For family fun and more ... Dollywood has it
by BETTIE MARLOWE Banner Staff Writer
May 25, 2014 | 442 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

This image shows the new FireChaser Express attraction at Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. The ride, which opened in March, takes riders forward and backward and close to a shed of exploding fireworks.  AP Photo
This image shows the new FireChaser Express attraction at Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. The ride, which opened in March, takes riders forward and backward and close to a shed of exploding fireworks. AP Photo
From shopping and eating to screaming on the rides, a day at Dollywood in its 29th season pushes all the buttons for family fun. My “gang” of five — Kami Lofton and her children, Andrew and Savannah, and my son Terry — went on a Saturday, which began with rain.

No problem. Umbrellas went up and ponchos came out with no interruption to the Dollywood experience. By noon, the sky was blue and the clouds were forgotten, leaving only pleasant temperatures for the afternoon. It was a good time for a pre-Mother’s Day celebration. It was also a graduation gift for Andrew and a birthday gift for Terry, whose birthday is coming up on Memorial Day.

The rain provided a good time to eat and, choosing between the buffet restaurants, we made our way to Granny’s, a favorite stop for Dollywood guests. The park was filled with tantalizing smells coming from the many booths offering a variety of food you could take on the run or eat in the picnic-like setting.

In addition, the outdoor theaters offer a chance to sit down and enjoy music, comedy and laughter. And throughout the park, you can hear Dolly’s singing. By all means, don’t miss the chance to go through her museum and experience her life in Sevier County and her rise to stardom.

While you’re in that section of Dollywood, check out the restored Chevys and Fords and the vintage diner and theater.

By the time we had downed chicken, barbecue, tacos and pork chops, along with veggies and luscious desserts — including banana pudding — we were eager for other activities.

When the younger members of our party headed for the first ride on their list, FireChaser Express, o, the two moms tagged along to share the excitement before heading for their own fun — a shopping tour.

Being in a wheelchair was not a hindrance to Terry. Dollywood’s attractions are accessible, regardless of the disability or handicap. At the FireChaser Express, he, along with Andrew and Savannah, were escorted to the front of the line to board the coaster.

You might not be able to walk, but at Dollywood, you can soar. Motorized or standard wheelchairs are available in the park to rent and this convenience certainly makes it possible for everyone to enjoy everything the park has to offer.

FireChaser Express is the park’s newest thrilling attraction and is the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster. Its 39-inch minimum height requirement invites families to ride together on a thrilling journey to “save the Smokies” from potential fire hazards. Perched 12 stories above the park’s Wilderness Pass area, FireChaser Express launches twice, racing forward and backward on a winding 2,427-foot track. The coaster launches from the loading station traveling from zero to 16 mph in just 1.1 second. Near the end of the ride, a backward launch from zero to 20 mph in two seconds sends FireChaser Express back to the station traveling in the opposite direction.

Along the way, guests flash across mountainous terrain, through giant fire towers, and dodge fallen telephone poles and crashed rockets. A 79-foot lift propels FireChaser Express through a “trick track” section where the passenger trains twist from side to side. Riders also encounter two helices and six zero-gravity moments on a trip that lasts two minutes, 19 seconds.

According to Dollywood information, during the 1940s, firefighting trains were a common sight throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a fire occurred deep in the rugged landscape of the Smokies, a fire train, carrying the courageous local volunteer fire department members, was called to the scene to help extinguish the flames. Often the only vehicles capable of reaching remote sections of wilderness, fire trains were a crucial line of defense against wildfires. FireChaser Express’ three 14-passenger trains are themed to celebrate all firefighters who bravely battle perilous blazes to ensure the safety of others.

The three made the rounds of every ride, it seemed, even to the whirling of the cups — the last ride they chose before the park’s closing at 8 p.m. And the moms? They made the traditional train ride the last stop on their schedule and disembarked just as the rain was beginning again. Too bad the umbrellas and ponchos were all on the wheelchair elsewhere. But Kami had only one regret — she didn’t get to ride her favorite — the carousel. Dollywood was closing and, sadly, it was time to leave.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Dollywood Company consists of the 150-acre Dollywood theme park; the 35-acre Dollywood’s Splash Country; and Dollywood Cabins. Open nine months a year (late March through early January), Dollywood offers rides and attractions, shows and a dozen crafters authentic to the East Tennessee region. Dollywood’s Splash Country, recognized by the Travel Channel as one of the country’s most beautiful waterparks and named 2009’s Must-See Waterpark by the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions, operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For more information, call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD or visit Operating days and hours vary.