Monday, September 24, 2018

Fall 2018 Theme Park Trip-Day 4

Today was all over the place!

I have the Honolulu Marathon in December and decided that for this trip I'm going to do my best to keep up some sort of training while I'm traveling. Going running in an unfamiliar city can bring about different vistas and running patterns. The run brought me along a long veterans highway with a huge side walk along it although for most of it, there were just fields and forest next to it. I ran early so that I could spend the rest of the day running around to attractions so I started at 6am. Next to the motel where I'm staying there is a beautiful mountain stream which lead to a mill. What a beautiful site. As I got closer, I couldn't hear my podcasts as there was a small drop off and the water cascading over it made this beautiful thum-thum-thum sound. From there is was up towards Dollywood's entrance and then just kept going. It was dark and there were very few cars. Being the Smokey Mountains, there was mist everywhere. Several times when I went to scratch my beard I was surprised at how much moisture was clinging to it. I didn't encounter any other people walking or running and I'm sure I must have been out of place to the drivers as they went along their task.  When I returned to the motel, at the embankment of the river there was an older gentleman sitting on top of a picnic table there playing his guitar and singing.  What a way to start a Sunday morning!

For activities, spent the earlier portion  of the day heading into Gatlinburg. Did my first mountain coaster which was before you got into the downtown district. It was different than what I expected but still a lot of fun. I had been on a alpine side where you take a chair lift to the top and then ride down. Part of the charm was being towed up while sitting in the cart. The ride down was lots of fun but didn't expect it to be so short.

I had been to Gatlinburg once before in 1982 when I had visited Knoxville for the world's fair that was taking place in the city. The one memory I had from then is a store that sold these troll creations. Funny enough, the second store I went into had trolls. Not exactly as I remember them but thought it odd that I ran into them so quickly and only in the one store on the second floor of a mall that was tucked away in the back of the walkway.

I did a couple of the really touristy things like the The World of Illusion, Earthquake, the ride, and Mysterious Mansion. The first two were really hokey. I laughed though the whole Earthquake experience. With the Mysterious Mansion, I got grouped up with a number of other people and the "leader" was this 6 ft 270 lb guy that was a really scaredy cat but yet he
kept taking the lead and screeching out as the two actors would pop out of different places and yell boo.

Throughout the day I did four of the mountain coasters. The newest one is called The Rowdy Bear and in addition to the coaster they also had a what is being called a mountain glider. You're suspended from the bar and you zip along. I trust that these devices are safe but there were a couple of corners that I whipped around that made me swing back and forth that made me wonder for a second. I mentioned the Florida Zipline Coaster and they said they were aware of it but this was the first deployment of their technology in the US. I did buy the pic and a video and they have done something that I've never seen before. They gave me the physical print and on there is a QR code that you can use to download both pic and video. Something that I didn't like it that in the downloaded pic, it also includes the QR code so that other people could get it too. I'll need to photoshop it to remove the code, but eventually I'll get those posted.

Away from Gatlinburg, back in Pigeon Forge, spent time at both the Titanic and Alcatraz East attractions. Within Titanic, the item that I thought really drove home the point of what happened to the people is you walk outside the bridge and they have a representation of the iceberg next to the ship. You can run your hand along it, and it's real ice. The air in that room is chilly like it was that night. Then you can put your hand in some water that is kept at 28 degrees, the temp the people of the Titanic were dropped into once the ship sank. I only kept my hand in it for about 20 seconds and could really, really feel it. I could pull my hand out of the water, but they didn't have the option which really drove home the point of how these people died.

At Alcataz East, it's not a history of the place itself, but a museum that looks at crime and justice in all sorts of aspects going from back in ancient times to today. They had a number of actual items involved with topics they were discussing. Something amusing here that happened is that unlike at Titanic where they just handed you a self guide tour wand, the Alcatraz folks wanted you to leave your ID. So I asked if they would be responsible if I had ID theft during the next year. She then commented that the wands were $300 a piece and they could use my car keys to make sure they got it back. Fine. In the back of my head I'm thinking Titanic didn't ask for something as a hold but then again, maybe as a crime museum that's what they're worried about happening to them. At the end of the tour she asked for the name on the ID and said I was the guy with the car keys and she responded, "Oh yah, you....". Bit of an attitude, but the information presented was fascinating. I ended up spending 90 minutes in there.

By this time, it was almost 9pm and it was raining so decided to call it a night after grabbing a bite to eat. Unfortunately, that meant no moonshine tasting so I'll have to save that for another trip. Tomorrow is up really early for an early fight to visit family in Boston.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fall 2018 Theme Park Trip-Day 3

Day two at Dollywood was a very calm day as compared to the first day.

To start the day, I didn't set an alarm. I hadn't gotten much sleep the past couple of days. The two flights didn't get me much rest and about the time I was checking into the hotel I was really starting to feel it. I didn't get up until almost 7:30am. I let me body let me know when it was ready. I did a little bit more planning and got to Dollywood for their opening at 10am.

Because I had rushed around the park the day before and basically did all of the coasters, today was just a day to enjoy without worrying about accomplishing any goals. First thing I noticed going into the park is that not only were there more people, but more kids. Also, when did toting kids around in one of those collapsible wagons go into vogue? I was surprised at how many I saw. Because there were more families today, I decided to move quickly and hit a bunch of rides before the crowds really piled up. Made a coaster pass including several rides on Wild Eagle and Mystery Mine.

So on with the exploring. I continued to go back to the Artisan Valley of the park and look at all the different crafts. I talked to some employees and they said that the park wanted to expand that area but was finding it hard due to a troubles finding talent. We then discussed is it because the artisan didn't want to pass it on on there wasn't anyone behind them that wanted to learn? They felt it was more of the latter than the former. That's a shame but then again, we have technologies that help produce items for people at a quicker pace and cheaper cost, but in many cases the quality is not the same.

A train ride is always an enjoyable endevour! They were loading people on and taking people not in a circle pattern, but more of a dumbbell shape something like two circles connected by a line. In parts if you were on the left side of the train, where you saw the left side going out, coming back you got the ride side. If you're a park nerd, the trip went around the area that is being expanded for 2019 called Wildwood Grove. Land has been cleared, grading is going on and some construction has already started. I ended up talking to a clerk at a clothing store that is outside of the park and they said they are really excited as being a resident in the area, it will give them something new to look forward to when they visit the park.

One of the challenges has been the food and what to eat. I did find a couple of items that weren't the best, but better than alternatives. I got what would have been an Italian sausage sandwich but I asked them to hold the bun and the chips. I asked the cashier if she would give the chips out to someone who just wanted chips at her stand and she wouldn't do that so I just asked the people behind me if they wanted an extra bag and they said sure. Later in the day I did decide to go off script. I had one of the park staff say that Ham and Beans had good southern food. I ended up with a platter that had beans, corn bread and potatoes in addition to some meat and other veggies. They also had  blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream included in the price. Oh, it all tasted sooo good! A little later when I was looking for an outlet, I ended up getting a salted caramel milkshake. I just know that tomorrow I need to make sure that I don't continue the trend.

While I didn't watch any shows from front to back, there were so many available that I caught pieces of throughout the two days.  One of the people happen to start while I was eating the corn bread. I couldn't see who it was from where I sat due to a wall in the way. It turned out to be part of one of the other items I was told I must do is get a picture with Miss Lillian, the Chicken Lady of Dollywood. After the show was over, Mission Accomplished!

I really want to applaud Dollywood for providing me such a good time. There is a warmth and charm there that just oozes out of everything going on there. As a side note, I was surprised at how many guys I saw there with epic beards and mustaches that were on staff. Disney only allows close cropped stuff. One guy operating Mystery Mine had a beard about as long as mine and a great handlebar mustache. But then again, it totally falls into line with the story they are telling at the park. I found the food prices reasonable. Anywhere you could ask for ice water and you got it for free. They were running the rides with multiple trains and kept the lines down. Granted at one point of the day I did see Tennessee Twister with a 50 minute wait, but that seemed to be the longest I saw when I looked at the map. The longest I personally waited was for Blazing Fury at 10 minutes. Over the past several years they have had Timer Tower, the Adventure Mountain ropes course and Lighting Rods which closed shortly after opening. Granted the other two are already gone and they are still working to get Lightning Rod working, but they have some rides that have some wonderful theming and work very creatively in the spaces they have available for use.

Outside of the park I wanted to do a little bit of shopping (reference paragraph 5) as they have several outlet malls unlike what we have in Hawaii. I went to a store to pick up a shirt and on the way back to the hotel I traveled down Parkway. That's right, just Parkway. Not Parkway Blvd, Parkway Ave or Parkway Parkway. This reminded me of  what RT 192 was in Kissimmee, FL back when I worked at Disney.  Today's Hwy 192 only wishes it is as busy as Parkway is now. One item that was recommend was Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride. I saw the lighted sign and had to go around the block to get back into the parking lot. OMG, I posted a couple of pics to Facebook and I stated it was Gloriously Tacky! It was so bad it was good! Many of the animals didn't work. The lighting didn't work in several areas. There was one place where they had a giant Jurassic cockroach with its latex rubber skin ripped, hanging down and showing the stuffing underneath. There were several times that I just laughed. Unfortunately, the last scene where it seemed to have several things go wrong I was laughing as some action took place with a loud noise and the little girl (is a 10-11 year old little?) in the row in front started crying. I wasn't laughing at her as I started laughing before she started crying. It took the parents a minute or two after getting off the boat to get her calmed down.

I'll go running in the morning, but tomorrow is primarily more of Parkway in Pigeon Forge and the touristy stuff including a couple of mountain coasters, Titanic and moonshine tasting!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Fall 2018 Theme Park Trip-Day 2

Well maybe day 1.5? I left on a Thursday. My usual shuttle company that I have used before went out of business last year so I was left scrambling looking for a new company. With such short notice, I used Uber. With tip is was still cheaper that one of the shuttle service one way charges.

My trip started with a long overnight flight from HNL to EWR or in other words Honolulu to Newark. When I arrived at EWR, it was on a Friday hence what really to call the day. Although, the start was very reminiscent of another trip that I took in 2010 which ended up with major repercussions for me. They said they were needing 124,000  lbs of fuel for the flight. Unfortunately, we had a slow pump. We were supposed to be taking off and we were at 27,000 lbs and still trying to get more. We ended up moving gates to get a different pump. They sent out two updates via text. Eventually we left almost a full hour after we were supposed to. I had 1 hour 45 minutes between connections and the new landing time cut that down to 25 minutes. Fortunately they were able to push a bit and get us there and gave that to about 25 minutes before the boarding began.  Even though the gates were are away, made it there 15 minutes before boarding would start. Praise be for minor miracles!

As someone who has a license, but not a car, I'm spending all sorts of time fooling around with the car trying to figure out what's where and how does it work. All these new fangled  doo-dads.
So it's trying to figure out how to adjust the wing mirrors, adjusting the seat, adjusting the steering column, trying to find if it has a USB port, trying to find how to wash the windshield, how to pair the car with blue tooth and finally, how to pop the hood to be able to check the window washer levels. The USB in the car wouldn't charge the Pixel faster than the battery would drain while using GPS.  Also challenged to control the volume on the device or pause the playback without having to pick up the phone and fingerprint in instead of  dealing with the lock screen.

With the GPS, I finally made it to Dollywood about 12:30. It was hot and humid. I got to the parking lot and changed from jeans to shorts because it was so hot. Once inside the park, looked for the first sit down place so I could plug in and get a bit of charge on my phone. Finally after 15 minutes the phone was charged enough that I started my day at the park.

I was so excited to be there. Being on In The Loop we had Pete Owens, the PR Director of Dollywood, on a number of times talking about the park. It was wonderful to be there to finally experience it myself. My first ride, Thunderhead, a fairly small compact woody. I use a fanny pack at the park and decided to keep it on. I was worried the whole time as I had so much packed in it. After I got off and went to my next ride, they have cubbies there where you can place your items. I used it. OMG, I felt so much better knowing that I couldn't lose my fanny pack. As I was impressed walking around the park and the quality of the staff. I felt like I was in a concierge level service location.Instead of just acknowledging you being there, they asked questions. When I responded, I ended up getting in several conversations with the staff. It was fun! When I go back tomorrow, not sure how crowded it will be as I guess Tennessee is taking the Florida Gators and many people will stay out of the park to watch the game.

Tomorrow will be more focused on the shows as I was able to get most of the rides done with many of them being walked in. In many ways I think Dollywood is like Knott's Berry Farm in that they have lots of historical cultural information to share and I want to take in those details as I also plan to do with my return trip to Knott's.