Dollywood- Smoky Mountain Coasterfest
Smoky Mountain Christmas is an amazing time to visit Dollywood. It’s especially amazing if it’s during Smoky Mountain Coasterfest, an event through ACE that is the best time of year to get night rides on the world’s best coaster.
Lightning Rod played hard to get with me, but once I finally rode it, I was addicted. It immediately became my number one coaster. And after an additional 40 rides on this masterpiece in the span of 28 hours, it only separated itself further from the pack.
Lightning Rod is perfection from start of finish. There isn’t a single moment of dead track. Just look at these elements.
- Surprisingly forceful launch
- Ejector pop 200+ feet in the air
- Big drop that’s as good as any other RMC drop
- Gargantuan wave turn with 3-4 seconds of sustained, sideways airtime
- WTF turnaround with 3-4 seconds of sustained, sideways airtime
- Off-axis airtime hill with powerful ejector airtime
- A rare straight hill with even more powerful ejector airtime
- The legendary quad down with even more powerful ejector airtime
- A speed hill that makes the quad down feel like a quint down
- A half loop that has (you guessed it) strong airtime
When the worst part of a ride is an ejector pop almost 200+ feet in the air, you know a ride is unbelievable. And this all takes place on a heavily wooded mountain at what feels like 100 mph.
Even better is the fact that most of my rides occurred at night. Beast fans will be triggered, but Lightning Rod is easily the world’s best night ride. The entire back section is pitch black and when you finally emerge from the darkness, you rocket down the quad down with dazzling Christmas lights before you. It’s magical.
Part of the event included free cinnamon bread, but I couldn’t pull myself away from Lightning Rod. The coaster is that good. I’m breaking my rating system for this one because Lightning Rod deserves it. 12 out of 10
Not only did I ride Lightning Rod an unhealthy amount of times in normal park hours and an energetic ERT session, but the event also included a rare photo walkback for the coaster.
Even during the walkback tour, Lightning Rod was harder to photograph than Bigfoot. Part of the reason why Lightning Rod is such a great night ride is exactly why it’s a royal pain to photograph. It's all tucked away in that valley. But I did get some nice shots of the elusive first
We actually had ERT on two coasters. And because of the plunging evening temperatures and Lightning Rod’s history, I figured if one ERT session were to have a hiccup, it would have been that one. In fact, Lightning Rod only went down once over two days. And even that was just for a protein spill.
So what ride crapped the bed for our ERT session? Blazing Fury.
Some riders even had to be evacuated. And honestly, I think that was the highlight of their day. But it did reopen later in the day and I got my ride. As a coaster, it’s nothing special outside of one surprising pop of air. As a dark ride, it’s a nice, retro attraction. 7 out of 10
Another big reason for my return visit was to finally experience Wildwood Grove. In my March visit, I saw the new area sitting idle from atop Thunderhead. This time, I finally got to explore the area.
Wildwood Grove is an excellent family area. Almost every ride there can be experienced by parents and kids simultaneously. And the tree that’s the centerpiece of the area looks stunning at night.
The one attraction I did experience was Dragonflier. If you told me a decade ago that Vekoma could produce an inverted coaster this smooth, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s glass smooth.
Dragonflier is a family coaster with bite. That overbank is a borderline inversion and pulls some serious Gs. I can’t believe that element is on a family ride. Then the helices came close to making my legs tingle. 6.5 out of 10
Usually I go back and forth whether or not Tennessee Tornado or Wild Eagle is the second best ride in the park. Thunderhead ended that debate. These were the fastest rides I’ve ever gotten on Thunderhead.
While it had a bit of a shuffle to it, the airtime was fantastic. The drawn out hills had some nice sustained floater airtime and the turnarounds (big and small) had powerful pops of ejector air. 8 out of 10
Tennessee Tornado is a big “What If” for me. What if Arrow hadn’t gone bankrupt shortly after this ride was built? Because Tennessee Tornado is a wild and immaculately smooth ride.
That drop through the mountain is incredible. Getting sustained airtime like that in complete darkness is dreamlike. And then you have a floaty first inversion and forceful second and third inversions. 8 out of 10
Wild Eagle is still one of the weirder wing coasters if you ask me. In many ways, it feels like your usual B&M floorless layout just with wing coaster trains. And that isn’t a bad thing if you ask me.
I love the straight first drop. It feels more like a drop on a hyper coaster. It’s a shame B&M doesn’t have more of these on loopers. And then the rest of the ride is quite scenic and floaty. 8 out of 10
After the mine was closed in my March visit, I made sure to take a ride on Mystery Mine. While I love the drops and theming, it really is an awkwardly paced coaster. 7.5 out of 10
While Dragonflier helped take the burden off Firechaser Express, I’d still argue the latter is the park’s premier family coaster. It’s really impressive how many pops (albeit very, very tiny pops) of airtime this ride has. And then it mixes in multiple launches, some laterals, and even a backwards bit. It really is a jack-of-all trades. 7 out of 10
The only non-coaster I rode was Drop Line, which is a seriously underrated drop tower if you ask me. I think everyone agrees the view is amazing, but I find the drop as good as an Intamin tower. 9 out of 10
Plus Drop Line is an absolute tank and will only close if Hell freezes over.
With each visit to Dollywood, I love it more and more. It goes without saying I’d love the park that is home to my favorite roller coaster, but Dollywood is so much more than just Lightning Rod.
It has a boatload of other high-quality attractions, well-produced shows, great theming, friendly employees, yummy food, and I could just keep going on and on. What I’m trying to say is that Dollywood is one of the best parks in the world.
And going during Smoky Mountain Coasterfest and making some new friends was just icing on the cake.