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.
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.
I can't believe we got up before the sun on vacation.
However these views made up for it.
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.
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.
Goats on the Roof!
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.
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.
The religious shirts are a-mason.
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.
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.
After many failed attempts, I was afraid I overhyped Lightning Rod but it absolutely delivered. It's my new number one coaster.
The ride's pacing is insane. From start to finish, the coaster doesn't let up. Unless it breaks down.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Is that the last float?" "I think so." [Moments later] "Stampede!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These pages are in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Cedar Fair, Legoland, Merlin Entertainment, Blackstone, Tussaud's Group, Six Flags, Universal Theme Parks, the Walt Disney Company or any other theme park company.
photos and videos on this website were taken with the permission of the park by
a professional ride photographer.
For yours and others safety, please do not attempt to take photos or videos at
parks without proper permission.
You need a sense of humor to view our site,
if you don't have a sense of humor, or are easily offended, please turn back
Most of the content on this forum is suitable for all ages. HOWEVER! There may be some content that would be considered rated "PG-13." Theme Park Review is NOT recommended for ages under 13 years of age.