Whenever I visit the Smoky Mountains, I always try to stay in Gatlinburg. Not only is Gatlinburg a charming and walkable town littered with tourist traps, but it saves me the frustration of trying to find parking.
My day began with a trip to the Pancake Pantry, a restaurant that has always had a prohibitively long line in past visits. This time I was going to visit this breakfast establishment through Hell or high water, so I set my alarm for 6:30 am and was the first guest there.
And per Murphy’s Law, this was of course the one day that this restaurant never developed any sort of wait. However, I don’t care one bit because the pancakes were delicious.
After walking around town for a bit, the attractions started to open and I began my day with Ankeesta. This is one of Gatlinburg’s newest attractions and it’s home to the area’s best mountain coaster.
However, Rail Runner is a bit of a time-consuming and expensive credit. Rail Runner costs $12-13 per ride and that doesn’t include the $25 ticket required to reach Anakeesta’s summit. I personally don’t mind the scenic 20 minute ride up-and-down the mountain, but it is a bit of a time commitment.
It’s also entirely possible Rail Runner could have a sizable queue if you arrive later in the day. Rail Runner starts at the highest point and unlike most mountain coasters that dispatch riders with the smallest interval possible, Rail Runner doesn’t dispatch the next car until the prior rider has hit the brakes.
While this is awesome for people (such as myself that like to go full tilt), it creates one heck of a line. But I’d almost say this mountain coaster is worth even a sizable queue because of how aggressive it is.
The laterals on this thing are insane. Most mountain coasters at least have minimal banking on their turns. This one has no banking. You will literally fold over sideways on some of these turns. I personally love it, but it’s not for everyone. 8.5 out of 10
One experience that never has a wait is Earthquake the Ride. Do not be fooled by the wax figures in the queue line. That’s just a sign a ride is going to be spectacularly awful.
As you wait for the employee to finally get off their phone and open the door, an audio recording hypes you up promising a “real train” and “real effects”. You’re also informed this ride earned four stars according to some magazine or website I’ve never heard of.
But you know what? I agree with that. This ride does deserve 4 stars. 4 stars out of 10. It’s a dated simulator with the most random effects possible, but it’s so bad it’s funny. 4 out of 10
Rowdy Bear Mountain is home to the worst mountain coaster I’ve ever ridden, but they are home to the unique Mountain Glider. In my spring visit, I took a lap on the left side. So this time I wanted to try the right side.
But this was one of the hardest credits ever for me to get. My weight was an issue.
Now I'm about 160 lbs, so it wasn't because I was too heavy. In fact it was the other problem; the operator was worried I'd travel too slowly and find the ride boring. I assured him I was a dirty credit whore (just kidding, I said I wanted time to enjoy the view) and he didn’t have a problem.
I have to say, I think the right side was running wilder than the left side. The brakes on this side slowed me down a lot less (maybe because of the concern of it stalling). This made a few of the turns towards the end have some nice swinging. 6 out of 10
After an evening at Dollywood, I returned to Pigeon Forge to try a haunt that I’ve heard nothing but positives about in Mysterious Mansion. And I have to say, this is everything I could have wanted from a haunt.
For one, the atmosphere was top notch. The house was decked out with theming and it reminded me of those creepy houses from the old Scooby Doo cartoons.
Second, the scare actors were amazing. I think there were only 2-3 total, but they run throughout the house and are much less predictable than scares in the other haunts I’ve done.
Last but not least, this one isn’t a straight forward haunt like others. This one is also a maze with all sorts of dead ends and hidden pathways. This really heightened the sense that you were trapped in a haunted house. This is what set Mysterious Mansion over the edge. 10 out of 10
Just for comparison, I decided to try Ripley’s Haunted Adventure immediately afterwards. And it was also quite good, but for an entirely different reason.
This one had barely any live scare actors. There were maybe only 3-4 spots in the 10-15 minute attraction with a live actor. However, it more than makes up for it with all the gigantic animatronic jump scares.
The finale in particular stood-out and made me jump twice. I won’t spoil the ending, but it really is fantastic and it’s so well done that it would fit in perfectly at Hollywood Horror Nights.
This haunt also had all sorts of fun-house effects too like a vortex tunnel and shifting floorboards. From a hardware standpoint, Ripley’s is better than Mysterious Mansion. But I don’t like it quite as much due to the lack of live scares and linear path. 9 out of 10
One other thing I did was visit the Red Rocket Retro Arcade, which is a bit of a deceptive name. This place is decked out with all sorts of newer arcade games; however, I still loved it because it had like 10-12 different pinball machines.