Coasterville Commentary

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Monday, September 06, 2004

Coasterville Con '04 - Day 4 - Paramount's Carowinds

Trip Report
Coasterville Con '04 - Day 4
Greenville, SC -> Charlotte, NC

Paramount's Carowinds

We woke up at our hotel in Greenville, SC a little bit later than expected, and after looking up a shortcut, we were soon on our way to Carowinds with a little drive through Wendy's to keep us satisfied.

We made our way onto the park grounds shortly after noon, and parked in the South Lot, and entered by the South gate. The stop by Guest Relations to pick up a courtey ticket with my PKI season pass was quick and painless, and soon we headed into the park.

Coming in the South Gate, we headed up the hill and right to our first ride, Top Gun. Top Gun was a walk on, and soon we were walking onto the back seat. Top Gun is a B&M Inverted, however this Inverted ha sa unique inspired layout, and you gotta love the mist filled tunnel under the park entranceway. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

We soon headed into the county fair like section where I noticed they still have Days of Thunder playing with Spongebob. Makes sense as this is NASCAR, USA. Speaking of auto racing, they have Thunder Road. As in Thunder Road from Grease. Here, Paramount has the perfect coaster to tie-in with Grease, and they failed to do it. We won't even get into the Grease themed trains the coaster had before Paramount arrived.

I like the fact that they have the entrances on the outer sides of the station, watch out for that last railing. Soon we were taking a backseat ride on Racer forwards, but first, what a surprise when I sat into the well cushioned train. Thunder Road has a profile very similar to Rebell Yell with the track split not happening until the turnaround. Unfortunately it runs just like Racer at PKI, which is not a good thing, as the train jackhammers its way though the course. We exited, and then took a backwards Thunder Road ride. Hmm, just like Racer, the backwards side runs noticeably better. At least both sides still seem to have all their dips, witht he last dip being tunneled. It looks nice, it just doesn't run so great. Unusual choice of train colors, blue and gray. I also liked the Burma Shave style lift hill sign: "Grit Your Teeth / Bear the Load / Enjoy Your Ride / On Thunder Road" I wonder if they really want to stress that Grit Your Teeth part the way the ride is running. We also got our first taste of Carowinds ride ops. In short they are worse than the stories you hear about Six Flags ride ops. For example a dispatch on Thunder Road was held up so they could bicker about whose turn it was to man the control panel. They have no sense of urgency, and act like they would rather be anywhere than running that ride.

We exited Thunder Road and it began to rain. We made our way past the looping ship and the Dodgems (which look awfully similar to PKI's, building and all) and head to an indoor ride. Nearby was Scooby Doo and the Haunted Mansion. Its an indoor ride, but unlike PKI, the queue is mostly outdoors, but at least shaded. The canvas cover provided enough shelter to wait out the brief rain, and soon we were getting into the backseat of a Mystery Machine. The backseat of a Mystery Machine is NOT where you want to be, as you have to aim and zap targets while dodging the heads and arms of those in the front seat.

Overall Scooby Doo has most of the same sets, just in a different order, and with traditional dark ride crash doors, and a more traditional dark ride system. Neither of us had a working gun anyway, as at the end of the ride the score was 0000-0030, but we didn't know if that was cause of a gun malfunction or from trying to work around the person in the front seat.

At least the sun is out now, and we headed along the back of the park and made our way to Super Saturator. Overall it was a good day to ride Super Saturator as the water curtains were off, and the push button operated water geyesers were off. This just left the assault-weapon like water canyons to dodge. Super Saturator has an agonizingly slow moving queue, particularly when they only load the forwards facing seats, and then make no attempts to pre-load or two stop load.

So after much longer than the queue suggested, and getting waterbombed a couple timnes while waiting, we were loaded onto the front seats of a car, the lapbars locked, seatbelts fastneed, then the nasty surprise happens. They wait to fill the water tanks on the car until AFTER you are loaded into the car. As the mechanism automatically dispenses enough water to fill all 4 water tanks, and they were only using two seats, that meant the water for the other two water tanks comes unceremoniously pouring down on the front seat riders. I mean the wetest part of the ride is in the station. I noticed the warning that I only had one shot, so use it wisely. The layout of the coaster is quite interesting, and the ride could probably stand as a family ride by itsself even without the water effects. Did I mention we unloaded both water tanks as we went over the queue area? Of course we did! Though I am surprised at how many riders fail to activate the water dump. We did get a nice spraying from the water canyons, but that was nothing next to the dousing in the station. We then waited in the brakes for an extra long period of time due to that super ineffecient loading, all the time having excess water rain down on us from the roof of the car. Well, at least I have the Super Saturator credit now.

We headed around into the Carolina Boardwalk to dry off, and came to the Goldrusher. Goldrusher is an old Arrow mine-ride that retains the ultra cool train engine fronts on the cars. After crossing ankles the lapbar went down. After crossing ankles I wondered how anyone could stand up, and standing on this ride must be a problem cause they have a rule posted on this ride that states "1 year eviction from park for standing on this ride" It's a rather neat layout for a minie ride, and it looks like they may be in the process of tunelling (or retunelling) the helix. Not a bad ride.

We next stepped over to Ricochet. Ricochet looks to be a Mack wild mouse. Paramount does not run their Wild Mice very well. Not only was the constant-movement loading system disabled, they have coned off all but the center loading position, and they both load and unload from that one position. Another example of super effiiciant operation, not. Most mice rides have a car being unloaded, a car being loaded, and a preloaded car waiting to go out onto the lift the moment the block system says its okay.

Ricochet, it you get to sit up front you get advance warning of which brakes to worry about, those would be the grease covered ones. Those would also be most of them, including all the brakes on the turn to go to the lower level through to the end of the ride. Yawn. I hear the cha-ching of a credit meter.

We went over to where we though a show was being staged to learn it was merely karaoke, and then laughed at the rather slim selection on the song list. We then took a walk on ride on Carolina Cyclone. Carolina Cyclone is there Arrow Multi Element. It was built in that era when Arrow multi-elements were very functional but did not have any artistic merit to them at all. This one features two vertical loops and two corkscrews., and the older style small trains. That was, uhm, rahter uninspired. I hear the cha-ching of a credit meter. Do watch out for the steps both up into and down out of the train.

After riding Carloina Cyclone, we passed the Coca Cola Cool Zone, where I noticed they have equipped their soft drink machines to accept credit cards. I'll leave the sad commentary alone.

We headed into what used to be the Wayne's World section of the park where Stan Mikita's sits closed, and we take the rediculously long walk to walk onto Hurler. We take a back seat ride on Hurler, where we watch the train before us arrive back on the back brake before they even THINK about checking lapbars, then they goof off with each other, talk on the phone, and finally realize that maybe they want to disptach the train.

The ride starts, and the train shuffles its way over to the lift, we go up the lift the train shuffles over to the drop, I comment "This isn't going to track well, is it?" Then Whamo, down the brutal first drop into a shuffling, jackhammering MESS. This ride has roughly the same layout as Thunder Run at SFKK. Whereas SFKK has taken great care to make Thunder Run a smooth, fast airtime filled ride, the folks at Carowinds have exerted no such care for Hurler. As long as the train completes the circuit, they don't seem to care that it runs horribly. Talk about a ride with no redeaming qualities, I think I would rather ride SOB.

We next headed over to Drop Zone. We got around in the queue to the big umbrellas. That was fortunate cause for the next hour, we would have to survive a heavy downpour. The big umbrellas while they didn't keep us totally dry, kept us mostly dry until the weather lightened up enough for us to make a run for the Rock Shop, by way of the game joints. The Drop Zone opes were at least nice enough to open the station gates so people could exit through the ride area rather than the long way back through the queue.

We waited in the Rock Shop until the storm died down enough to walk around in it, and saw a trian move on Vortex. We got in line for Vortex but were son informed it would be down for an extended period of time. From the Vortex station we say Reptar run. We headed clear over to Reptar. Please, oh please, I have less than 3 hours and 4 more coasters to ride here, and its still raining.

We made it around to Reptar. I was frankly quite shocked to see this one running in the rain, but Ill take it. I like the over the lake settng here much better than the setting at PKI, and witht he added space the station isn't near as cramped. We took a front seat ride, and soon enough, we had this standard Vekoma Junior Inverted under our belt.

I took a look at their log flume, which also got the Wild Thornberrys's River Adventure theme package, and I noted they have a Space Spiral type ride in place of an observation tower.

We started to wait for Borg Assimilator until we saw that Vortex was actually running. We made our way around to the walk on Vortex, and took a ride in the front row. Now I just rode a B&M stand up at SFoG and had no seatbelt problems, however I just barely fit into Vortex. Vortrex as a stand up is rather lame, not one of B&M's better efforts, in fact it doesn't even have a proper vertical loop.

As we were finishing our ride on Vortex, we saw other park guests being assimilated. So we backtracked back over to Borg. Borg wound up to be a 30 minute wait, and they were not offering single rider. The line slowly crept along as is usual for Vekoma flyers, and the sky kept looking worse and worse. Knowing they don't run this in any kind of foul weather, it became a race to see if we could get on before the next storm rolled through. I am happy to report we did make it on, in fact the next storm wave would not come till after we exited the park.

I like the hydarulic system used to activate the seat recline function, rahter than the high tech on baord computers. It at least seems more solid. WE sat down, fastened the shoulder vest, and the operator fastened the lapbar. No problem. Out of the station, up the lift, flip over and into the ride. Ya know, Superman Ultimate Flight is far superior to this, and X-Flight is superior to this. The corkscrews on this kind of ride just seem a bit too brutal, and the ride exhbits the usual Vekoma roughness. While by no stretch a bad ride, it pales when set next to its peers. At least you won't be stuck out on the brake run in the hot sun. Yes the train does stop on the brake run for a long period of time, but said brake run is covered, and every row has two fans blowing cold air on riders faces.

We exited Borg, I looked at the Falling Star style ride, or I tried to look at it. It seems the area in front of the ride is the staging area for their Meet the Nicktoons show, and they close the ride while the show is in progess (1 show daily). Heading into Animation Station I noticed a familiar looking carousel pavilion, then we headed to the last coaster I was eligible to ride, Scoobdy's Ghoster Coaster. In this case the Ghoster Coaster was the standard PTC kiddie woodie. This one however still has no mid course brake, but no tunnel either. It also has an odd sounding alarm as the train leaves the station. As is usual for a paramount park, the junior wood coaster easily runs far superior to the big full size models.

We looked over at the closest thing the park has to a train ride, which is a kidddie train, which is closed for preparations for the haloween event. I also noticed the park had a pedal copter ride, just like PKI, and that their Taxi Jam is much more interesting.

Their Taxi Jam coaster is the longer Miler complete with a helix, similar to the Python Pit family of coasters. No, I did not get a ride on the Taxi Jam. In the back of Zoom Zone they have a car ride, with the same cars as Dollywood (Morgans, electric drive, bump proof, working headlights, working horn), however the ride had very minimal theming, a rhater plain layout, and no on board audio throught he car 'radio' All in all Road Rally seemed to be missing something.

We proceeded through the rather sparse kiddie area, which deosn't seem to have that many kiddie rides, though it does have a neat Spongebob fountain. Eventually we came back around to Top Gun where we took several more rides on the best coaster in the park.

We next headed back to Scooby Doo;s Haunted Mansion to try to get a fair game. We tried to ride several times, but never did we get a car where both of us had functional guns. A non-functioning gun really takes the fun out of this ride.

Before headng out we took the new path accross the former Smurf Island to take a last ride on Borg. The queue was still 30 minutes, though that did not stop them from cuttng it off with an hour of operating time. When we boarded at 6:25 there were only two trains worth of riders left, when we exited they were loading up the last train. Hmm, someonegot cheated out of a chance at a last minute Borg ride.

We ended the day with a couple more Top Gun rides before heading out.

On the way out, we drove past the former Heritage USA project that is actually very close to Carowinds to see the rotted remains, then headed up towars Concord Mills Mall. We chose to eat at Tsunami's - a Japanese steakhouse close to Concord Mills. A drive past NASCAR, USA, then it was off to an undisclosed location for the night.

Coasterville Con '04 - Day 5
Charlotte, NC -> Cincinnati, OH

It rained all through the drive from the undisclosed location to the Charlotte airport. The weather was looking nasty all morning, but I was able to have an ueventfull, if crowded flight back to Cincinnati, OH.

Thus endeth Coasterville Con ''04

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Coasterville Con '04 - Six Flags Over Georgia

Trip Report
Coasterville Con ' 04 - Day 3
Marietta, GA -> Greenville, SC

Six Flags over Georgia

Day 3 started with breakfast at Cracker Barrel then the short drive to Six Flags over Georgia. I'll be quite honest when I say that my expectations from SFoG from an operational standpoint were quite low. After all, Six Flags in general has received a bad reputation in the forums for not operating to capacity and having generally non-caring associates. They also have lots of big rides, and with perfect weater and a holiday weekend, I went in expecting to have to really stuggle to do everything.

We pulled off the Six Flags exit and were overwhelemed by the number of parking options. You see, in addition to the $12 Premium Parking, and the $10 "Value" Parking, you also have the $5 un-official parking lot. We opted to go into the $10 "Value" lot, particularly since we could get a space right by a tram stop. SFoG still operates parking trams, so a space near a tram stop is the next best thing to being able to park by the gate. At the same time I used a coupon thoughfully provided by a well-respected RRC contributor to gain discount admission. I know I am probably in the 2% or less of the coaster enthusiast community that does not have a Six Flags Pass.

Aa a travel tip, the welcome station on I-75 as you enter Georgia from Tennessee has stacks of 2-for-1 coupons to SFoG. According to my ticket stub, our admissions wound up costing $22.57 each, not bad for a big corporate theme park. We soon entered the park pasing both the ticket taker and the metal detector, to head into the shopping distict at the front of the park. We turned from Georiga and headed into Britain. As you enter Britain you pass the Lo-Q, FastLane rental center. We stayed true to our morals and decided NOT to participate in a classist upcharge virtual queue program. Lo-Q should die an early death for other reasons as well, not the least of which is at the reservation desk, they have kisosk where Lo-Q users can reserve times on top-tier rides from the comfort of the front of the park.

Around the next turn we came to the Georgia Cyclone. We entered the non-queue for the Georgia Cyclone and walked right into the station. We held out a couple trains to get the very back seat. So I proceeded to take my first ever ride on the Georgia Cyclone in the back seat of the train. We went up the first lift, and started down the first drop and "WOW!", insane airtime on the first drop, followed by a twisted layout based on the Coney Island Cyclone except with even more insane airtime and more insane laterals. Sure the ride loses some points for having some of the least comfortable PTC trains I have ever sat in (worse than PKI's even), as well as having some Dinn shuffle. But overall the ride is a big winner with a classic layout and abundant airtime and laterals. In fact, this ride runs so good, I wondered if I were really in a Six Flags park.

We proceeded around the loop and came next to Viagraphobia, oops, I meant Acrophobia. We walked up to the station and found a 1 cycle wait. Not bad at all, and soon I was positioning myself onto the ride and was suprised I could easily fasten the belt and pull at least an inch worth of strap through. Then the ride lifted, the ride hung at the top for a few seconds, the operators taunted the riders, the ride vehicle dropped. Wow, that was't much more than your garden variety drop ride. I mean where is this big discomfort I am supposed to be feeling about now?

Having survived my ride of Acrophobia with no ill effects, we next headed to the Dahlonega Mine Ride. We rode in the back seat of Dahlonega with no wait, and were soon off on this early Arrow mine ride with three lifts. It's typical for an early mine ride, a lot of ground hugging turns and gentle dips, except for one somewhat major dip at the very end. Reminded me a lot of Thunder Express that used to be at Dollywood.

We next went to visit the monsters at the mansion at Monster Plantation. The line was just back past the stile over the waterway with one loading area open. I'm sort of surprised they offer Lo-Q on a ride like this (as well as the bumper cars and the Scrambler) With minimal wait we were soon off on this float through dark ride. You first float through a flooded mansion and are warned not to go to the Marsh. Well, guess where you are headed. Its a neat old dark ride that is really taken care of. It's kind of heartwarming to see Six Flags spending the money to take care of an old dark ride like this.

We left Monster Plantation, and headed down past a closed Deja Vu, what a surprise. We didn't really expect to get a ride on Deja Vu, that would have just been a bonus. I mean the ride is closed and it looks like they weren't even trying to get it back up. I think SFoG just got a real expensive lawn ornament,

We started heading towards Superman, where we first stopped off for a no-wait Ninja ride in the back seat. Ninja is a multi-element with a wonderful setting over the lake. It's layout suggest your typical multi element headbanging festival of horror. We boarded the back seat, pulled down the oversize "Don't sit on me" shoulder bars, and were soon off. Ninja is surprisingly smooth with very little headbanging and instead offers great visuals of several headchoppers. Its a wonderful multi elelment coaster.

Next up was Great American Scream Machine. I have to wonder if the big marquee that is now used for the Skycoaster was once the entrance way for Great American Scream Machine. The line for this patriotic themed wooden coaster in this patriotic themed corner of the park was just to the top of the ramp down to the station from the queue maze. With a short manageable wait, we were off on a back seat ride. Same trains as on Cyclone, except with old style drop down lap bars. This out and back, looks beautiful, has a well maintained paint job, and the lakeside setting. These positive features don't hide the fact that it isn't tracking very well, offing a lot of jackhammering, and honestly very little action.

From Great American Scream Machine, we joined a queue that was advertised as 30 minutes for Superman Ultimate Flight. There was one minor spot of downtime just as we were passing the switch track on the windy queue path. All in all 40 minutes later we were boarding row 5 of Superman. Not bad at all for the parks feature coaster. I sat down, pulled the lapbar down where it easily engaged the locks on both sides of the seat. The shoulder vest part of the arangement is merely rubber straps, and once the big lapbar bolster is locked you can forget moving or getting in your pockets. Next two flaps close to lock your ankles into place.

A few moments later the chair is swinging back to hang you in your newly assumed Superman positon. I must say I live hanging down better than lying on my back, and soon you are on your way up the lift. Due to the terrain, the first part of the lift is build over a concrete stairway, then its out over nothing. No safety net, just thin air below. Superman's first drop leads into the most impresive set of inversions I have seen in a while. The first two inversions in particular are especially noteworthy. With the dual loading station, and the two train operation today, Superman also features no mid-course brakes, which means you get all the Superman you have coming to you, with no interuptions. Awesome coaster, I really like it.

Soon we were back in the station where the chairs relower to the more traditional position so that you can safely exit the ride. We exited the ride and I looked in the games area. Particularly my eyes were drawn to the $2 Skee-Ball machines. $2, they have GOT to be kidding, I noted no body playing Skee-Ball. I also noticed the soft drinks vending machines in the area are adorned in a superman motif, including a listing of the entire Superman family of fine rides. Yes, they still include Superman Ultimate Escape at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. I looked at my watch and noted that we had completed that entire half of the park by 1pm. Luck seems to be on our side so far.

To slow the pace down a bit, we took a walk around a rather rustic looking area overlooking Superman. The rustic area includes the parks antique car ride, and a ride that is appaarently on the National Register of Historic Places: The Riverview Carousel. Not much may remain of the legendary park, but you can still ride its carousel, if you don't mind a little drive down to Atlanta. We paused to look at the carousel, then we noted the walkway to the carousel is lined with two of the parks new family rides. It seems this year the park is focussing on their family ride selection with includes 5 new family rides, 4 of those being flat rides.

On one side of the trail was the Baloon Race, on the other side is that hot new Zamperla product, the Rockin' Tug. Seeing nobody in line for the Rockin' Tug, we stopped and took a ride. Neat new ride, it should do very well. We came down from the sceneic overlook to walk besides the shoot the chutes rides, where we say the profile of the new family coaster. I won't call it a kiddie coaster as one must be at least 36" to ride, no exceptions. Wile E. Coyotee's Canyon Blaster features a layout with curvey turns, tunnels, and most notably the big hill at the end of the ride. Its a steep hill up into the station, so steep the train can't clear it on its own power and the use of kicker tires is employeed. Very interesting. We looked at the line for Canyon Blaster and decided to try back later.

We cut across the back of the park, and stopped at the Great Gasp. Unfortunately, the parachute tower ride was taking the day off. We looked at the USA section which is in actuality the parks 1950's section, paused to take in a couple moments of the show at the Drive-In, noticed the line for the new indoor scrambler, and headed to Gotham City.

On the way into Gotham City we passed the 5th of the new rides, the new Crimewave, a Wave Swinger. Just beyond the Crimewave is Mindbender. The line for Mindbender would have been on the order of 20-30 minutes, but just as we were about to make the last turn into the station, the ride took some time off. We laughed at the themed downtime message, and were pleasantly surprised when the anticipated 30 minute shutdown only took about 15. Due to riders bailing out of line we were able to station ourselves in the back seat queue.

I just love Mindbender. The lapbar only trains, the Swarzkopf ride, the way the foliage just blends in with the ride so well, the unusual layout. Its quite simply a wonderful old ride. Going on from Mindbender, we got to Batman: The Ride.

Batman: The Ride, a ride just like many others. This would be my third Batman: The Ride. The queue stretched almost all the way back onto the midway, but luckily there were not using the entire indoor queue in the Power Station. That is fortunate, because the park does not bother to air condition the tightly packed in, sheet metal walled queue maze. How hot did it get? Hot enough that we saw a fellow park guest pass out from heat exhaustian. I find the parks lack of response to that incident, disturbing. We finally get up to the station nearly an hour later, and here is where Lo-Q needs to GO. I don't mind so much when they merge Lo-Q riders in before seat selection, but on Batman The Ride, they reserve the back two rows of the train for Lo-Q. Since one of my favorite spots on a B&M Inverted is the back left seat, I was highly disturbed. Things have gotten to the point where they have built a queue for Lo-Q on the unload side of the station.

So the train leaves the station with me in Row 6, and the normal Batman The Ride experience ensues. It's not a bad ride, but its a standard design coaster, I like to see some originality now.

We left Batman The Ride, and headed towards the front of the park. We decided the line for the Intamin 1st Generation freefall ride (That has a number but no description in the park guide) had too long of a line. Next to Freefall they have a walk through hanted house ($6). We declined the upcharge haunted house. By the Haunted House they have the motion simulator theatre, we did not inquire as to the price, but the park guide told us this was also an upcharge. Did I mention I don't particularly care for upcharge attractions after paying for a POP admission?

We walked through the arbor, where we came to the last of the parks major coasters, Georgia Scorcher. The line for Georiga Scorcher was backed up into, and completely filled the sheltered queue area, but did not extend beyond the sheltered queue area. Did I mention this sheltered queue area, is filled with strong powered air nozzles that are hooked up to an air conditioner? Why couldn't they have done this with Batman? As with all stand up coasters, we enduring the slow moving line and then I took a front row upgrade. Georgia Scorcher, well its smoother than Chang or Mantis, but it's not as intense as Riddler's Revenge (which I also find to be smoother than Chang or Mantis) It's not a bad coaster, but it just didn't do anything for me.

We exited Georgia Scorcher, and realized that we just completed a lap of the park, on a holiday weekend, without resorting to Lo-Q. I feel satisfyed already.

But now for some more rides. the queue for Gerogia Cyclone was only through one switchback in the indoor queue area (which also has the air conditioner nozzles, BTW), and soon enough we found ourselves on a back seat ride through wood coaster nirvana.

We then came around to Canyon Blaster. The line almost but not compltel filled the upstairs queue maze, and for some reason, mainly we were interested in the unique layout we waited it out. It may seem foolish but we waited for darn near an hour to ride Canyon Blaster. I know that's sad, we stooped to a new low. So we get in the seat, I pull down the T-bar, and uhoh. I can't get the bar to lock, the very helpful ride op can't get the bar to lock. I thrust down on the bar with all my might, and somehow *click*. It's not very comfortable but its locked.

The ride starts with a ride around a castle turret, then up the short lift hill, then through a tunnel filled figure 8ish set of constant curves, finally ending in the steep final hill that seems to also serve as the rides main lift hill. Wierd! I noticed the tunnels to be big and spacious, and the castle turret beginning is also large enough to make me wonder if they just didn't get around to the ride's theming yet. By the time we exited the ride, the queue was down the stairs and into the arcade. I do think its neat they also managed to fit a kiddie ride inside the arcade,.

We look at our watches, and decide to take one final spin on Superman before heading out. The line was posted at 90 minutes, and ya know what, those Sx Flags line estimators are good, they even factor in the rides downtime. For the second downtime we somehow got stuck right next tothe loudest speaker in the queue, right before you walk past the back brake. We stayed not only to get our ride, but also because the way the ride stopped the train did not stopped all the way up on the back brake, insted the last few rows were hanging out over thin air. What are they going to do now.

Luckily they were able to get the ride re-started and it headed into the worlds most elaborate evacuation area. I mean it looks just like a second ride station, complete with seat queues and everything. It was neat watching the track switch though. All in good time, we were on our way up to the station. We requested and were granted permission to sit in the back row. This seemed to lead to more platofrm cunfusion than was necessary but it worked out. Superman also follows the B&M Back-Left rule. I really do think these rides are designed around the person sitting the back left seat.

We start to make our way out of the park, seemingly taking the longest way possible to get to the shopping disctric at the front gate. We walked into the gift shop and nothing took our eye as the must have souvenir, though I did see shirt patterns that look suspciously like they use the same souvenir designers as Paramount Parks. I grabbed a couple park maps. SFoG's park maps are horrible, you need a high powered magnifying glass to really see it cause its printed so small. Soon we were on a parking tram ride to claim our car. We then headed to Greenivlle, SC for overngiht accomodations, with a stop past a cajun seafood restaurant whose name I just know I'm going to slaughter. Papa Dueaux??? Fired aligator, thats right, All-I-Ga-Tor for the apetizer and a whole host of seafood for dinner in generous quantity and exceptional quality. Great place.

Anyway, we soon found ourselves in a Red Roof Inn that actually still used mechanical locks on the guest room doors. That's almost a novelty these days!

See you for the conclusion in Coasterville Con '04 - Day 4
Paramount's Carowinds

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Coasterville Con'04 - Lake Winnie

Trip Report: Coasterville Con '04
Day 2 - September 4, 2004
Chatanooga, TN -> Marietta, GA

Lake Winnie!

After our longer than planned night last night, we slept in. We got our butts out of bed in time to be the first ones served at the local Sticky Fingers BBQ restaurant. We ate lunch and then headed to Lake Winnie.

We arrived at Lake Winnie shortly after noon, pulled into the free parking lot, and headed to the gate. A short time later we were equipped with an invisible ink handstamp, a green wristband, an admission ticket and a receipt. All of this for $21 ($3 admission and $18 ride pass)

We walked through the turnstile-less admission gate, where I was informed that my admission ticket had a peel off backing, and I was expected to wear it in plain sight throughout my visit. That's different.

We headed into the park and headed directly for the Boat Chute. The Boat Chute is the parks Old Mill ride, with one noteable distinction. Boat Chute still has the big drop at the end of the ride. We boarded the 6 passenger boat and soon headed into the tunnel. Its a long long dark tunnel with nothing to see, and its straight until the turnaround at the far side so its a rather uninteresting tunnel. Anyway you exit the tunnel after the turnaround a the far end and go up the funky old lift hill with its old time style life chain, then you go down the drop where you barely get wet, then you skim accross the lakes surface where you do a turnaround at the other end to return to the station. It's an interesting old ride for nostaliga purposes.

After the Boat Chure we took a ride on the Matterhorn next door, I'm not sure whose Matterhorn this is, but at leat they run it where the cars swing out and stay there for a few seconds at a time. I mean not many people run these like this. I did note the cars have locking lapbars, unlke other Matterhorns I have seen, and also have decrative sled runners on the bottoms. Neat ride, it was also interesting when we saw someone exit towards the center of the ride then try to figure out what to do next.....

From the Matterhorn we walked along the edge of the lake, looked at the big fish in the lake, and eventually would up at Castle. Castle is the parks old school style dark ride. It winds points for actually haviing a moat around the castle, and you enter over a small bridge. There was a short wait (under 15 minutes) to ride the castle. The station though has an outer space theme, and soon we were going inside. Its your typical dark ride experience but it appears to be well maintained

After leaving the Castle we headed further around the lake and came upon Wild Lightning. Wild Lightning is the parks wld mouse coaster, and is it a doozy. Absolutely no brakes active on course until the ending brake runs, hairpins turns taken at a good speed, and then the lower level has some insanely strong laterals. Single riders must sit in the designated side of the seat. Wow.

We then walked over to the Cannon Ball, Cannon Ball was running only 1 train today, the blue one. Go North! (user mentally pulls out his blue Dixie Stampede flag to take on the ride) Anyway today the line would, at most just hit the bottom of the ramp, which is 2 maybe 3 train wait at most. Cannon Ball has a very classic station with 2 stop loading, simple entrnace and exit ramps, skid brakes, manual brake lever operations. (And the brake levers appear to have a junction wired to them with the lap bar controlls), then into the train, single position buzz bars, nice seat cushioning, and long individual seatbelts.

We took a back seat ride, then a front seat ride. The coaster runs fast, the coaster runs incredibly smooth, in fact when the train goes up on the skids in the brake run, you can hear wheels spinning well after the train stops moving. However, the laterals and airtime just don't seem to be there in large quantities, I mean yes there is some artime on the ride, but the problem for me, I guess is that the ride profile is just too similar to Screechin Eagle, so Cannonball is unfairly put into a position where it must compete against my memries fo the insane Eagle. Don't get me wrong, its a fine old wood coaster, it just doesn't have the action that I like to see in a wood coaster. (It could also be suffering due to recent Thunderhead rides....) In the end of course Cannon Ball has one big advantage over my memories of my beloved Screechin Eagle: Cannon Ball is OPEN and OPERATING and I am here to enjoy it. The only rain of the day was a short sprtiz during the second Cannon Ball ride. The park seems to now know where it is, as it calls itself as being in Chatanooga, TN, when legally it is in Rossville, GA. They took care of this ont he coaster, at the apex of the lift hill they fly the American flag, on the bent before the apex they fly the Georgia flag, and on the bent after the apex they fly the Tennessee flag.

But lets see the rest of the park first, shall we?

Right next to the Cannon Ball is the Fly-O-Plane. This appears to be the last Eyerly Fly-O-Plane left in existance. Good Riddance! The ride features 8 miniature aircraft on a spin ride center. The ride starts and a cable pulls the aircraft off ther ground into flying position, then somehow releases the tub lock. From there, in theory you can use a sterring wheel to control the wings of the aiircraft, and with skill perofrm aerobatic manuevers. The tub has two steering wheels bbut both are tied together. Okay, I boarded an aircraft to take a solo flight, and positioned the lapbar where I wanted it andpulled the door almost closes so I could see where on the ladder rungs the bar would stick through. Seemed reasonable. Nope the op shoved the bar down as hard as he could, then closed the door. Yelp, I don't think I have ever seen an Eyerly lapbar go that low on the ladder rungs with me in the tub. I was expeiencing slight discomfort before the ride even began.

Then the ride started. My first attempt at a barrel roll was a huge mistake, Once I got the tub flipped halfway over, I never did get the aircraft righted again. Movint the wheel meant I got either hang straight upside down, or hang upside down at a more cofortable angle wherI could at leat not have quite aa bad of blood rushing to head sensation while I could lean against the tub side. Of course as witht he Roll-O-Plane the tubs ize I was stuck leaning against was the door, not the solid other side. I guess the tub door can take close to 300 lb.s of dead weight resting on it with no issues... I mean I tried using the control wheel, I tried manhandling the tub, but I coukdnt reach anything outside the tub I could use for leverage. I tried painfuilly tryting to shift over to the other side of the bench. So I spent a good 2 minutes or so just hanging upside down., stationary.

Therefore I got a demonstration that somehow the tun is able to right itself as you come back down to the ground, don't know how that happens but it works. And let me tell you I wasn't this happy to be let out of a ride since the Chance Skydiver. Man that sucked, comparing noted with Eric, he had about the same experience. That was a definite oncer. Man, I eagerly waited years to get to ride a Fly-O-Plane then when I finally get to ride one, man what a let down.

We walked accross the midway to the Conestoga Wagon which just completed the trip from Hersheypark. The ride on the Conestoga Wagon was fun, if brief. We tehn headed next to the Fly-O-Plane to ride the Paratrooper. Nothing much to report here, so we walked around the Cannon Ball and took a ride on the Orbiter.

After the Orbiter, a spin ride break was called, and we took a ride on the Alpine Way, the parks sky ride. Its a round trip only skyride that goes over the lake and turns around just past the Boat Chute loading area. They do have something I had not seen before, pressure pads as you enter and elave the station, if yourt feet touch the ground the ride stops.

After Alpine Way, we headed around the back of the park and did the Antique Car ride, followed by the Wacky Worm. Wacky Worm is the parks kiddie coaster. Its a popular kiddie coaster with its caterpillar like train, and lapbars that appear to only be help shut by dogclips. You exit the station, turn around, go up the lift, turn around do a series of very small dips, another turnoaround to the big drop, then a turnaround to the station. 2 laps make a ride, and you can tell the ride is very much a trailer model. I can now say I have ridden the Wacky Worm, and are the brakes all the way down the rides only real drop a standard feature?

After Wacky Worm we looked throught the parks gift shop, and looked at the historical exhbhit. Neat things were that there was once a pool where the Castle and the unque carousel on an insland now stand. The Fly-O-Plane once had decorative landing gear on the planes, and you see photos of where stuff has been moved around. The gift shop also supplied some appriected air conditioning.

Leaving the gift shop, we checked out Scatterball along the games midway. (The pinball like game where you try to catch the ball in the cup), looked in the arcade but did not see any old school arcade machjines. Then we went and rode the Genie. Genie is a Super Round Up, and maybe the only Round Up with a big fancy scenery panel behind it. It is unqiue. We rode the Round Up, then headed for the train ride.

The Tour Train takes guests on a ride around the perimieter of the park, from where we could see the ampitheater for concerts as well as a cose look at the outside of the Boat Chute. Where the train goes around the lake, you are actually outside the park, and the train passes in front of the back admission gate. Hmm, I wonder if the gate admission paid stickers may be in response to people jumping on the train as it went around the lake on the outside of the perimiter fence.

After riding the tour Train we took a ride on Pirate, a swinging ship cleverly mouned on a dock over the lake. Nice setting and the ship produly has the docrative crows nest and mast intact and proudly flies the Jolly Roger. I do doubt the ride ops claims that the ride has been here for 50 years.....

We then returned to Coaster Central where we took another Wild Lightning ride, and if though it was insane before, its brutal now. Wow, not many parks run their wild mice rides like this. We then stopped off for some hot cookies at the snack stand accross form Cannonball, where I also purchased a Frozen Coke, served in a nice size container for $1.50

We finsihed the day with several rides on the Cannon Ball, then headed towards the games area. We sat down at the derby racer next to Wild Lightning. Here I got an object lesson in game pricing. At Lake Winnie, they run their competition games for $1/play and they have all player positions filled, Major Theme Parks charge $3/play and are begging for players. I wonder who makes the most money off their games. I played and won enough times to take a nice prize home to mom Lastly we stopped in the gift shop, where I bought the park t-shirt ($10!) and some postcards.

We then had a most unusual experience exiting the park. After getting our free product sample from Band-Aid, we headed to the exit gate where we were stopped by security. As you leave they have guards stationed at the exit who are to cut off and destroy your rides wristband, as well as collect the gate paid sticker. I have never seen another park do this. Paranoid much?

We then pulled out of the lot, and drove to Marietta, GA. A travel tip, the Georgia Welcome station on the GA/TN line is passing out buy 1 get 1 free coupons for SFoG. Just a tip to you for reading to the end.

We drove to Marietta, and stayed at a nice large Motel 6 complex off exit 261, this particular Motel 6 was very busy due to current weather events down in Florida. We then stopped at Scallia's Italian Restaurant for dinner before returning to the room.

See ya Tommorow,

Next up: Day 3 - Six Flags Over Georgia

Friday, September 03, 2004

Coasterville Con' 04 - Dollywood/ Dixie Stampede

Trip Report - Coasterville Con '04
Day 1 - September 3, 2004
Pigeon Forge, TN -> Chatanooga, TN


We awoke, got ready, yada yada, and decided to use the voucher sfor a great deal at the restaurant at the Rodeway Inn. Be forewarned, unless you want the plain old 3 pancakes and a coffee, the deal is anything but. It is a raw deal, as the portions are small, the food is awful, and the prices are obscene, even with the discount. We finished our meal left and we were still hungry.

We headed out onto the parkway, and had decided that we wanted to see the Dixie Stampede dinner show that night. After all Dollywood closed at 6pm, and the Dixie Stampede website said they had a 6PM showing, that would still put us on the road by 8pm.

We pulled into the Dixie Stampede parking lot, and noticed the box office was open for business, so good sign. We walked up to the ticket counter, and the news kept getting better. For starters we could also purchase Dollywood tickets here to save us yet another ticket line at Dollywood. Then we learned that they had added an 8:30 show. Being primarily coaster people we were not looking forward to having to bolt from Dollywood early, and we consulted our shcedule and decided we could sleep in on Lake Winnie and arrive there at noon insted of 10 and everything would be fine. We decided to book the 8:30 show, and learned they had some front row seats available in section C1. Front row, center, does it get any better? So we purchased our Dixie Stampede tickets, our Dollywood tickets, and in the course of orienting us, the ticket seller informed us that the main show starts at 8:30, the pre-show starts at 7:30 amd doors open at 7:15. Gotcha, oh, and I can sell you drink tickets for $1 off the inside price, and drinks are served in a special souvenir boot mug that you get to keep. As our total was already up to $80 for Dollywood and Dixie Stempede admission, what is another $3.50 for a drink ticket for the preshow. An assortment of tickets in hand, we headed to Dollywood.

We drove the mile or so back from the Parkway to Dollywood, and soon foud ourselves pulling into the parking lot ($6). Dollywood has a weird parking lot, Its 2 maybe 3 rows that wrap around the park, and the entire first section is for handicap parking. We entered parking area B and turned right and got a space in the first row about halfway between tram stops A and B. We rode a tram to the front gata plaza., and were informed the park will run parking trams till the last car is gone from the parking lot.

We stopped off for the front gate photo, and here Dollywood starts showing its class. The photographer actaully positions you with the floral butterfly behind you. Doesn't mean we even went to look at the photo, but lets face it most parks pay little regard to the scnerery behind you for their front gate photos.

We soon entered the front gate, and as Eric noticed first, at Dollywood they have not forgotten what a theme park is about. Each associate is costumed in job duty speciic attire. Outside of a handul of parks, this is becoming a real rarity these days. The grounds are imacuately maintained and beautiful. The park is clean and well landscaped, theming is top notch.

It must be noted that Dollywood is foremost and primarily a show park. The show schedule is wide and varied and the park has show venues located throughout. Shows that last 45min. - 1 hr. are not uncommon. Rides where they exist seem to exist as an afterthought, or are there to keep the teens and children happy while the adults watch the shows and crafts demonstrations. However, what few rides they have, they have some real winners, and some real unique ride pieces.

At the front gate, you can either turn left and go to Thunderhead Gap, or go right to everything else in the park. We decided to let Thunderhead wake up, so we headed to the right. We headed up crafter's village and stopped in Dreamland. Dreamland is primarily a kids area with a foam ball factory, water sprayground, and kids playground, as well as an eatery serving kid friendly fare. What would bring us to Dreamland? Well, it's also the home of the Mountain Slidewinder, a highly unique water ride. It's a waterslide, its a water raft ride, its summer bobsledding.

The only drawback to Slidewinder is that it has all the problems associated with waterslides, including the long hilly climb up tot he top to get started, as well as having to wait for the raft before you to finsih the course. Mountain Slidewinder was sitting there waiting for riders. As there were only two of us, we were advised that each raft must contain at least 450lbs but not over 850lbs of riders. No problem, and we headed up the hillside, and we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed, and we got to the top. At the top of the hill before the line branches off to the two loading areas, there is a large scale, the readout of which is not visible to the other park guests, but yes there is a weigh in. Eric and I were easily within the operating parameters of 450 < x < 850. I had ridden the Slidewinder several years ago, and I don't remember getting all that wet, well today, with only two of us sitting int he middle of the rubber slidewinder raft, we got soaked. But the course is unqiue its a bobsled style run where the raft goes high up into the curves, and goes through tunnels, and finally has the splashdown finale.

We made our way through crafter's village heading to Blazing Fury. Blazing Fury is located at the very back of Crafter's Village. There is a lot of controversy amongst the coaster counters about Blazng Fury. Let me just say that the park calls it an "indoor roller coaster", thats the parks take on the debate. There also seems to be some confusion about the rides name, as I have heard both Blazing Fury and Fire in the Hole. The park officially calls it "Blazing Fury", but the ride uses a theme song caled "Fire in The Hole" We walked right onto the 1 train they had running and took a front seat ride. Restraints are T-bars that are manually raised and lowered much like Arrow mine ride cars. I thought I had rememered the cars being fire engine red, but it seems a mine car like motif has taken over.

The ride started and the first part of it is a dark ride along a powered track. It starts out all inocent enough, a ride through nature, then the fire breaks out, and as you listen to the theme song you pass images of the town on fire as you go up the spiral lift. At the top, the track appears to give way launching you down the first drop. Riders are treated to a nice airtime moment. Then they use the aproaching train stunt, where you are saved by a sudden twisting drop, and finally you put out the fire as you tke one final plunge into the splashdown finale. Riders on the right hand side (load side) of the train are likely to get slighly wet due a water effect along the ride. Is it a dark ride, is it a roller coaster, is it a water ride? The world may never know! (FYI: I count it as a coaster (#67) on my track record, and the RCDB counts it as a coaster, YMMV) Anyway, who is responsible for buidling this ride, I can never seem to find a manufacturer credit.

Waling back beyond Blazing Fury, we came to a dead end area that has changed since my last visit. When last I was in the area, this space was occupied by Thunder Express, an Arrow mine ride. Now it is occupied by Tennesee Tornado, an Arrow multi element. Tenesse tornado was a walk on, and we proeeded to take 5 front seat rides without having to leave the train, I guess you realize that Dollywood was not crowded at all today. The ride starts out kinda like Thunder Epxress with the turnournd through the transfer shed, and the lifthill being in the same spot. You climb the lift, make a turnaround to the right, then drop THROUGH the mountain in a tunnel. Is that an impressive first drop or what, the drop takes you right into the largest vertical loop arrow has ever created, the park even calls it the spiral loop. It's huge an impressive , the coaster goes through 3 more inversions on its totaslly smooth headbang-free ride experience. I don't knw what Arrow discivered when it built its last two multi elements, but it shows that they figured out how to make a smooth coaster. Wow. As I said we took 5 in the front, and 3 more in the back seat.

We returned to Crafter's Valley and took a ride break by watching the Wings of America bird show. Yes, they figured out how to work a song into the bird show. Its a nice bird show, and unlike others I have seen they bring the birds up the aisles for folks to get a close look. Its a well done show.

We proceeded back down Crafter's Valley and looked in various stores like the carriage works and music shop, lye soap and blacksmiths shop, stopping for a brief time to take two back-to-back rides on the walk on Daredevil Falls.

Daredevil Falls is basically a shoot the chutes ride with a long meandering aproachway, followed by a lifthill with a water curtain that shuts off just in time, and an indoor tunnel at ltop through a logging sawhouse. It rides just like a log flume, with only the one steep waterfall drop at the end. And since were in the back of the boat we recieved minimal water damage. The ride uses a loading system where the boats never stop moving. I was kind of hoping it would use the reversing turntables but its an alright ride.

Continuing down Craftsman's Valley we arrived at the train depot just as the Dollywood Express was departing the station, Oops. We imediately noticed that they use a genune steam locomotive that has not been converted to gas or propane like so many other parks have done. It's the liitle touches that make the park special.

While waiting for the next train, we looked at the Village Carousel. Shame this modern unit had to replace the vintage carouel they used to have, particularly since the older one had a ring machine. We took a ride on the Country Fair Log Flume. This log flume it totally unremarkable except for one thing. According to the historical marker, it was one of two log flume troughs used at the 1964 Worlds Fair, so its a logflume with a little history behind it. (The sign said the other trough is at Bell's Park in Oklahoma)

We then headed into County Fair and took a ride on the Swing-A-Ma-Jig, its a Chance Yo-Yo with a long cycle, and as the ride was ending the train was making its way back to the station. We made a stop through the area gift shop, and then boarded the train.

The Dollywood Express is not like most train rides, it is a 20 minute, 5 mile ride out into the woods on a real coal fired steam locomotive. Also unlike most theme park train rides, this one offers beverage service, as vendors work the train selling drinks, popcorn and such. I was, however, dispointed to learn that the train robbery show has apparently been discontinued. Its still a nice relaxing train ride, with good natural and staged scenery.

After our train ride, we decided on some lunch, after not having a great breakfast and needing to get something before dinner that wont be till at least 8:30, we stoped for lunch at Aunt Grannies. Aunt Grannies is a buffet, and at $10 is quite reasonable for amusment park food. Knowing we would have chicken for dinner, we went easy on the fired chicken, made up for it in the other three entree choices, as well as the wonderful soup and sides.

Leaving the restaurant, we knew we had one themed area to take care of before heading to Thunderhead, and that was Jukebox Junction, the 50's themed area.

We first headed to the Rockin Roadway which is a car ride in 50's theme cars. The line for this was just over the stile so with a short wait we were soon in seperate cars for the car ride. This was my first time on the Morgan car ride system. Unlike older car rides, these are ecologically friendly electric powered cars, that have the advanage of having no pedals. This means the little kids can drive these cars, especially since the park has booster seats for the kids so they can sit up tall and see over the steering wheel. Other neat touches are the working horns in the cars, along with the working 'radio' that delivers both the safety information as well as plays "Rocking Pnemonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" while you are out on the course. I really like the ride for the 'coolness' factor of it. Not to mention the control panels for the ride being located inside toolchests in the 'service station' themeed loading area.

We next walked into Cas Walker's the 50's theme gift shop. I had mentioned how well the park is themed, and I was sure I was going to spot a themeing error. Inside Cas Walkers in an old cast-iron Coca Cola cooler, advertising that cold bottled Coke was available. I pened the lid expecting the old time cooler to be stocked with 20 oz. plastic bottles. Nope, the park thought of this one to, as the cooler was stocked with the old time small glass Coke bottles.

We headed accross the 50's theme area to the Smoky Mountain Adventure, which is a relatively new ridefilm in the parks Iwerks Turboride theatre. Its a unique film that features Dolly Parton, and a crazed inventor who is developing a new 'ride' and as expected anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Okay, now that all that is out of the way, by my watch we have three hours left to devote to Thunderhead. We had observed from the train sride that Thunderhead was a walk on. The walk to Thunderhead is a bit much. As it stands now Thunderhead sits alone on a hilltop to the left of the main gate, along with its gift shop and a concession stand. The long serpentine trail eventually leads up to the ride. They are kind enough to put a test seat towards the bottom of the hill before you get clear up to the ride. At the top of the hill is the ride entrance where a second test seat awaits those who missed the first one.

As expected the ride was a walk on and double rides were ocasiannly posible. The ride would never grow beyond a 2 train wait, unless you wanted the very front or back row, and was often a walk on. So we took our first ride in the back, and yikes, with the two of us, we can just barely get the seatbelt fastened. The lapbars aren't a problem and owing to my size 1 click is all you can get.

We exited the station, turnaround to the lift, and then off the severely twisted first drop into the wildest mess of twisted coaster trackage anywhere. Except for the station fly through, you will not see anything else that resembles a striahght portion of track. Also it took physics from CCI as the ride just seems to get faster and faster as it goes along. Wow. it might not have ejector air, mut has nice floaters almost the entire course, combined with sudden directions changes. Its is just one great ride. A real winner. Especially noteworth are the GCI trains, these trains are just awsome both to look at and to ride in. They handle those curves without the slightest care in the world.

We rode Thunderhead too many times to count, We made sure to get at least one front ride in, but mostly hung around seats 2 or 11. Can't decide which end of the train is better, they are both good.

We took a walk down to the smoking area to look at the coaster, and we looked in the gioft shop, and pretty much just rode and rode until the park closed at 6pm.

We did, though have our one negative experience at Dollywood, and even it was just a minor inconvenience due to the small crowd. It seems the concession stand in Thunderhead Gap was closed, and the next closest place we saw to get soft drinks was on the other side of the Showstreet Theater on Showstreet (clean down the hill), so it was down the hill, get drinks, then back up the hill. At least by the time we got back to the loading area our drinks were finished.

So we rode, and we rode, and we rode till they closed the ride at 6PM. Awesome coaster, then we stopped at the gift shop in Thunderhead Gap to get the t-shirts, then heaqded down to the Emporium. Some interesting noted in the Emporium. Aparently Thunderhead is on its second theme, as they had a table full of discounted Thunderhead merchanside that was deisnged around a different theme. We also noted Aunt Grannies coffee mugs. How often does a park have souviners for its restaurants?

The eixt from Dollywood is located in the back of the Emporium, and fron there it is a short walk to the shletered tram pick up area for the ride back to the car.

All said and done, I would be remiss not to mention how friendly the staff is at Dollywood. Every employee is friedly and outgoing. Could it be becuase it looked like they had adults working the rides instead of teenagers, or is that merely a coincidence. Just wait now that Thunderheadis bringing enthusiasts to the park, I expect Dollywood to get more attention for being a clean, friendly park.

It may be $45 to get into Dollywood, and maybe they only have 3 coasters, but you get what you pay for in terms of quality of theming, park cleanliess, friendly and outgoing staff. and for those that like shows, top notch park shows.

So we left Dollywood, and drove the 1 mile to Dixe Stampede. At the 6pm show was in progress we parked in back of the theater. We had arrived around 6:45, and used the time to make some phone calls, and then look at the various horses on display in the paddock behind the theater. We were surprised to actually see animals inthe paddock witht eh show going on, but we noticed they were saddled and ready to go so they must bring them in and out as needed. Around 7:00 or so we asked the hostess in front of the ticket area and were told we could enter the building and wait in the lobby. While you wait for the show to start they have a lobby with benchs, restrooms and of course a gift shop.

What I am about to detail may give spoilers out about the show, you have been warned, if you only care about amusement parks, you can stop reading now, and wait for the Day 2 post. I observed the show both from a show standpoint as well as operatinally. Operationally this is a highly organized well choreographed operation.

At around 7:15 an annoucement is made that guests holding tickets can make their way to the Carriage Room for the pre show entertainment. The entrance for the Carriage Room is in the gift shop. As you enter the Carriage Room they tear your tickets, then as you neter the carriage room they have two lines where they take your photo standing up against a lime green wall. Operationally they have a slot on the wall that holds your ticket stub. All the easier to find you later.

After posing for your souvenir photo you go into the Carriage Room which is a saloon with a raises stage in the center, and rows of tables on the floor level, and rings of seats around the balcony up above. Along one wall of the saloon is bar, and if you just take a seat they have cocktail watresses ready to serve you.

We took some seats with a good view of the stage, and looked at the drink menu on the table. Alll the drinks in the Carriage Room are non-alcoholic. They have a wide selection of mocktails, forzen drinks, and soft drinks, along with roasted peanuts and popcorn for sale. As you are in the Carriage room for nearly an hour, and witht eh band only playing the last half hour of that, the first half is taken up with taking souvenir photos and serving drinks. It should be noted that almost everybody gets a drink. We used our pre-purchased drink tickets and each recieved the imitation cocktail of our choice in our souvenier plastic boot mug, which we can take with us. They have recorded music they play during this time.

Around 7:40 or so, "Wild Oats" the house band comes out and perfomrs some comedy, they perform some music, they have a sing along, while they tantilize you by going over the evenings dinner menu, they have some audience participation, they announce birthdays and aniversaires, weddings, and other special annoucements. During our show they announced a soldier who had just returned from overseas and was spending his night at the Dixie Stampede. He got the largest applause of all the anouncements. The preshow time just flies right past once they get started.

Around 8:15 or so, they invite everybody on to go up to the balcony of the Carriage Room and wait behind the red curtain. Moments later the curtain is opened, and the doors behind it open up to admit you to the arena, The doorways are marked for which sections go through each door, the you follow along till you get to the indicated aisle, then down to your row. Your assignment, in our case C1 is your table assignment, and the tables feature a long bench seat on one side, so that everybody faces the arena bowl, in addition the tables are tiered so everybody gets a nice clear view. In front ot the table is a walkway for the servers and performers.

In case you didn't know the Dixie Stampede is a friendly rivalry between the North and the South, and when you purchase tickets they will let you know if you are sitting on the North or South side of the arena. The servers on the North side wear blue, the South wear grey, and are kinda dressed like civil war soldiers. While waiting for the show, the servers welcome each guest indivudually, and take drink orders. Inside the arena soft drinks, tea, water, and coffee and cold drinks are served in mason jars, and are included in the admission., Also while waiting for the show, you will get visted twice, once by a person selling flags so that you can enthusiastically cheer on your team with a team flag. ($2) Yep, I bought one. The other visit is from the souvineir photo people who offer to sell you a handsome souvenir folder featuring two photos, one of you in the Smokey Mountains, the other of you at the Dixie Stampede. Its the same pose, performed through magic of chromakey. We declined the photos, which retail for $20.

When you sit down, you have your mason jar and coffee cup sitting in front out you as well as a plate with a soup bowl sitting on top of it, to the side you have napkins with a souvenir menu printed inside it. On the leading edge of the table is a rack with condiments.

As the show starts at 8:30 you only have your beverage. Don't worry the serving of the food is is integrated into the show.

The show starts witht he new for 2004 addutuon of the Buffalo stampede where real buffalos stampede into the arena floor, but right on cue peacefully sit down on the arena floor. Then there is some introduction as to what is going to happen tonight. Noteworthy is that you get the bad news that there is no silverware in the building. You are to drink your soup and eat with your hands. The good news is you learn that audience participation is welcome, any everytime you hear the word Stampede! you are to stomp your feet, and generally cheer your side on and have a good time. You meeet the color guard and soldier regiments for each side as they prform a 'drill' on the arena floor, both garnering support from their side, and welll as taunting the other side. There is some team spirit building.

After that they show some trick riding, including weaving around flaming post, and finaly with one person jumping a horse through a ring of real fire. They have comedy magic with an audience volunteer.

Along the way they do a song and dance number about suppertime and southern cooking. Yep, thats when the servers start serving the meal. They start on the ends and work towards the middle and right on cue they strop dropping things onto your plate. First the ladle Cream of Vegetable soup into your soup bowl, and drop off a biscuit, then they come around dropping off the whole roast chicken, then the BBQ pork loin and HErb baked potato, then they drop off the corn on the cob. s you realize it is all food you can easily eat with your hands. It helps that the soup bowl has a handle so you can hold it like a mug to drink it.

As you eat dinner, thats when the North Vs. South games begin, and thats when dinner becomes distracting becuase you are tyying to eat and watch an arena floor of activity all at the same time. I liked the Southern Bell number when they had the set lower down from a pltform on the ceiling. But events are stuff like horse racing, pig races, chicken chasing (with audience volunteers), hobby horse riding (with tricked audience volunteers), ostrich racing, toilet seat horseshoes (where Eric was the duped audience volunteer, but hey he got a souvineer medal for being on stage at the Dixie Stampede and winning his event. Don't tell Eric but those medals retail for $3.99 at The hobby horse people got it the best, as that skit came right after they had dropped off the survey cards, they say that the number one request on the surveys is people want to ride the horses. So they got 8 people out of the audience, and they brought out 8 real horses, and got these people worked up thinking they were going to ride a real horse, but then they brought out the hobby horses which were actually behind them when they told them to "Look around and pick out a horse" Later on in the meal they drop off to-go bags if you couldn't finish your meal as well as damp towels. Towards the end of the show they drop off apple turnovers and cofee.

As people from each side win events a giant flag gets posted on the railing for their side along with a big medal. Team with the most at the end of the show wins. The last event involves the entire audience, as they take the five larger flags and start one down each row, when it comes to you you have to stand up and hand it to the next person. First side to get their flags all the way accross their side, in all 5 rows wins.

In the end though there is no North and no South as Dolly Parton explains in a video they show that leads into the big patriotic finale where they ride in with horses carrying large American flags wearing light up costumes, and perform Doll';y new patriotic song, and close out with America the Beautiful. It's your over the top jingoistic heart warming tear-jerking patriotic number, and the act they show in their television comericals.

After the finale, the servers come around soliciting tips, as the MC says "Now don't forget to show your appreciation to the people who served your dinner" You then exit out onto the veranda, and down the stairs back into the gift shop.

All in all, I really enjoyed it, its was a great fun filled show, a wonderful dinner, and just watching the timing required to get it all to flow so smoothly. Yes it can be expensive, but a wonderful time was had by all.

After the show we started the drive to Chatanooga, TN, but took a slight detour when we saw signs for the Severville County Fair, we must have got there just as it closed cause people were still exiting the parking lot. We could see a Kamikazee, Pharoah's Phury and a ferris wheel, but that was all we could make out.

We then started the long drive to Chatanooga, TN, eventaully checking into an Eccono Lodge just off the Lake Winnie exit at about 1AM.

See y'all tommorow for Day 2

Day 2 we visit Lake Winnie!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Coasterville Con '04 - Pre-coaster activities

Trip Report: Coasterville Con '04
Day 0 - September 2, 2004
Cincinnati, OH -> Pigeon Forge, TN

"Getting there is half the fun, come share it with me" - or "Planes, Inclines, and Automobiles"

Editorial Note: Day 0 does not contain any roller coaster action, but it does include a couple rides, and stops at defunct and or closed amusement parks. For those only interested in coaster thrills, you may want to start with Day 1. Reports for days 1-4 will be posted as I get around to writing them.

And on with the show.....

Over the course of Labor Day Weekend, Eric and I decided to take another one of our infamous roller coaster riding expeditions. The destination this time, Smoky Mountain Region. The host parks for Coasterville Con '04 were Dollywood, Lake Winnie, Six Flags over Georgia, and Carowinds.

As Eric is currently living in Charlotte, NC, the first order of business was to get myself to Charlotte. The kind folks at Delta took care of my air travel from Cincinnati to Charlotte, and after a non-eventful flight and a couple Egg McMuffins, Eric picked me up at the pick-up area of the Charlotte airport.

We immediately drove towards Pigeon Forge, TN, and experienced some minor rain that lasted to just about Ashville, NC. Quick stop for Chik-Fill-A in the truck, and before we knew it we were pulling off onto Rt 19 into Cherokee, NC.

Rt. 19 goes through Maggie Valley, NC, which was once home to the quirky mountain top amusement park "Ghost Town in the Sky" Unfortunately Ghost Town closed a season or so ago, but we could still see the front gate. We pulled into the parking lot for GTiTS, noticed the big sign had been covered over with a sign advertising that the park is for sale and gave a phone number. Driving past the ticket plaza the "Ghost Town in the Sky" signage is still there, and an incline car sits in the station, looking like its ready to welcome guests to the park. Since it is a mountaintop park, there isn't much more to see other than the front gate plaza, so we were soon back on the road.

After some windy roads through the mountains, we came to the Cherokee Indian Reservation, which has Santa's Land. Santa's Land is a christmas themed kiddie park, that has the Rudicoaster. The Rudicoaster is a custom themed Zamperla dragon. We pulled into the lot to discover a closed park. This park was not on our plans, but since were driving right past it we pulled in and looked at what one could see from the parking lot.

Driving further through Cherokee, we passed Cherokee Fun Park which is an FEC that appears to have a small kiddie coaster, we just drove right past. Leaving Cherokee, we started on Rt 441 through the Smoky Mountains. Now this was an adventure thrill ride due to heavy fog, up near the summit (Clingman's Dome) we could literally not see the road ahead of us. Coming out of the mountain we drove through Gatlinberg, were we saw no life at Gatlinberg (No) Fun Mountain. I had been to (No) Fun Mountain before, hence its name. We soon arrived at Pigeon Forge, TN and checked in at the Rodeway Inn.

After getting settled into the room, we searched for but never did find the former site of Race World and "Thunder Eagle". We wound up eating at "The Chop House" then pulled into the lot at the Nascar Speed Park.

Nascar Speed Park is a big FEC dedicated to Nascarts. We walked through the front gate turnstiles (free admission), and proceeded to take a walk around. The clubhouse contains a large arcade and one of those deluxe silicoln speedway racing simulators, outside there are about 7 different go-kart tracks of all descriptions, from kiddie tracks, to expert. The park looked fairly empty, and we noted that most tracks were 5 tickets. At the far side of the park we encountered a gift shop that also sold ride tickets. After wading through the complex pricing options. (They have a mechanical ride wristband ("Thrill Zone" = but its all kiddie rides), and a Go-Kart wristband (that does not include all the tracks)

We disocvered that the Kart wristband was $25, which did not seem that bad, till we asked about closing time. We were told the closing time was 8:00, we looked at watches and learned it was 7:30. We decided not to partake of the attractions. We did look at the kiddie rides which included a nascar themed kiddie coaster, a nascar themed double deck carousel, and a sports car themed Rocking Tug.

We made our way back to the truck, and headed back to Gatlinberg, TN.
Gatlinberg and Pigeon Forge are part of the Smoky Mountains resort area that is quite popular, and with it has come all kinds of novelties and attractions, including just about every tourist trap. After crusing the strip we searched for some cheap parking, we passses up the $10 and $5 lots, and finally decided on a slighly off-strip $4 parking lot. We walked up the main strip and decided to ride Earthquake: The Ride.

Earthquake: The RIde (by International Studios) is a dark ride located on the strip. From the outside it does its best to look like the famous Universal Studios attraction. You enter a subway station, you board a subway train, the train moves forward and you experience an earthquake, amongst other gags. Gotta love the mankins waiitng in line to give the impression that there are always people waiting to ride. We purchased tickets for $8.50 each and proceeded to the subway platform, there we boarded the subway car. There are maybe 5 rows of 2 seats, each with a seatbelt. Its quite an intertesting dark ride, as instead of having one continuous track, it 'shuttles' back and forth, but different stunts fire on each pass forward and back. Its a neat way to have a longer ride but in a real tiny space. It has the train coming at you, it has water pouring in from the sides, it has the crated gorilla that comes free, it has a section of trick track that DROPS when ythe ride vehicle passes over it. Did I mention the crude motion bases on the seats. Okay all the seats can do is tip forwards and back, but its a neat added effect. Okay, maybe not worth $8.50 but its still a real neat dark ride.

We meandered around and after heading down a side street found ourselves at a nice earlily lit Victorian house dubbed the Mysterious Mansion. We walked up the front steps and into the front hall, from there we learned that our pogress to the parlour was blocked by a turnstile, and a person selling tickets. $8 each later we were being ushered into the parlour. Mysterious Mansion is a combination between a fun house and a haunted house. Yes it has several mechanical haunted house pop up stunts, and one or two live actors, and has a lot of the same tableaux that cn be seen at haunted houses throughout the land. It wins some points for the cleverly disguised 'creaky floorboards' that act as triggers for the stunts., as well as the fun house style rooms, with secret passages, hidden doors, a hall of doors with 10 doors, only one of them leads to the rest of the haunt. and a trick balcony that tips downward when you step on it. It's not a bad haunt.

We came back to the main street, and priced Ripley's Haunted Adventure, it was a bit pricy at $13, and besides I had recentlty been through it. We did notice a change in the ballyhoo. The haunt used to involve guests riding from the street up to the haunt on a "haunted elevator" (Okay, realy an incline), that shook, and made all kinds of noises, and on its first attempt up 'fell' back down. The incline is still there, but the part where it falls back from from about halfway up back to the lower station is gone. We soon returned the car, and after having a Cedar Point conversation with the parking attendant (Eric has vanity plates), we learned the older genlteman's favorite ride at Cedar Point is the Giant Wheel.

We were on our way back to Pigeon Forge when we stopped off at Hillbilly Golf, parked in there lot for free, and $8.50 each later we were heading for a game of mini golf. Ah, but there is something unusual going on here. The two mini golf courses are located up in the mountain, requiring riding an incline railway from the ticket booth up to the courses. Watch which side on the incline car you exit on as the courses are located on either side of the incline track.

I had played the right course on my last visit, so this time we played the left course. Hillbilly golf is not a real challenging course and involves such hillbilly obstavles as an outhouse, or a moonshine still, or big barrels, or farm implements, or a conestoga wagon. Its a thmed course thats low on challenge. To wit Eric and I finished with only a 1 point difference (41 to 42 over 18 holes) I can proudly claim victory in the mini golf competition of Coasterville Con '04. Its also a terrain course, where over the course of 18 holes you work your way back down about halfway. After the 18th hole, you come to an incline station where they will take you back down to street level. We also noted they have a gravel path leading fromt he incline station that meanders its was down to the street.

After our round of Hillbilly Golf, we returned to Pigeon Forge, TN for some Go-Kart racing action. We pulled into this place, I think it was "Smoky Mountain Speed Park" which looked to have one wicked mess of elevated track. They do have a tangled web ov elevated track, but it is three tracks all intertwined. $15 for the three track ticket and we were off and racing.

We did the middle track first which is a traditional serpentine track, albeit with some nice airtime hills, that is built above the plain oval track immediately below it. To get to the track you have to drive your cart up a single lane narrow ramp, then follow the signs. At the end of the race you drive your cart back down that same narrow ramp. It's an interesting quirk, and the couorse was quite fun.

We next did the plain oval course, (Yawn!), and finsihed up on the course nearest the ticket office. This course lookedd demented but at first it didn't seem it, you first race up a 40' helix, (boring just hold the wheel in the same spot), but then you make a quick right, then a left, then you do a 40' drop while negotiating a hairpin turn. Its EVIL. They also gave us a door prize ticket to check at Startracks.

We drove down to Startracks and learned we won a free go-kart ride. Startracks has one adult course, that looks like it can be reconfgiured to a plain oval in bad weather, or a serpentine course outside in the summer. Luckily they had the full track open, and we soon boarded what were advertsided as 40MPH go-karts that required the signing of waivers. After an extra long ride, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the real start of Coastervilll Con, the pre-show entertainment is over. Note to those who stay at the Rodeway Inn, the Coke machine sells cans for 75 cents, the bottled water machine has 20 oz. bottles for $1, and if you look towards the bottom of the selections, it has Coke products in it.

See ya in the next post!

Day 1 is Dollywood and Dixie Stampede.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Hello World

Hi, I'm David Bowers, and I am just typing this to get things started on my new blog.

Stay tuned for amusement park trip reports, comentary of current events, or whatever strikes my mood.