July 9th, 2022 – Steve
This was the day that made very little sense and really went against our better judgment. We knew we bit off more than we could chew yesterday, but we had a backup plan and we pretty much knew we would be implementing it, but Today, we had just knowingly planned far too much.
We originally had pretty much the perfect plan, we would leave Maggie Valley and head out to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and slowly make our way towards our next destination, Atlanta Georgia, but with the continued lockdowns scuppering our trips and continued research and knowledge of the area, we realized nestled away in the Smoky Mountains Valleys was a certain theme park Belonging to everyone’s favorite Country Idol.
We also noticed this Park had repeatedly come 2nd at the Golden Ticket Awards (basically the Oscars for Themeparks) for the best themepark in the world…these sorts of accolades and the chance to visit Dolly’s very own themepark was just too good an opportunity to miss, so we shoehorned the side trip in an headed over to Dollywood!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We woke in Maggie Valley, and the evil storm of last night had dissipated and the sun was shining, giving the valley quite a different feel from last night. We saddled up and headed off bright and early as Dollywood was on the other side of the Great Smokey Mountains. So the first order of the day was to head up the great Smokies and take in some of the incredible scenery.
However, the weather had other ideas. As we headed back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first leg of this journey, things were ok. It was dark and foreboding but patches of cloud and mist were rolling over the distant peaks and the scenes were bright blue. If we ever wondered how the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains got their names the scenes before us, said more than words ever could!
Unfortunately, this is where the good weather ended, and as we climbed up into the Smokies thick low clouds and rain obscured all views, and the bright morning had turned dark again, literally.
We crested the summit of the mountain and headed down through the heavily wooded valley on the Tennesee side and the thick, cloud and dense forest meant we needed full headlights to safely navigate the road, Things were also getting really busy and the poor conditions were not deterring folks from visiting America’s most visited National Park.
Once off the mountain and into Gatlinburg conditions started improving, the rain eased and the cloud base lifted slightly. As we followed the Little Pigeon River towards Pigeon Forge the conditions were improving slowly, making the hopes of a dry day at Dollywood more likely.
We headed straight to the park and the weather had now lifted enough that it was dry and bright, and HOT. It was only 9:15 am but it was stinking hot and really sticky with 95%+ humidity.
As our time was limited at Dollywood, we had paid for the upgraded Timesaver passes. Really we were unsure just how busy the park would be and how useful the passes were but we couldn’t be standing around in 30+ minute queues if we wanted to hit every ride! These had cost us $70 for the 8-ride Timesaver pass, enough to get us on every ride without queueing.
In the end, we did not feel it was of great value. At least for the time, we were there. Queues were really low and for the first two hours, rides were pretty much walk-on. I did 3 times on Wild Eagle in a row, on the front, with basically no queueing! As the morning wore on things got busier but it was still not what we would call busy at all and most rides still had 5-10minute queues at most. And this was a Saturday, a week after 4th July, we really expected it to be manic!
Still, we had to be sure we could quickly get on every ride as we would be heading off around 3 pm. So it made sense for us, but we think most people could just pay the entry fee and wait in the pretty short queues, getting here early REALLY works well!
We had also pre-ordered a refillable mug for $14.99 and this was an absolute godsend. They were cheaper when pre-ordered and with drinks at the park at $4 each we only needed 4 refills to make our money back (and you get to keep the mug which is a pretty cool dolly-themed mug!) we ended up refilling 8+ times as we shared the one drink, and still probably didn’t hydrate enough! This is highly recommended.
Back to our day and we were in the park well before rides opened at 10 pm so had a chance to get the lie of the land and try and work out why this park rates SO highly. The first stop was breakfast and we headed to the Grist Mill. They only sell one item, fresh hot Cimemon Bread. But they only need to sell one item. The smell is unreal as you walk around the park and the loaves are huge. One between two of us was more than enough and the hot, sweet, spicey bread was to die for!
Breakfast done, and a lap of the park completed, the rides started opening up.
The first ride we did was Blazing Fury, this is an indoor dark ride and is pretty tame, it has some fun fire-based Diarama’s but it’s a family ride mainly
Then we stepped things up with the Tennessee Tornado. This is a really short ride but wow, it kicks like a mule! The first drop is way more vertical than we expected and then you are wrenched into the 3 inversions. It’s over before you know it but it’s pretty intense. This certainly woke us up!
Next was Wild Eagle and this was a real surprise. It shouldn’t have been, it’s a B&M Wing coaster so is always going to be good, but this blew us away. It has a really flying feeling and after the first drop, which is really well designed into the hillside, you really are just floating around the tree tops. Super smooth and free-flowing.
There were no queues for his so we just did laps, 3 goes later we decided to try something else.
This was a great ride, it’s double launched and has a drop, making it a great experience. The first launch is fun-out of the gates, then it’s a pretty hectic course layout before a decent drop leads to more twists and turns and then a dead end in a firework barn, that explodes firing you out backward, towards the station. Great fun and not too intense.
Gazillion Bubbles Show
We then took a break from the rides to visit our pre-booked Bubble show. The Timesaver Pass lets you pre-book premium seats for most of the shows which was a nice perk, but you have to be there 15min before the show or they give your seats away!
We were not too sure what to expect from the show, and to be honest it’s a bit odd. The Main Performer does some pretty neat bubble tricks, then asks kids up on stage which bordered on inappropriate at times, then there is a mad gazillion bubble moment where the whole auditorium is filled with bubbles, this is really cool.
Then there was a laser light show with a robotic dancer who did light-saber-like tricks with the light that was pretty unique. Finally, the Bubble Machines went into overdrive again and the show ended with more bubbles than you could ever imagine. We were a bit “what just happened?” but we imagine kids would adore the show.
Back to the rides and we headed to the biggest and best ride in the park. Ranking at no7 for the best roller Coaster in the world (Golden Ticket Awards) we knew this was to be something special. But it is hard to see why from the layout and youtube videos.
The initial hill is a Launched hill climb so there is no slow clickity clack up the slope, you are just fired off straight up the hill and over the top. There is then a double drop that really gets the train up to speed around 73 mph. There are some crazy elements, such as the vertically banked turns and the repeating hump that give more ejector airtime than you thought possible, you are barely in the seat and the restraints are pretty unrestrictive.
It’s a really great ride, and getting off I was struck with the question, is that the best Coaster I have ever been on?? I am still not sure but it’s right up there! there are no inversions and it’s not crazy tall, but the vertical turns and airtime are properly insane, it’s just SO well put together!
There are still some competitors for the best coaster in the world I need to try out but this really rocked the top of my personal table. Bravo Rocky Mountian Construction!
Barnstormer is a fun swinging flat ride. It’s not the scariest ride in the park but is actually pretty thrilling when it’s right at the top. At peak times there are two swings but while we were there only one was operating. But this was fine as there was no queue and we actually had to wait for extra riders for the ride to start.
Lightening Rod is a Hybrid coaster, having been converted from a pure wooden coaster in 2020, but thunderhead is a true Woody. It also gets quite the plaudits from the coaster communities who are obsessed with Wooden Coasters. The Charm of this one was lost on us, as it was just SO rough.
This thing really did batter you around the head with some thunderous drops and turns, it crossed the line between fun rough and just plain uncomfortable rough. Kate is particularly sensitive to rough coasters and hated this, I found it okay, but it was still over the boundary of acceptable roughness. It really does clatter along, the only saving grace is the unusually comfortable seats! This helps soak up some of the worst hits!
Mystery Mine is a pretty odd coaster and is considered one of the best in the park. I was a little more reserved about it. As Kate had just been rattled to death on Thunderhead she sat this one out. The ride vehicles are short and the track length is pretty compact too. It feels like a Fairground-style roller coaster rather than a Themepark Ride, but appearances can be deceptive. The ride is actually a Euro-Fighter which is well respected and popular model
There are two lift hills and these are the terrifying verticle type. The ride has a lot of special effects and interesting elements but overall I felt there was too much build-up for not enough pay-off. The final drop was awesome, as was the barrel roll into an upsidedown hang-time loop. But on the whole, it felt like there was just not enough pay-off for all the lift hills.
Again this is less of a Ride, but it’s a MUST-DO at the park. You just haven’t been to Dollywood without riding the Dollywood Express. This is a real steam locomotive that runs on a short Narrow Gauge route around the park and up into the woodlands above. It is a real spectacle to see and a blast to ride. The Engine pumps out huge amounts of black soot and the train whistle can be heard throughout the park.
It never gets up to much speed, but it’s still just really good wholesome fun as you chug through the park and then up the hill to the wilder areas being the park. The Trains are real engines from the old White Pass and Yukon and have been lovingly restored. The narration is geared up to be pretty humorous, it’s a dry whit but is pretty funny. And remember to keep an eye out for bears you are sure to get at least a near-miss sighting!
Our last rid of the day was the Dragon Flyer. This is a newer ride, only added in 2019. However, it is more of a family coaster and not a real thriller. It’s really smooth, has some nice elements, and is great for kids who are a little unsure about the bigger rides.
And with that, we were pretty much done. The Drop Line was shut for maintenance and while we considered the water rides, we had no way of getting changed and didn’t want to be wet all day. So we used the restrooms, refilled our drinks cup, and headed out of the park, pretty satisfied we had done everything…
Well, We had just enough time for another go on Lightening Rod!
We had a real blast at Dollywood. However, on the whole, Kate was pretty disappointed. The park is a really quaint little themepark, beautifully manicured and hidden away in a drop-dead gorgeous location. It also has some spectacular rides. By any other name, it would be fully fitting of its awards and adulations. But we just felt it wasn’t …Dolly enough.
Really apart from the names and the Gift shop, there is nothing to remind you at all this is Dollywood. Even the music, on the whole, is just modern Pop. While we didn’t expect non-stop dolly playing we thought a little bit of country would go down quite well.
The theme is definitely Tennessee country through and through and it’s really nice, but we just thought more of a slant to the Country legend would not go amiss.
The Time Saver pass, allowed us to skip the small queues on many rides but we found, especially early on the attendants didn’t bother even scanning the pass. This meant that by the end of the day we had only used 3 of our 8 allotted skips! This felt like such a waste, as we had spent $70 each on them and while we had barely wanted more than 5 mins for anything, we would not have waited much more if we had not used the Timesaver. One advantage was we were basically given front row seats for any ride we wanted (apart from Mystery Mine where the Ride Attendednt was an A%%%) Which was nice.
However it was early in the day, and there was a lot of use left in our expensive passes, so we selected a nice-looking couple who were heading into the park as we left and made their day by offloading the Passes on them!
It was now after 4 pm and we now had a whopping 250 miles to cover to get to our next stop in Atlanta. We knew this was a silly plan but it was simply the only way to achieve everything we wanted to. So we saddled up and hit the road.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Take 2!
When the weather refuses to play ball and ruins an experience for us, I can take it pretty badly. We sometimes know we will only get to these places once, as we have so much of the world to see, and if the weather mucks it up, I get really disappointed. I can end up in quite a strop, as Kate knows too well…Sorry.
However, it was not lost on Kate how well I had taken the white-out and rain of this morning’s visit to the Smokies! Well the reason for this was I knew we would be coming back… real soon, like the very same afternoon!
The traffic out of Pigeon Forge was horrendous. But eventually, we got clear and the higher up into the mountains we drove the quieter the roads became. We stopped a couple of times on the way up and got some nice vistas. And once at the top, there were some great views out over the rolling Smokies.
We had wanted to visit Clingmans Dome but time was against us so plowed on, stopping a couple of times on the way down, even getting an awesome Elk sighting at the bottom.
We then just headed on down the road to Cherokee and rolled on through the North Carolina woods. There was a lot of Speed Enforcement on these roads so sticking to the speed limit was pretty essential, especially when the limits dropped for built-up areas. We also got a really warm welcome as we crossed the Stateline into Georgia and the streets were lined with Speed Traps!
Still, we plugged away at the milage, listening to our road-trip playlists, and ticked off the miles as the afternoon whiled away.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
We had a real quick stop along the way at Tallulah State Park to take a look at the Gorge and the Falls below. The main, reason for this, other than the natural beauty was the fact the Gorge was the setting for the iconic film Deliverance. There was no time to do or see much but we wanted to tick off this iconic location!
Finally, after a really long day, we started getting back into civilization. The roads were getting really busy and there is certainly some interesting driving going on nearer the City. After over 5 hours on the road, we finally hit our Freeway exit and headed right into the Center of the City. We had booked an apartment from Booking.com for our stay and unfortunately, the parking directions were pretty vague.
We pulled over to go and ask the concierge of the building for any advice, but as she was not affiliated with the host, she basically could not have cared less. She just directed us away to a distant paid lot, that was closed, as were nearly all major () indoor lots. It was now Dark, VERY busy and there seemed an abundance of homeless people around the Apartment block.
We were pretty unhappy and stressed at this point. We were trying to decipher the payment instructions on a parking lot when a helpful guy directed us to another lot with an attendant we could pay, this was great as the Pay-Online options were just not working!
At this lot that was just across from the apartment, a helpful man parked us up, charged us the $30 per night we needed to pay, and left us with the requisite ticket. We were pleased to have had his assistance and could n check in to our Apartment and find some food.
It was dark, we were tired and stressed, and there was a Huge thunderstorm rolling in…We never saw the signs stating ” DO NOT PAY AN ATTENDEDNT – ONLINE PAYMENT ONLY”, Read on for what happened next!
Finally in our apartment and we were really happy with the accommodation! The place was huge and pretty modern. There seemed an issue with the plug sockets all falling out, and the entrance hall was oddly uneven but n the whole it was really nice and very clean. It was great to have a proper kitchen, fridge, and a real seating area to sit down and relax!
We ordered some take-out from Hooters but were having issues making an online payment so decided to order for collections and pay in-store. We really wanted Hooters in Atlanta (one of the original locations) but were just too tired and beat to dine-in tonight. Take Out wings really hit the spot.
We then pretty much collapsed into bed after a really hectic few days!
Walking Total – 20,494 Steps – 10.5 Miles