So my girlfriend, Jenni, and I decided in early December that this year we wanted to try and go to some parks that offer Christmas events. We thought about Silver Dollar City, but it didn't seem like enough of a getaway being only 5 hours away from our home near St. Louis. Our next option was Dollywood, as we got into it for free for working at Six Flags. Then I got to thinking and realized Beech Bend was practically on the way! Our first weekend pick was the weekend before Christmas. We invited a few friends, but a couple days before we left, things fell through, money got tight, and everyone dropped out. Jenni and I then decided to shoot for the weekend after Christmas with or without friends.
Friday the 26th rolls around and we hit the road. We left Highland IL at 10:30 and arrived at Pigeon Forge at 7:30 their time for a total of 8 hours driving. Pretty good considering Betty, our GPS, predicted it to be a 9 hour drive. It was hella foggy Saturday morning from the drastic temperature change over the past day. Dollywood didn't open until 10am so we had a couple hours to kill. We drove into Gatlinburg and took some scenic routes north of the village until we killed enough time to head to Dollywood. We pulled into the parking lot at 9:30. It was looking pretty dead so far. We headed to guest relations and grabbed our tickets, rolled through the turnstiles, and headed up to Thunderhead Gap. It was still hella foggy.
When the chain dropped, we hit up Mystery Mine a couple times and then Thunderhead a couple times. Both are gem rides. Really nice set of coasters Dollywood has on their table. They're all very well maintained too! It seems that most parks have a couple good coasters and then a bunch of so-so ones. At Dollywood, their all top notch! Anyways, we worked our way around the park once getting in all of Jenni's credits. After a couple hours, we headed back into Pigeon Forge and booked our room at Smoky Shadows Motel. It was a cheap $45 room that didn't come with everything you would expect out of a $45 room. We napped for a couple hours, mind you we had been up since 1pm the day before, and then headed back to Dollywood for Smoky Mountain Christmas.
The lights were absolutely AWESOME. I've never seen anything like it in my life. Everything was completely decked out, detailed, and just awesome. We walked around the park twice just looking at all the lights. We got our final rides on Mystery Mine and Thunderhead, grabbed a souvenir and left. We didn't realize it until we left, but the parking lot was filled to capacity. I'm not sure whether they were into the overflow yet, but the parking nearest the toll plaza was filled. All in all it was an awesome day, lots of fun!
That night we grabbed the BEST hamburger ever at Hard Rock Cafe in Gatlinburg, walked around the shops a bit, and slammed into bed at 1am. The next morning we got up around 9am and checked out of our motel. We planned on getting to Beech Bend around 5pm. It was a 5 hour drive and we gained 1 hour driving so we had to leave the mountains by 1pm. I decided to kill that four hours by driving around the national park. We headed up 441 I think? across into North Carolina. It was hella foggy and the views were nonexistent. I still loved driving on those curvy roads. We turned around the drove back, hitting up route 73 on the way. After a ways I saw a sign for a trail head and decided to hit it up. It was a four mile round trip hike on paved trails to Laurel Falls. We walked up to the falls, took some pictures for about an hour, and walked back. Two hours killed, boom. The falls was really neat. I was glad we did something out of the ordinary like that.
So 5 hours later, we arrive at Beech Bend. The way it works, I think, is that you pay $15 to drive through some lights, park on the raceway, and play in the park. It's all pay per ride too, no wristbands. ARG! Kind of a rip to me, but I guess they have to make money and it's worth it to me. So why am I complaining... The lights were neat, unique, and a good idea for the park to do. Not saying I would do them if I didn't have to, because I wouldn't. There were about 10 other cars on the track. The park was dead as all get out. We bought two packs of 50 tickets for 9 rides on Rumbler. We had all 9 rides to ourselves. It was really special, I'll never forget it! The crew was awesome, very welcoming and considerate. Rumbler has this odd trait to it for me. It seems that no matter how much I ride it, I can't remember it's exact layout. Thunderhead seems much more twisted and intense, yet I can remember it's layout to the bone. Not so much with Rumbler. Is it just me?
So we spent 2 hours at Beech Bend. 1 hour riding Rumbler, a few minutes feeding goats, a few more sitting, a few more taking pictures, etc. We left around 8:30 and arrived back in Highland IL around 1:30.
The trip was a BLAST. It was our first trip alone so it was extra special. We plan on making the Dollywood/Beech Bend trip a yearly deal! Ending cost, $100 per person. Totally worth it!
More pictures of Dollywood and Beechbend from earlier trips can be seen here.