(MOVIE PLANNING VIEWING: 9 TO 5, RHINESTONE, HANNAH MONTANA)
Chapter 1: Heading East Across Tennessee to the Cracker Barrel
The time was going pretty fast and we were enjoying our time immensely in Tennessee. Today, Tuesday 15 June we were on the move again, this time headed for Pigeon Forge, on the other side of Knoxville. Our drive was uneventful, Big Red was up to the drive, I was well rested and Simon was programmed up. We did stop along the way for a late lunch at a chain-restaurant that had caught may eye called Cracker Barrel. So Justyn conceded to the driver and we pulled into one at some exit along whatever interstate number we were driving. A quaint little restaurant, it had quite a few rocking chairs outside (for purchase although I did take one for a test drive) and inside we were seated and given another huge menu to peruse. As this was brunch, I went straight to the breakfast menu that they served all day – music to my ears! Bacon, eggs, biscuits (huh?), grits (wha’?), sawmill gravy (whod?) and sweet apple (weirder!). So I ordered and waited to see what would land on my plate. A pile of deliciousness – that’s what! The bacon and eggs were pretty good, but I also had turkey bacon and a pork sausage, the grits were interesting – kind of like a corny tasting gritty semolina porridge, the apple tasted like it had been stewed in bucketfuls of sugar, molasses, syrup – anything sweet they could get their hands on, and the biscuits were like lightly salty scones – fluffy, light and delicious with whipped butter. My arteries keep on hardening with every delicious mouthful of tempting food and goodies on this trip! Even J admitted that while he was concerned about a chain restaurant and potentially fast food, he enjoyed his meal too – even though the pancake he ordered never turned up!
Chapter 2: Onto Pigeon Forge, Our Accommodations and the Cereal Aisle of an American Supermarket
I was a little excited to be going to Dollywood – not because it had particularly exciting rides (although I was looking forward to the Mystery Mine ride) but because I admired Dolly and what she had accomplished in her career and the idea of her having her own themepark was just way to cool! We had booked a cabin as Pigeon Forge was at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and we thought it would be nice to wake up in the countryside rather than the cities we had been in so far on our trip. On the outskirts of Knoxville, we ran into a storm and traffic slowed considerably. Reports on the radar mentioned hail and severe damage so we crossed our fingers that we were either ahead or behind that storm pattern because we had no idea where the counties were that they were mentioning on the radio. We passed through Knoxville and headed into Pigeon Forge via Sieverville which is where Dolly Parton was born and grew up. What I thought would be a quaint little village at the base of the Smoky Mountains was fast turning into a Vegas (minus the casinos) crossed with the kitchyness of Niagara Falls with either a putt putt golf or a Ripleys Believe It or Not or a pancake parlour on all corners. And to top it all off, when we found the location where we were to pick up the keys to our cabin, right next door was a replica of the Titanic – including iceberg – which housed a museum dedicated to that ship! We picked up our directions to the cabin and got off the main parkway and headed into the woods. ‘Angel Haven’ was the name of our cabin and it was a cute, two-storey wooden cabin that backed onto the woods – right next door to Angel‘Large Woman in a Hot Tub on the Porch’ Meadows. Yep, you read right – fortunately while we were right next door, we did not have any windows on that side. In our little cabin there was a pool table, kitchen, two bathrooms and lordy a washer and dryer. We sorted our clothes to do some more washing and thought about what we wanted to do for dinner. We weren’t able to buy tickets to the Dixie Stampede for that night so it was either TGIF’s or some such other chain meal or we could find a supermarket nearby and provide for ourselves. Our vote! So back into Big Red we hopped and drove to the nearest supermarket, Krogers. It was like walking into a themepark! They had packets of peeled hardboiled eggs, bananas for only 29c per pound, Ben and Jerry’s icecream with flavours we’d never seen able to be bought for only $2.59! And the cereal aisle! What wondrous cereals are available! Everything from Applejacks to Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops to Marshmallow Blasted Froot Loops; and then the miracle – Cinnabon cereal! I just had to buy it and attempt to eat the whole packet in two days! They also sell Krispy Kreme donuts and beer and wine and an amazing assortment of coffee but hardly any tea bags; you can purchase pharmacy items as well as your fruit and veg and perhaps weirdest of all is the BBQ chicken which we decided on for dinner. It was a rotisserie chook that they threw BBQ sauce on – or lemon or original.... We took our chances with the BBQ flavoured chicken and took it home – along with the Cinnabon cereal, some fruit, a couple of tubs of B&J icecream, some salad to have with the chook and perhaps a number of completely unnecessary items that we just had to have! That night we ate at home in our cabin, with B&J for dessert watched TV, played pool and blogged while our washing was on. Quite a nice evening in!
Chapter 3: The Road to Dollywood!
The weather channel was forecasting highs in the 90’s with afternoon thunderstorms so we decided to head to Dollywood as close to when it opened do as many rides as we could in case it rained. The day was already heating up as we parked and caught the shuttle to the park entrance. With a big breath, we stepped into the olden days as was the central theme of Dollywood. We had the obligatory park photo, took our ticket and turned left (we did listen to you B!). The first ride we encountered was Thunderhead. A wooden coaster that went for nearly over 2 minutes! This was to be ride #29. It was also my first ride on my own as I had no Patty or Barb or Kelly to ride with me and Justyn was not going to ride any wooden coasters! The queue was not long and as a single rider, I progressed pretty quickly through the line and jumped in. Pretty smooth running, it had some pretty sharp bends and turns and was heaps of fun.
Ride Thirty – the three quarter mark was the Mystery Mine. Runner up to Maverick at Cedar Point in 2007 as the Best New Theme Park Attraction, this was the ride to ride at Dollywood. Fortunately, the wait was not too long – about 15 minutes – and I was soon strapped into the car with 7 other nervous riders. What a cool ride! I wasn’t able to find a video that really showed what it was like to take this ride as it takes place inside and outdoors, so I’ll try to explain it; upon departure from the station the track twists and turns for a bit, along with a small drop. You then begin ascending the first vertical lift. We then plummeted down over eight stories, beyond vertical! Immediately after this, the train swoops into an overbanked turn and through a helix. And just when it may seem over, another vertical lift is looming. The highlight of the ride is here as you drop down at a ninety-five degree angle, the steepest drop on American soil! And we are then thrown into a heart-line roll, the ride’s first inversion. Soon following this is the second inversion which is a slow rollover loop. Finally after two beyond vertical drops, a top speed of sixty miles (100 km) per hour, two inversions, two vertical lifts and an incredible themed experience, Dollywood’s Mystery Mine was over.
Unfortunately due to the threat of electrical storms in the area, Dollywood’s other major ride, the Tennessee Tornado was not operating, so I wasn’t able to add that one to my tally. We wandered around Dollywood as in addition to standard amusement park thrill rides, Dollywood features traditional crafts and music of the Smoky Mountains area. The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year, including appearances by the one and only Dolly Parton herself and her family, as well as other national and local musical acts. It turns out we missed Dolly by one week! It is the 25th anniversary of the park and the week before, Dolly was there with Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus to film as special show – bummer! A couple of live shows that we went to see were also cancelled due to the “the report of lightning in the area” – one literally in the middle of a song, the performers walked off stage and the other was just as they were about to start, they apologised and left! But for all that, it was a real treat to visit Dollywood – it was a themepark that seemed to have some soul and heart, even if you had to dig around the commercialism a bit to find it. PS, thanks to Bec & Helen for the tix to Dollywood for our birthdays – it was awesome!
Chapter 4: Oh I Wish I Was In Dixie, Hooray, Hooray!
While we were in Pigeon Forge, I wanted to go to Dolly Partons Dixie Stampede – a four course dinner and show with horses, dancers etc – a bit El Cabalo Blanco or Australian Outback Spectacular! One hour prior to the main dinner and show, we are seated in a "Carriage Room" where we buy novelty drinks served in a plastic boot and watch an opening act. Mountain Ruckus, entertained us playing bluegrass and country music. At show time, we are then are escorted into the arena, where the Dixie Stampede dinner and show begins. Although the attraction bears her name, Dolly doesn't appear in person, except by video in the very Amercian, Red, White and Blue patriotic sing-a-long. But before that, the is essentially a modern-day Wild West revue, pitting sections of the audience against each other in a good-natured way as "the South" and "the North" battle to win various horse riding competitions. It is also said that if you are close enough to the stage, dirt will fly into your plate from the horses running around in the arena – fortunately we didn’t experience that! What we did experience though, was the meal, which is made fresh daily and baked on property, consists of a whole, yes a whole, rotisserie chicken, hickory smoked barbecue pork loin, creamy vegetable soup, homemade biscuit, corn on the cob, herb-basted baked potato, an iced apple turnover – all served without cutlery – dig in with your fingers and teeth! We completely immersed ourselves in the fun and ‘hickiness’ of it all and of course our side ‘the South’ won!