Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas 2017

Alexander: If you ask me, to two best places to be during the holidays are Disney or Dollywood.

On the heels of our Disneyland visit last month, we now bring you some December coastering courtesy of Dolly!

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I see you, Lightning Rod!

Much to our delight/surprise, Lightning Rod opened on time! It needs time to warm up on these cold winter mornings, but a great ride nonetheless.

After our morning Lightning Rod ride, we went straight for the Grist Mill for cinnamon bread. Lines for this stuff gets crazy this time of year, so hit it early!

Nighttime is when Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is at its most dazzling, but there’s plenty to appreciate in the daylight too.

Cue Sean, stuffing the CCK Instagram story with lots of Dollywood shots!

Tennessee Tornado has become our favorite ride at Dollywood other than Lightning Rod. The older we get, the more we love our Arrow loopers.

And this one is really a miracle. Due to the explosion of developers like B&M and Premier Rides, the odds of one more Arrow multi-looper coming in the late 90’s was slim. Fortunately, Herschend Family Entertainment knew the best way to repurpose their elaborate Thunder Express Mine Train station, maintenance bay, and queue was to go with another Arrow; it would ultimately be the last of a proud pedigree of rides.

Dollywood has amassed an ideal collection of coasters, each one varied in its characteristics and appeal.

Dollywood remains one of the world’s most self-aware parks. At every turn, the park seems to always know exactly what move to make; if something isn’t working out like they’d hoped, they waste no time redeveloping the space. The “coaster alley” of Dollywood has grown a lot since its inception, but some of that growth has come from the replacement of relatively new things that simply didn’t pull their weight.

Adventure Mountain (the ropes course replaced by FireChaser Express), Timber Tower (Huss Topple Tower replaced by Drop Line), the playground in Thunderhead’s infield (replaced by Whistle Punk Chaser), and now Splash Battle; the not-quite-popular-enough-to-justify-operation Mack flume retires after only its 10th summer at Dollywood to become The Venue, a much-needed multipurpose show space (the only such space in all of “coaster alley”).

What’s more, a tremendous amount of land clearing is taking place in and behind Timber Canyon.

Dollywood’s brake-neck growth plan remains steadfast; four coasters in five years (if you count the roundabout replacement of the park’s L&T Systems Sideshow Spin coaster with Whistle Punk Chaser (removed from Country Fair to help with overcrowding; sold to a Family Fun Center in Kentucky)), plus plenty of non-coaster additions and a 5-star resort hotel are so far giving way to only more major growth!

Wild Eagle is now far removed from its ‘big, new ride” status after only 5 seasons. It’s the 5th oldest coaster in the park out of 8 (soon to be 9)!

Development is plain to see from the midway as heavy machinery push and haul just behind Thunderhead.

Whistle Punk Chaser is a smart move towards sprinkling kiddie rides throughout the park (rather than confining them to a specific area).

The previous kiddie coaster, the remarkably compact Sideshow Spin, once bore a “VeggieTales” tie-in (VeggieTales Sideshow Spin). Understandably, the name was shortened when branding wasn’t renewed, but now (for reasons unbeknownst to us), the “VeggieTales” part of the name is reinstated at Kentucky Shores Family Fun Center. Additionally the “Sideshow” part was dropped, reducing the name to VeggieTale Spin. 

Drop Line is such a good fit for this area, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t planned this way.

Lighting Rod went down to one train mid-day due to some operational hiccups, but by the evening it was back to two-train ops. It rides wonderfully, but plenty of off-season maintenance is necessary to keep the ride feeling comfortable.  Lightning Rod had a more successful season this year than last, and with that trend (hopefully) continuing towards predictable operations, Dollywood will now have to rise to the occasion of maintaining two wooden coasters that run consistently enough to accumulate wear and tear at a normal rate.

Speaking of which, the rougher-than-expected rides I had on Thunderhead in May have been remedied, with the ride now running in top condition.

A ride on the Dollywood Express helps illustrate the magnitude of work going on behind Timber Canyon.

While some of this space had already played host to a service road and a boneyard (up until this year, leftover pieces of Adventure Mountain could still be seen on the plateau behind Thunderhead), a great deal more land has been cleared within the perimeter of Dollywood Express.

Details on the development are slim, but anything from a major park expansion to a 2nd resort hotel could fit in the space created. Mack rides has been rumored to be doing a massive project for Dollywood since at least 2014,  and with Silver Dollar City’s Mack Time Traveler launched spinner coming next year, a Mack coaster for Dollywood seems increasingly likely.

The upper train turnaround has been long rumored for park expansion (since the park went through the trouble of developing the land between 2008-2011), but for now it remains a peaceful clearing with a handful of themed structures for guests to admire from the train.

Night fell quickly once the sun had set, allowing for all of Dollywood’s countless Christmas lights to come alive.

Much of Timber Canyon sports a lovely shade of blue; Drop Line’s car resembles a rainbow UFO with its LED light display.

Of all the park’s coasters, Mystery Mine enjoys the most thorough holiday transformation.

Previously Mystery Mine has sported green flood lights, but tonight they’re blue and purple!

The midway to Timber Canyon from Showstreet is laden with a decorated Christmas Tree forest.

Numerous 3-4ft trees don coats of solid-color lights.

Showstreet’s lights are nothing short of show-stopping.

Every inch; every corner; every discernible architectural detail is highlighted with glistening bulbs.

If you wait long enough, you may catch a glimpse of Santa preparing for the big day in his condo above the ice cream parlor.

Even some of the larger trees are wrapped from top to bottom in several man-hours worth of lights.

I think the colors for the candy store are my fave.

I’m not sure what happened to the large tree that stood where Drop Line is now, but there’s now a tree right in the middle of the park where the fountain had been.

Some of the buildings aren’t merely trimmed in lights, but totally covered on every surface.

The water clock isn’t lit up, but the surrounding aqueducts look amazing in the reflection of the pond.

Don’t forget to have your picture taken inside the giant snow globe before your 1/2 hour wait for cinnamon bread!

Dollywood gets a lot of milage out of their bodies of water this time of year.

Every crafter in Craftsman Valley is decked out in Deck-the-Halls decadence.

Of course the church can’t be left out.

This large building behind the candle shop serves as a Rudolph-themed activity area. It used to be something else (related to woodworking, I think?) but now it’s holiday decor storage during the rest of the season.

With the water shut off for the winter, the aqueducts now flow with lights.

Blazing Fury gets some nice holiday touches, inside and out.

Even Tennessee Tornado gets its share of lights.

As the park continues to expand, Smoky Mountain Christmas decor must follow. There isn’t much in the way of lights between Tennessee Tornado and Mystery Mine, but when The Venue opens, that’ll change.

Some of the best lights are tucked away in Owens Farm; Barnstormer has quite the display!

Here’s a close up of the largest of Dollywood’s lighted trees. Just this one tree alone probably took several people all day to complete!

There’s plenty to see across the lake, again amplified by the water’s surface.

You can’t see it, but the carp and turtles are celebrating too. 🙂

I think my favorite decorations are in Jukebox Junction.

The bells are so classic! like a 1950’s downtown.

I’m also a big fan of the fat, rainbow bulbs under the marquee for The Pines Theater.

Everyone’s crowding up Adventures in Imagination for the start of The Parade of Many Colors, a small nighttime parade in the tradition of Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. The floats are small (so they can fit through some of the midways’ low clearances) and there aren’t too many of them, but it’s a very charming parade that seems to please the masses. We were able to see the entire parade from the brake run of Lightning Rod.

In order to beat the masses, we waded through the Disneyland-sized cluster of people on Showstreet and made our departure. Thank you for always putting on such an amazing Christmas display, Dollywood!

Our Dollywood visit may have concluded, but our night wasn’t over! We were invited to visit Pigeon Forge’s NASCAR Speed Park as guests, so we made our way over to check things out and get Sean’s Speedway Drift credit.

See you there!

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