The Pigeon Forge area is one of the foremost tourist traps in the world. The strip is lined with attractions ready to vacuum every last dollar out of your wallet. The key for any tourist is to know who to give your money to. Spoiler alert, it isn’t the Jurassic Jungle Boat or Earthquake the Ride.
This area is the mountain coaster capital of the world. Every time I return, there always seems to be another 1-2 that has opened. On this visit, there were two new ones waiting for me- Rail Runner at Anakeesta and Rocky Top Mountain Coaster.
My first stop was Anakeesta. This new mountain resort boards on Gatlinburg’s parkway and transports guests via chairlift atop a mountain. Think of Ober Gatlinburg or Ghost Town in the Sky. I actually passed the latter on the way back to Charlotte and I felt depressed just looking at it.
If you plan to visit Anakeesta, I have three major tips for you.
1) Get there at opening. The line for the sky ride was huge by the afternoon. Plus the mountain coaster’s capacity is putrid and the op said it regularly reaches 1-2 hours on weekends.
2) Buy your ticket online. If you do this, you can skip the lengthy and slow-moving queue. You do have to pay a small convenience fee, but it’s absolutely worth it in this case.
3) Do not wait for the enclosed gondolas. There are only 4 of them and they have a separate queue than the 100 standard chairlift gondolas.
If you want scenic views, Anakeesta has you covered. If you want to just get a credit and dash, you're SOL.
Our first stop was Rail Runner. I can name one better mountain coaster- the 5 minute (all downhill) one at Kolbsensattel. But none are more intense. If you’ve ridden a mountain coaster, you know those little cars feel like they’ll fling off the track. It felt even more plausible on this single rail version. Plus this one didn’t seem to have that annoying autobraking feature of the Wiegand models.
Now throw in three steep, unbanked drops. Mountain coasters often have a sign to brake at the end of the ride. On this one, there were brake signs before these three drops. Before my ride, I asked to op about them and was told, “Insurance told us to put them there. Go as fast as you want…if you dare.”
I’ve never once thought about pulling the brakes on a mountain coaster. As I approached these drops, there was a split second I considered pulling that lever. Instead I went full tilt and folded over like a stuffed animal. These turns may be the strongest laterals I’ve ever experienced. The Legend sustains laterals longer, but the sheer force of these laterals in such a minimalistic vehicle is terrifying.
Because the descent is so steep, Rail Runner is among the shortest mountain coasters I’ve ridden. But it’s easily among the best. If you love rides that are balls to the walls intense, Rail Runner is for you. Just make sure you keep those levers down and say your prayers. 8 out of 10
Get here early because Rail Runner's throughput is putrid.
Just look at the size of some of those drops.
This is the part where I thought I was going to die.
The only other attraction we did at Anakeesta was the Tree Canopy Walk. If you have a fear of heights, this is not the ride for you. It consisted of 16 of those swinging rope bridges. And if you have younger kids behind you, they’re going to bounce and sway a lot. I didn’t mind. Others cussed though.
Anakeesta was beautiful.
About half the "attractions" at Anakeesta were shops and stores. They didn't go all Ankapark and count benches and trash cans, but they could use a few more activities. Thankfully they were clearing a pretty sizable chunk of land and promised an expansion was coming.
Down the street from Dollywood is the area's newest mountain coaster, the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. It is without a doubt the longest one in the area. It’s advertised as being 9 minutes long and they comically boast that over the others in the area with their sign out front.
I love how they subtly poop on the area's other mountain coasters.
But is longer better? Not necessarily. This one had four lifts, so that’s where you spent most of your time. The downhill segments were faster than the others in the area (Anakeesta’s excluded), but they lacked the laterals of Goats on the Roof or the scattered airtime pops of Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster (SMAC). There were a few tunnels at least, a rarity on this type of ride.
The one intense moment was a high, unbanked turn above the parking lot when you realized just how high above the ground you were. Ultimately I’d say it’s worth doing, but I’d rank the ones at Anakeesta, Goats, and SMAC ahead of this one. 7 out of 10
I foresee a lot of enthusiasts stopping here after a day at Dollywood.
Rowdy Bear Mountain is home to the area’s weakest mountain coaster. I knew that from my 2017 visit. They actually have a decent deal where you can ride it as many times as you want in an hour now, but I was returning for something else- the Mountain Glider.
It’s a pseudo zipline-coaster much like the ones I rode in Dubai. Coaster or no coaster, it was an interesting experience. You basically put on a backpack harness and once you’re put into position, it looks identical to that elusive Pteranodon Flyer coaster in Islands of Adventure that I’ve never been able to ride.
While the ones in Dubai were unbraked and had some terrifying swinging, this one was more controlled. It was less about the thrills and more about the visuals. On the way down, there were sections of wheels that functioned as trim brakes. It was unique and comfortable, but just ok. 6 out of 10
Hey look, it's Smoky (not the Fire Bear).
Because of its location on a hill, I couldn't get any photos at Rowdy Bear itself. But at least you can see it in the distance here.
We also played two separate mini golf courses. The first was Hillbilly Golf. That is without a doubt my favorite course in the area. For one, it’s themed to hillbillies. Who doesn’t enjoy that? Second it’s on a steep, wooded hillside and you need to take an inclined railway to access the course.
The course uses the theme and hillside to its advantage. Basically every hole has some sort of obstacle themed to something you could totally picture a hillbilly using. Then I’d say at least a third of the holes were multi-leveled. I’m a sucker for those types of holes. And I’m proud to say I won.
First you go up.
Then you go down.
We also tried Crave Mini Golf. This may be the area’s newest mini golf course. Rather I should say courses since they have both an indoor and outdoor one. As you may suspect from the name, it was themed to chocolate, candy, and all sorts of things that could put a diabetic into a coma.
I didn’t stand a chance at this course. The course has this awesome looking train. Every few minutes, it blew out a gigantic cloud of steam. However, it wasn’t steam. As you may know, I despite candy. Just the aroma of it makes me queasy. So imagine my delight when I found out it blew out candy.
The odds also weren’t in my favor. Every single hole had a wheel you’d spin before your first shot. If you were lucky like my girlfriend, you may get a free hole-in-one or be allowed to take two steps forward. If you were unlikely like me, you may have to spin around 5 times before your first shot or putt from one knee. I lost by like 20 after I had to putt blind on one hole and launched it well off the course.
Wheel of (Mis)fortune
You go through the Bubblegum Garden, Rocky Candy Mountain...I felt like Buddy the Elf.
If Mother Nature isn't cooperating, Crave has you covered.
Oh and we also went to Smoky Mountain National Park. We were lucky that we visited on the second day that the Clingman's Dome was open for the 2019 season. For those unfamiliar, the Clingman's Dome, it's the highest accessible point of the national park. It does require a half mile uphill hike, but the views are worth it.
360 degree views of the Smokies? Yes please!
Pictures don't do the Smokies justice. It's stunning.
I felt like I cheated on SFNE. This was the first time in several years that I didn’t go to SFNE’s opening weekend. Usually I’ll brave the frigid cold and/or drizzly weather. So I found it ironic the year I skip is the one when it was sunny and in the mid-60s. Surprisingly the good weather was maintained this past weekend when I did make it to SFNE (Here).
I needed to drop someone off at my sister’s college near New York City. The original plan was to spend all day at Six Flags Great Adventure, but my sister wasn’t free until midnight due to a clinical. SFGAdv closed a bit too early, but I found a more appealing alternative, Hersheypark.
Since my route had me taking the New Jersey Turnpike, it would have been wasteful not to exercise my membership and rack up some rides on El Toro. I felt deprived after seeing it idle during my HITP visit. Plus I could get a free lunch out of it too.
A lot of enthusiasts chose to have a great adventure.
Once the park opened, crowds diverted. Some wanted to get the perfect selfie by the fountain. Others wanted to conquer the world’s tallest coaster. Enthusiasts flocked towards El Toro. Smart enthusiasts flocked towards El Toro’s fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo.
The fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo policy has been discussed ad nauseam on this site. It’s a bummer those who properly secure their phones and don’t try to post an amateur POV are penalized, but it is what it is. Essentially it makes El Toro a $1 upcharge and let’s be honest, it’s worth it.
I was wondering. Do they run out of these on a busy day?
I could have boarded the first public train of the day. If I cared about bragging rights, I would have. But I didn’t. I care about quality. Therefore, I happily waited an extra cycle for the second to back. That’s the money seat on El Toro. You get all the goodies of the drop without the few extra bumps of the back row.
Speaking of that first drop, it’s incredible. It’s without a doubt the best drop on any wooden coaster I’ve ridden. RMC woodies can match El Toro’s drop in terms of steepness, but they’re outclassed in the airtime department. And that’s saying a lot! El Toro’s drop is just that crazy- powerful, sustained ejector air.
But the sustained ejector airtime doesn’t stop there. The following two camelbacks are two of the best airtime moments on any coaster. As you approach the apex of the hill, you can already feel your keister starting to lift. Your upper half feels like its flying, but your thighs pressed forcibly into that lap bar.
If there’s one weakness to El Toro, it’s the middle section. The entry into the turnaround, subsequent drop, and speed hill all give airtime. But it’s meek floater. It feels wildly out-of-place on a ride as intense as El Toro. Don’t worry, the bull is getting ready for the finale- the Rolling Thunder hill.
When an element is universally known across enthusiast circles without stating the ride (hive dive, quarry drop, Rolling Thunder hill), you know it must be something special. And that’s exactly what the Rolling Thunder hill is. It is some of the most violent sustained airtime anywhere.
That’s immediately followed by a wild series of low-to-the-ground turns. You feel like the bull is trying to fling you over into El Diablo’s now barren pad. But then the speed just evaporated. Usually those final hills at least give tiny pops of air, but on this day, I felt like El Toro was going to valley as it crept into the brake run.
In the span of 1.5 hours, I think I got about six rides on El Toro until it broke down briefly. Every single one of those rides was in the back car. I know the front is awesome too, but I can’t rob myself of that first drop. El Toro is undeniably wild and I applaud the park for continuing to maintain it. 9.5 out of 10
When you hear the Intamin fart, you know killer airtime is happening.
I then used my dining plan, or tried to use it. I had no issue buying a gyro, which was a delicious surprise at a Six Flags park. But the pretzel stand claimed I could only use my membership’s dining plan to get a discount. I have no clue what the issue was since I’ve used it at numerous other Six Flags parks.
I always seem to encounter an odd policy every other visit. Usually it’s related to photography. Last year one security guard said I wasn’t able to bring a point-and-shoot into the park since it was a “professional camera”. On another visit during Justice League’s construction, I took a picture of the Chiller’s old observatory from the Movie Town (no fence scaling, just a regular shot from the midway), but a security guard told me I had to delete all photos with the Observatory since it was “behind a fence.”
It’s somewhat sad that I visited a park with 13 different roller coasters, including the world’s tallest and four B&Ms, but I only rode one. That’s a testament to just how good El Toro is. I didn’t feel compelled to ride anything else. And I was perfectly content doing so. If El Diablo were still there, maybe I'd be singing a different tune.
I felt oddly content without riding the world's tallest coaster.
I honestly thought the Superman paint job was an April Fool's Prank, but you can clearly see them slowly but surely painting it. And I think it's awesome they're painting it during the week so the ride can still operate.
Oh and I feel so sorry for whatever employee mans this game.
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