Today we're taking a bit of a break from Halloween stuff to bring you part two of RD's report from the Smoky Mountains as he and RD spent one of their days in tourist trap america.
Be sure to check out their day as they ride some Alpine Coasters, see some bears and have a ton of fun.
Written by R.D. Sussmann-Dewberry
Day 2: Investigating the mother of all tourist traps...
The morning again had us awake to Tennessee's finest weather it could provide - for a desert rat such as myself, the idea of highs in the low 80s was perfect, almost winter-like weather (OK, ok... I can hear the bitching now. We pay for our lovely desert winters by our 120 degree summers.) Today would be a day to investigate the other side of Pigeon Forge/Sevierville/Gatlinburg - the mecca of tourist traps. With our friend Catie along for the ride, lunch was the first order of the day, and Big Daddy's pizza did not disappoint. Though pricy, it was tasty - and certainly filling to start our adventures.
Pigeon Forge itself is only one of the three big areas that form Sevier County's tourist traps. Sevierville itself is the primary residential/bedroom community, with strip malls & tacky outlet malls a-plenty on all sides. If you can't find an outlet you like in Sevier County... you're just not trying hard enough.
Though we would be bypassing these enterprises, it is amusing to see the sheer number of these types of stores along the main drag of Pigeon Forge - the Parkway. Among the countless dinner theater adventures (Two of which are operated by Dolly's parent company itself - Herschend Entertainment) you can find anything you're looking for - from burly, hairy, bearded folks in Dolly's Lumberjack Adventure to ones featuring has-been entertainers, even ones that tell you the REAL & TRUE story of the Christian faith, complete with obscene ticket prices to match.
Being more secular (or unholy depending on who you ask) we continued past the innumerate fast food outlets, gas stations, motels, hotels, and other such operations a debacle the size of Pigeon Forge offers. Mind you, this provides the masses the entertainment they crave, and are in fact a huge part of what makes Pigeon Forge... well... Pigeon Forge. Even with this level of tackiness and commercialism it is still a wonder to behold - despite the obscene level of traffic that the area gets, especially on labor day weekend. And in fact, the crowds and masses came a plenty from all over. While stuck in traffic trying to enter Gatlinburg, we passed plates of cars from as far away as Nebraska, Missouri & Pennsylvania, all drawn to the region where Dolly is Queen - and rightly so.
The trip down to Gatlinburg - a rougly 25 mile drive - took a little over 90 minutes due to the endless miles of tourists & cars trying to get to the moonshine capital of Tennessee; in fact, one can (or COULD...) get completely wasted while visiting Gatlinburg without passing a single dollar.
[Author's note: This is too changing; in fact, many of the hooch houses in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge will soon have a 'tasting fee' in their operations.] Though the traffic was incredible, so was the scenery of the Great Smoky Mountains - which themselves are the primary driver of the tourist trade therein. You cannot find a level of natural beauty like this anywhere in the USA, let alone the world. If you've not visited this region, do so - you will have a greater appreciation of nature and it's own shows more than any theme park on earth.
Upon reaching Gatlinburg, we decided on visiting one of the oldest tourist sites therein - Ober Gatlinburg. During the winter, this facility doubles as a ski resort and facilities for both tourists and locals. Among their offerings are a sky-lift type cable car system between Gatlinburg proper and the Ober Gatlinburg 'base camp village.' As I suffer from a tremendous (and paralyzing) fear of heights, we chose to drive up the mountain road to Ober Gatlinburg's main facilities...
If Arrow had the foresight to develop a suspended coaster down this road, it would have been the best steel coaster ever developed by man. Numerous steep dips, tight turns, airtime bumps, tighter radius corners, and plenty of trees made sure it was a thrill ride in itself - and one that provided thrills for all. After depositing $5.00 for parking, we rolled into the lot to see the cable car outlet for the Ober Gatlinburg base camp.
Entering their facility, one gets the feeling of the true purpose for this building is to separate tourists from their money as quickly as possible. In fact, it does it well, offering indoor skating, an old arcade with many 80s classic video games in it, numerous overpriced food outlets and snack bars, and plenty of touristy-type shops to find that perfect something for everybody to enjoy. We walked through the facility in its entirety, and the design is definitely that of a base ski camp building - with ski school and snow shops interdispersed in the various wings.
However, this was not our intent - for us, it was their new Mountain Coaster.
The outdoor portion of the Ober Gatlinburg area features several ski lifts and snow fields, as well as a weird combination of waterslides, alpine slides, fairground rides & the new Mountain Coaster. An outdoor maze facility also provides entertainment for the summer crowds. Hiking up to the base of the Mountain Coaster, you enter the small building and deposit 15.00 per person per ride for the experience, followed by 5.00 for the locker (No personal items allowed on board.) Again, more stairs (No elevator either) to the loading dock, you are weighed before boarding your chariot to the top.
Admittedly, it's a fun ride - but SHORT. Most of the alpine coasters/mountain coasters have similar concepts - and layouts. It is fun, it is thrilling - it is... over? The majority of your time is actually spent on the lift hill (as is the case with any of these types of rides). Thrilling, fun... and overpriced really. But it is to be expected of Ober Gatliburg.
Exiting the ride, and recovering our possessions, we headed down to the grotto of various attractions and such. Several large waterslides are positioned underneath the cable car lift to the top of the mountain, as well as a larger slide in the middle of the snowfield. A handful of carnival rides and the alpine slides round out the experience that if you should choose to separate yourself from 35.00 plus tax you may enjoy as often as you like. Preferring not to leave 35.00 there, we headed back into the facility, wandering around before making our way down the thrill-ride road into Gatlinburg. Another 90 minutes, and we had crossed back into Sevierville.
Later that evening, my better half & I headed out for the Island at Pigeon Forge, and to the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster nearby there. For those unfamiliar with the Island, it too is a tourist trap of sorts, but one that exudes a bit more class & effort; a water fountain/light show provides some of the entertainment, as does a giant Ferris wheel and an over-ground ropes course.
Many different tourist-trade restaurants & bars ring the complex, along with small tourist-driven shops; the Jimmy Buffett run Margaritaville hotel & dive bar form one side of the outlet; Paula Deen & her Southern kitchen form another building; Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine even has an outpost there as well. A large centered fountain show regularly gives the thrashing mobs entertainment while waiting to experience liquid lightning in glass jars next door. Of course, you will also find some pretty major brand names of stuff along the way. In fact, we found the Build-A-Bear workshop, easily located next to the same said facility of hooch being handed out. Being two proud parents of Build-A-Bear, it was natural that we'd look for something interesting for our 'kids'; and again, success was at hand. In fact, many of the BAB workshops have merchandise that is only available in certain locations: Here is the result... a bear wearing a t-shirt with a bear on it. (Yes, you may take insulin now if you need it...)
One thing this area provides is plenty of color, locals & such. You find hen parties & stag parties abounding on the weekends, families out for dysfunctional family time throughout the area, couples either just getting started with their relationship...and a few that would soon be on the rocks. All propelled by the power of moonshine & endless light displays. Admittedly, it was a fun part of our evening - despite the parking problems and such getting into the Island. [Author's note: It's much better to experience the Island without the crowds & dense overpopulation of locals & semi-locals, though the colors of the various light shows, entertainment & plain ol' fashioned people watching make up for it at night]
We left the island, and began the short jaunt over to the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster. I'd already experienced the thrill and fun of one of the longest Alpine Coasters in the USA. And for the price, you get a good value. The parking lot was mostly full - as was the ride queue - but as usual, their operations are top-notch.
And then... the ticket fairy was on my shoulder. Normally, rides are around 15.00 per person - but scoring a discount, the price for us was 8.00 each! Combine that with a $5.00 re-ride price meant two rides for LESS than the price of one normal ticket - WINNING! We entered the queue building (Now housed under a large light-show type structure, and within 30 minutes we were on our way up the mountain.
I have to say this: Of all the alpine coasters I've been on, this one is by far the best of the best of the best. They have invested to keep their Wiegand ride in tip-top shape, keeping up with the times and plussing it along the way, including adding the covered loading area (Smoky Mountain Alpine coaster operate in Snow, sleet, ice & rain). What is most impressive is the light package they've added throughout the course - including the lift hills & trackway to the top. It is over-the-top all the way down. And worth every single minute you wait for it. Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster hit it out of the park with the first installation in the Sevier county area, and it shows so brightly that they care about their operation. This is one of the few must-see attractions in the area, and is an experience that should NOT be missed.
As the temps began their plunge into the cool darkness of evening, we returned to our home for the stay, satisfied in the fun & experiences of the day. I can say that spending it with two awesome people made it that much more wonderful, and again memories were made for a lifetime.
And as we tucked in for the night, I thought of the adventures that were to unfold on the third and final day of our trip... as I also felt a rather disqueting rumble from within me....
LEGOLAND® CALIFORNIA REVEALS MAJOR ADDITIONS FOR 2017 AND BEYOND!
CARLSBAD, Calif. (September 15, 2016) – As 2016 finishes its last few months, LEGOLAND® California Resort’s General Manager Peter Ronchetti announced at today’s press conference that big plans are already in action for 2017 including: new LEGO®NINJAGO™ rooms at LEGOLAND® Hotel; an expansion at LEGOLAND® Water Park and a new addition to LEGO® Star Wars™ Miniland!
A familiar droid joined Ronchetti in announcing a new addition that’s sure to bring out the Force in all of the Resort’s guests in 2017: LEGO® Star Wars™: The Force Awakens Miniland Model Display.
"Right now, at our secret Model Shop in Carlsbad, Master Model Designer Nik Ehm of our Merlin’s Magic Making team is working on creating six scenes that represent the first 30 minutes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” said Ronchetti. “There are two primary focal points – the more traditional character-driven scenes on the planet of Jakku, and an enormous LEGO® model of the Star Destroyer Finalizer. At 16-feet long, it will be the longest LEGO Star Wars Miniland model ever created!”
LEGO® Star Wars™: The Force Awakens Miniland Model Display will be in the center of LEGOStar Wars Miniland and will include these scenes: Kylo Ren’s capture of Poe at planet Jakku; Rey’s rescue of BB-8; Poe and Finn’s escape from the Star Destroyer Finalizer; The wreck of Finn and Poe’s TIE Fighter; Rey, Finn and BB-8’s escape from Niima Outpost; and the escape from the Starship Graveyard. Lights, sound effects and animation will further bring the scenes and characters to life from this blockbuster film.
The new LEGO® Star Wars™: The Force Awakens Miniland Model Display opens to the public in March 2017 just in time for spring break and will kick off the fan-favorite LEGO® Star Wars™ Days on March 4 and 5 in 2017.
A giant wave took center stage as LEGOLAND surfers announced little guests can ride their first wave in Surfer’s Bay opening in time for summer 2017! This competitive water raceway is designed for children to compete against each other by jumping on a mat and racing down one of six water slides in this California beach themed expansion of LEGOLAND Water Park. Surfer’s Bay includes a new “spray ground” with multiple water jets splashing on and off and plenty of new LEGO models to create a fun place to cool off next summer.
“Surfer’s Bay is a winning combination of LEGO theming, water and, of course, healthy competition to inspire our guests,” said Ronchetti. “ We’re truly providing guests a family environment filled with fun, interactive experiences that create lasting memories!”
Also opening in 2017: LEGO® NINJAGO™ rooms at LEGOLAND Hotel! Immersing hotel guests in the popular LEGO NINJAGO universe, they will be able to sleep in the company of Cole, Nya, Kai and Lloyd and other cool LEGO ninjas throughout 18 premium themed rooms and two premium themed suites. The NINJAGO rooms are replacing kingdom themed rooms in preparation of the new LEGO Castle themed hotel opening in 2018. Ronchetti presented a first look of the new premium themed 250-room hotel at the press conference revealing the entrance and pool area . The ground breaking is expected in early 2017 and the new hotel will feature a new restaurant, pool area and themed Castle décor throughout.
“At LEGOLAND California Resort, we pride ourselves in innovation, creativity and memorable experiences for our millions of guests we see each year and 2017 continues that tradition,” said Ronchetti. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens set records as the top-grossing film nationally of all time and we’re excited to bring it to life here in our popular LEGO Star Wars Miniland!” said Ronchetti.
The LEGO® Star Wars™: The Force Awakens Miniland Model Display is included in the cost of admission to LEGOLAND California Resort. For ticket prices, operating schedule and additional information, visit www.LEGOLAND.com or call 760-918-LEGO (5346).
Today we have a special treat for you, RD and his amazing fiancé Randy made their way to Dollywood and Pigeon Forge over the weekend, so we have a unique look at Dollywood and review of Lightning Rod from somebody who, well, it's safe to say, isn't a huge fan of RMC's. But that means there is a VERY funny story here.
Written by RD Sussman-Dewberry
Part I: The breast entertainment 25.00 can buy
After a nearly 18 month wait, it was time for me & my partner to take our first real vacation together - in this case, a road trip up to Pigeon Forge/Knoxville. We were able to luck out on so many fronts, and I will admit, my travel fairy was sitting on my shoulder the entire time... in part at least.
Leaving Atlanta in the evening of the 1st, we made our way up into the northern part of the state, passing such interesting places as Cartersville, GA (Home of Anheuser Busch's brewery...) and past Rossville... which would be a destination on the return trip. As we made our way into Tennessee, we saw the vestiges of civilization slowly disappear and morph into a world of wonderful, twisted & somewhat freaky examples of tourist trap hell... in more ways than one. We reached our destination, and had a reunion 20 years in the making.
Friday, 2 September 2016: The DOLLYEST place on earth.
We woke in the morning to see this view out of my friend's guest room. And this would be the hallmark of the entire stay - expect the unexpected, and there was something more special around each corner. And it was.
We headed the short drive down to Dollywood, to start our day with a tram ride to the front gate area. And my Travel Fairy spread her wings & dust... and the first surprise of the trip: A 25.00 ticket for a day at Dollywood! The weather was slightly cloudy and a little cool-ish (at least to a desert rat such as me) but still a beautiful way to spend a day at the park. As we entered, there was a decided lack of crowds to make their way through. Correction: You could roll a bowling ball from one side of the park to the other and not hit another guest. Walk on... EVERYTHING! But first, a stop at the A.D.A. booth inside the park gates to get an elevator pass for the rides.
A side note: Six Flags, Cedar Fair, SeaWorld Parks, etc. : Please take note of this system. Learn it. Love it. USE IT. Dollywood (And Herschend Parks for that matter) has been at the forefront of guest services and adapting the A.D.A. compliance to a gold-standard unbeaten in any sense. Why? They spent a bit of money to update a park's system to a laminated sheet with everything easily found and dictated out. They they actually trained their operators to use it. And guess what: It works BRILLIANTLY. If I could give a Golden Ticket to Dollywood for A.D.A. compliance & ease of use, I would.
I love my fiancé. Really. No, I love him more than life itself. And I'm willing to do anything for him, now and forever. Now I know you're wondering why I'd say this... but as you all know my beloved readers, I'm not a fan of high-intensity rides. Even less so about RMC's ideas in ride design & development. But I love him... dearly. Knowing the issues and temperament that Lighting Rod at Dollywood has had over the past months made it the first stop of the day... but in order to secure the ride just in case of a ride-shutdown/closure situation, we had to ride it right away. As I don't do stairs, waiting in line with him would have been painful and decidedly difficult, so with my A.D.A. pass in tow, we ascended the hidden lift to the special entrance to said monster coaster... (I really love my fiancé...)
At first glance, you can only see a few bits of LR from the park, primarily the quad-down into the overbanked brake turn, and the launch. And both are quite interesting to view. The trains blister up the lift at a pace that is insane to begin with, and fly through the quad down in a way that makes you wonder about the strength of the upstop wheels. The aptly designed train (complete with flames & other such decorations) rolls down the steep brake hill into the station, where the riders exit; we're next to board. A row change from the absolute last seat to the front of the train is done... and it is time to board.
(I really -REALLY- love my fiancé...)
As is typical with any RMC coaster, a seatbelt and the lap-bar of DOOOOOM is in place to securely rivet you to the seat. As in: You're not going anywhere anytime soon...
Or so you think...
Once all restraints are checked, a quick visual scan, and the sound of revving engines means 'dispatch' of the train. The trains turn around towards the waiting lift... and then OFF YOU GO.
(I really -REALLY- REAAAALY LOVE MY FIANCE.)
I've been on every type of launch coaster built - LIM, LSM, Cable, Flywheel, Compressed Air, Weight Drop... all of them. I can say that LR reminds you there IS a G-D, and he can punish you. And will. The launch is glass-smooth (save for the slight shudder of the trains) as they shoot you up the lift hill at astoundingly fast speed. Cresting the top (known as the Cathedral hills) you get your first dose of solid, almost perfect airtime, before dipping down & repeating a second time into the first long drop to the terrain. I will tell you this: It isn't bad - at all - and I thought if the rest of the ride was paced better, this would be a great ride... but as we all know, that's not RMC's style.
(I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, UNQUESTIONABLY LOVE MY FIANCE. AND THE RING HAD BETTER BE SIX CARATS & "A" CLARITY...)
From here, the ride becomes a blur - a non-stop, unrelenting, paceless, twisting, throw you into the hands of G-D experience. I was NOT happy. The train flew around each turn & reverse turn hard; picture being a rag doll in the mouth of a pissed off pit bull with emotional disorders. And it does not stop. Not an inch of pacing here - just more and more of the same body being torn apart feeling.
And then there's the Quad-Down.
(I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, MUST LOVE MY FIANCE. AND WE'RE ALSO LOOKING AT A NICE BMW AND THE RING OF UNQUESTIONABLE SIZE AND QUALITY.)
Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to be shot into your lap restraint with tremendous force in a painful, BDSM sort of way. Now multiply that by a factor of four, and you have the Quad Down. Ejector air is one thing; Ejection from a high-speed jet plane air is another. I've never been so happy to see the final turn before in my life on ANY ride, anywhere. Of course... there is a camera at the base of the last bump before said turn...
So as we exit, and I begin to pick the BMW & ring I want, we stop at the photo booth to see the picture. As many of you know, I'm not exactly pale; I have my ethnic backgrounds and colors as part of my natural skin pigment...
But I was <WHITE WHITE WHITE> in the picture. As in: Casper the ghost. As in: Wonder Bread. As in: Snowfall. I rarely change colors on a ride... this was the exception.
Needless to say, the picture did NOT come home with us.
After LR, we made our way up through the park, to Fire in the Glory Hole (Blazing Fury) and around up to the rest of German Row & the majority of the E-ticket coasters. Every single ride for the most part was walk-on, even with a single train. Wild Eagle? Choose your seat... anywhere. Same with FireChaser Express. And Thunderhead. All of them - all of them - wide open.
We made our way through the park, exploring just about everything - and anything - in the deserted Dollywood - and including the much-required for any visit to the park Chicken Blessings from Miss Lilian. This tradition is something everybody should experience at some point or another; her in-dining show is priceless, funny & truly beautiful - something you will not find at any other park in the world. It is something that differentiates Dollywood from the best of the best, and elevates it to a higher level. It is why Dollywood is possibly the USA's best theme park - and untouchable by any means.
As the sun began to slowly descend behind the clouds and mountains, my beloved wished to go on that thing again. Being the wonderful, understanding & loving fiancé I hope to be... we headed back down to the ride. Swallowing more acid & bile from the thought of being turned into a human projectile, we headed into the front entrance building in the former Cas Walker's gas station. A lovely attendant heard my pleas for no more brutal and cruel punishment, and gave me a reprieve. My beloved could ride using the ADA access point without me. And he did. And he loved it. And I got to enjoy a wonderful, clean, cool park bench as my reward. Life is good.
Of course, no trip to Dollywood is complete without the tasty treat known as crystal methampetacocaicinnamonheroin bread. This beloved treat, going under the guise of "Cinnamon Bread" is possibly the most addictive substance known on this planet - and in many ways far more dangerous. One does not simply buy a loaf of cinnamon bread. They enjoy it, slowly, satisfyingly with icing and a feeling of hard euphoria, followed by the rush as it enters the body. Once your mind enters the state of altered consciousness, you ascend to the next level of fervent pleasure, unlike anything produced by man. After that last bite... the withdrawal symptoms kick in. You find yourself slowly craving it again... you need it... you want it... you begin to look for Cinnamon Bread from your corner dealer, that tweaky kid at the mall, you want it. YOU NEED IT. YOU MUST HAVE IT.
And so the day draws to a close. 8.5 hours at Dollywood. Memories were made beyond anything that I could ever wish to have happen, and it was truly a special day that I will cherish my entire life.
Along with the BMW & the diamond ring.