Rex and the Beast took our first trip of 2012 this past weekend to experience the season opening of Dollywood and the grand opening of Wild Eagle. It was a rousing success.
I (Rex) flew in to Nashville from Denver and the Beast drove down to Nashville from Kentucky, where we were able to hook up and head east toward Pigeon Forge. We drove down Friday morning and, after confirming with Barry aka Keys that he would be meeting us at the Hampton Inn and Suites, we cruised into Pigeon Forge.
After all of us finalized our season passes (as Friday was the preview day for season passholders), we all headed for Wild Eagle to get our first taste of the “winged coaster.” We should mention that the season pass processing at Dollywood was as good as any we have ever seen at a park. They were cruising people through the picture line and pass line as fast as we have ever seen—so kudos to the season pass team at Dollywood.
We at RexandtheBeast.com were a little bit skeptical of how good Wild Eagle was going to be. Although we expected that this would be a good coaster, we were afraid that this would be a little disappointing overall, for reasons that we can’t really articulate. But clearly both the Beast and I felt the same way, because as we were heading up the first lift hill, the Beast turned to me and said “what do you think” and my response was “I am prepared to be disappointed” and the Beast agreed. This feeling had become even more pronounced once we had seen the great themeing of the outside of the ride/queue line. The eagle sculpture in front of the ride is spectacular and the general theme of the building and queue is that of a national park lodge with plenty of wood and stone and it looked great. Now it may sound odd that since the ride exterior looked so great we were afraid of being disappointed, but we looked at it as further increasing our expectations—expectations that we thought it couldn’t meet.
We were wrong. The concept of sitting on the wings of the coaster really added to the neat unique feel of the ride and we found the diving and swooping of the ride to be exciting and exhilarating. The Beast and I (and Keys) both thought it was a great ride and a great addition to Dollywood with no real slow spots in the ride. It is on the short side—which makes it all the more important that there be no slow spots, and there are not.
After enjoying Wild Eagle on the preview day, we decided to hit Thunderhead. As great as we always thought this ride was, it felt like that had cranked up the EV (Exhilaration Value for those of you new to RATB) on Thunderhead. The Beast, Keys and I were literally laughing our heads off and the speed, airtime and intensity of the ride kicked us all over the ride. As great as Wild Eagle is, this is still the best ride at Dollywood. In fact, on the way home, the Beast and I started discussing the rides and rating them on overall rating and EV rating and we both ultimately agreed that as close as it is, in both overall rating and EV rating, the top three rides are:
2. Wild Eagle
3. Mystery Mine
So after enjoying the preview day, the Beast and I decided to enjoy a few of the local Pigeon Forge attractions before opening day on Saturday.
Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride
As fans of RATB know, we devoted an entire Anatomy of an Attraction to this ride in Pigeon Forge, and it is one of the most bizarre rides we have ever encountered, so of course, we had to give Keys the opportunity to experience this. After riding it (and creating a great video which you should be able to see at some point), Keys agreed with us, this is the craziest, most bizarre ride imaginable. It defies description, it certainly can’t be called good—but if you are a fan of dark rides, you have to at least try it.
The first attraction we hit was a new attraction that we saw called the Tomb. This ended up being a bit of an interactive puzzle attraction where you have to solve certain types of puzzles to help the Pharaoh find his final resting place and get out alive. It is guided (a shout out to our guide Amanda, relatively new on the job, who did a good job), and the guide gives you subtle (or not so subtle based on how you are doing) hints as to how to solve the puzzles. Our friends at ThisisaClue.com would have liked this attraction.
So, we went through the different rooms and did what I think is a pretty good job of handling the puzzles and ultimately made it out alive. Pretty neat attraction, but we are afraid it may not be a long-term attraction for Pigeon Forge. We just think there are too many tourists that will find this too difficult and not interesting enough for the money. But, RATB really enjoyed it and if you are in the area and like puzzles, give it a try.
The Beast and I then went to the MagiQuest for our first time to try this technology. The way this works is you get a wand and enter into the fantasy world where you use your wand to get gold, get runes, have adventures, etc. As we were getting the instructions as to how to use it I was thinking, this is not going to be that interesting…but once we got into the “forest”, the “village”, the “dragon’s lair” and all of the other places, we had an amazing time. This is something we will clearly do again. Hopefully next time the Beast will be able to keep up with me on all of my runes, but we will see how it goes. We then tried the mirror maze, which was pretty good—I even split at the halfway mark—but the Beast was able to get all the way through it.
Opening Day at Dollywood
So, after the great Friday in Pigeon Forge, it was time for Opening Day at Dollywood, the Beast and I got there at the crack of 10:30 and had a wonderful ride in on the trolley—with some great additional riders on the tram who believe that flatulence jokes really are a great way to start the day!
Once we hit the park, while we were waiting on Keys, we went to check out the Q2Q system that Dollywood uses (its equivalent of the fastpass or express pass). This system is an electronic beeper type device that you can attach to your belt loop or jacket and allows you to scroll through rides and pick the one you want to ride next (and bypass the main line). You can only pick one ride at a time, but the times were always really close to the actual time (the longest time we had was about 35 minutes from the actual time –most were within 15 minutes). This was a great system (up to 6 people could be placed on one device $15 per person) and at a park the size of Dollywood it worked great, I just don’t know if it will work at larger parks (which may be why they don’t use it).
So we hit Wild Eagle, Thunderhead, Mystery Mine and of course, the Beast’s favorite, Blazing Fury, as well as a great meal at Granny Ogle’s Ham and Bean’s Restaurant (a sausage platter that was part of the Festival of Nations). We even got to see Dolly herself in the parade—and she looked exactly as she looks on TV.
Overall, this was a great trip, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Beast and I got to listen to the entire top 40 countdown from this week in 1981! I am a huge 80s fan, but that was one rough year for music (although I do love Bette Davis Eyes).