I really faced a dilemma this year as I had two road trips tugging me in two completely opposite directions. Option 1 was a trip out east to hit Busch Gardens VA, SFGAdv, Knoebels, and Kennywood. I have never been to SFGAdv or Knoebels before (and I really, REALLY want to), but that would have been at least a week-long trip and my vacation time at work is already dangerously low.
Option 2: A trip down to Branson (Missouri) to hit Silver Dollar City, Celebration City and then SFStl on the way home. I could do this trip in just four days (which means taking just two days off work), and all three parks would be new. Plus I just adore Dollywood, and so was anxious to visit SDC.
I suppose that, as dilemmas go, things certainly could have been worse! Still, option 2 won; and on June 2nd I jumped in my car and headed south-west on I-55. It's about 9 hours from Chicago to Branson, which is a good drive; however I couldn't resist stopping at the St. Louis arch on the way down..
This is easily the largest Photo TR I've attempted, and the first in several parts. I'll try and space them out by a few days so not to overwhelm anyone:
Part 1: St. Louis Arch and general Silver Dollar City photos.
Part 2: Silver Dollar City rides
Part 3: Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City
Part 4: Celebration City
Part 5: Six Flags St Louis
Nerd alert! I saw this gem a mere 20 minutes into the drive (I'm in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood). You can just hear the skinny 14 year old kid (with thick glasses) begging his dad to get this plate: "PLEASE DAD?! It will be SO KEWL!!". Hah .. nerds are funny :)
For those who've never been to the arch before, it is huge. I could see it poking through the trees for close to 20 miles before I arrived there. It's something I've been wanting to visit for years.
To reach the top, you ride in these little carriages, which is like a ride in itself. No, this is not a toilet, but a small barrel into which 5 people are crammed. The barrel itself rotates as it heads up the Arch leg, always keeping the occupants level (relative to the ground).
From the top (630 feet up), the view is fantastic! I'm looking south/east into Illinois.
Looking west now, over downtown St. Louis. The area immediately surrounding the Arch (beyond the park) is really in decay, but the downtown itself looks pretty nice.
My lovely little bundle of insanity looks like a match-box car from up here! (It's the silver car, second from the left)
Looking south (and slightly west) towards the suburbs of St. Louis. It was a bit of a breezy day when I was there, and up top you can feel the Arch sway.
One last look at the Arch. It's actually slightly eerie when you stand right next to it. It is so tall, but so minimal as well. Plus it was cloudy when I was there, and the clouds moving overhead made it seem like the whole arch was in motion.
After an hour at the Arch, I was back in my car for the remaining three hour drive to Branson. Actually I stopped just short (in Springfield MO), as that's where my friend Mike was staying with his in-laws. We hung out there for a few hours, grilled some burgers and Brats, and generally had a nice relaxing evening.
Sunday however, it was time for Silver Dollar City .. YAY! We were at SDC until about 3pm on Sunday, and then we were back on Monday. The park is beautiful, with trees, shade and fun everywhere you go. We spent two days here (Sunday and Monday - both from open until about 3pm). The rides are great, the food is great, and the Marvel Cave is .. well, words cannot describe it. I was really looking forward to SDC, and I was not at all disappointed by it. More parks (ie: Six Flags and Cedar Fair) need to visit places like this, and really shouldn't be shy about copying them outright.
This is a handful of photos from around the park, I'll add photos of Wildfire, Powderkeg and the Swing in part 2 .. coming soon!
Welcome to Silver Dollar City! I'm really happy to be here..
Yup, we're in the south! Although we saw a similar sign at ValleyFair, so I guess the "we're in the south" joke is not really valid anymore. Although I am Australian so I guess I can say "Yup, we're in America!".
This water clock is extremely cool. Located just inside the entrance, it is driven by water and actually tracks hours, months and years. There is no minute hand on the clock because the minute hand is a relatively recent invention. This is really a working clock too, with a mechanical speed governor and everything. Very impressive..
The park began letting people in to the central "Town Square" area up to an hour before the park officially opened. While waiting, we're entertained with this awesome bluegrass band. It was the bluegrass and BBQ week, and the whole Town Square area was dotted with small wooden signs toting facts about the two subjects.
Silver Dollar City, like Dollywood, is breathtakingly pretty. While most parks dumps down some plants between all the paths and concrete, SDC (and Dollywood) carefully place the paths between the trees. It's wonderful!
Lots of people in period costumes walking by. This fireman is with his awesome dalmatian, named Buckets!
Food is a well-know highlight at both SDC and Dollywood. I started off early with some fair-dinkum Kangaroo Jerky, strewth! (It's not a great photo, but the little white sticker on the bag actually says "Roo"!)
A very wet looking rapids ride winds its way through the woods. I'm not a huge fan of getting drenched, so I didn't ride; but it really does look like a bloody good ride.
We ate lunch at this awesome BBQ place, including these fresh cooked corn. MMmm, corn.
The Grand Exposition is the area of SDC with the most dense collection of rides (including a kiddy coaster which I didn't ride). The Disc-o however, was lots of fun. It is all exceptionally well done, keeping with the 19th century theme.
I'd never ridden anything like the Regatta before, but it was terrific. I made sure to sit on the inside, and did my best to try and break all of Mike's ribs! The op looked at us and laughed when he buckled us in, and kept laughing each time we flew by him. I think Mike might have uttered some naughty words..
The Regatta carriages run on what looks like steel coaster wheels. Credit?!
Sitting on the center console of the swinging ship is a cup of water. When the cycle began everyone started to shout "but there's a cup of water on there", but the ride-ops didn't stop the ride. Believe it or not, not a single drop was spilled, nor did the cup move one inch. Notice the kids (with their back to the camera) are eying it suspiciously! No tricks either, after the ride the op let me pick up the cup and pour the water out. He then refilled it and but it back!
A hint at the fun nature throughout the whole park... :) (Tough to see in the photo, but there is water flowing through the "filter".)
Thunderation is a really fun Arrow mine-train. Curiously they have two cars on each train installed backwards, and that's where I rode first. I've never been a fan of backwards rides, and this continued that trend; in fact it even made me feel a little ill. However riding forwards is tremendous fun.
The real draw to SDC (and Dollywood too) is the attention to detail, authenticity, and quality of the theming and all the arts/crafts. Here is a working steam-lathe, which is used to spin wooden baseball bats. This was a great machine to watch operating!
The "impossible machine". Water falls on the small wheel (lower left in the photo), causing it to turn. As it turns it drives the big wheel up the top, which is what lifts the water to drive the small wheel. This is of course, impossible.
SDC has a real steam engine, which means I just have to take a ride. I'm not normally someone who goes nuts for train rides (or the cheesy show you're always subjected to); however real steam engines are just amazing.
Everywhere you turn at SDC are these giant skillets full of fresh, delicious food. It's reasonably priced too .. What a welcome relief!
Strawberries and ice-cream is one of the nicest ways to end a meal, and served as our dessert after lunch. The strawberries were fresh, and the vanilla ice-cream was of excellent quality. Why don't other parks offer stuff like this? At SFGAm the other day, I was forced to dine on Papa Johns pizza - Shaperio should go to prison for making people eat that slop!
As I've already mentioned, Silver Dollar City is an awesome park. It's in a crazy-beautiful setting, and the theming is so good that it even challenges Disney. If that's not enough, there are some really great thrill-rides there too.
Wildfire is a B&M looping coaster that opened in 2001. I remember seeing photos of this when it first opened, and thinking about how good it looked. Built on a hillside, this coaster features 5 inversions, a really fun layout, and a great first drop. I started each of my two days at SDC with several rides on Wildfire, and it was always a great way to start the day!
This sign marks the entrance to the Wildfire area. You can see that (like the rest of SDC) it's deep within the woods.
This is pretty much the only part of Wildfire that is visible from inside the park. There is an observation deck that really shows off the ride, but you have to go far out of your way to see it. The result is that you really don't get any sense of the layout until you're on the lift. Which is just fantastic!
Theming! Theming! Theming! Wildfire is very well themed, and even something as simple as a height limit is given a fun twist.
A lot of theming is found in the queue.
Typical, ultra-comfortable sit down B&M trains. This was only the second sit-down B&M looping coaster I have ridden (the first being Kumba).
This loop is the second inversion, and it pulls some nice positive Gs at the entrance/exit, with moderate hang-time at the top. The trees in the background make it look as if this loop is about 700 feet tall!
I love a good cobra-roll, and this one on Wildfire is smooth and fast. Probably not one of the most force-full cobra-rolls I've ridden, but the hill-side location more than makes up for it.
Wildfire would be seriously dull if it was sitting in some dank parking lot, however this is built on the side of a hill. The views are fantastic! Location really does have a huge affect on the quality of any ride; so even though Wildfire is far from the most intense coaster I've ever ridden, the location more than makes up for it.
Bright!! I know a certain South Bend school teacher who would be chomping at the bit for such a hideous t-shirt... :)
I was a little worried at first, but thankfully my face did not constitute an obscene gesture!
Monday afternoon we ventured down into Marvel Cave. I knew very little about this before my visit, other than "don't miss the cave". Included free with park admission, this is a sixty minute journey, almost 500 feet underground, and covers many hundreds of steps. That's a lot of numbers!
The cave is what started it all, being the first attraction at SDC - in fact SDC grew up all around it. It was an amazing tour, and I strongly recommend it to everyone who visits the park. It was really inspiring to be down there, and I can totally see how one could find religion after stumbling into a place like that alone. Even without the rides, this would make SDC worth the visit.
The tour even ends with a cable tram ride back up to the surface; although I'd be hard-pressed to call it a credit!
I must admit that I was torn about posting the pictures .. On one hand I want to show off what an experience the cave is, but sadly on the other hand the pictures don't even come close to capturing what it's like down there.
The tours depart in groups of 60. To enter the holding pen it's necessary to step through a doorway that's about 3 feet tall - this represents the smallest passageway that is encountered on the tour.
The first cavern is the "cathedral room", and it was breathtaking. Light filtered in from above, and lit up the mist inside, it was like a scene from Zelda!
This huge form is at the bottom of the cathedral room. It's an all-natural form, and the lighting is superb.
Looking back up the way we came. I can't emphasize enough how big this cavern is, one of the largest that is known. Apparently they have had full-size hot-air balloons flying in there.
The creepy form reminded me of a cross between Alien and the Borg.
Note the water dripping down. I actually found the dank / darkness to be very comforting. Not sure what that says about me!
Can you guess? This is called the "waterfall room".
This is part of one of the largest known forms on the planet (almost 200 feet tall).
The 200 foot tall form stretches far up into the rocks.
Near the top of the 200 foot tall form. The stairs we climbed (call the huff-n-puff stairs) wound right up next to this - it was great.
Several shafts like this are visible in the tour. They have all been formed by dripping water .. just try and wrap your mind around how long it takes water to carve something like this out of rock.
So Sunday afternoon at about 4pm, we piled into our cars and headed down the road to Celebration City. I knew next to nothing about this park, so I was pleased to see that it wasn't trying to be a mini-SDC. CC is more like a county fair, with lots of flat rides, games, less luxurious theming; however it is extremely well done. There are many small parks that should use CC as a template, I really enjoyed it there .. more than I thought I would after parking the car.
The highlight of CC is of course Ozark Wildcat .. but I'll get to that in the next post. Other highlights include not just the variety of flat rides, but also how well they're run...
The entrance to CC has a small giant-granite-ball. These things are so much fun! The ball weighs some insane amount, but it's supported on a jet of water. Yes, water! The fun is that you can spin the ball with your hands. (Note the faint reflection of the handsome, young photographer..)
Inside the park, we're presented with a fairly typical "main street" area. This is home to many small food stands, and gift shops. Usually these areas are pretty tacky, however this was nicely done.
Real-life rockem-sockem robots! These are gas powered cages that people actually enter, and then punch the crap out of the other robot! It was a small up-charge, but looked so cool. Unfortunately I got distracted (Wildcat), and forgot to try them out.
The park doesn't come close to the beauty of SDC, but that's OK because it still does what it does extremely well.
Celebration City has three coasters, and Thunderbolt is the first one I rode. These are fun little rides, however the restraint really hurt me in a very .. umm .. personal area.
The highlight of Thunderbolt is this crazy dive, which is fast and forceful.
Jack Rabbit is the second coaster at Celebration City. In style this is very much like a Mad Mouse, although the layout is quite different. This is the first drop, which is a lot of fun.
However this is where Jack Rabbit sort of fails .. these turns are quite wrong. I couldn't quite place it, but the car is thrown to the left before a right turn, and to the right before a left turn. I wonder if the banking is wrong?
Aside from the goofy turns, the ride is full of little hills like these which are lots of fun, and provide quite a bit of air.
The first Double Shot I rode is the one at Indiana Beach, and that is run in ultra-insane mode. While this means that I always have loads of fun on the Indy Beach Double Shot, it also means that every other Double Shot has let me down. Boy was I surprised by this one! Celebration City is now the second place I've found that runs their Double Shot in ultra-insane mode!
In total contrast to the Double Shot story is the story that revolves around this thing. The first one I rode was at a county fair in Indiana last August. It was fun, but quite tame. This one at Celebration City is INSANE! This pulled such extreme forces that my teeth actually hurt after the ride! It totally knocked Mike out, but I took it for two more rides. None were as intense as that first ride, I guess I had just been right in the sweet-spot.
More if the minimal, yet delightful landscaping at Celebration City.
After our ride on Fireball, Mike didn't feel like spending too much time on Wildcat so he went to grab a bite to a bite to eat with his wife. I took the opportunity to return a few phone-calls. The atmosphere was terrific, with the setting sun, the rides, and all the happy people around.
Unfortunately the Ferris Wheel was closed, but I forgave it since it looked so amazing against the sunset.
However this is why I came to Celebration City. If we're going to be brutally honest I will admit that this was the main draw for me to come to Branson at all! More in the next post...
Ozark Wildcat .. what a terrific ride. This coaster is like cottage cheese with pineapple chunks in!
I know that GCI is not considered the coolest manufacturer by the enthusiast community, but their coasters really do appeal to me a great deal. I've been fortunate enough to ride 8 of these beauties, and I rate them all B or higher. I mean even B&M have had the occasional clunker!
Ozark Wildcat was running smooth and fast, with terrific laterals and excellent air. The layout is perfect, and almost every turn does that awesome thing were it pops you out of the seat right at the apex. Delicious!
OK .. I'll shut up now and get to the photos...
Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy! I could not get through this entrance quickly enough...!
I had been told "get to Celebration City before Silver Dollar City closes, and you'll have the place to yourself" ... best advice ever! Even with half empty trains, just 2 hours after opening, Wildcat was running extremely well.
Look at it!!
Air, bank, laterals, drop .. repeat.
It's as if someone scribbled on a piece of paper, and then said "build this!".
It really seems like the layout changes every time you ride.
Typical for GCI coasters, the ride crosses over an under itself a gazillion times. It totally rocks.
Once the sun went down, the ride started to pick up even more speed..! Plus some of my rides were illuminated by the firework show.
As you can see, the park didn't get all that busy even after dark. This was some of the best non-exclusive ride-time I've ever had.
Every cute, little kitty deserves a hug!
As a park guest, I am obliged to follow all signs and instructions...
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