Friday, August 09, 2019

The Great Smoky Mountains Adventure Day 7 - Hello Dolly[wood]!

[Composed 7/15/2019]

We finished off the last full day of our Great Smoky Mountains Adventure at DollyWood, the area's much beloved theme park. We arrived before the park was scheduled to open, expecting to pool outside the gates as we did when visiting Disney or Universal. Only we found that the gates were open and we could stroll right in. Apparently not all the rides were running yet, but at least we could get in position within the park rather than waiting outside. What a nice way to start the day.

Shira and the kids got in line for the first big coaster they saw: Thunderhead. The plaque at the start of the ride promised speeds up to 55/mph and a 100 foot drop. I though surely this was the scariest coaster the kids would ride all day. The kids and Shira disappeared into the ride and I found a position where I could watch and try to snap some pics. Within 15 minutes I saw them whiz by. They stumbled out of the exit line all smiles - they kids gave it two thumbs up. Shira was far less impressed. She had just endured a wobbly wooden roller coaster, something she hardly relished.

Off we went in search of new coasters for the kids to ride. And so the scene repeated itself. I was way wrong about the Thunderhead being the scariest ride the kids would do. Shira and J rode the Mystery Mine which includes a hair-raising 95-degree, 85-foot vertical drop that plunges into darkness. And D rode the Lighting Rod, which has a 165-foot drop and propels guests along its 3,800-ft. track to a top speed of 73 mph, the fastest speed for a wooden coaster in the world. All credit to Shira, as she rode each of the coasters with the kids.

I expected DollyWood to be a significant park, but I never imagined it would have that many serious rollercoasters.

Theme parks are so not my thing, but I did enjoy the Wings of American Birds of Prey show, as well as spending time viewing the nearby Eagle Sanctuary. The sanctuary is the largest exhibit of non-releasable Bald Eagles in the United States, so that's something.

Being a fan of country music, I was hoping to get a country-music related experience in. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Somewhere on the grounds is Dolly Parton's tour RV, but we never stumbled on it. Ultimately we spent too much time riding rides to catch any of the musical shows.

After a day of white-knuckle thrills, the kids and I were hoping to squeeze in one last adventure by riding the DollyWood Express, an authentic coal-fired steam engine. We arrived at the boarding area and found a rope blocking the way and a huge crowd on the other side of the rope. Oh well, we explained to the kids, we missed our chance to get on the train. We walked back to the head of the train to snap pics when we realized that they were boarding more people. We rushed back to the entry only to find the rope up again. We'd been too late a second time. D wasn't having it. He assured us they'd find room for us and wouldn't let us leave until the train left. And sure enough he was right, they ended up squeezing us on to the train. Good on D for not giving up!

The train ride was a nice way to finish off our day at the park. I for one was impressed that it was a real steam engine, burning real coal. One of the reasons I dislike theme parks is how (necessarily) fake they are. Behind that inviting veneer is a scripted and shallow world. But I'll give credit to DollyWood - the steam engine was in fact a steam engine. Of course, the mountain-man scenes you see while taking the train ride are all staged, but what can you do?

Overall, our experience at DollyWood was on par with any that we've had at Lego Land, Disney or Universal Studios. It didn't have the recognizable characters of a Universal or Disney, or the Lego theme from Lego land, but it does have an impressive array of rides and a number of experiences we haven't had elsewhere. If we had it to do again, we'd almost certainly purchase the fast passes for the kids and Shira, as this would have let us squeeze in a bit more action in a single day trip.

DollyWood clearly wasn't my highlight of our Smoky Mountains trip, but it's definitely up there for the kids.

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