Friday, May 3, 2013

Having a Great Past at Silver Dollar City - Part 1

Welcome!  It's great to be here.
Silver Dollar City was high on a short list of theme parks that I desperately wanted to visit, so with the announcement of Outlaw Run my mind immediately began planning a trip.  Missouri isn't exactly around the corner from me, but after a hop, skip and a jump I finally got to experience the park that promises "You Have a Great Past Ahead of You" over the entrance gates.

And a great past it was.  The park celebrated their 50th anniversary three years ago, but when visiting the park one might be unsure whether the property has been around those fifty years, or perhaps even one hundred fifty.  The park's theme as a village of the Ozark's is as authentic as they come, granted the village aspect has been expanded greatly over time and now includes more than a half dozen themed areas.

Trees, theming, perfection?
Silver Dollar City started out as Marvel Cave, which operated for decades as the area's most popular tourist attraction before the park was built around it.  The amazing natural cave includes some tremendously huge areas as big as over 200 feet top to bottom.

When Hugo Herschend began to operate the cave it marked the early start of the park, though that wasn't the plan at the time.  Upon his death several years later, his wife, Mary, and his sons, Jack and Peter set out to build the Ozark Village around the entrance to the cave to support even more tourists and visitors.  Smart move on their part.

Plenty of hills to be covered - the hike is worth it.
With a small collection of rustic buildings, including a church and several set up for shopping, Silver Dollar City was born on May 1st, 1960.  The crowds showed up much to the relief of the Herschends, and as some would say the rest is history.  But no history is that simple, the park has focused on a tradition of providing family friendly - and we mean friendly - fun and entertainment with no room to wiggle on those principles ever since.

We often write about theme parks and rides here, but there's quite a bit more to this park than those items.  There's a clear emphasis on live entertainment, I mean we are talking about Branson after all!  You'll also find plenty of stores throughout the park that may offer a coaster tee shirt, but at how many parks do you find a looming demonstration and quilting supply store or a whole facility dedicated to apple butter?

A part of Midtown, which greets guests after they enter.  Charming, no?
It gets even more diverse than that, too.  Silver Dollar City even offers the Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School, where guests can sign up for cooking classes.  The park's guide lists new courses with titles like "All About Eggs" and "New Twist on Fish." Charming!

I'm confident enough in the park's various offering that I can say I truly believe that you could visit, not go on even one single ride, and still not get done everything you want.

But how about those rides?  This is NewsPlusNotes and they are our bread and butter.  Silver Dollar City really started adding the big boys in the past twenty years, before that the focus wasn't on them.  It's still arguably not the focus of the park, but they certain play a role in getting those turnstiles clicking away as they do.

Time for a trip on a flying machine.
I saw in a recent interview how the park works to build large rides on the outskirts of the property to retain the charm of the center sections.  When visiting you really start to understand how true that is - from a generally central part of the park you see signs, like the one above, for big rides but it takes a bit of walking to get to them.

Wildfire is one of the few B&M 'sitdown' rides built, more specifically ones that do have a floor under riders' feet.

Impressive first drop, indeed.
Wildfire stands tall above its own entrance plaza, with the lift extending up and to the right as you approach.  You actually head down a level to get to the queue entrance, and as you do the ride's theming become apparent.

The story goes a little something like this.  Dr. Horatio Harris decided he wanted to build a flying machine that would offer amazing views as it flew over the Ozarks.  Guests enter his laboratory, filled with schematics related to the creation of the ride, his workshop and some other kinetically interesting contraptions.

What goes up...
It is great fun to check out some of the schematics that hang in the station, as they also double as original concept art for Wildfire itself.  The name of the ride, Wildfire, comes from the fuel that the good Doctor created to run his invention.  It's some pretty wild stuff, apparently.

No one has ever taken this photo before.
Wildfire takes riders up a long lift, and if you didn't notice beforehand you're suddenly aware that the ride sits on the side of a gigantic hill, with the valley stretching out far below you.  It's an amazing view to say the least.  The lift will get you up 120 feet above the ground, but after a quick turn at the top the drop heads down the slope, achieving a first plunge of 155 feet.

Starting their journey with the cobra roll behind.
Much like the first drop, Wildfire's five inversions are also large, and in order go immelman, vertical loop, cobra roll, and finally a corkscrew.  The ride's path crisscrosses the side of the hill, and ends with a quick helix before hitting the final brakes.  The pace is fast but as with most B&M rides the coaster is smooth and delivers an all around enjoyable experience.  And those views!

Welcome to the farm!
When Silver Dollar City embarked on another large expansion in 2007 they named the area Wilson Farms, and today this section connects to Outlaw Run - needless to say that makes the path quite busy!

Wilson Farms is home to two attractions, the Giant Barn Swings and the High-Low Silos.  The park was smart to add a thrill ride to the lineup, but keep an attraction aimed at smaller kids right next to it.

No cows in this barn.
Looking at the facade of the Giant Barn Swing you can almost miss the fact that there's a high energy, air-powered thrill ride back there.  The creations, from S&S, are of the Screamin' Swing variety, though the much larger park models with higher capacity.  This specific instillation has two arms to meet the park's needs, and once the arms get moving they blast riders out at over 45 miles per hour.

I love seeing rider' faces mid-flight.
With each thrust of compressed air, the pendulum that riders are seated on goes higher and higher, passing well above horizontal and moving more toward vertical.  At the highest point riders are getting pretty close to being upside down, with the added thrill of zooming past the other ride arm as they fly.

The High-Low Silos allow kids to use their own energy (great for moms and dads!) to slowly hoist themselves up the top of a small tower, which does resemble a silo.  When they reach the top they can release their seats so they slowly head back to the ground.

Rafting through the wilderness.
The park's beauty shines through to pretty much all attractions, whether located in the heart of the property or the outskirts as with the big coasters.  Above is the Lost River of the Ozarks, the park's river rapids ride.  You can see the ride from both the lower sections of the park as well as the Wilson Farm area.  The course takes rafts through the woods and ends with a rather large section in the dark that delivers riders back to the loading dock.

A much faster paced ride into the wilderness.
Easily one of the park's most thrilling coasters, Powder Keg has the tag line "A Blast Into The Wilderness."  The ride has a very unique history, starting out as another attraction entirely.  That ride was name Buzzsaw Falls, a part coaster and part flume ride mix.

That ride was designed by Premier Rides as one of their "liquid coasters," but it was plagued by problems and was never the success the park had hoped for.  It was closed and work quickly began on dismantling portions of the track, yet saving others like the roller coaster turn in the woods and the lift hill.

The explosion that starts the ride.
This work was done by S&S, and they utilized their compressed air technology to create Powder Keg - a coaster that blasts trains at a speed of over 50 miles per hour from a stand still.  This was one attraction I was really looking forward to, and it certainly delivered on my expectations.  The trains glide out of the station and are taken upward onto the launch track using a cool transfer system.  There's some special effects as the Nitro starts an chain reaction explosion that ends with the trains taking off.

Heading down the final big drop.
An air-filled hill greets those launched trains, followed by a steep drop into the valley afterward.  The twist of track continues after that point, with the trains zooming along the old section of the ride that was once a part of Buzzsaw Falls.  The transition is seamless, and unless you really know when to watch for it you wouldn't even be aware.  It's pretty neat, though!

The lift that was a part of the former ride is still utilized, and after it there's one more steep drop, wild helix, and then the final brakes.

We still have a lot more of Silver Dollar City to take a look at, so make sure to check back next week for part 2!