I'm trying a new format for this report. If you guys think having the photos near the text is easier, please let me know. I figured this may be better than having the mass of photos at the end.
After missing out on Lightning Rod in 2016 and hearing that the ride was running consistently in March-April, we eagerly booked a family vacation to Pigeon Forge for early June. The highlight of my trip was to be Lightning Rod. I absolutely loved Dollywood in 2016 and thought the only thing missing was that world-class coaster and Lightning Rod would fill that void. Well come May, Lightning Rod started having some operational issues but was open nonetheless. Then the coaster was shut down in late May and stayed closed for the entirety of my visit. As the park's staff put it, "The ride works but wasn't up to Dolly's high standards."
Seeing Lightning Rod testing consistently the first day was a real sausage tease. The way the coaster flew down that quad down and into the brake run was unbelievable. But it just wasn't met to be. While painful to see the "CD" on the app, I did appreciate the park being open that the ride would be down so I could spend my day elsewhere in the park. Not going to lie, it sucked seeing Lightning Rod down. The ride seems to be a giant joke among both employees and park goers. My dad bought a Lightning Rod hat and the employee jokingly asked him if he was the first or last person to ever ride Lightning Rod, which I think best sums up everyone's attitude towards the ride. I know I'll return to the park again someday and just hope the ride is running consistently by then.
However, I was able to get on a new coaster. Instead of riding a sexy RMC with a launch and crazy quad down, I instead got an over-cloned Zamperla kiddie coaster. Though to the park's credit, Whistle Punk Chaser fits into the area well and looks really nice. The final turn is also quite smooth which I have found can be a problem on this particular model. Being a credit whore, the allure of this coaster was too much to pass up. 2 out of 10
Drop Line was the much more impressive new attraction. I never went to the park while Timber Tower was there, but Drop Line's placement is excellent. As noted in the early reviews, the views atop the tower are simply amazing. Thanks to the 360 degree rotation you get breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains and Dollywood. The tower also felt extremely tall as you reached the top. I hadn't heard much about the drop, but I thought it was really good as well. It's definitely much better than an S&S tower, but not quite on the level of a Larson/ARM tower. I'd say the drop's intensity is just a notch below that of an Intamin model. The only thing I wasn't a fan of was the restraints. The way the molded piece rested on my thighs made it impossible to comfortably ride with my phone or wallet in my cargo short pockets. 9 out of 10
Tennessee Tornado is still my favorite coaster in the park (for now). It's really unbelievable how smooth this 20 year old Arrow is and I really think the company finally figured it out with this ride. The first drop through the mountain is among the best on any coaster and has some extremely powerful airtime. The first inversion has some weird and awesome hang-time. Then the next two inversions are all about powerful positive Gs. Yes it's a short ride, but it never built up any kind of line in my visit so I was able to reride it probably 20 or so times. I also loved how the operators took a jab at Lightning Rod by calling Tennessee Tornado the fastest operating coaster at Dollywood before several of my dispatches. 9 out of 10
Wild Eagle is probably the most popular ride with the GP and it's a really fun coaster. I love the first drop and it gives fantastic air-time in the back. The vertical loop is actually pretty forceful and I love the hang-time in both the zero-G roll and corkscrew. While not as forceful as a Batman clone, Wild Eagle is a really good looper and the ride's placement on the hill makes it pretty imposing to look at. It's my 3rd favorite of the B&M wing coasters I've been on (behind GateKeeper and Thunderbird, ahead of X-Flight) and just a notch behind Tennessee Tornado in my book. 9 out of 10
Mystery Mine seemed to have caught a case of the TC and CD from Lightning Rod as it had a lot of trouble running during my visit to the park. In my first few rides, the fire effect before the final drop wasn't working. After a day being CD, the fire effect was back so maybe that was part of the reason for the shutdown? Anyway Mystery Mine is as good as I remember from last year. The first half seems like a drunk stumbling about but does include that crazy vertical drop with the ride's most powerful air. The second half is where Mystery Mine really shines. The drop is fantastic and the two inversions serve different purposes. The first twist absolutely whips you through it while the second is heavy on hang-time. Some of the tight maneuvers in the first half can lead to a little headbanging, but nothing that ruins the ride. 9 out of 10
Firechaser Express may be the park's family coaster, but I am a huge fan of the ride. This coaster is really a jack-of-all-trades. It has two launches with more kick than you'd expect for a ride of this size. Several of the ride's hills give some pops of air, particularly in the back. Then there's the shed. Instead of playing random music and giving the park an excuse to stack trains, this shed is well-themed and contains the climactic backwards launch. The backwards section may be short, but the final drop and turn and pretty wild for a family coaster. Of the park's rides, this one pulled the longest wait and was usually 40-45 minutes in the middle of the day. 8 out of 10
Once the top wooden coaster in the world, Thunderhead isn't anywhere near there on my personal list. Thunderhead has a great layout. In the front, most of the hills give decent pops of air, but the air is considerably weaker than on a CCI, Gravity Group, or newer GCI coaster. I didn't get as much air in the back and it's also considerably bumpier, so I definitely prefer Thunderhead in the front. It's a good ride, but not a great one. 7 out of 10
Dollywood also has one other coaster (though debatable to some) in Blazing Fury. Yes it essentially is a giant, well-themed lift hill but the drops at the end actually have some punch to them unlike those on Black Diamond at Knoebels. The effects are old but they are well done and the coaster is good for a ride or two in a visit to the park. 7 out of 10
Dollywood's water ride collection is also very strong. Daredevil Falls was new for me since it was closed in my visit last year. After riding it, Daredevil Falls rocketed near the top of my flume rankings and is probably my favorite outside of Disney and Universal. The ride has a great setting by the hill and the final drop is fantastic, tall and fast. Despite the ride's appearance, it also has the perfect amount of wetness as long as you do two things. 1) Lift up your feet after the boat disengages from the lift. 2) Beware crossing the exit bridge if a boat is heading down the drop. 10 out of 10
Mountainside Slidewinder is one of those attractions I am glad Dollywood has kept around even as they've grown into a larger park. Basically one of those wet/dry water slides on steroids, the Slidewinder reaches much higher speeds. Several of the turns really send the raft flying up the trough and the final drop even gives a pop of air as your descend down it. The layout is also very well concealed by the park's trees. The only real downside is the long hike to reach the loading area, but on the bright side it gives some excellent shots of Wild Eagle. 10 out of 10
Smoky Mountain River Rampage is a soaking river rapids ride and one of the better ones out there. On the first day to Dollywood, temperatures were in the upper 60s so it was reasonably cold by their standards. However, being from New England I thought it was still acceptable to ride the river rapids and just prayed I wouldn't get absolutely drenched. The rapids were splashing but not soaking and the ride has a great setting. Thankfully many of the effects from last year were off such as the unavoidable water fall and a few of the geysers; however, I was completely screwed over by the final waterfall. As we approached it, the waterfall turned off. Phew that was a close one. However, the rafts were backed up from returning to the station so in a few seconds the waterfall turned back on and there was no escaping the torrent of water. 8 out of 10
On the last day, temperatures reached almost 90 degrees. With Smoky River Rampage boasting a long line, I found an alternative in River Battle. I pity the operators that have to listen to that music all day but the ride itself does one thing very well, getting you drenched. Cranking the gun got tiring after a while, but I loved how interactive some of the ride's many targets were. I wasn't expecting them to actually do anything, but a few set off massive geysers towards the onlookers who were manning the water cannons. I still prefer river rapids rides, but this is another fun attraction. 7 out of 10
Other than Drop Line, the only other major thrilling flat is Barnstormer. This easily has the best theming of the Screamin' Swings I've been on and that theming definitely makes it one of the stronger ones out there. The cycle is short like all of them, but the strong floater air on the full swings is as full as always. 8 out of 10
Speaking of crack, no trip to Dollywood would be complete without food. In my few days there, I sampled a wide variety of dishes. I should begin with a disclaimer. I did NOT have the cinnamon bread. I don't believe in drugs. Actually I just don't like sweets so I was able to resist the bread while my family gobbled several loaves down like they had an addiction. If I survived the pitch forks for this statement, my favorite items were the fried chicken cart near Dolly's museum, a cheesesteak from the skillet place, and the kettle chips near Daredevil Falls.
I also went to Aunt Granny's Buffet and while the fried chicken is miles better than what I can get in the Northeast, it pales in comparison to the chicken I had at some of the local restaurants in Pigeon Forge. Though for theme park food it is very impressive. I did try the Lumberjack Pizza and was very disappointed. I remember hearing how good and large the pizza was, but instead I got an overpriced and cruddy personal pizza. I'll stick to Regina in the North End of Boston for my pizza fix.
It also wouldn't be a Dollywood trip report without some Jesus. They had some nice new shirts that let you show your love for the man upstairs.
Like last year, I had a fantastic time at Dollywood. With the season pass I purchased, I am strongly considering a return trip later this year to try and get on Lightning Rod provided it's operating reliably.