In June, I wrote a blog (What is Thrills in the Hills and Why Should You Go?) to encourage people to check out Dollywood’s behind-the-scenes event. In this blog, I want to give you an overview of what we did, and why you should make plans to be there next year.
Check In and Swag
The event always spans a Friday-Saturday, so my granddaughter and I arrived in the mid-afternoon and enjoyed the theme park on our own before check-in began at 7 p.m. One of the perks of this event is parking in the Preferred Lot. So, after checking in, we went back to the car to check out the bag of swag we received.
We loved our new t-shirts, and we were much more excited about the awesome butterfly headbands than you would expect.
We also got a mug, a waterproof phone case, bubbles, a stress ball, small flashlight and a few other items. If you love Dollywood, the merch is definitely a high point.
Food and friends (new and old) are a very important part of these events. I met someone from Ohio when I went to my first Thrills in the Hills event two years ago that I saw again. I met another person who creates Dollywood-based content, and I have several friends I know from a technical community who come here each year as well. Sitting around the table at lunch talking about theme parks (especially Dollywood) is nice. Doing so with great food is even better.
Friday night we enjoyed kettle corn and pork rinds on the patio at Reds Drive In as we waited in anticipation for our exclusive ride time on Lightning Rod.
Saturday morning the culinary team served fruit and cinnamon rolls that almost rivalled their cinnamon bread.
For lunch on Saturday I had some of the best barbeque I have tasted in a long time.
And finally, right at the end of the event, we savored the best snack of them all: Dollywood’s cinnamon bread.
Exclusive Ride Time
This event is not all about roller coasters, but you definitely get some coaster time! The way it worked out for us this year was neat. Because a storm had rolled through, we started our Friday night Exclusive Ride Time (ERT) at Blazing Fury. That wasn’t the original plan, but it’s an option Dollywood can fall back on during inclement weather because it’s an indoor attraction.
But then, we found out the Dollywood team was able to get Lightning Rod up for us, so we split our time and the rest of the night was spent flying through the dark on my favorite hot rod.
The weather for Saturday’s ERT was perfect. Riding coasters in the dark is a completely different experience. If you’re able to ride during the day and night, I encourage you to do it. Participating in Thrills in the Hills is worth it for the extra ride time alone!
Getting a behind-the-scenes tour is always on the agenda during Thrills in the Hills. The Dollywood team rotates different opportunities from coaster maintenance to the train shop. This year, we were slated to do an outdoor lift hill tour, but the weather didn’t cooperate. I was very impressed that Dollywood had such a great backup plan: Dollywood Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Pete Owens, showed us around the inside of the maintenance area of Mystery Mine.
Pete shared many aspects of maintaining the roller coasters at Dollywood—not just Mystery Mine. I learned that maintenance teams check every bolt and every wheel on the ride vehicles every day for wear and tear. Every season, they tear down the ride vehicles and rebuild them, so they are like new every year.
We even got to watch someone on the maintenance team change a wheel because he sensed a bit of roughness to a bearing. They let us take turns holding the wheel, and it was very heavy.
Beyond coaster accolades, Mystery Mine is special because of the rich theming. It is not a haunted mine as it seems from the outside. It’s a ride that encompasses mine superstitions. If you’re unfamiliar with it, stop and listen to the animatronic buzzard outside of the attraction. You’ll learn! (You could also read this blog about Mystery Mine.)
Why Go in 2023?
If great food, nice people, exclusive ride time, two full days at Dollywood, preferred parking and learning behind-the-scenes details about Dollywood’s attractions—all for what has historically been less than the cost of a regular Two-Day ticket—doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know why you are still reading this blog!