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Seaton: Season Passes

“We should get season passes for Dollywood this year,” my wife tells me one afternoon. “If we go twice we’ve essentially justified using them.”

“Sounds lovely,” I said, “Let’s do it.” I thought at most we might get a discussion out of it, and maybe we’d even make plans to go some point later in the year. My daughter loves roller coasters and my son’s a huge fan of the park’s midway area so a Dollywood visit is almost a certainty when we’re deciding what to do during the year.

But season passes were different. Season passes meant we got free parking, food discounts and a slew of other benefits. It meant we were some of THOSE people who did fun things like go to damn amusement parks twice a week.

Plus my sister works at Dollywood in the park’s Spotlight Bakery cafe, so I’ve got an inside person for when I have a craving for cinnamon bread. Don’t knock the cinnamon bread until you’ve tried it. It’s like the One Ring of southern amusement park snacks. Too powerful.

Anyway, last weekend we got up early and made our way into the park when it opened at 10 am. With my new spiffy Gold season pass, we saved $25 on parking. A quick tram ride later and a jaunt through security and we’re at the first spot where I almost died.

The Lightning Rod.

Dollywood has several roller coasters that routinely scare the piss out of grown adults. One of these perpetual “oh shit” machines is a wooden beast called “The Lighting Rod.” The only wooden coaster I’ve ever seen with white knuckle handles built into the seats, intrepid riders will find themselves making use of these handholds as this death trap sends one careening at a 90 degree angle with the ground across the side of a mountain.

My daughter naturally loved this and wanted to go twice. I was not nearly as giggly or bouncy as she was after the first ride, nor did I share my princess’ inclination to go again.

After exiting this nightmarish contraption fit for that Jigsaw guy in the horror movies, my wife and son suggested we go do something a bit more my speed: we decided to visit the antique merry-go-round near the park’s coal powered train.

I like merry- go-rounds. They have nice, non-threatening music, they go at a reasonable pace, and you’re not thrown upside down when riding one. My son agrees with me. So does my wife.

My daughter was promptly bored with the merry-go-round and pointed to her next favored destination: Fire Chaser.

Fire Chaser is another roller coaster. This one is a mixture of wood and metal with an interesting twist: you get thrown backwards during the ride, sending you away with whiplash and lower back pain in addition to nearly pissing yourself in fear from hurtling through 90 degree drops and corkscrew turns.

Again, my princess was living her best life while on this monstrosity. I was, again, not as amused as she. One day she’ll not want to do this so I might as well get the memory making in while I can, right?

That’s what I’m telling myself as I rub Tiger Balm on my aching back and knees.
Post Fire Chaser, it was time to do some stuff the boy wanted, so it meant I got a bit of a breather from the terrifying roller coaster antics my daughter craves. We rode the scrambler, bumper cars, giant swings, the works. I generally enjoy carnival rides; they’re the right balance in my book of adrenaline and fun. Dollywood’s got everything but a good Ferris wheel; for some reason they took the one they had down last year for some new carnival games.

Dolly’s not perfect. She’s just close to it.

Dr. S wanted to catch the bird show next, so we hung out with the folks from the American Eagle Foundation who let us see some vultures, owls and eagles. We even managed to find out from one of their bird experts a junior red-tailed hawk’s been frequenting our backyard.

I rode the tamest roller coaster in the park after the bird show. Blazing Fury is really difficult to call a “roller coaster” as it’s more of just a quick jaunt around an indoor track with three drops. It’s got really corny old animatronic characters interspersed through the ride simulating the damage done by a town on fire. They used to make it more interesting by throwing a bucket of water in the faces of riders as the coaster came to a stop but that’s been phased out for some reason.

The final coaster of the day was the park’s newest, Big Bear Adventure. I was actually a fan of this. It was a very fast sprint around a gorgeous section of a mountain with zero loops, zero corkscrews, and no sudden jerks to my frame. I will probably try this one again in the near future.

Food was rather substandard this trip. Part of me wants to think it was due to the weather being somewhat gloomy. There’s a project for a peer reviewed journal: an ethnography of when food tastes best at theme parks accounting for differences in climate. Just start giving me money now for the research effort as my Gold pass only gets me 15% off certain eateries.

The kids were sad to leave when we did. I don’t think it’s sunk in enough that we’re able to go now anytime we want. Hopefully that will change this weekend when we return. My son’s excited as he’s going to Dollywood with us in the morning and then to a trampoline park that afternoon for a friend’s birthday party.

Me? I’m going to be with my daughter. At Dollywood.

Just the two of us, all of those roller coasters, and the entire day to experience them.

Someone hand me another bottle of Tiger Balm and some Depends please?

We’ll see you next week, everyone! Unless one of these roller coasters malfunctions Sunday—then we’ll all convene from the comfort of my hospital bed and really have a good laugh!

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