How quickly the sunny-day, good times disappear with the approach of the school year, and the havoc that the fall schedule wreaks on discretionary family time. Want one last thrill before leaving your Smoky Mountain cabin rental behind? There’s no better adrenaline rush found in Sevier County than the roller coasters at Dollywood theme park. Though there are also many family and children’s rides, along with water-infused attractions, this post is limited to strictly the coaster rides and their virtues. Coasters at Dollywood, save one, are all steel, and have been built from 1978 to 2014. Let’s review the options.
Sideshow Spin-Located in Country Fair, this kiddie coaster was originally built in 2005 with a Veggietales theme. It’s the perfect junior coaster for any first-time rider, child or adult. Its small, spiral footprint makes viewing the entire ride from outside the fence simple, and its top speed is about 14 mph.Think of it as a permanent fair coaster ride. Inevitably, screams of delight from short people happen most every trip.
Blazing Fury-Opened in Craftsman’s Valley in 1978, when the park was still Silver Dollar City, this ride has senior status, and in some ways shows its age. The ride is an indoor venue in the dark, and its few dips and turns occur in complete (or near complete) darkness to build suspense for this mild theme ride. The theme is 1880’s fire fighting, and top speed is 22 mph. Many overlook this vintage ride for newer venues, so lines are usually shorter than most. Having ridden this ride multiple times in a row as a teen, I miss the splash down spray stop at the end, which now just comes to an illogical halt without the defunct water feature.
Tennessee Tornado-Also in Craftsman’s Valley and just a few steps past the Blazing Fury, this ride opened in 1999 with a windstorm theme, patterned from the popular “Twister” movie. Top speed is 63 mph, with 3 inversions, a straight vertical overloop and two consecutive spiral loops, and a short tunnel pass thrown in for photos, which are available for purchase after exiting the ride. This one gets it right. Although a short ride (at just under 2 minutes), it is smooth and sweet: a nice introduction to “big coasters” for the uninitiated. Even my mother in her seventies checked this off her bucket list, although she did swear “never again”.
Firechaser Express-Pictured at the beginning of this blog, Dolly’s newest coaster opened in 2014 in Wilderness Pass, a well-planned addition to fill a niche. Billed as a family coaster, the ride has no inversions, but some nice twists and turns up to its top speed of 35 mph. It is a “dual launch” forward and reverse ride (backwards is along a different and shorter track to the loading station point of origin). Like the Blazing Fury, it too gives homage to vintage firefighting, with some mild pyrotechnics in the “fireworks” shed (feeling the heat from the flames for suspense), before beginning the backward run. Our young son loved the ride, but hated the fire flames part.
Thunderhead-For the purists (like me)! The park’s only wooden coaster opened in 2004 in Timber Canyon, with a loud, clattering, and stomach-dropping layout that proves inversions aren’t necessary to have a great ride. The coaster reaches a top speed of 55 mph, though it feels faster because of the the vibrating nature of a wooden train. Thrills of note are the initial drop and the overhead pass back through the loading station mid-ride at almost full speed, along with numerous twists throughout this amazing stretch of turbulence. This ride is far and away my favorite, for the suspense being generated by what can be seen ahead of you as you ride, as opposed to any themes or special effects. Let the thunder roll!
Mystery Mine-This cool, mine-themed ride is located in Timber Canyon, and opened in 2007. The ride is both an indoor dark coaster with special effects, and also an outdoor looping ride. Reaching a top speed of 46 mph, the action here is more about the inversions and the suspense involved throughout. Thrills include a 95 degree drop (beyond vertical), multiple loops and rolls, and an Immelmann loop. To me, most disconcerting are the two horizontal lift rides to reach the drop zones, as opposed to the drama of the curves themselves.
Wild Eagle-Truly the park’s biggest and baddest, Wild Eagle features a soaring eagle theme, honoring the bald eagle sanctuary located onsite at the park. The ride is located across the promenade from Firechaser Express in Wilderness Pass, and opened in 2012. It tops out at 61 mph, and offers 4 inversions. This unique wing coaster has you riding outside the track with nothing below (legs dangling), and also nothing but air above you. The body restraints are set wide to better emulate a flying experience and create a smooth ride (no head banging here). Featuring loops, rolls, and corkscrews, it’s a great way to fly through wooded terrain. A few tips to maximize your “adventure flight” on Wild Eagle: choose the front row for some great views of the Smokies as you ride. The right side outside seats also maximize the “swing” factor (hold onto the black knobs located at the bottom sides of the seats).
Since Wild Eagle is the ride that is most difficult to envision, I’ve attached an onboard video link here.
As you can see, there is a nice variety from which to choose; something for all tastes and levels of courage. On-ride videos are available for all of these rides online, and there is also a generous amount of information on the Dollywood site itself. Don’t let your summer end before you get one last rush with your bravest family members. I strongly recommend it!