Day 5 -- Silver Dollar CitySaturday, August 3, 2013Lesson of the Day: Figure out how early you need to wake up each morning, and set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier
. I didn't hear many rumblings of missed buses, though the only rumor I did hear was on this day of the trip, so this seems as good a place to put this lesson as any. Better to miss the bus for a 10-minute drive to a park than, say, a 6-hour drive to Wisconsin! Anyway, there's no point in risking being late, and sometimes packing up and cleaning up takes a little longer in the morning than originally anticipated. These trips aren't for heavy sleepers anyway, so why not get up early and make sure everything's ready for the day?Artifacts:
I neglected to photograph the final gift I received from SDC on Friday night -- some of their homemade Peanut Brittle, which didn't survive much past the end of the trip. I'm sure that's understandable.Scorecard:Outlaw Run SigningFire in the Hole Tour
Outlaw Run [Front]
Fire in the Hole
Tom & Huck's RiverBlast
Lost River of the Ozarks
Flooded Mine-- Lunch --
Grand Exposition Coaster
Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train
Outlaw Run [Front]
Outlaw Run [Back]
A discussion of our day at Silver Dollar City has to begin with a little bit about the weather, as it was the only time on the trip that our TPR events were impacted by rain. Several TPR members noted being woken up by hotel-rattling claps of thunder, as a huge complex of storms rolled through between 5 and 6 AM.
The worst of the weather had moved south of Branson before our departure from the hotel at about 7:45 AM. As is typical with these types of storms, they left behind an area of steady rain, which lasted through our morning hours at the park.
This may have actually been good news for us, as morning rain tends to keep the atmosphere from being able to regenerate new thunderstorms in the afternoon! After the rain cleared out, it was dry for the rest of the day. By afternoon, conditions were partly sunny -- and actually a bit warm and humid.
Before we even began our morning activities, we met up at Crossroads Pizza for a breakfast spread (including some of the park's signature frozen drinks), and got out of the rain long enough to warm up a bit. Next on our agenda was the Outlaw Run signing, which showed up unexpectedly on the SDC-provided schedule we received the night before. I wasn't sure what this meant, but it was exactly as it sounded -- we were led through a backstage area to underneath the lift hill of Outlaw Run, given permanent markers, and allowed to leave our signature.
With everything quite wet, it was tough to get the markers to work, but I think we were all successful!
Our Fire in the Hole backstage tour was next, giving us a look at the maintenance areas for the park's oldest coaster. The ride's staff gave us a lot of insight into the hard work that keeps their ride moving (and doing so safely).
To close our morning activities, TPR was provided early access to the Outlaw Run station, ensuring we'd have the first rides of the day
. The Outlaw Run crew finished work on the second train, ensuring two-train operations for the entire day. Given how the crowds would end up, that was extremely important! For my first ride of the morning, I went for the front seat with Marcel, and it was not one of my wiser decisions of the trip. Raindrops at 68 MPH feel like needles, and with my eyes mostly closed, I wasn't able to get the outstanding view of the ride I was hoping for. I knew I'd have to rectify that later in the day.
With the weather gradually beginning to improve, we all split up to explore Silver Dollar City -- a place that feels much bigger than it looks on a map. I picked up most of the rest of the credits, finding only the Grand Exposition Coaster not yet operating, as I worked generally clockwise through the park's attractions. It was during the morning that I made what would end up being my only attempt to get some of the world-famous Cinnamon Bread, finding the bakery all out of stock. It's a cardinal sin that I didn't find time to revisit Sullivan's Mill, but that's a reflection of how busy the day was. I wasn't shut out entirely -- a group of TPR members already at the bakery
were finishing off a loaf, and I did get to give it a try. Let's just say that there will be plenty of reason for anticipation when I visit another Herschend park in the future!
How can anyone discuss Silver Dollar City without discussing the plethora of dining options? It's sort of an accepted evil that amusement parks are going to gouge customers with overpriced, low-quality meals. The standard option people throw around is to simply reduce the prices -- which, let's face it, isn't ever going to happen. Silver Dollar City takes the opposite approach -- I won't say that things are cheap, but I'll say they're worth the price. For an amusement park, that's an extremely
high compliment. I barely scratched the surface of the offerings, but I did try one of the skillets, the Outlaw Run pizza, and the vanilla bark from the confectionery -- not to mention the breakfast and lunch the park provided for us. Everything was fantastic.
The rest of my morning and early afternoon was spent in a group with Matt, Andrew, Neil, James, and Ian. We went through the park's three water rides in succession, fitting all six of us on one American Plunge boat. It barely seemed possible, but we made it work. We also learned that the wettest seats in the boat are the furthest in the back -- sorry Ian!
We had a 3:30 PM meeting at Reunion Hall
(at the square near the park's entrance) for an outstanding lunch buffet, which had at least 20 different options to choose from. We were also provided with a sample of their new red velvet funnel cake, which was not yet available to the public! At lunch, we met Brad Thomas (Silver Dollar City's general manager) and Joel Manby (Herschend CEO). During lunch, those well-versed in park trivia had the chance to win a pretty rare prize -- a piece of wood use during the construction of Outlaw Run, branded by the park's blacksmiths, and signed by an assortment of SDC dignitaries. I volunteered for an easy one -- simply naming the park's coasters. I was incredibly excited to take home one of the wood blocks! It was one of my goals for the trip to win a piece of park memorabilia from somewhere
-- how could I do any better?
Six names are on the block:
* Brad Thomas, Silver Dollar City
* Casey Freeland, Silver Dollar City
* Martha Bohner, Silver Dollar City
* Fred Grubb, Rocky Mountain Construction
* Lisa B. Rau, Silver Dollar City
director of public relations
* Courtney Goff, Silver Dollar City
Yin was also a recipient of a wood block, but he got a signature from Joel Manby
to complete the collection. Why didn't I think of that?
After lunch, I went off with a smaller group (Matt, Andrew, Stacy G) to get the kiddie credit. We also took some time for photography, exploring, and a train ride -- somehow sneaking on to the final dispatch before an hour-long maintenance window. Once the train ride was done, it was time to get back to the roller coasters. Our Trailblazer Passes got us past an Outlaw Run line that was over an hour in length, and I finally got a daylight good-weather ride in the front row! What an experience that was -- one of the highlights of the entire two weeks. We rode a few more coasters and stopped for dinner at Crossroads Pizza, with light beginning to fade at about 8:00 PM.
As night fell on the park, we waited to see what would happen to the Branson crowds as the Moonlight Madness festivities kicked into gear. I'm sure the park management was even more curious as to how things would go. It ended up being an incredible success, with the park even seeming to get more and more busy as the night went on! Bands played on a stage at the square near the front of the park, and roller coaster lines remained very lengthy -- those Trailblazer Passes sure ended up being a necessity. We got night rides on a few more of the park's best -- Thunderation, Powder Keg, one last go at Outlaw Run, and my last ride of the day on Wildfire. The park stayed open until midnight, but we had to depart a little early. That didn't give us enough time for a park-closing ride on Outlaw Run, which at last check, had generated wait times of 120 minutes
! The worst part of the day was having to leave, but our trip had not even reached the halfway point, and there was a lot of ground to cover in the days ahead.
When people asked me what my favorite park on the trip was, Silver Dollar City was the immediate answer, and I'm pretty sure the majority of the tour participants felt the same way. Between Friday night and Saturday, we spent a total of almost 20 hours in the park, and it still wasn't enough time
. We had time to visit all the major attractions, but several of them were worth multiple rides. An entire day could be spent just visiting all of the shops, craftspeople, and quirky elements that give Silver Dollar City its charm. I barely scratched the surface of the amount of photography I wanted to do at the park, and never fully explored all of the trails and buildings. There's no question that I'll have to come back to this park some day, and the sooner that happens, the better. Once I resolved to make a return visit, it made my decision to skip the Marvel Cave tour a little bit easier. The cave -- Silver Dollar City's natural underground attraction -- was very high on my list of things to do before going on the TPR trip. Unfortunately, it was learned on Saturday that the morning thunderstorms had left the cave partially flooded, cutting the tour length in half. I decided that I'd rather tour the cave when I can see the whole thing in one shot and really take it all in. Between that, Outlaw Run, and the cinnamon bread I had two bites of, I have plenty of things to look forward to when I head to southwest Missouri in the future.
Though I had a pretty good idea of what Silver Dollar City would be like, the park's theme and immersiveness did exceed my expectations. Silver Dollar City was developed atop Marvel Cave as a way to give visitors something else to do while they were in the area. It's based on the crafts and culture of real mining towns in the Ozark region from the 1880s. I thought the park was a little less "wild west" and a little more "wilderness" than what I had been envisioning (though Outlaw Run fits closer to the first category). Although some of the stories have villains, and the newest coaster is even named for them, the emphasis is always on the virtuous end of the conflict. On Outlaw Run, for example, the riders are treated as the law enforcement officials -- tasked with taking control back from the namesake outlaws. At the end of the ride, a successful return to the station ensures that the good guys win the day. Silver Dollar City is as family-friendly as a Disney park, with a little bit of educational entertainment, a little bit of religion, and a lot of kindness. The staff at this place needs to be commended for never missing a beat -- from the ride ops to the store clerks and the cooks, everyone brought out their best. The park's employees were definitely an intergenerational mix -- with young adults and grandparents working together on the same ride platform.
Silver Dollar City also makes good use of its outstanding setting. In the forests of the Ozark Mountains, it's a park with a bit of terrain -- probably around 100 feet of relief from the square to the Geyser Gulch pond, and almost twice that when some of the ride-only areas are factored in. The park is nearly entirely covered in trees, providing a lot of shade. The forested and hilly nature of the park does make it a little confusing to get a geographic mental picture of, but most paths were well-marked, and it was never a significant challenge. Naturally, the views from the three major roller coasters are breathtaking during the day, with a vista over the green mountains and valleys of the region. The setting is just as spectacular at night, when it authentically feels like being deep in the forest (like on Outlaw Run's lower points) or high above the dark landscape watching the stars (like on Powder Keg's hills).
For our large Theme Park Review group, Silver Dollar City redefined the proverbial red carpet. Through their efforts, they were our best host park of the trip. That's an investment they made to us and to the enthusiast community as a whole, and look what they get for their work -- a glowing, hyperbolically-positive review of every aspect of their operations. My thanks to the SDC staff for the meals, the gifts, and their time -- and for forcing me to plan a return visit to Branson!
Though atmosphere and theme come first at Silver Dollar City, ride quality comes in a very close second. Here are reviews of the attractions at Silver Dollar City:Wildfire:
Wildfire was my third new B&M of this style in 2013 (after Dominator at Kings Dominion and Superman at Six Flags Fiesta Texas). In terms of the overall layout, I'd rank those two over Wildfire, but there's a lot of good things about Wildfire that add up to make it an impressive ride. The cars on Wildfire are sort of a cross between the standard sit-down and floorless designs. My favorite element on Wildfire was the first drop -- a rare straight drop on a B&M looper. The air in the back row was actually pretty impressive! I think everyone knows Wildfire's biggest strength -- one of the most incredible settings for a roller coaster anywhere in the country. Wildfire is on the edge of a large open hill, several hundred feet above some of the surrounding terrain, which drains to an arm of Table Rock Lake southwest of Branson. The only thing better than that kind of view is seeing it upside-down.Powder Keg:
The only seating restriction on the Trailblazer Passes anywhere in the park was for Powder Keg, which restricted use to the middle rows. I was unable to try the coaster in the far front or back, so I can only assume it would have been a lot of fun in those positions! I was impressed with this ride, especially with the air delivered on the hills in the first half of the ride. Popping up over the tree canopy is a lot of fun, especially at night. I was not thrilled with the second half of the ride, once the transition was made to the old-style track before the lift hill. Some of those track sections were rough and uncomfortable, and the lengthy lift near the end of the ride (with only a short segment thereafter) didn't help the momentum. Still, the first half of this ride is easily good enough to stand on its own.Fire in the Hole:
This combination dark ride / coaster was a lot of fun, even if it moved way too fast for me to figure out the story! The final drop into the water elicited a few screams of "fire in the hole" and a bit of a splash, which did provide some (acceptable) wetness! I read that Dollywood's sister ride (Blazing Fury) had its splashdown removed. Hopefully this one manages to keep its water in place.Thunderation:
I've been on over half of the coasters in the Arrow Mine Train grouping on the Mitch Hawker ballot, and I'm not a fan of having to lump them all together. After a couple rides on Saturday, Thunderation became my favorite mine train. It has some force, especially on the helix into the tunnel, and it uses its setting better than any similar ride I've ever been on.Grand Exposition Coaster:
The toughest credit of the day was closed in the morning, and had a bit of a wait in the afternoon -- almost a half hour. To check off a tough kiddie credit, that's easily worth it!Giant Barn Swing:
It's a big S&S Swing in a barn! These rides are fun and forceful, but this one has most of the rest beat on setting.Flooded Mine:
This was probably my favorite shooting game of the trip, with one major issue -- we were all pretty sure the scoring system was completely hosed. On my second ride, I asked a ride operator where the high-scoring targets were located, and I was told to aim for the crystals in the ceiling. I couldn't get that to work, but for no apparent reason, some of our scores shot up to over 200,000 points at random points in the ride! I'm pretty sure it's not because we suddenly became skilled sharpshooters. To no surprise, the scenery on this ride was very well done, and I enjoyed that it was a water ride rather than just cars on a track.Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train:
This train ride is a little different than most, as it features a 10-minute show (a faux-robbery) about two-thirds of the way through the journey. I thought the actors did a great job! When I looked at my GPS tracks for the day, I was surprised to see just how far the train travels to the northwest of the park -- almost a half mile from the Outlaw Run plaza area. The train passes pretty close to Outlaw Run, providing some great views and photographic opportunities.Grandfather's Mansion:
Don't go in here right after lunch. This building contains a dizzying array of mirrors, perspective tricks, and uneven footing. I definitely have this on my list of can't-miss attractions at SDC. It only takes about 10 minutes to walk through, but it's worth a lot of laughs.American Plunge:
I'd describe this as a slightly-above-average log flume, with a significantly-above-average splash. It's pretty much a guaranteed soaker for anyone near the back of the boat. There are some dark sections with a little bit of theming.Tom & Huck's RiverBlast:
This splash battle was more of a splash annihilation, with our boat of TPR members going up against a bunch of younger children. Sorry, kids. This was surprisingly simple but very fun, with interactive targets to shoot at (in addition to other riders). Riding this more than once in a row might not be advisable, as cranking the water gun can get rather tiring!Lost River of the Ozarks:
I wouldn't say that this was my favorite rapids ride, but as with most of Silver Dollar City, it has a nice setting going for it. I don't recall it being especially wet, and the big waterfall in the cave was a clever fake-out!Geyser Gulch:
This was one of the few parts of Silver Dollar City that I thought could use a bit of attention. Geyser Gulch is a large play area with two sections. The first area has water guns to shoot at targets over the pond, though I'm not sure all of the targets were working correctly. The second area is a large play structure with foam balls and guns, which looked like they'd seen better days. I'm strongly in favor of interactive play areas at amusement parks -- especially ones that are welcoming to "grown kids" like us -- so I hope that if this area stays, it gets some upkeep.Outlaw Run:
I saved the best for last, and I'm going to open with the fact that Outlaw Run has a distinct sound. It's almost like a screeching, most audible as the train screams through the turn that bisects the lift hill structure. That sound can now be associated with near-perfection on a roller coaster. Outlaw Run is intense and forceful in all directions, yet very comfortable. The tracking was so smooth that I'd often forget I was on a wooden coaster during the ride. The one complaint about the ride -- quite possibly the only negative thing anyone can possibly find to say about it -- is that it's a little bit short. I can say with certainty that it's length is the far from something I was thinking about while riding it eight times between Friday night and Saturday. There is no section of the track that provides any time for rest. The first drop is deceivingly steep -- I actually think it steepens further about halfway down. The drop is a lot longer than the lift hill lets on -- using the existing terrain, a 107-foot-tall lift structure translates to a first drop of 162 feet. Immediately after the drop, the 153-degree outside bank looks incredibly strange, but works extremely well. The barrel rolls do provide some hang time, as the train slows while passing through them -- the track is actually rising in elevation through the twists. I'm not surprised that people are willing to wait two hours to ride this. It's my favorite wooden coaster by a mile, and fits just barely behind Millennium Force for my second favorite overall.