Dollywood...Still no Lightning Rod
I had a week long family vacation in Pigeon Forge in early June, so I had plenty of time at Dollywood. I rode Tennessee Tornado, Wild Eagle, Drop Line, and everything to my hearts content except for one ride, Lightning Rod. That sexy looking but perpetually closed RMC sat there taunting me. 3 days after I left Pigeon Forge, the Lightning Rod decided to reopen.
For the next few weeks, Lightning Rod ran fairly consistently. Maybe Dollywood really did cure all the downtime by taking the ride down for the 3 weeks leading up to and during my visit (spoiler alert, it didn't since the ride is closed as I type this). Yes it sucked, but if they finally solved all of the enigmatic ride's issues, it was worth it in the long run. Well I had been planning to visit a friend in Atlanta in late July and we were looking for something to do during the weekend visit. Since I knew he was a theme park fan (not a die-hard like me, but he did intern at Disney), I suggested Dollywood and the Smoky Mountains which he was on board with.
The weekend before my trip, Lightning Rod heard I was coming and decided to shut down. This was not happening again. Well it then reopened that Monday and Tuesday. Phew disaster averted.
Then Lightning Rod did the ultimate sausage tease on Wednesday-Friday by starting the day as TC only to never open and switch to CD by mid-afternoon. With that, I wasn't overly optimistic Lightning Rod would be open and sure enough it was listed as CD bright and early on Saturday morning. So much for the downtime during my last visit ensuring that the ride would run reliably for the rest of the summer.
And just like last time, Lightning Rod opened 3 days after I left. I guess I'm everyone's good luck charm if they visit the park immediately after me. Same thing happened on my visit to Dollywood last year as well. I'm glad Robb, Elissa, and the rest of the group got on Lightning Rod after we missed it last year since it really sucks seeing that ride closed. If you want to ensure a ride on Lightning Rod, just cover my airfare and I'm happy to visit the park before you get there and based on the trend, Lightning Rod should be running a few days later.
I stopped in the chapel and prayed to the coaster gods Lightning Rod would open. I also contemplated buying one of the godly shirts, but knew resistance was futile. Actually I considered buying the Star Wars shirt so I could wear that to the Episode 8 midnight premiere to see just what kind of looks I'd get
Since I already wrote a detailed report on my experience earlier this year, I won't go into too much depth on my thoughts on the coasters (Click Here if you want In-Depth
). Wild Eagle and Tennessee Tornado are my two personal favorites. One benefit of this visit was the park was open until 10. In early June, the park closed at 7 most nights. That meant night rides. I go back and forth whether or not Tennessee Tornado or Wild Eagle is better, but I have to give it to the bird after some amazing night rides. The ride's setting on the hill at night is fantastic.
I also wanted to capture some of the thoughts of my friend's experiences on the coasters:
Wild Eagle- My friend is 6'3" so usually he's stuffed into a coaster car like a wiener in a pretzel dog. He loved the freedom of the wing seating and the ride's elements. This was his personal favorite in the park.
Mystery Mine- I purposely toured the park counterclockwise so when we reached Mystery Mine, the ride's finale would be hidden from view. He thought the first half was relatively tame so he was absolutely shocked by the final plunge and two inversions. He also was impressed by the ride's theming.
Tennessee Tornado- He hated the back rows of the cars due to the lack of leg room, but he loved the first drop through the mountain and the rest of the ride when we rode in the front of the cars. Only negative was how short the ride was.
Firechaser Express- He thought it was an interesting little coaster, but he preferred the three listed above.
Thunderhead- "Once was enough." (And I even rode in the front too)
Blazing Fury- He thought it was just going to be a dark ride and was taken by surprise on the drop and great pop of airtime.
We also took quite a few rides on Drop Line. We timed it just right to see the sunset over the Smokies. Actually we were two rides too early, so we just re-rode it until we saw the sunset. This drop tower is up there with Marineland's (only time I'll mention that awful park in this report) for the best view on a drop tower. Plus the ride had some water effects going at the base of the tower which were missing in my June visits.
One funny thing is that there seemed to be a Drop Line enthusiast who kept riding again and again through the Timesaver queue. Once we were all in the waiting pen for our ride, he blew a whistle and then started giving a safety spiel and tips for where to sit. I thought he was an employee at first, but no he seemed to just be a dude in love with the ride. Best thing is that I don't even think that was his own whistle. After he used it each time, he placed it back on the corner of the operator booth.
Since the heat index was over 100 degrees, the longest lines by far were for the water rides. Smoky Mountain River Rampage was 70 minutes by mid-afternoon and Daredevil Falls even reached 45 minutes at one point. River Battle appeared to have a full queue, but that's a relatively small queue house. And we weren't in the mood to hike up the hill to Mountainside Slidewinder. The park truly has one of the best water ride collections, which is critical since Tennessee is in that sweet spot that manages to have both high heat and crazy humidity.
With the long lines on the water rides, the air-conditioned shows and Chasing Rainbow Museums were two other meccas during our visit. Dolly's personal museum is really extensive and if you love Dolly, you'll gobble this museum right up. Since I'm not a redneck, I'm not a fan of country so my favorite part in the museum is the timeline of Dollywood's history towards the end.
Then we saw the Gazillion Bubbles Show. The name sounds incredibly childish and sounds like something that should be hosted by Barney the Dinosaur, but it's actually an amazing show. The performer, Fan Yang, is a bubble artist (yes that's actually a thing and we're all in the wrong profession) who holds world records for the longest bubble (~150ft long
) and the most people encapsulated by a single bubble with 100 (let that sink in). So the dude is pretty talented and blew, you guessed it, a gazillion bubbles during the show. Then it ended with laser bubble FX. Don't mock the name. You'll be stunned if you ever see it since he looked like a Jedi on stage. The show completely exceeded all my expectations and I highly recommend it if it's running at Dollywood when you're there.
Like any good friend, I also got him hooked on cinnamon bread. I have never had cinnamon bread (I know, but bear with me
) since I dislike all sweets. However, like 99% of all other humans, my friend loves all things sugary and sweet so he thought it was delicious. Meanwhile I ate an entire turkey leg like a barbarian. I had only gotten a turkey leg one other time at Disneyland and all I have to say is wow. Disneyland's turkey leg tasted like dried-out pork and not at all like turkey. Dollywood's turkey leg actually tasted like turkey and was actually juicy. I'd definitely get one of those again. It gives me a great excuse to act like a savage.
The late closure not only meant night rides on the coasters, but it also meant there was the nightly fireworks show. I think the music remains unchanged from the year before (hearing some of those pop songs with the fireworks is pretty unmistakable) but that's ok since the quality of the show is about as good as a theme park's fireworks can be outside of Disney.
I had a lot of fun at Dollywood, especially since I was there with a first-timer. But it's getting pretty agitating seeing Lightning Rod closed on all my visits only to have it reopen a few days later and then hear all the rave reviews. Yes the rest of the park is still amazing, but it may be a while before I return since I want to ensure that coaster is actually going to be running. It lured me in after operating well at the start of the year and the month after my last visit, but next time I'm going to want to see it run for a longer period of time to avoid getting burned.
So hopefully Lightning Rod can be back up and running reliably since it truly looks like one of the world's best coasters and the park is one of my favorites. It's still a really strong park without Lightning Rod, but it's painful seeing that coaster closed visit after visit.