Well, what a day. Today we toured Gatlinburg in the morning and early afternoon then moved on to Dollywood to take advantage of their – buy one day get in the day before – deal. After just a few days in this tourist mecca I can say for sure that I have not been to such a concentrated dose of unique advertising anywhere else.
First up was the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers. Yes my friends, there is such a thing, and I advise if you are anywhere nearby – don’t miss it! Over 20,000 S&P shakers, and I believe their count may be on the low side. Five rooms full to the brim of floor to ceiling S&P sets. We spent over an hour oohing and aahing and pointing out this or the other amazing set. From Treasure Craft, Arcadia, and McCoy to cut crystal salt cellars and silver inlaid sets, new and old, souvenir sets from all over the world, you name it they had it. I was giggling towards the end as every time you thought there couldn’t be any more you turned a corner and there was another room! Highly Recommended!
While Pigeon Forge tended to be larger than life (giant King Kong climbing the Empire State Building) Gatlinburg distilled down the essence of crazed carnival hawker to a focused eccentricity. The town is bounded closely by mountains; since they couldn’t spread out as much so they chose to just amp up the level of insanity. Each attraction had a barker to bring you in, and there were so many tourists walking the strip as soon as one stopped to listen a small crowd grew. We chose the 7D movie/ride/shooting gallery/attraction and had a very fun time. You ‘rode’ a sort of a headless, legless horse while watching a movie and shooting skeletons and bandits. That sentence really didn’t capture the experience, but hopefully the picture above colors it a bit.
After an amazing lunch at the Mellow Mushroom (our server was from Belarus, when we asked him how he got to Gatlinburg his pause and sigh before the explanation was so expressive) we went on to the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster. We had such fun at the coaster at Goats on the Roof, I read somewhere this one was longer and ‘better’. Well. I officially disagree. The coaster was the only attraction in a corner of the highway with nothing outside but the ticket booth. The loading zone was right in the hot sun and you sit for a bit while getting the instructions and earlier riders on their way. The only audio you hear while climbing is rules and don’ts. The coaster itself is fine, then you get off, get in your car and drive away. The experience was enhanced by the plethora of atmosphere at Goats. You could sit in a rocker for a spell while contemplating the absurdity of riding a coaster past goats on the roof. The atmosphere was more pleasant, with a covered loading zone, music on the way up and a more convivial scene to return to.
Enough jawin’ – on to the main event – Dollywood! I have been to theme parks and coaster parks all over the US and one in the UK (Blackpool – home of the Steeplechase, the most unusual coaster in the world, but that is for another day) and I can say this park knocked me off my game. It is perfect for its setting, on the side of the mountain. The rides take advantage of the terrain beautifully. The people, however, are not so fortunate. We entered around 4 PM, right in the heat of the day. We also chose to head left, to the new wooden coaster, which sits about half way up the mountain. After hiking up to the entrance it was a brief 15 minute wait to ride an amazing coaster. Then another hike up to the next coaster. Again, great experience. Another hike… You get the picture. When we got to the top of the park we had to take a long rest spell to recover. We ended up doing 7 rides and were beat by 8 PM. Each ride not only required a hike to get to the entrance, but then 1-3 flights of stairs to get to the loading area.
They really do have beautiful themeing, and go out of their way to keep the smallest details in keeping with the mood of the area. The shops sell items that are made by artisans right there, from pottery to candles to woodcarvings you can watch thing being made – or make them yourself! As a Disney-aholic I was impressed by the costumes, signs and background music consistency. The few suggestions I have would be to provide more shade and better descriptions of the ride at the entrance. I was quite surprised by several rides that sounded far different from the name and sketch provided than reality. All in all we had a good time and I look forward to doing some shows and smaller area exploring tomorrow!