Only a couple of weeks of school remain, and our favorite family activity on the last day is to leave the school parking lot and drive directly to Dollywood to celebrate. Many vacationers in the Smokies make a beeline to the queues at the newest and largest rides at the theme park. Here is a list of rides that are worth your attention, and typically not as populated with the longest lines and waiting times.
5. Blazing Fury-Let’s begin with this old-fashioned firefighting-themed, indoor roller coaster ride. Many stroll right past since it is indoors, not realizing the content of this ride. Blazing Fury is located in Craftsman’s Valley, is the oldest coaster ride in the park, and is a holdover from Silver Dollar City days, before the park became Dollywood. It is mild for adults on the wow factor scale, but its dips and turns are in complete darkness, which adds to the suspense. It is perfect for building a thrill for the tweens that are too old for the kid coasters. This is also a ride that some enjoy riding several times in a row when lines permit such behavior.
4. Daredevil Falls-This is a classic wet boat ride, similar to a log flume ride adults might remember from childhood. The boats float along bumping and building suspense throughout, for a single last freefall drop to a splashdown ending below. Also located in Craftsman’s Valley, this is a mild ride for those graduating from the kiddie section, but also quite intimidating for adults afraid of falling from heights.
3. Dizzy Disk-Located in the Country Fair area of the park, this rotating ride really does have the appearance of a midway ride. The orientation of the seats outward creates a pretty unique ride while both spinning and swinging in an arc from side to side on the disc base. Think of sitting astride a scooter and holding handlebars, as the safety brace locks at your back at waist level. The disorienting spin thrill is actually more than it appears from an off-ride point of view.
2. Barnstormer-Bystanders can easily observe this ride “up close and personal”. Watching a cycle or two will help you determine whether this one is for you. Built to resemble an airplane flying through a barn, the ride is a large pendulum swing with rows of seats. It reaches a 230 degree maximum rotation, and a 45 mile per hour motion that flies to 81 feet in the air. If that excites you instead of making you want to toss some cookies, then Barnstormer definitely delivers. Incredibly (at least in my opinion), this is a favorite of teens for consecutive ride achievement. How many times can you stomach the swing?
That said, don’t miss the Owens Farm area as a respite stop for families with both small and older children together. In addition to a sweet toddler playground and splashpad area, there are two rides here that really shouldn’t be missed for the older and braver set (Barnstormer and Slidewinder). My tip for the adult watching the littles: visit the adjacent bathroom facilities first, then the upper floor of the Grist Mill for cookies or cinnamon bread to munch while attending to playground duty. You are welcome.
1. Mountain Slidewinder-I laughed to myself recently when speaking with a guest who thought they had conquered every ride at Dollywood, and yet missed this one completely. I am absolutely certain this gem of a ride is the most overlooked in the park, both because of its obscured location and the shortened season of this water ride (like several others that don’t operate in cooler weather). There is a short, inclined paved walk with a few stairs to the top of the hillside, which is a physical deterrent to some. Most will have no difficulty making the trek: it really can’t be called a hike since it takes less than 10 minutes. Passengers are loaded sitting single file, in foam rubber canoes with grip handles. I promise you truly need to hold on tight. These literally shoot down a curving waterslide, where you ride high on the sides, and it includes a nice final splash drop to the finish. The more weight in your boat, the faster and more exciting your ride. It will catch your breath, guaranteed.
Bonus Thought: Thunderhead. Though certainly not overlooked, this ride is definitely underestimated. In my humble opinion for all you coaster enthusiasts, inversion-laden track does not always equal the best. The terrifying clatter and g-forces of this long ride wooden coaster far surpass the shorter, flip-you-over rides of today’s coasters. Thunderhead gets an A+ from me for both perceived speed and thrills. The angled dips and curves, and particularly the flyover pass through the loading station are totally worth any length of line at this venue. Plus it is relatively fast loading, so lines move rather quickly. I promise you won’t be disappointed staying right side up (well, sort of right side up). The staff no longer shouts this phrase prior to your departure, but I still say, “Let the thunder roll!”
So are you up for some adventure? If you arrive in town early afternoon, check into your Pigeon Forge rental cabin. Then go ahead and visit Dollywood in the evening (after 3 pm). Lines are shorter, the temperature cools down after sunset, and the next full day is included in your admission price. More time to ride and play-what a fantastic way to start this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains!