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Blazing Fury to Dragonflier: How Dollywood Became a Thrill Ride Destination

Take a trip back in time with me for a few minutes: the year is 1986, and Dollywood is set to open its inaugural season. With tickets in-hand, you enter through the turnstiles and begin your quest to explore this new park and all it has to offer. Being a roller coaster fan, you make your way to what then was the very back of the park to find one of the only thrill rides available, the indoor standard-bearer, Blazing Fury! To think of what Dollywood started with in terms of roller coasters and thrill attractions to what it is today is somewhat fascinating. Let’s take a year-over-year look at just how Dollywood has transformed into a must-visit for roller coaster junkies and thrill seekers all over the globe.

Insider Tip

For the smoothest and most thrilling ride, try to sit on the front row/front car of the roller coaster. For the fastest and most intense ride, make your way to the very back row and hold on!

1999 – The end of the 1900s is when Dollywood really started its pivot toward being a roller coaster park. This is the year Dollywood added Tennessee Tornado—a modern marvel that still holds up today as being a can’t- miss ride. Installed by Arrow Dynamics, this “steel butterfly” of a ride travels at top speeds of 70 mph making it the fastest steel roller coaster at Dollywood. For more information on the ride that kicked Dollywood into a coaster revolution check out THIS BLOG.

2004 – Within five years, multiple smaller-scale rides were installed. But 2004 saw “The Wildest Ride in the Woods” debut to an overwhelming response. Thunderhead burst on the scene and has been thrilling riders ever since. Great Coasters International constructed this wooden coaster named after Thunderhead Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains. It features a 100-foot drop and more than 3,000 feet of wooden track. Thunderhead has been voted the top wooden coaster in the world on two occasions (2005 and 2006) and been in the top ten of the best wooden roller coasters for fifteen consecutive years. (Recognition by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards)

2007 – With two award-winning coasters built to accompany the always-reliable Blazing Fury, 2007 brought us Mystery Mine which was a first-of-its-kind ride in all of North America. Mystery Mine was the first Gerstlauer (manufacturer) Euro-Fighter (ride style) installation on our continent and had the steepest drop (95 degrees!) of any North American coaster at the time of its opening. Staged both indoors and outside with heavy theming and storyline, Mystery Mine provided Dollywood with a ride altogether different from their previous two additions. In 2007, Theme Park Insider ranked Mystery Mine the #1 new attraction for the year.

Insider Tip

If you are looking for a great gift for the thrill-seeker in your world, visit one of the retail shops like High Octane, Eagle's Flight Outfitters, Mine Shaft or Dollywood Emporium to find gifts commemorating all the great coasters. I love this t-shirt with all the logos!

2011 – The thrills kept coming in 2011. Rather than adding another coaster at this point, the 81-foot tall Barnstormer made its debut and has been providing g-forces and air time to riders ever since. The ‘screaming swing’ attraction has a rich history and backstory that you can read all about HERE.

2012 – By the year 2012, Dollywood had really started to establish itself as a riders’ destination with multiple award-winning coasters and first-of-its-kind rides that thrilled guests from all over the world. It was at this point the park introduced an addition that would be groundbreaking and iconic to the Dollywood skyline. Wild Eagle was America’s first winged roller coaster. This B&M (manufacturer) hyper coaster (more than 200-feet tall) solidified Dollywood’s place in coaster enthusiasts’ hearts, not only for the first-of-its-kind status, but the sheer size of Wild Eagle. Whenever you can invest in a coaster that changes your skyline and one that you can see over the top of the Great Smoky Mountains, visitors are destined to take in its grandeur. Wild Eagle was awarded the Best New Attraction of 2012 by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards.

2014 – Who says roller coasters just have to move forward?!?!?  In 2014, Dollywood brought another North American pioneering roller coaster to Dollywood. This time it was a family-friendly attraction: FireChaser Express. With Dollywood’s mantra that it wants guests to “Create Memories Worth Repeating” it was only fitting that the newest addition to the thrill ride lineup be a ride for even preschoolers to enjoy. This Gerstlauer dual-launched coaster was [another] first-of-its-kind coaster. This time it was available for riders 39-inches and taller, pushing them forward and backward.

2016 – Game Changer! The year 2016 brought the most significant roller coaster to Dollywood in the park’s history. Lightning Rod debuted as the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world! Now roller coaster aficionados all over the world are coming to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to see what the fuss is about. This Rocky Mountain Construction coaster has won numerous awards and has become the linchpin of the coaster lineup at Dollywood. Recently named the Wooden Coaster of the Decade by Coaster101.com, Lightning Rod was also named Best New Wooden Coaster for 2016 and has been ranked in the top-ten of Best Wooden Coasters by Amusement Today for the past four years.

2017 – Looking to stump your friends with some Dollywood thrill ride trivia? What is the fastest attraction at Dollywood? Answer: Drop Line at a speed of 78 mph! The 230-foot drop tower attraction with a spinning gondola lifts guests high above the park for the most-breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains—if only for a few seconds.

2019 – To complete its current roster of thrill attractions, Dollywood added Dragonflier as the cornerstone ride for a brand-new land that opened in 2019. Dragonflier is a family roller coaster suitable for guests 39-inches and up. While it might pack a little more punch than FireChaser Express, it still is a great introductory ride for your young thrill seekers. What makes Dragonflier unique and continues Dollywood’s ascension up the coaster park ladder is that it is a Vekoma design and one of the very first variants of the unique suspended ride train.

Insider Tip

If you are headed to Dollywood for thrills and thrills only, make sure to invest in a Time Saver pass. Skip the lines and enjoy your favorite rides – learn more about Time Savers HERE.

So, there you have it, what started as a medium-thrill park in 1986, has now become world renowned for some of the biggest, fastest and most-unique roller coasters in the world. Who’s ready to ride?

By | 2021-02-08T17:36:44+00:00 February 8th, 2021|Attractions|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tom Hodges (Dollywood Insider 2019-Now) is a Middle Tennessee native who currently resides in Christiana, Tennessee, with his wife Hillary and two children, Cooper (age 7) and Isabelle (age 4). Tom and his family make the three-hour journey to Dollywood once a month to enjoy the entire park. After fifteen years as a college basketball coach serving various universities, Tom recently transitioned into their family business of trucking and warehousing. Tom serves as the president of Goggin Cold Haul Services, LLC, a refrigerated transportation company based out of Smyrna, Tennessee, and a sister company to Titan Transfer Inc. and Goggin Warehousing, LLC. A thrill-ride enthusiast and lover of all things Dollywood, Tom would most likely be found riding on the front row of Wild Eagle, riding multiple times on FireChaser Express with his son Cooper (personal record of 17 times in one day) or enjoying a family lunch in Wildwood Grove at Till & Harvest. Dollywood is a special place to Tom and his family, as many milestones and family traditions have become sacred in their house because of Dollywood and the hosts who make it so special.
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