World-Class Woodie Puts Dollywood on the Map
By some random chain of events my family decided to take a summer vacation in Tennessee. This gave me the opportunity to stop at Dollywood on our way back home. I had heard a lot about Thunderhead, the 2004 GCI wooden coaster that topped many enthusiast’s Top 10 lists. Also, Thunderhead had been awarded the Golden Ticket Award for the best Wooden Coaster in the World. Needless to say, I was expecting an amazing ride and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed.
Thunderhead’s location in the mountainous park was very scenic. The Timber Tower had just opened next to the ride and the area had several “back-country” themed buildings in the newest section in Dollywood known as Thunderhead Gap. As my wife and I approached the queue I noticed the Golden Ticket signage under the main sign. It was good to see that Dolly and her park management weren’t clueless about the success of the ride.
As we entered the station I noticed that the trains were millennium flyers. They were padded with leather and the lead car was themed. The ride op had personality, which is always a big plus in my book. She sent every train out of the station with “Let the thunder rolllllllll!!!!!”. An excited station is high on my list of what makes a world-class coaster and so far Thunderhead was doing great. If the ride op wasn’t enough to get people in the queue excited, then the unique station fly through did. At about midway through the coaster’s twisted course, the trains curve back around the queue and fly through the station. The roaring train every few minutes kept the waiting riders anticipating their ride. Nice touch GCI!
Finally, we board the comfortable trains and we’re lifted up the modest 100 foot lift hill. The swooping drop led to a banked twisting turn and then another and so on. Thunderhead’s twister layout offered some great lateral g-forces and a seemingly fast, but pretty smooth ride. There were a few nice pops of airtime and the station fly through had a great head chopper effect. After returning to the station, the train was packed with smiles and laughs. Thanks to its unabusive ride, my wife and I decided to immediately ride it again.
Why only an 8? I just don’t think it did anything all that amazing. It was a great ride and the overall experience was fast, fun, and smooth. I didn’t walk away with any big ‘wow moments’ or legendary launches of airtime. Also, it was just more fun than thrilling. The majority of my highest rated coasters are thrilling and really get the adrenaline pumping. Not to take anything away from Thunderhead, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. It’s great that a smaller park like Dollywood can boast one of the top wooden coasters in the world, probably for years to come. The park may have quite a one-two punch if Mystery Mine turns out to be a winner. Final Rating 8.5 – (Great Approaching Excellent)Here’s a great overhead view of the entire layout.
Thunderhead is rated ‘TR’ for Traditional. It’s a 2 out of 5 on my Thrill Scale.
What’s Your Take?
Do you think Thunderhead deserves the praise it gets? Leave a comment below. Photos 2 & 3 courtesy of CoasterImage.com