Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dollywood Going Huge in 2012

The Mountain Press: Fresh off being named the world’s top amusement park, the folks at Dollywood intend to continue flying high, introducing the coaster they’re planning for 2012 that will send riders soaring 210 feet in the air at speeds topping 60 miles per hour.

After months of hype built around the motto, “The sky is not the limit,” park officials announced Sunday the new ride, which is being built at the corner of Wilderness Pass and Craftsmens Valley, will be called Wild Eagle. The steel wing coaster with the cantilevered seats will be only the second of its kind in the world and the first in the United States.

The coaster will have a floorless design that positions riders, who will be seated four across, in a forward-facing position with two riders seated on the “wings” on either side of the eagle-themed ride trains. It will cruise along a 3,127-foot track at top speeds of 61-miles-per-hour for its 2-minute, 22-second run.

The trains, which will hold up to 28 people at a time, will go through four inversions and a host of drops, starting with the first one of 135 feet after the initial 210-foot lift hill. Track features will include a giant loop, a zero-G roll, an inclined immelmann, a giant flat spin, a camel spin, a spiral and a figure-8 curve. While names like that might not mean much to the layperson, for coaster enthusiasts, who have taken to online forums to speculate the last few months months about what the addition might be, they’re long-hand for “awesome.”

“A B&M Wingrider that hugs the ground down Craftsman Valley with a 200 foot loop at the bottom,” coaster enthusiast Casey Haskett wrote on a web page Dollywood set up in advance of the announcement. “The rumors on our coaster boards has the theming either flying or an eagle theme.”

It turns out riders of Wild Eagle will get both an eagle theme and the feeling of flying from the ride designed by Bolliger & Mobillard of Switzerland.

“It’s a new ride configuration that really allows you to feel the sensation of being in flight,” Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens says. “The only other one in the world currently is in Italy at a park called Gardaland, but this one is going to be far different from that. Theirs makes use of the curves in the ride track for the thrill of the ride. Ours really plays up this type of ride’s ability to give that sensation of flight much more.”

Construction of the ride, which has already begun in a walled-off space across from Adventure Mountain, is slated to cost $20 million, making it the largest single capital investment in the history of the park. It’s money well-spent in the opinion of park namesake Dolly Parton.

“After the honor of the 2010 Applause Award, we knew that all eyes were on us at Dollywood to see what we’d do next,” Parton says. “Wild Eagle celebrates not only the majestic bald eagle but also my beautiful Smoky Mountains which folks will get a bird’s eye view of as they soar high above Dollywood. I’m just thrilled that Dollywood’s Wild Eagle is the only place in the entire country where folks can get their feathers ruffled on a coaster like this!”

The tab for Wild Eagle is so considerable that it will actually cost more than the entire initial investment for Dollywood’s Splash Country. It represents a vote of confidence in the park and the local area, Owens says.

“There has been a focus and effort on trying to build a great package of rides and attractions at Dollywood,” he says. “This will be another real, world-class attraction. It’s a game changer for the entire industry. It’s certainly going to give our guests an experience they really can’t get anywhere else.”

At least for a time. It appears Great American, an amusement park in Chicago, will also be unveiling a wing rider attraction in 2012, though Dollywood’s will still be constructed and opened first, Owens says.

That makes the ride the next step in a long line of superlatives for Dollywood. Its Mystery Mine was the first of its kind in America, while its Timber Tower, which has a somewhat dubious operating history but is still loved by those who have been able to ride it, remains the only one of that type in the country. The Thunderhead wooden coaster has been ranked tops in its category multiple times, as have other rides, Dollywood’s shows and the park itself.

“This will be a great addition for what is already a world-class park,” Owens says. “We’re very excited to bring this to America and to our visitors.”

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