Pigeon Forge TN - Charlotte NC
 Wednesday September 14 - Sunday September 19th, 2016
Dollywood, Carowinds

Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant,
Kid Cashew, The Good Life Cafe

Click each picture to make it bigger, then back to return here.

Preface - Visited Dollywood checking off Lightning Rod from my bucket list and completing it.      This coaster was new for 2016, was supposed to open in March, but had problems..   The coaster was down from July 8th to August 3rd with no info from Dollywood.  Once the coaster came up, it was in "Technical Rehearsal" which meant there was no guarantee it would operate.      In fact, I booked and canceled 3 other trips before this.      But on the day I visited it was running at the 10am opening, 2 trains at noon.     I got 4 rides and it was worth the long trip.   I had been to Dollywood in 2011 and 2013.        Here is the bucket list.    Click back to return here.      
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Day 1 - Wednesday September 14th.   Rented a Toyota Camara from Alamo at FLL.    We drove to Rotonda West to visit a former neighbor, then to Ocala to visit another neightbor who moved.     We toured their homes, then continued on through the night, driving past Atlanta, arriving the Smoky Mountains the next morning.

Day 2 - Thursday September 15th.   Here we are arriving the Smoky Mountains from the South side on 441.   We stopped at a lookout spot taking pictures.

We walked the Gatlinburg strip, which is a tourist spot of restaurants and shops.  Here we visited the Funnel Cake Comapny, having the same cake we ordered in 2013.          

We drove the 7 mile Smoky Mountain path, same as we did in 2013.    

We checked into our dog friendly hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites on the Parkway.  

It was time for dinner.     Laurie looked up a healthy place with vegetarian items that was dog friendly, the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant.     This place delivered.   They have an outdoor seating area that is normally not used in the summer time.   But they turned on the lights for us and we had our own server.    We felt special when they opened up the section and turned on the lights just for us.     This place is comfort food to the max.   To start you get apple fritters with apple cider, salad, and soup.    That right there is enough to fill you up.   But wait, there's more.   Each meal comes with sides that look small but they fill you up quickly.    In my case, I did 4 veggie sides.      They also have desert, which we had to go.     This was a Man V.  Food moment, I was stuffed.    If you are hungry, this is your place.    

Day 3 - Friday September 16th.   Finally, the entire reason for this trip, the visit to Dollywood and me riding Lighting Rod.   Would it be operating?    Yes.    I arrived the park at 09:45 Laurie dropped me off on the bus side.   She went to a dog park with Destiny.      Everyone was allowed in to a rope drop area.   Once the rope dropped, everyone walked to Lightning Rod and queued up.    The anticipation was killing me as I was finally here and it seemed the ride would open.

At 10am, the doors opened and they let everyone inside.    I couldn't believe this was happening.    It was like a movie, or a dream.   Was this really happening?    Up the stairs everyone went.   There was a short wait, then the first group boarded the train and went (one train operation).   I was on the 2nd train in the 2nd to last row.      I put the seat belt on, brought down the restraint, and was ready.

The train dispatched.     Here is my Play by Play.

Launch is cool, but it does slow down near the top.   They could almost use an elevator lift to get the train up to the same speed.   The launch is more about the peeling out thing.

Trick Hill Twin Summits - 1st one gives an ejector pop.   Then it's down the big hill.   If you're in the back and throw your hands up, you're basically looking straight down falling, like a drop ride.   There is a jolt on this drop which others have noticed.    This kinda ruins the big drop and I hope they fix it in the off season.

90+ degree banked Waved Turn - This has some floater time as you are turned 90 degrees with a nice view of the ground.   You look down and realize how high up you are.   The turn seems to happen in slow motion as the train slows down at the top.  There's also a slight jolt in this section of the track.    

90 degree outside banked top hat - This turn happens faster with more of a throwing action, and it does seem to go past 90 degrees.   This is more of an Itamin turn to the left side and back.  

Twist and Shout - Once again, this is more of an Itamin turn because it goes to the outside of the track.   Meaning, you come out of a banked turn to the right, then twist to the left outside direction of the track.    

Step Up - This begins 6 ejector air time pops in a row.    It's like riding Skyrush at Hershey.    This hill passes over the track below.

Quadruple Down - Once again, these are huge ejector pops like riding Skyrush or Magnum XL-200, or Lightning Run (KK) near the end.    The train picks up speed, there's the turn near the bottom, you're flying.

High Speed Airtime Hill - This happens just before the camera, and it's the 6th ejector pop.

Non Inverting Half Loop - All that speed is carried into the massive turn at the bottom.   There's a slight air time pop coming out of this turn before hitting the brakes and wishing the ride would keep going.

The Quad down (which is really 6 ejector pops) is almost like a drop ride because you're falling so fast.   It's basically a huge drop in 4 steps.    If you like ejector hills, this is your ride.        

Lightning Rod - 73 Mph, 208 feet high, drop 165 feet, 3800 feet in length.  

I got right back in line and went again, in the same row.    I also got an exit re-ride when no one was waiting in my row.    Three rides in 30 minutes, I was happy.   

After conquering Lightning Rod, I headed to the other coasters going clockwise starting at Thunderhead.    As you can see in picture 1, the queue was empty.   The ride was a walk on and I rode in the front seat.    Great ride, very smooth in the front.    Next up was Mystery Mine, which also had no line.   In fact, I had an entire car to myself riding alone in the front.     I continued going on these rides as a walk on with no wait, Firechaser Express, Wild Eagle, Tennessee Tornado, Blazing Fury, Barnstormer.   Barnstormer was a fun ride, as I was the only one on the swing.   That's right, an entire swing ride to myself.   I rode in the outside seat, they only ran the side I was on, the other side stayed idle.     It was 11:38am and I had conqured all the coasters and the swing ride.     The Mountain Slidewinder was not operating, but that was fine with me.     Now what?     Another ride on Lightning Rod.    This time the wait was about 20 minutes starting at the bottom of the stairs.     But they stopped operations at noon and added the 2nd train.    I ended up in row 2 for another great ride.

Lumber Jack pizza is popular, the pizza slizes are huge.   I got a cheese slice.    The crust was crispy like a mexican tortilla, the tomato sauce had a good flavor, and the cheese was good.   

Another tradition at Dollywood is the Cinnamon Bread with a side of Icing from the Grist Mill.   

What a great day at Dollywood after cancelling 3 trips when Lightning Rod was not operating.   The ride was supposed to open in March, but they had problems.     Patience paid after 6 months of waiting, I was rewarded with 4 rides on Lightning Rod, and walk on rides everywhere else.   I was done at 1pm, called Laurie who picked me up from bus lane side, and that was it, like a movie, except it was real.      

Day 4 - Saturday September 17th.    We ate breakfast at the Hampton, checked out, and headed to Charlotte.   The drive was 4 hours.    We stopped in Asheville on the way eating at Elements.   This was a new healthy cafe with only 3 parking spaces out front, but they did have 2 tables outside so we could sit with our lab.    This seems to be the trend in healthy restaurants.   They open in small store fronts where the rent is cheap, but they have no parking.   Lucky for us there was a space and we parked out front.    How was the food?  Out of this world.   This restaurant deserves to be on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.     The star attraction was the ALT (Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato) in pictures 4 and 5.    This is my new favorite sandwich, which came with a beat salad.   What an idea for Vegetarians.   Just replace the bacon with avocado and the sandwich is perfect.    This is also what I want on most Mexican dishes, for them to add Avocado as an option instead of meat.    

We arrived Charlotte NC at about 02:00pm, checked into the La Quinta Airport South, and Laurie dropped me off at Carowinds while she took Destiny to a dog park.   Fury325 was awarded the best steel coaster in the world by Amusement Today.    I got a few rides in the back, wait was about 15 minutes.   Rode Intimidator, Afterburn, another ride on Fury325, and headed out.    Mission accomplished.   Rode Lightning Rod, along with another visit to Fury325 since it was voted the #1 steel coaster on the planet.

Next up, a visit to Freedom Park, the best dog park on the planet.    We walked around the lake which took about an hour.    

Down the street from Freedom park was Kid Cashew.  Pictured is a Super Grains Salad, Forbidden Rice, and Brussel Sprouts.   We sat outside with Destiny under the table.   The staff was very happy to serve us, dog friendly.    

Day 5 - Sunday September 18th.   We ate the free breakfast and checked out of the La Quinta.   We drove 2 hours to Columbia SC, arriving at Good Life Cafe at 9:30am.    They were open this early in the morning.   

Here we are at Good Life Cafe,.   In picture 2 is Tempeh Biscuits & Gravy, Grits and a fruit cup.   In picture 3 is Noodle Bar (mixed), a Mushroom Stroganoff dressing, and a double side of kale salad.   In picture 4 is Spring Rolls.   Everything tasted out of this world.    If you are driving from the Charlotte area back to Florida, be sure to stop here when passing through Columbia.   

Conclusion:  Visited Dollywood and checked off Lightning Rod from my bucket list and completed it for 2016 with 82 of the best steel coasters in the USA.    So where do I rank this coaster?   It's 6th out of 9 in the RMC category.   I'll rank it higher next year, but for now it's still in "Technical Rehearsal" due to all the problems they had opening.       Go check out my bucket list page to see where I rank them, then back to return here.   
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Drove the rental car a total of 2110 miles.  

End of Report.   Thanks for reading. 

Email me at skiguy777@bellsouth.net.


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