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Road Trip: Dollywood
Jul 12, 2016
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I will fully admit to being a coaster junkie. My first ever coast (outside of those mountains that Disney calls coasters) was Hercules at Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. At the time it was held the designation as the world’s fastest wooden rollercoaster. I was drug on by my dad, kicking and screaming the whole way, and got off with the most amazing adrenaline rush a 7-year-old had ever felt. I wanted to get back on immediately and do it again, and I did.

My family and I were taking a trip to Gatlinburg and I was invited to take the short trip over to Pigeon Forge and Dollywood to check out the current world’s fastest wooden rollercoaster, The Lightning Rod. Right before we left on our trip there was a recall on a safety part and the coaster was taken out of service. I showed up anyways in hopes of it being open when we arrived. Unfortunately, it was still closed up with little to no sign of it opening up that day. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

With that out of the way, we decided to check out the rest of the park. I jumped on the Tennessee Tornado, an amazing little steel coaster that rockets you through the mountains. Then the whole family jumped on Blazing Fury, one of the original dark rides in the park. Blazing Fury is older than Dollywood itself, having opened back in 1978. It’s corny as all get-out but it was corny in that great nostalgic feel kind of way. Even though my 3-year-old was able to ride it, he was freaked out by a few of the scenes and the fact that it was a dark ride and he couldn’t see the humps before we hit them.

To help calm him down we took him to one of the many splash pads around the park. This one happened to be under the FireChaser Express. I jumped on the ride as my wife kept an eye on our little guy. What a fantastic coaster based around firefighters. At one point you get stuck in a fireworks facility that catches fire. From that point you finish the coaster backwards, a great touch that made the short wait worth it. My wife and I switched places so she could jump on and check it out after my positive review. When she returned I was talking to a family about their upcoming land and sea Disney vacation and gave them a few hints about both the parks and the cruise. Well those nice folks let me know that the Lightning Rod had run for about 30 minutes and that her son was waiting in line. I immediately went and found my place in line.

I am not a line waiter; I absolutely hate long queues and normally make fun of people who wait for hours to ride a ride. You can look at my tweets about those waiting in line for six hours to ride Frozen Ever After. But here I was, waiting for a ride that might not even open. After watching people come and go for a good hour or so, there were finally signs of life. The new employee at the door started telling us that they were testing to see if we could get on. Then we start seeing empty ride cars going along the track, then another run and another. After almost two hours we get the news that they’re going to open but only take 50 people in at a time in case they need to shut down. The doors open and I am one of the first people through.

We make it to the loading dock and I get in. I strap the buckle and get the lap bar in place. Now I am a bigger guy and the seats are tight. They’re making sure everything is kosher and my light hasn’t turned green yet. I knew it should, I tested the seat downstairs to make sure. At this point I look at the guy and tell him I am riding. He gives a quick push and I am all set, unlike a few others that didn’t quite make it. Everyone gives the thumbs up and out the loading station we go.

You quickly stop right before what you can only imagine is a lift hill built right into the mountain the coaster is sitting on. Well, it’s anything but a lift hill. You hear the sounds of engines revving only to be rocketed up the side of the mountain at 45 mph and dropped off the other side. Just after reaching 73 mph you go back up another hill and catch some major air. The 0G factor on this coaster is present all through the ride. Yes, it’s smooth but it’s still a legitimate wooden coaster. You feel the ride, not just the g-forces. In one of the corners you almost go inverted which on a wooden coaster is an insane feeling. The second I got off the coaster I was that giddy 7-year-old who has just stepped off of the Hercules. I wanted to jump right back on and ride it over and over but alas it was time to get food and get ready for the nightly fireworks display.

If you get the chance, go up to Dollywood and not just ride the Lightning Rod but take a day and enjoy the park. It’s a hell of a park and something that would fit right in here in Orlando. Between the excellent rides and the old country theming everything is very well done. I went in with the mindset that nothing would even come close to what I was used to with what we have here. I sure was wrong and I am glad I was.

About author

Profile photo of Richard Currey

Richard Currey

A lifetime Central Florida resident and long time Orlando resident I have spent a number of years blogging for other sites including the Golf Channel. I came to Orlando as a UCF student in 1999 after spending my childhood in the the Daytona Beach area. A love of theme parks, warm weather and good friends has kept me in the area I now call home.

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