Wednesday, May 25th, 2005
I'd managed to get about 4 hours of sleep after getting off work at 8:00am, and my mom arrived at my place around 1:00 for our "weekend" (a Wednesday and Thursday) in Gatlinburg. We drove straight through except for one brief stop for some bottled water. We tried using the Mapsonus.com directions, but they just took us off the highway, then right back on! So they were no help at all.
We stopped at a Smoky Mountains welcome center for directions, and we found our way easily the rest of the way to Pigeon Forge. I thought it was funny how much it looked like 192 in Kissimmee...lots of shops, mini golf, and one of probably every restaurant there is.
On the way in we stopped at the Nascar Speedpark to see about getting the coaster credit there. The credit, however, would have cost me $5.48, and I really just draw the line at paying that much to ride one kiddie coaster! So I left creditless, and we made our way to our hotel.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Sunspree up the hill at light 8 in Gatlinburg. I'd never been to Gatlinburg before, and it was definitely not what I was expecting! I was expecting it to look like Pigeon Forge, but it was quite the opposite! Everything was right up against the road, and everything was packed in right on top of each other. It was very quaint, yet almost claustrophobic to drive through. Our hotel was nice...it had a pool right in the middle of the lobby...kinda weird. It seemed very nice though.
We settled into our room and tried to decide what to have for dinner. We decided to just walk around and look at menus and find something that looked good. We parked near a McDonald's and eventually decided on Blaines for dinner. I got some spinach artichoke dip, mom got some nachos and we shared a quesadilla. Everything was quite yummy! We walked around shopping for the rest of the night, but all I got were two patches (Homer saying D'oh! and Simon the chipmunk that says "I love dorks") and a big scroll with some birds on it. We had ice cream at the Mayfield store, then headed in for the night. I got showered and we were both asleep by midnight.
Thursday was the day we planned for Dollywood. We got up around 8:15, and the park was scheduled to open at 10:00. We checked out of the hotel then drove in to Pigeon Forge for breakfast at the Great American Steak and Buffet Company. A friend had just returned from Dollywood and she'd suggested one of their all you can eat restaurants for dinner, so we figured we'd have a big breakfast and big dinner with nothing between. Breakfast was only $6, and eventhough I'm not a big breakfast eater, everything was great! I had some eggs, potatoes, a biscuit with cheese, some french toast sticks and a fabulous chocolate muffin. Mmmm. I really couldn't believe how much I'd enjoyed breakfast.
We made it to the park about 10:30, and after an inordinantly long wait for a parking tram, I made a beeline for Thunderhead.
I waited around 15 minutes, which wasn't bad at all I didn't think. The ride was great, but I was really disappointed by the near absence of airtime. The thing looks really great, and the ride *was* great, but not super-outstanding like others had made it sound.
When we left there, we went back to the County Fair area (where there were rides mom would actually ride...she's such a coaster chicken) and got in line for their inverted bi-plane looking flyer thingy.
We had to have waited at least a half hour for this ride, and what a letdown! You really don't have much control over the movement of the cars like on regular flyers. There was no swooping action to be had on this ride at all! After that we rode the chair swings, which was much better than the first flyer-esque ride. After that we went for the scrambler, and well, it was a scrambler, what do you expect. I wanted to ride their Disk-o, but the line was huge, and I wasn't sure if I'd even like it since I hate anything with a pendulum motion to it. I'd have tried it if the line was short, but considering the low capacity...it was probably close to an hour wait! No thanks Dolly.
I didn't know my grandpa modeled for the Dollywood shooting gallery!
On the way out, we both bought Icees in refillable mugs with Dolly Parton on them...how kitschy! We rode the train next, which seemed to take forever to load eventhough the trian sat there in the station the whole time while we just seemed to stand there looking at it. Jack the conductor was very entertaining while we waited though! He was so funny, and probably the highlight of the ride. The ride was only so-so...the narration was interesting, but there was almost nothing to look at...and you had to look at all that nothing twice since it uses the same set of tracks going out and coming back!
I love pickles...no more comments necessary
From there I wandered up to the area with the Slidewinder. After an agonizing uphill hike to the top, the wait was 45 minutes, and I didn't want to leave mom waiting around for me that long when I wasn't even all that enthusiastic about riding that ride anyway since I didn't care to get wet. When I came back out, I found mom in a gift shop buying a puppet, and as I looked around...
...I found rubber ducks! Since I collect rubber ducks, I decided to buy three of them...a black duck, a color changing purple duck, and a duck that, by all accounts...
...appears to be an ax murdering duck (his tag says pirate, but everything about this duck says ax murdering thug to me!).
Next we went to the back of the park for the other two coaster credits. I rode Blazing Fury first, and waited probably less than 10 minutes for it. Ok...this was hands down the WIERDEST coaster I have ever been on! First there's an old couple sitting on a porch, then the saloon is on fire, then the hotel, then the barn...then a man pops out of an outhouse! The bridge starts to burn, and when you try to cross it, it collapses and suddenly you are inexplicably on some railroad tracks, then everyone gets wet and leaves the ride thinking "WTF?!?!" Just so weird...no other coaster even compares except for Mummy at Universal! But that is on the extreme other end of the reaction scale!
Tennessee Tornado was next, and while it wasn't terrible, it bashed my head around pretty good and left me feeling woozy. It had a great first drop though and some massive Gs in the Iron Butterfly. When I left there, I had to ride Blazing Fury one more time, just to make sure I remembered it clearly so I could write about how messed up it was in my TR!
At this point mom and I decided it was time for dinner, so we headed to the fried chicken all you can eat place that my friend had recommended. The food got a thumbs up, especially the vinegar based pasta salad, which is probably the best pasta salad I've ever had. At $9.50, we both thought it was good and wouldn't hesitate to eat there again.
The Tennessee Water Tree...AKA random tree with water pouring from it
When we left dinner, we found Chasing a Rainbow, the Dolly Parton Museum. We quickly walked through it, and it was relatively interesting considering that it was a *Dolly Parton* museum. On our way out, we stopped to ride the Smoky Mountain Adventure Tour. The preshows and loading seemed to take eons, especially when I was going to make a run for one last ride on Thunderhead before the park closed. The ride was just ok...it's the kind of simulator where just the seats move, not the whole room, and those make me a bit woozy usually, but I was ok during this one.
The Dollywood Grist Mill
When we left, I had about 5 miutes to get up to Thunderhead before it closed. I hoofed it over there while mom grabbed us a giant cinnamon roll for the car ride home. Of course, I was the first person to be turned away from the ride once it closed for the day, which sucked, but oh well, what can you do. While I was there I found a great shirt..."Life's a roller coaster...ride on!" Had to get it when I saw it.
On the way out of the park, we perused the gift shop (that you are forced to go through, as the only exit turnstyles are on the far side of the shop!). Dolly has quite a bit of very nice merchadise...
...and some stuff that would again make Joe Public think "WTF?!" like the teddy bears with Dolly Parton's face on the stomach. All I got was a luggage tag that looks like a patch, and a brass Christmas ornament of the Dollywood grist mill. At this point, I now had three bags...all of which are paper, and have no handles on them. Who thought that was a good idea? Carrying around bags with no handles got very inconvenient very quickly when walking around a crowded theme park.
Julie has a close encounter of the Dolly kind
On the way out, we decided to just walk to the car instead of wait on the tram, and I drove us all the way home to Nashville. We quickly wolfed down the cinnamon roll, and it was great! Made me wish we'd each gotten one instead of sharing one :-)
Eventhough I seem to only be finding the negative things to say about the park, we did have a nice time and were glad we went. The park is very pretty and reminded us both of Opryland in plenty of places. The trees are all grown in, so there was lots of shade, and it was landscaped very well. They seemed to have a very friendly staff, and the park also appeared fairly clean and well cared for, as I don't remember seeing any graffiti or much trash lying around. They had a fantastic variety of gift shops, and quite a few diverse food options too.
One thing I didn't care for about it was how far apart everything was. Like, you come in and there's Thunderhead, but to get to any other rides, you have to hike halfway across the park, with nothing along the way except shops. Then most of the flat rides are concentrated in the County Fair area, which made that area an absolute mob scene. I wanted to ride the Disk-o, the ferris wheel and the bumper cars but couldn't for the huge waits. The layout was a bit confusing, and we found ourselves on more than one occasion looking dumbfounded at the map for a minute, then asking an employee for help. Most of the rides seemed "just ok"...not necessarily rides that will make me want to drive the 4 hours from Nashville very often.
Overall, we both had a nice time, but we both agreed that we're not in a hurry to go back.