Let's examine what's on the way, starting with the coaster.
- Type of coaster: Steel, launched, family
- Top speed: 35 mph
- Tallest point: 79 feet
- Track length: 2427 feet
- Height requirement: 39 inches
- Manufacturer: Gerstlauer
FireChaser Express Will Have You Coming and GoingWith Wild Eagle and Thunderhead, Dollywood has demonstrated that it knows how to build big, high-thrill coasters. For its latest attraction, however, the park is going to dial back the thrills and offer a ride firmly in the "family" category. At a top speed of 35 mph, which is about the speed of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney World, the coaster is not going to be quickening pulses, bugging out eyes, or turning knuckles white the way that, say, the 128-mph Kingda Ka does.
That's not to say that FireChaser Express won't have its thrilling moments. Its most distinctive features will be the two separate launches, both from a standstill, it will deliver. And get this: The second launch will head backwards. Interestingly, the backwards launch will be the faster of the two. But it will only rev up from 0 to 20 mph (in a nonetheless impressive 2 seconds). The forward launch will clock in at 0 to 16 mph in 1.1 seconds.
The launches, particularly the backwards one, will surely be attention-grabbing. But at a relatively poky 20 mph, most passengers will quickly regain their composure and be grinning in delight rather than screaming in terror. Dollywood is themeing the ride to rural volunteer fire departments, and the trains will be made to resemble antique fire apparatus.
Can FireChaser's Hype Take the Heat?The park is claiming that the ride will be "the nation's first dual launch family coaster." Whaddya say we parse that statement, and give it the About.com truth-in-advertising test for accuracy? As with many park claims, it's technically accurate if a bit misleading.
There are a number of dual-launch coasters already giving passengers two catapult-crazy moments, including Maverick at Cedar Point. They are all considerably faster than Dolly's newest ride, however, and therefore wouldn't be considered family coasters. There are a ton of boomerang (or shuttle) coasters, a staple found at most amusement parks, that head both forwards and backwards, but most aren't launched coasters and all of them would also fall outside the family category. There is at least one family coaster, Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom (although at 50 mph, it as the extreme upper end of the family designation), that sends riders careening both forwards and backwards. But the Disney ride uses a traditional lift hill and is not a launched coaster.
Regardless of the claims, FireChaser sounds like it will be a great coaster that will give seasoned pros a taste of adrenaline, while providing access to younger thrill seekers. The park didn't elaborate in its initial announcement, but it sounds as if the ride will include some nice themeing and likely feature some on-ride effects. From the scant info the park did share, I'd imagine that at least one of the launches would be accompanied by some kind of fireworks blast and perhaps a frantic fire alarm call to action. The coaster is set to debut in spring 2014.
See the ride in action in an animated preview video.
Sweet Dreams are Made of Dollywood's DreamMore ResortThe park has been offering lodging at "Dollywood Cabins" located at nearby resorts. Starting in summer 2015, however, gusts will be able to stay on property at the new DreamMore Resort to be situated near Dollywood's Splash Country, the property's water park. The addition of the hotel will put Dollywood in the relatively exclusive category of theme parks that offer accommodations.
At 300 rooms, the hotel will be fairly large. While it didn't reveal details when it announced the project, the park did say that the DreamMore would offer a variety of accommodations. That likely means that some of the options would include family suites, perhaps featuring whimsical themes. One of the announced choices will be the top-floor Dolly’s Suite Dreams celebrity suite. There's no word whether the exclusive-sounding digs will come with its own stash of Dolly-approved wigs.
The sprawling 100-acre hotel will include fire pits, swings, hammocks, and something the park is calling "story spots." I'm not sure whether that means families will be able to practice do-it-yourself storytelling, or if the resort will schedule its own storytellers. A family activity center will allow guests to plan excursions such as hikes in the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other adventures.
Other amenities will include a full-service restaurant, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and salon (which hopefully will include a Dolly-inspired makeup and 'do makeover), and a conference center. Hotel guests will receive not-yet-revealed exclusive park privileges, which might include early and/or late park admission or priority access to rides and shows.