Earlier this fall, I made the trek to my home park, Dollywood. Even though I went on a Saturday, the lines were fairly short and I was able to get in a decent number of rides.

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After entering the park, I headed straight for Dollywood’s new launched wooden coaster. As you’ve probably heard, the coaster had some problems with the launch early on, which led to a delayed opening and then a second ride rehearsal. Needless to say, my satisfaction was extreme when I arrived and found Lightning Rod running.

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Though the ride ops were only running one train, the line inched its way along and I eventually made it to the station. I was hoping for a front-seat ride, but they were assigning seats and I was sent to row 10. Nevertheless, it turned out that the ride was insane in the back, with all of the maneuvers taken at an extreme speed.

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The launch itself, which I had expected to be a mediocre marketing gimmick, turned out to be quite powerful, and the fact that it was on wood supports made it seem even faster than it really was. After that, the train took the plunge over the pre-drop and began the most relentlessly wild layout I have ever experienced, with the insane quadruple down to top it all off. I gave Lightning Rod a rare 9.5 out of 10.

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Once I got Lightning Rod out of the way, I decided to take the quiet path to Thunderhead. (The park is laid out in a large loop, and clockwise is definitely the way to go just after the park opens, since most of the crowd takes the main path counter-clockwise.) Thunderhead, an airtime-packed GCI, has been voted one of the top ten best wooden coasters every year since it opened in 2004. After riding it, it’s plain to see why.

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Thunderhead features a great drop and some intense G-forces – that is, for the part of the ride that you’re in your seat. The coaster was also the first to feature a station-flyby, where the train roars through the station at around 40 miles per hour. Overall, I gave Thunderhead an 8 out of 10.

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After a quick pizza break, I was ready to hit the park’s next major coaster:

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Mystery Mine is an exceptionally themed Gerstlauer Eurofighter with two vertical lifts and many special effects that set it apart from your average Eurofighter. Although the shoulder harnesses took away somewhat from the experience, the coaster’s tight maneuvers and heartline roll were insane, and the final drop completely caught me by surprise. Mystery Mine gets a 7 out of 10 in my book, and I definitely recommend riding it.

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Next up, FireChaser Express! Marketed as a family coaster, FireChaser offers multiple thrills like drops, launches, and mini airtime hills for young thrill seekers ready for their first real roller coaster. Overall, I enjoyed the ride and applaud Dollywood on the design and the low height restriction.

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After walking a bit further in the woods, I arrived in front of Tennessee Tornado, the park’s classic Arrow looper. Though there’s nothing particularly exciting about the ride, it holds a special place in my heart as my first roller coaster.

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Wild Eagle had been closed earlier in the day due to wasps, but as soon as it reopened, I backtracked to catch a ride on the coaster. The only other wing coaster I had ridden was GateKeeper at Cedar Point, so I was eager to see how they compared. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wild Eagle, though not as tall, was much more intense than GateKeeper, and the way it followed the terrain gave it a sense of speed that GateKeeper lacked. The view from the top was stunning, and the inversions were glass smooth. I gave Wild Eagle a 7 out of 10.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Dollywood and loved the its coasters, food, and general atmosphere. Hopefully I’ll be back next year to check out the park’s new drop tower.

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