Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great Smoky Mountain Treat - Part 2

Editor's note: This is the second part of a look at my recent visit to Dollywood. If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out!

After taking a quick spin on the Tennessee Tornado, it was time to enter the older sections of Dollywood, and the change can be felt immediately.  Suddenly fully grown trees shade you from the sun, thematic elements are along all the midways, and the landscaping is as much a part of the park as the rides.  Needless to say, I liked the feeling that these sections - starting with Craftsman's Valley - had.

One of the first attractions you encounter in the area is Blazing Fury.  This unique dark ride/coaster combo was actually built in-house by the park in '78, and judging from its lines is still one of the park favorites!  The ride is great for families, and starts out slow as you pass scenes of a Western town that's been set ablaze.  There's plenty of comedy included in the ride, but also some neat tricks like the train collision, and a surprising drop finale!

Craftsman's Valley is titled so for a reason - you can find just about anything that's hand crafted in this area of Dollywood.  Really though, there's a leather store, candles, the Grist Mill, even a furniture store!

Aside from its blatant beauty, this area of Dollywood also is home to some of its famous theaters.  We were able to check out some of the Country Crossroads show, and even the small sampling there showed how Dollywood's live entertainment is a step above most parks'.

If you take a path off the main walkway of the area you'll find yourself face to face with the above view, and that's a good thing.  This is Dollywood's version of the traditional Log Flume, aptly named Daredevil Falls.  Like so many of the park's rides, it takes the natural terrain and uses it to the ride's benefit, in this case a big drop on the side of an even bigger hill.

One of the "super flumes" built by O.D. Hopkins, Daredevil Falls starts at the Outfitters Base Camp.  Their wilderness excursion, as the trip is called, includes tunnels, bats, mine shafts and a 67 foot, 50 mile per hour plunge.  Even better, as the boats make their splash a series of geysers launch all around it, creating the splash seen above.  Be sure to sit in the front seat if you want to get totally soaked!

New for 2011 at Dollywood is the Owens Farm area, which sits just off Craftsman's Valley.  The Farm is the historical site of some very famous aerial shows that featured the Dueling Daredevils, stunt pilot extraordinaires.  Currently the site features Barnstormer, a giant swing ride that pays tribute to the site's high flying history.

Barnstormer quite literally rips through the area's barn, as the giant swings take riders up to 81 feet in the air at 45 miles per hour.  The ride was provided by S&S Worldwide, which is known for it's air-powered attractions that blast riders one way or another.

I couldn't pass up this shot of guests experiencing just what that sign is offering!  The $5.5 million ride lasts for just about one minute, just long enough to scream at the top of your lungs without losing your voice.

Adjacent to Barnstormer, in the Owens Farm area is an attraction for the little ones which features the Pig Pen water play area, along with a giant bi-plane climbing structure.  This one another area where Dollywood does it differently - with each big attraction comes an area that's aimed at kids and families.  Instead of sitting on a bench while guests ride the thrillers, families with smaller kids have a play option right there.

While not a new attraction, the Mountain Sidewinders have joined their new neighbor, Barnstormer, in the Owens Farm area.  These unique 'dry' water slides seat four people in a toboggan that race down the mountain, and feature a thrilling drop at the end of the run.  The great deck area the park has built next to the unload is great for people watching - the faces of guests coming down that last drop are priceless!

I'm not usually one to keep including photos of landscaping in my stories, but Dollywood has proven to be the exception to that rule for me.  I cannot say enough how much time and effort goes into the grounds of the park!  It's scenes like the one above that give Dollywood a special atmosphere, I could have used a couple extra hours at the park just to take it all in.

Moving deeper into the park leads you to The Village area, with the thrill packed Country Fair section right next door.  The Village is where you can board the Dollywood Express, an authentic 110 ton coal fired steam engine that takes riders on a five mile trip up into the Smoky Mountains.  The Village also offers the park's Carousel, and the Heartsong Theater, where you can see a filmed musical tribute to the area, hosted by Dolly herself.

Dolly must have really enjoyed the Country Fair when she was younger, because Dollywood has recreated a pretty awesome one for guests.  There's rides that spin, twirl, and send guests flying in the air - with plenty for kids, too.  While I did not get to snap a photo, I loved how the Ferris Wheel was even the smaller kind I used to ride at carnivals, fitting its setting perfectly.

Rivertown Junction is home to another of Dollywood's splashing water rides,  named Smoky Mountain River Rampage.  The boats, which have seating for six, sail around the course narrowly missing waterfalls, geysers, and rapids - or maybe not so narrowly at all!

We also stopped in Aunt Grannie's for her all-you-care-to-eat buffet, filled with homestyle cooking.  This brings me to another point - the food at Dollywood is out of this world!   No need to decide between pizza or chicken fingers here, the park has an array of food outlets with hearty offerings.  I now can say I've had excellent mashed potatoes at a theme park!

The area toward the front of the park is filled with several smaller themed areas, such as Jukebox Junction.  Seen above, the area is home to Red's Drive-In, the Rockin' Roadway car ride, and the Pines Theater, featuring the Dreamland Drive-In, which explores the music of the 50s and 60s.

Around the corner in Adventures in Imagination is a special treat for Dolly fans - this is where you can visit the Chasing Rainbows museum, a tribute to Dolly's life and career.  It even includes a look inside her tour bus, parked out front.  Next to the museum is a 4-D theater that shows different movies throughout the season, swapping them out for festivals and other special events.

At this point we've actually completed that Dollywood loop I spoke of earlier, returning to Showstreet and the entrance area.  Showstreet features two of the park's largest indoor theaters, the Showstreet Palace Theater and Dolly Parton's Celebrity Theater.  The latter is the home of Sah-Kon-O-Hey!, a huge theatrical performance that celebrates the Smokies through original music, acrobats, and other performers.  It's arguably Dollywood's most popular show, so be sure to check it out if you visit.

By now you've probably noticed that countdown box over on the left - Dollywood has a very large announcement to make in about a week.  Make sure to stop by that evening to read the latest on what will be a very exciting new ride!

I'd like to thank Dollywood for having us at the park, and for the help with this story.  The park stays open through the Holidays, so there is still plenty of time to visit this year.