Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

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!


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