clever maneuver!

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Thunderhead appears to have gotten some love in the offseason with some fresh wooden throughout portions of the layout. And in those sections there was a noticeable difference in the way the trains felt rolling across the track.

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Mystery Mine is definitely my favorite coaster to watch from the ground here. 

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For a Sunday, the standby wait times weren't unreasonable.

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I nearly missed Wildwood Grove because the entrance is kind of hidden in a forked path by Mystery Mine.

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That said, I'm glad I was able to explore the land, because it is full of family offerings and lots of available land for future development.

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See what I mean?

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Something tells me it won't be long until we see an addition in Wildwood Grove.

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Something my son could enjoy on a future visit.

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Another option for the little ones. 

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If we had had more time, I probably would have given these flyers are try. 

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There's even an indoor play area for the kids. 

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For the love of Larry.

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This was a surprisingly fun Vekoma family suspended coaster. The first drop is a nice surprise and some of the banking makes this more thrilling than expected. 

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I don't consider myself to be tall, but this netting structure that you pass under to get back to the rest of Wildwood Grove from the exit of the ride requires you to play limbo to successfully get under. Not sure how this got approved...

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This is quite a view. 

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Wild Eagle looms large over this corner of the park.

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Because the majority of Lightning Rod takes place behind mountains, trees and/or buildings, it is hard to photograph. Here's one of the few shots I have.

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Dollywood is home to one of Dolly Parton's original tour busses, which you are allowed to explore in small groups throughout the day.

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Luxury living on the road.

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That's how you fit a king bed onto a bus.

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Just outside of the bus was a "show" where "seeds" would bloom into "flowers" atop poles. It was the most artsy/abstract thing we experienced at Dollywood.

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They sell two pound apple pie slices at Dollywood but I couldn't dare try it... 

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Another rare photo of Lightning Rod.

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More flower fun.

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I stumbled upon the Barnstormer without remember that it was part of the park's lineup.

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I love S&S Screamin' Swings and I'll never turn down a chance to ride one. Thanks to the Timesaver Unlimited (and despite the fact that the ride was operating with only one arm swinging) I only waited five minutes.

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"Have you found him?"

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If it weren't so chilly, I might have considered a ride on Daredevil Falls.

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I didn't ride it during my last visit either but I hope it will still be around by my next.

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I was amazed at how popular the park's scenic railroad attraction is... Guests were lining up as early as 45 minutes before each departure on the hour.

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Dollywood also features a replica of Dolly Parton's childhood Tennessee mountain home that guests can walk through.

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We tried one of the food options (Korean meatballs) from the Flower & Food Festival and it was solid.

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With our Timesaver Unlimited we were able to reserve access for a showtime of our choice of the park's "Dreamland Drive-In" show in the Pines Theater. I was pleased to see some Disney find its way outside of Florida and California parks.

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No photos or videos were allowed from inside of the show but this was an enjoyable jaunt through decades of music with a talented cast. This was the longest show offered in the park, so we figured if we only had a chance to see one, this would be the one to choose. 

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One more Lightning Rod photo for good measure.

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The Lightning Rod model was tempting but I resisted. The mountains in the model are a neat touch though.

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That closed out our time at Dollywood... All that would follow would be more kitsch and fun in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg!

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  • 4 weeks later...

After our time at Dollywood we rushed over to The Island at Pigeon Forge to experience a little more kitsch, a little more moonshine. It would be our last evening in town and the following morning we'd have just a little bit more time before we'd have to drive back to Knoxville for our flight. 

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An anchor attraction in The Island at Pigeon Forge, SkyFly Soar America is kind of like Soarin' but focused entirely on American destinations. 

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The experience lasts 20-30 minutes and includes several pre-shows that add to the steampunk-ish story that bookends the soaring-over-America portion of the experience.

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I appreciate the nods to the World's Fairs of the past.

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This pre-show was a clever way to pulse groups before the main show. You take a "tram" that bullets you across rails to the station where dirigible in which you'll be flying over America is found. Pardon my finger. 

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The experience has a fun set of hosts, a father and his daughter who are your hosts for the journey.

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There's a classic Soarin'-style preshow...

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Complete with a "Nice job, pal!" nod.

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The experience is familiar but different to Soarin'. Unlike Soarin' where the riders are raised up into the screen, in this attraction, the platform that holds the seats rotates to a vertical position, moving the front row to the bottom portion of the screen, mid-to-mid and the third row to the top of the screen.

The film itself was fine--about 6-7 minutes in length with some real footage shot with drones and some CGI elements. My main complaint is that the visuals, whether real or CGI did not seem to be made for large-scale use. This was 720p-1080p footage at best stretched onto a massive screen where inevitably, the pixels would be easily seen. It was probably relatively cheap to produce but it makes this somewhat-new attraction feel dated because it looks less clear than the 2001 film-based attraction it was inspired by did when it debuted. 

The majority experience is derivative for those that have been on Soarin', from the safety video to the ending where you soar over the attraction's home (in this case The Island at Pigeon Forge, poorly animated in CGI) into the sky, only to be met by CGI fireworks that actually pop in the same formation as Mickey ears.  

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You can get a better idea of how the platform moves from this angle. 

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I needed a drink after that experience... And as fate would have it, I could sample a bunch of Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine for $5 across the way.

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The good stuff.

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They had amaretto too and it was bliss!

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They had some small flat rides and a spinning coaster here but I didn't feel the need to bother with any of them.

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They have a giant ropes course here that even had two of those glider tracks that we used to see at IAAPA.

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A brave soul takes the plunge at the end of the ropes course!

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I don't often find that cities with a giant wheel merit the need or have a view that would make it worthwhile, but in this mountain setting, I think it would be worth it for some visitors. Not something we felt compelled to try but I understand the appeal.

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The Island at Pigeon Forge is filled with shops, experiences and restaurants and features a really nice fountain show out front. Nothing Bellagio or World of Color-level but still a nice plus in the evening.

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That night we went back to the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster and the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster for night rides on each. While daytime rides are fun, you need to experience these at night thanks to the unique lighting!

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The next morning we woke up to a beautiful day, loaded up the car and drove back to Gatlinburg for a few final stops...

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It had been closed due to the rain two days before, so we were intent on trying to get back to Hillbilly Mini Golf if we could before we headed home.

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We were among the first golfers of the day, so we took the inclined railway up...

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Which is a unique experience in and of itself.

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You arrive at the top of the incline railway where you can choose to play one of two 18 hole courses.

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While the holes are a little more standard from a mini golf standpoint, there are some neat added options along the courses to throw in a little more fun. To their credit though, the setting is super unique.

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We had a great time roaming the course and it should be noted that the employees working here were the nicest out of anyone we encountered the entire trip, and that includes at Dollywood.

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Feels like I have to share this.

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With our flight just a few hours away, we made the quick call to drive from Hillbilly Mini Golf to the Moonshine Mountain Coaster for one more run. This was the first alpine coaster we had done on our trip and the one that set us off to go ride as many as we could throughout the weekend. One more time would be appropriate.

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And with that it was time to head home.

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One last drive through the Smoky Mountain National Park.

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We waved farewell to one of the greatest of Pigeon Forge's attractions and saw Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride next to it.

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I really wrestled with whether or not we should pay the insane price to go experience Paula Deen's Lumberjack Fued, if only to try the zipline coaster. Maybe next time... But probably not.

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Country roads, take me home...

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Oh, and I might have brought a loaf of Dollywood Cinnamon Bread home with us.

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