Turn on the Lights! Best Tips to Enjoy Smoky Mountain Winterfest

For the locals who regularly drive the main Parkway arteries, Winterfest actually starts early in the fall, when local municipalities begin to erect all the structures that create the magical, intricate lighting displays throughout the county. This illuminated holiday cheer then extends until  late February, before evenings grow dark again, and disassembly begins.
Please join us for the official city kickoffs for this year’s 25th anniversary Winterfest celebration season! Here are links for the lighting ceremonies in each city:
Pigeon Forge Annual Winterfest Kick Off and Veteran’s Parade:
Sevierville Music, Lights and Magic: https://www.facebook.com/SeviervilleWinterfest
Gatlinburg starts the season with a chili cook-off and street fair. Pigeon Forge has a patriotic veteran’s parade and lighting ceremony. Sevierville’s “Music, Lights and Magic” festival offers live local performers, fun food, fireworks, and other family friendly activities in a town fair format before the lights are turned on. Don’t worry: the municipalities coordinate dates so that you can attend all three celebrations, if you desire to do so. These November events are just the beginning of the season that stretches through Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day.
So what’s Winterfest all about? It really is a blanket celebration term applied to our four month winter tourist season in the Smoky Mountains area, and means different things depending on your perspective. Let’s categorize a few highlights here, but know that there are “and even more” statements applied to every discussion, since multiple businesses throughout the county add their own special events to our cheerful season.
Lights! Shows! Events! In addition to the many beautiful lights throughout the area (over 5 million and growing), many local businesses compete with seasonal decorations and festive lighting displays of their own. Each year notes growth and change; no season is ever the same.
One venue you must visit while here is Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland, located in the parking area of the Tennessee Smokies Baseball Stadium in Sevierville, at the exit 407 interchange. You literally can’t miss it, just load everyone together and visit! This huge, 10-acre drive-through LED lighting display, is programmed and synchronized to holiday music, and also has Christmas Village family activities adjacent. The show changes and grows yearly. Here’s a video link (a partial aerial view from a few years back) and website information:
Shows! Want to be entertained to soak up some holiday spirit? Many area theaters offer  Christmas versions of their shows, including the largest dinner show, Dixie Stampede.
Events! Too many to be all inclusive here, but don’t miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas (that will be another blog in the near future all its own), the natural winter splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cades Cove Loop, and even local church musical events. Think about coming to our area after your own holiday celebration at home. The week leading up to New Year’s Day is still “holidays in full swing” here in the Smokies. So many choices! If you want to know our favorite traditions locally, just ask any of our employees.
Let’s finish with a great gift idea. Think of Valentine’s Day for a Christmas gift! What better way to celebrate? Gift to your significant other a romantic weekend in February, to come back to the the mountains, for just the two of you to recover from the holidays together. We’ll be glad to reserve a Gatlinburg rental cabin for you to enjoy in early 2015! This is a guaranteed winner for an experience gift.
Come early or late, but please come and celebrate this most loved and precious season with us in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Let the festivities begin!

3 Easy Steps to Your Smokies Thanksgiving Holiday


After the fall leaf season, but prior to the massive Christmas shopping rush, November can be a very pleasant month to spend a little family time together here. Consider making this year a more grateful holiday for all involved. Have your Thanksgiving celebration in the mountains! With these few reminders and a little planning, your family can easily make some treasured memories during this Thanksgiving holiday break.
1. First, make your decision regarding the big meal: cook and eat in, or dine at a local restaurant? 
If you are preparing and dining in, don’t bring everything with you. Carry only the specialty food items and extraordinary cooking equipment that you consider essential. After a making a list from recipes before leaving home, stock up on all the basic and fresh items needed at local outlets like:
Walmart (Sevierville)
Kroger (Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Seymour)
Food City (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Kodak, Seymour)map
About the turkey or ham centerpiece: these also can be purchased as groceries from the above, or consider professional preparation from a local restaurant like Buddy’s BBQ, which is reasonably priced and delicious. This also is an easy method to supply the mass quantity of protein needed for sandwiches throughout the long weekend.
If choosing a restaurant, there are multiple establishments open serving complete Thanksgiving meals, from fast casual to family style to upscale. Our crew recommends these spots to consume the “too much meal” without the effort of preparation or cleanup:
Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que (Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg) http://www.bennetts-bbq.com/index.html
Old Mill Restaurant (Pigeon Forge) http://www.old-mill.com/info/groups
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (Pigeon Forge (2), Sevierville (2), Kodak) http://www.crackerbarrel.com
2. Reserve the right cabin for your family’s needs. Volunteer Cabin Rentals has a very nice selection of lodges of all sizes to make your holiday celebration both fun and comfortable for the entire family. Confirm your attendees, and then select the Pigeon Forge luxury cabin that best meets your requirements. If you have questions regarding the amenities of your specific chosen gathering place, don’t hesitate to contact one of our friendly reservationists directly, to avoid any surprises or unneeded trips back to town for a forgotten item. We’ll help any way that we can to ensure you have answers prior to your arrival.
3. Decide and schedule your after-the-big-meal activities. Beyond the sleep-off-the-tryptophan coma, you have so many options for family fun together. Staying in? Bring those best DVD movies along, settle into that sofa for a ballgame, knock around in the game room, or soothe yourself in the warmth of the hot tub. Need more action? Consider going into town for an evening theater show (yes, some have performances on the holiday), or plan the ultimate midnight shopping trip, as the holiday promotional season kicks in at Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center and other local retail locations.
Smoky Mountain Opry: http://christmasinpigeonforge.com
Easy as 1-2-3, with just a little forethought, this could be your best Thanksgiving ever!. Come join us for a down home mountain celebration. No regrets, just gratitude.

Danger! Garlic Overload Alert. Find Great Local Italian Food Here.

When the weather turns cooler as autumn approaches winter, thoughts turn (or at least mine do, anyway), to enjoying a large meal of comfort food with family. Of course, you can put your best chef relatives into personal action preparing a holiday meal in the weeks ahead. All of our cabins in Wears Valley offer fully equipped kitchens that make dining in together a simple, shared pleasure.

If you would rather have someone else handle kitchen preparation and cleanup, here are a few spots to consider, located across the county for your convenience. Italian is our cuisine of choice this time, since even most picky eaters can find something to suit their palate.
I’m not saving the best for last, but listing it here first for your consideration. Friendly family service and freshly-made Italian entrees make Two Brothers Italian Restaurant in Sevierville worth trying. The ample portions also make it a great value. Full disclosure here: several of our staff are intermittent regulars at this local hangout. Intermittent only because you can gain weight if you choose to clean your plate here too often! Two Brothers is a place easily overlooked by passersby. It is located in a small tenant space in the Food City Sevierville shopping center, on Dolly Parton Parkway at the first stoplight past the Sevierville U.S. Post Office. Steaming, fresh garlic knots with marinara are a complimentary appetizer. Don’t overdose on them before your meal arrives. From pasta to salads, juicy burgers to a little Greek food thrown in for good measure, we’ve yet to find something we don’t like. Bring your crowd, including the kids, and become part of the family for authentic Italian fare. There really are two brothers: Nick and Paul; you’ll know them when you see them. If garlic is your favorite culinary perfume, you’ll be happy here.  Check out the menu details at this link:
If it’s a mild day in Gatlinburg, and you would enjoy eating outside, hunt down this “been there forever” original location. Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria has long been tucked into the back part of Elks Plaza, across the Parkway from Hampton Inn, close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the north end of town. If indulging in a calzone as big as your head (read enough for two), is your idea of solid nourishment pleasure, then this place is for you. Make sure and snag an outside spot on the patio next to the stream. It’s a nice little respite from the downtown clutter and clatter. There is also a second location directly on the Parkway close to Aunt Mahalia’s Candy. Their website even offers a free parking pass for the Ober Gatlinburg parking lot, located a couple of blocks from the original location. Here’s the link for more information and menus for this locally-owned landmark restaurant:
Dude, if pizza is what you want, then if you haven’t been to Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, you must go. Funky and fun, this is actually a regional chain restaurant which originated in Atlanta in the 1970’s, emphasis on hip, laid-back, mellow. There are three locations in Sevier County to catch the good vibes, and every restaurant has its own character. Gatlinburg has one location on the Parkway, and there are two locations in Pigeon Forge: one directly on the Parkway, and the newest location is at the Island Entertainment Complex. If cheap delivery pizza is okay with you, know that this is not it. Order your own masterpiece pizza, and have fun while you’re at it. Kids and adults alike enjoy the creative atmosphere and quality food found at the House of ‘Shroom. Special note for those with vegetarian requirements and gluten issues: the restaurant offers lots of veggie items and also gluten-free pizza and drinks, properly prepared with designated GF stations. This is also a decent spot for a souvenir ball cap or such item to commemorate your vacation pie. Here is the main site link, and then check your specific location for a detailed menu.
Of course, all the typical chain locations for Italian fast food are also located throughout our area, but don’t eat somewhere that you have at home. These are just a few of your many culinary options. Buon appetito. Enjoy!

Tips for a SAFE and Happy Smokies Vacation

Is it fair to say that we do things on vacation that we may not even consider doing at home? Though I often write on current events or places in our area, this blog originates from a recent personal experience. Our family was driving on the main Parkway, when our son pointed out the “cute little girl” in another vehicle. The child in the SUV was roughly three years old, and was having a great time bouncing around the vehicle from the side window to the front console and back, laughing and singing with her grandparents,  while her car safety seat sat empty. We traveled along with this vehicle for several miles, until they stopped at a retail establishment. After the family entered the store, I wrote a politely thorough windshield note reminding them of the danger posed to this unrestrained precious child, both literally and legally. I am certain that they were only preserving their sanity after a long ride of seatbelted protests, but the potential for disaster was not worth their risk!

Here at Volunteer Cabin Rentals, we want your family to have an enjoyable vacation in your Smokies rental cabin and the surrounding area. Here are some tips to consider while visiting, to keep everyone protected from an unexpected hazard.
Home Away From Homefront
1. Childproofing-Though anyone with small children knows to do this, don’t let your guard down. Study the features of your cabin thoroughly, and consider indoor items like stairs, sharp corners, doors and blinds, fireplaces, hot water temperature, and tubs. Outdoors, verify the security of balconies, hot tubs, and dangers associated with the yard, slopes, and driveway. Consider bringing supplies like gates and nightlights, so that you won’t have to purchase them while here. A small pack of bungee cords and even a roll of duct tape can always come in handy to secure off limits areas.

2. Safety Plan-As you would at home, agree to an escape plan from your cabin, and designate a meeting spot outside, should an emergency occur. Accounting for everyone is much easier if the unthinkable happens.
3. Lock It Up-Consider your cabin rental a luxury “hotel room with many doors”, all of which should be secured and locked. Though violent crimes are extremely rare in our area, theft does infrequently occur, usually through unlocked doors and windows. Double check before heading out on an all day excursion to ensure you have secured all entries.
Out and About Town
1. Hide and Carry-Conceal your valuables on your person. Tourist areas attract pickpockets on vacation looking for the easy mark: like a backpocket wallet bulge, or the perennially ugly fanny pack, which advertises that all your important stuff is in one unsightly wad. Wallets in front pockets and crossbody bags are smarter choices. When seated, wrap a strap around your arm or leg for extra security, instead of hanging bags on a seatback or placing them at your feet.
2. Please no PDA!-Like the Louis Vuitton luggage on the airport carousel, public displays of affluence are the type of PDA that makes you a noticeable target for those wishing to lighten your load. Put the expensive camera in a bag if you don’t immediately need it, and leave your best jewelry safe at home. Relax without the burden of protecting unnecessary expensive accessories.
3. Left Behind Game-Teach and employ your kids with this good habit. Whenever you are leaving somewhere, take a last glance back to make sure that you have not left behind anything that you have been carrying. Don’t let a sitting rest stop be the place you lose your favorite sunglasses or most recent shopping purchase. Last week, I saw a lonely, but full shopping bag in the roadway intersection in front of a local outlet mall. I believe it slid off the back or roof of a car, unnoticed as they drove away.
Lost Child Strategies
1. Lost and Alone Plan-I have a friend whose son followed the wrong “mom in a red shirt” at Disney World, and got lost (he’s okay and in college now). It can happen to anyone. Have a plan worked out with steps for your children to follow if they get separated from you. This is an easy discussion that can occur during the car drive here. First step is for them to locate an employee of the store or park and say they are lost. Work out the best details for your family from there.
2. Different is Good-Put distinctive clothes on your children when traveling. Bright colors, school logos, and even matching family looks are corny, but effective in identifying to whom someone belongs. However, avoid a visible child’s name on clothing, as it broadcasts identification information to everyone.
3. Label that Kid!-There are companies that sell stick-on child identification labels, but it is more practical to employ a waterproof permanent marker. Write your name and mobile number underneath your child’s clothing, like a sleeve or above their belly button. Then all your child has to do is find an employee, show them the number and say, “I’m lost, would you please call my daddy to come get me?”
Lastly, guard your health by washing, washing, washing your hands while in public, and also by using safety practices in public restrooms (never alone if under 10, and caution buddies even then). Protect yourself, your family, and your fun on this trip to the mountains. Come enjoy our beautiful autumn, before the crazy holiday shopping season begins! We look forward to seeing you soon.

Come Shop the Extraordinary: the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair

So you have settled into your Gatlinburg rental cabin and spent some time unwinding. So what’s next? Tourism surveys indicate that one primary “to do” while on vacation is to acquire both personal souvenirs and mementos for others. For those who are also planning ahead for the holidays, finding a few just-perfect gifts is an added benefit of early shopping. What if you could locate all of the purchases you seek in a single location? You can do just that by attending the 39th Annual Fall Craftsmen’s Fair, currently occurring in the heart of town at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. This event gathers together fine craftspeople from all over the country, including multiple artists from around our local area (over 170 are attending this season). The fair is a nationally recognized tourism event for the southeastern United States. If quality, artisan products interest you, you must stop and shop here!
Visiting this biannual gathering offers not just a gift buying spree opportunity, but also a cultural and educational experience. Professional artists demonstrate their work, and also gladly answer questions regarding their specific artistic passion and livelihood. Any media you can name, along with multiple crafts you may have yet to discover can be found over multiple floors at this location. Fine drawings, paintings, and photography of many types, along with pottery wares for both aesthetics and function can be purchased here. Handwoven crafts, all types of original, one-of-a-kind jewelry; glass, wood and leather works; clothing, toys, decorative items, and many other artisan products are offered. There is just too much variety to be described in short summary in a blog.
Let me emphasize clearly that this event is not akin to your hometown craft fair. These distinctive artists must be screened for their skills prior to exhibiting, and the exceptionally talented are showcased here. This is the place to find the unusual, the uncommon, perhaps even the unheard of item that will suit your needs. For every artist’s wares on display, the principal craftsmen for that product line must be present at the fair. Quality crafting is both considered and honored throughout the venue. There are unique goods available in all price ranges, and all items are carefully curated for your viewing and purchase.
Don’t miss this opportunity. It is true that multiple arts and crafting events occur in different locations in our area throughout the year. None is as unique and comprehensive as the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, held during our season of autumn beauty in October. Plan to enjoy yourself and save precious vacation time too, by finding everything in one location. Come browse to locate that special creative piece , and even enjoy live bluegrass music daily while you shop. Adult admission is a modest $6 per person, with children 12 and under free. The Gatlinburg Convention Center is a modern and comfortable facility located at 234 Historic Nature Trail, which is the Traffic Light #8 intersection with the Parkway. For daily hours and more details regarding this must-attend event, view this link: http://www.craftsmenfair.com/Fall-Craft-Fair.htm

See ALL the Fall Colors of the Smokies: Scenic Helicopter Tours

scenic-helicopter-largeOne of the many pleasures of a secluded Smoky Mountain cabin rental is taking in the views of nature around you while relaxing. Choose an easy chair, a porch rocker, or a steaming, swirling hot tub. But what if you could view the Smokies in all their autumn splendor? What if you could view all of the Smokies? Ok, well, maybe not all. But when viewed from above, the vast, undulating landscape that we locals call home rolls out beneath you like a multi-hued carpet!

Consider taking a helicopter ride, to see our area like you’ve never seen it before. This activity is a superb choice for creating a one-of-a-kind experience for you and your family. There are several options available, offering different areas of flyover and duration, to accommodate various budgets and levels of courage.  Make a quick journey over Douglas Lake and the surrounding foothills, or fly deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see Cades Cove stretch out below you.

scenic-helicopter-smallPlan your glorious, fall color review now by checking out the touring information at Scenic Helicopter Tours. Their experienced, professional pilots fly the most number of approved flight paths throughout the Smokies area, giving you the best selection and value for your airtime dollars. All members of your group can fly (from the youngest to the oldest), in 3- or 4-passenger groups. Don’t forget your camera, since photos and videos are highly encouraged.

It’s truly a different perspective to see notable landmarks and the area’s natural wonders from the air: sightseeing at its best. Our VCR family loves these flights, and so will yours!


If Shop You Must, Then Do It Here! The Village Shops of Gatlinburg

the-village-gatlinburg-2We like to hear about the local places that our customers discover, during their vacation stay here in our rental cabins in Gatlinburg. Sometimes locations are mentioned that we have not yet experienced ourselves. Then there are the venues that are mentioned over and over as favorites. The Village Shops of Gatlinburg shopping area is one of the latter. Nestled in the heart of town next to the Pancake Pantry Restaurant (one of our favorites also, but I digress) is the entrance to this outdoor cluster of small stores.

Sometimes I wish all of the county’s retail venues were surrounded by such a lovely planned atmosphere. Created to resemble a small European town, bricked pathways, a splashing fountain centerpiece, and carefully detailed architecture and landscaping combine to create a peaceful environment. Plant those weary family members on a bench to relax, enjoy a snack, and people watch, as those with the will to purchase keep exploring!

the-village-gatlinburg-1A German deli offers a hearty lunch, and doughnuts and ice cream are also deliciously available. Those who enjoy kitchen arts can find a selection of spices, olive oils, vinegars, sauces, coffees, and teas for sale among several stores in the complex.

Other shops among the 27 stores located here can dress and pamper anyone willing. Bath and body products, pajamas and clothing, shoes and socks, leather goods and jewelry are all offered for your personal selection.

Perhaps something for your own use while on vacation? Hiking goods, toys, books, and even insulated bottles can be put to good use during your stay in the Smokies.
Souvenirs and gifts (for others or yourself) can also be found: unique artwork, candles, and pottery are artistic features. Perhaps an inspirational gift, or an item from the Celtic isles, or custom, personalized pieces may suit your needs. Don’t forget to check out the coupons on their website for extra savings.

the-village-gatlinburg-3So, here’s a start to a great day: breakfast at Pancake Pantry, and then step out well-fortified to explore next door. Interesting, high quality merchandise in an Old World environment: what’s not to love? We think so, too! Make sure and visit the Village Shops of Gatlinburg while here in our mountains this beautiful, autumn season. Happy fall, y’all!

Keep the Smokies Weird! 5+ Quirky Places to Visit

The Tomb attraction in Pigeon ForgeSometimes you just want to kick back, daydream and do absolutely nothing on the deck of your cabin in Pigeon Forge. Of course, you may have planned some regular pit stops iif you are a returning visitor (the majority of visitors to our area are repeaters). Today, I just want to challenge you to try a few new locations that might interest you. They are at least unusual, if not downright strange.

1. The Tomb, Pigeon Forge-Of course, an ancient Egyptian pyramid makes perfect sense in Pigeon Forge, right? Tucked behind Firehouse Mini-Golf and adjacent to Calhoun’s BBQ in Walden’s Landing, this indoor archeology attraction can be amusing on a rainy day, as you puzzle your way through the guided “pyramid innards”. This place is most fun for a group on its own curious expedition.

2. The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, Gatlinburg-If you appreciate the process of collecting, you’ll enjoy this display of one family’s efforts to amass the unusual of those functional pairs of kitchen items. Created over 25 years, with over 20,000 pairs (?!), it’s worth an interesting look when you are in Gatlinburg. Be aware that should you want to purchase a pair of shakers, there are many options available online also.

3. Parrot Mountain, Pigeon Forge-Hundreds of beautiful, tropical birds have a local aviary residence at this 4-acre garden park, near Dollywood on McCarter Hollow Road. Come see more parrots, lories, and other birds than you’ve ever seen in one location: in a lush setting where you can also feed them by hand. Don’t forget your camera for some photos!

4. Smoky Mountain Knife Works, Sevierville-Need a sharp knife? Like taxidermy too? This large complex on Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville is billed as “the World’s Largest Knife Showplace”. From collectibles, to kitchen performance brands, to military and martial arts, there are so many brands of knives available, it is literally mind boggling—who knew? The safari animals on display have never made sense to me, but they too are a bit interesting. If there is any type of knife you can imagine needing, you will find it here.

5. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, Gatlinburg-On the Parkway in the heart of town, this museum is the definition of quirky, with all sorts of exhibits to meet that “beyond belief” quotient. Yes, you should probably go and enjoy this well-known center of kitsch and odd entertainment.

Ripley’s obviously hasn’t cornered the market in this area on the, ahem, unusual. Keep your antennae up and sensors on search, as there are still more places like these dotted across our landscape…Smoky Mountain Cathouse, anyone? So, raise that one curious eyebrow, and enjoy. To each, his own!

Caution! You’ll Be Crushed if You Miss this Local Potter’s Clay…

rap3We are very blessed to live where there are so many options for handmade merchandise. When you choose to venture forth from your Gatlinburg cabin for souvenirs, a must-visit location for gifts should be Alewine Pottery Studio.  Say it like a local: ale’-uh-wine.

There are originals, and then there are imitators. Robert Alewine and his family are of the former ilk, creating art from Appalachian clay for over 30 years in the Smokies area. Their quality items range from functional kitchen pieces like mugs and mixing bowls, to display pieces like luminaries and decorative art pots.
rapThe studio’s signature emblem features real leaves that are embedded into the artwork and kiln-fired as part of the design, making a small bit of the Smokies an intrinsic part of each work.  The stunning choices of glazes are color-saturated in both neutrals and vivid tones. My personal favorites are the cobalt and copper hues among their many creative options. You’ll easily find something pleasing for your taste also.

Visit the wonderfully friendly Alewine family members at one of their three locations:
—The Glades Craft Community store is the largest, anchor studio where most pieces are created daily. Enjoy watching the artists and their creations in progress while shopping here.
—The Village Shops retail store located in downtown Gatlinburg offers a large selection of souvenir mugs, along with a nicely curated selection of other wares.
—Alewine Pottery at the Island is their newest location, opening late 2014, granting the opportunity to access their unique products in the heart of the county, at the bustling Island Complex in Pigeon Forge.
rap2So choose a perfect hand-thrown, pottery gift for someone back home (Christmas too!), or select a personal memento of your vacation to our area. You’ll find beautiful, original, artisan items at fair prices. If you haven’t begun collecting their pottery wares, you must visit the Alewine family, and choose your first work of art soon.

One last Summer Thrill: Reviewing the Roller Coasters of Dollywood


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!