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 Review of Thunderhead @ Dollywood
3 Rating Posted by: Timberman on 9/13/2007 12:32:00 PM
I had a good nine hours to ponder the question during the long ride home from Dollywood, and Im fully confident that Ive made the right decision: My new Southern metal band will be called "Thunderhead," and our first single will be a cover of "I Will Always Love You." Electric dobro player needed. Please apply below in comments section.

As for the Ample-Chested-Ones gift to wooden roller coaster lovers everywhere, I am somewhat more indecisive, but I must reluctantly conclude that, while worthy of recognition and praise, it still does not rate with such other mid-sized standouts as Raven, Cornball Express, and Avalanche. Sharp drops, airtime, and intensity will always win out for me over twistiness and quick directional changes. I cant fault Thunderhead for anything it does, and its lookin better than a coaster has a right to, but when all was said and done, it wasnt messin up my mind and fillin up my senses like the great ones.

Like Kentucky Rumbler, Thunderhead is sort of the double bock of the GCI genre. It begins with an s-curve, followed by cross-overs aplenty. It also sports Millennium Flyers and the characteristic smoothness of its Boodlian brethren. However, it punches up the standard fare with several notable instances of floater air and a bit of shake, rattle, and roll to remind you that, Millenium Flyers notwithstanding, youre still on a bona fide wooden coaster, by God. We also had the good fortune to ride Thunderhead in a steady rain, and under those conditions, it had an intensity almost approaching aggressiveness. These are the rides that linger in my memory and make my pinky finger hover tantalizingly over the "9" button. Yet after after about a dozen circuits, the Alpine-slideness started to feel a bit cliche, and the moments of inspiration in the layout were ever muted by those stupid Flyer restraints, which lay in ones lap like a vinyl-coated boat anchor. For all the twistiness, the layout did feel more sprawling and less clausterphobic than the worst of the GCI offenders (e.g., SFAs Roar), and it generally stayed low to the ground, maintaining its intensity to the very end. But geez Louise, if ever a roller coaster called for a low, plunging drop augmented by a set of camel backs, one would think the star attraction at Dollywood would be it.

I salute you, loyal legions of Thunderhead, and I recognize the merit in your object of devotion. We part not on the subject of virtue, only on matters of taste. I can no more justify my relative indifference toward twisters than I can argue for coffee ice cream over mint chocolate chip. Thunderhead is every bit the roller coaster that you, and the Songbird of the Smokies, promised it would be. It was not, however, the crossover sensation that would teach me to love a twister.

Review Comments

hrrytraver on 9/13/2007 1:07:48 PM said:
timber, i love you man, but dont do a metal version of "IWALY"! im thinking about metallicas version of segers "turn the page"...ouch. that thing gave me nightmares. it was so slow and plodding that it gave me too much time to think about how washed up and dried out their imaginations were. their cover of queens "stone cold crazy" back in the early 90s was quite more apropos.

something down-tempo such as "IWALY" done metal-style is begging for massive tom-tom drum fills leading into the refrain and heavy-handed, chugging power chords. o man, thinking about it makes my spine hurt. id say do an experimental disco version of "9 to 5" instead.

ginzo on 9/13/2007 8:44:55 PM said:
Im actually kinda jealous of your Thunderhead rides in the rain. I bet those were great rides. I agree that it is not quite in the same league as Phoenix, Avalanche, Cornball, or Raven. But I still think its a solid addition to the park. The GP seem to adore this coaster.

What did you think of the park overall?
Timberman on 9/13/2007 11:01:44 PM said:
The rain rides were by far the best of the day, and great roller coaster rides by any measure. Im not knocking T-head by any stretch, its just not my ultimate cup of tea. It does, however, brilliantly combine intensity with rideability and is one of those rare rides that seems to be able to satisfy serious heads and casual riders in equal measure.

Dollywood itself became an instant favorite for both me and MommaT. While none of the coasters broke into my top ten, the collection itself is top notch and well-balanced. Every coaster is a standout within its respective genre, and all were well-maintained. The park was also very clean, and the staff were uniformly friendly and pleasant. While Dollwood takes on temporary help for peak season, it also apparently has a core of permanent personnel, and the fact that people are making a living at the park seems to show in their attitudes. It was a little weird having guys as old as my dad working at some of the rides, but they all seemed to get a kick out of it, and the T-head crew in particular appeared to take pride in the coaster and in running it well. MommaT, an artist herself, was particularly impressed that Dollywood provides an outlet for craftsmen, artisans, and performers of various stripes to practice their crafts and in a way that seemed much more authentic and dignified than what we would have expected. The place, frankly, is not cheap, and discounts are hard to come by, but we felt like we were supporting an enterprise with a genuine connection to and investment in the Smokey Mountain area. Even if this impression is an illusion, it is one the park manages to maintain very well.

We didnt sample much of the food, but the cheeseburger and fries we had were better than average, and the one show we saw, "Birds of Prey," was an excellent combination of environmentally-concious education, corny but affecting patriotism, and family-oriented entertainment. MommaT even got a bonus fly-by from a startlingly majestic golden eagle that whizzed overhead just inches from her scalp.

Admittedly, we hit the park on a day that seemed light even by off-season standards, so we cant speak for how things hold up against the tourist horde that no doubt besets the park from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Our experience, however, made us eager to return.

ginzo on 9/14/2007 6:29:18 AM said:
Apparently, SDC is every bit as nice as Dollywood. Though thats one hell of a hike if youre coming from the East Coast. Dollywood has some pretty good season pass deals at the beginning of the season, but this, of course, means that youd have to be go for multiple days. I think they focus a little bit too much on the water rides, but I guess it probably does get pretty darn hot there in July and August. Dollywoods train is a singular experience. Though I hate how long they leave you sitting there before they bother to dispatch it.
BobFunland on 10/10/2007 10:22:03 PM said:
Timbers - I too rode Thunderhead in the rain yesterday. It was a great ride and after two visits this year and half a dozen or so since it opened I have to say that the ride has really broken in well. Its running better than ever and that bit of rumbling at the speed points - not really roughness, but it no longer feels like the track may be well-hidden steel - made me think that this coaster may finally win over some of the people who think it is "too smooth". Am I correct in saying you didnt find it to be "too smooth"?
Timberman on 10/10/2007 11:38:17 PM said:
B-Fun, the ride quality was dead-on for my tastes, dynamic, but without any annoying vibration, potholes, or washboarding. The "feel" of the ride is just right, neither too rough nor too placid. For an example of the latter, see Lightening Racer.
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