Silver Dollar City
17th August 2021
Day thirteen of my trip was originally going to featuure Silver Dollar City and three nearby alpine coasters, but I was able to tick off two ahead of schedule and the third changed its opening hours at the last minute, leaving me with an entire day to enjoy what is by all accounts one of the nicest theme parks in North America. There is a well known proverb about every dark cloud having a silver lining, and while it is vaguely possible that the original philosopher might have been thinking about something other than Silver Dollar City, the reader will no doubt agree that this is extremely unlikely.
My visit began with the pleasant discovery that the park is one of a handful of large corporates that doesn’t feel the need to charge guests with the audacity to arrive by horseless carriage. The free parking lot is a bit of a schlep from the entrance – Google Maps suggests that it's about 600 metres as the Eastern bluebird flies, and it’s a fair bit longer on foot – but shuttle trams are available at no cost and I waited less than a minute for one to arrive. Those who want to park a little closer have that option too; preferred parking is available for $16, and premium parking is available for an eye-watering $55 – both prices exclusive of tax. That being said, there’s no real reason to use either unless you have money to burn, and indeed both lots were virtually empty today.
I picked up an entrance ticket from a self-service machine and headed directly for Time Traveler (#2929), the world premiere of the Xtreme Spinning Coaster from Mack Rides. The new platform isn’t the first to offer a launch and inversions on a spinning coaster – Gerstlauer managed both with the low-profile Gekion Live Coaster back in 2012, and Jinma Rides put out a model with a heartline roll in 2017 – but it is the first to do so with lap bar restraints. Additionally, the newly designed rolling stock is capable of aggressive manoeuvres far beyond anything attempted on previous generation spinning coasters.
The standard of theming on the debut installation is top notch. The queue is decorated with clocks of all kinds, as well as elaborate murals relating to the storyline, which is centered around Charles Henry, a fictional 18th century horologist who explored the concept of time travel two centuries before the invention of the DeLorean. The trains are equally intricate, with a particular highlight being a time display with a rotating illumination that is lit whenever the car has electrical power: in the station area and on the brake run. The restraints are lowered electrically, and while they close a little tighter than I’d ordinarily prefer I noticed that they release very slightly on dispatch to avoid stapling riders. (I got to drive a genuine 1983 example of the famous car while making a video last year, and hated how heavy the clutch was; I suspect the design would have been forgotten by the world without the efforts of Dr Emmett Brown).
The experience begins with an explicit mechanical rotation to about a thirty degree angle ahead of a substantial and steep drop out of the station. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the back car for my first lap, and from that location the descent was breathtaking, triggering an involuntary colourful metaphor typically paraphrased using the top row of symbols on a keyboard. The train next enters a dive loop inversion that is scarcely identifiable as such thanks to continuing spinning. Two marginally more sensible turns follow before the train comes to a dead stop on a LSM launch track. The pause of several seconds at this point is almost certainly necessary for three train operation, and it does allow riders to contemplate what on earth just happened, but I'd argue that it comes at a cost to the overall experience; a rolling launch would have been a far better choice.
In due course the still-spinning cars are accelerated gently into a turnaround that is negotiated without even the vaguest hint of jarring. The sensations through the vertical loop that follows feel like a blend between a German fair flat ride and a roller coaster, but they're over in less than three seconds, obviating most of the risk of unintended protein spillages. The train then continues into a climb and the one slight black mark on the overall experience: an unexpectedly sharp change of direction that the restraint redirects with unerring accuracy towards the groin area. This moment does not feel comfortable, but it is made up for by the rest of the layout which can only be described as pure coaster nirvana: twenty seconds of perfection punctuated by a LSM boost that gives the already fast-moving train enough of a kick to climb back up to the level of the boarding station.
I took a second lap almost immediately in car three that was just as good as the first had been, but it left me a little dizzy, so rather than ride a third time I opted instead for Thunderation, an elderly Arrow mine train. Once again I found myself in the back car, which can only be described as memorable. The classic design takes full advantage of steep park terrain. It seems to accelerate throughout its journey, virtually all of which remains within a few feet of ground level. The lift hill comes towards the end; while there's about fifteen seconds of coasting after the climb this section only exists to get the train back to the station. The track quality is mediocre at best, and I’d certainly prefer a little more padding, but it isn't any worse than other Arrow products from the period. Those seeking something more comfortable should probably aim for the front half of the train.
My next stop was Flooded Mine, a boat-driven target shooting dark ride that I’d only vague memories of riding on my last visit to the park back in 2013. The ride targets are red and white discs scattered around a wide variety of scenes, some static and some featuring limited motion effects. At the end of my lap I was chuffed to discover a score of 204,800. The operator asked me if I'd like to go a second time as there was nobody waiting, but I decided that I wasn't likely to do any better and I might as well go out on a high.
Instead I headed to Outlaw Run, a Rocky Mountain wood coaster that was the first in the world to feature multiple inversions. Today this had both good and bad points. Starting with the good, the ride layout was and is excellent: a powerful drop at an 81° angle, an over-banked inversion, a series of tight airtime hills, and a double heartline roll. It was great to see that the mandatory locker policy from times past had been expunged, and indeed there were no paid lockers to be seen near the entrance; presumably management realised that the satisfaction hit from nickel-and-diming their guests wasn’t worth the meagre amount of money made. The bad news is that both positives are countered by a significant slip in the ride comfort level; there were quite a few severe potholes today that limited me to a single lap despite the ride being walk-on.
The best ride in the park is a matter of some debate, but for me the honour has to go to Powder Keg, a S&S launched coaster bolted onto the remains of a Premier Rides water coaster. The resulting design has some very odd features, not least a track segment that moves diagonally to connect with a launch track and emergency rollback spike – yet the end result is an exceptionally thrilling ride with fantastic acceleration, an airtime-laden layout and smooth tracking. A mid-course lift does hurt the pacing somewhat, and I’d like if the layout did a bit more afterwards, but that really is a nitpick; the ride is as good as a family coaster gets. I did two laps, one at each end of the train.
The park’s other major coaster is also a gem. Wildfire is widely regarded as the best of the five members of the B&M sit down coaster family. The highlight is the initial 155 foot drop, a good thirty-five feet more than its lift – but even after that the pacing of the five inversions is perfect. The back seat had a few minor head banging moments, but they disappeared entirely for my second lap taken in front, so on that basis alone the front is the place to be.
I returned to the front of the park for two additional laps on Time Traveler. I was assigned to car three on both occasions, and as with earlier in the day I found myself dizzy by the end of the second cycle. Rather than hang around, I decided to partake of one of the park’s lesser known attractions: the Marvel Cave tour, which is included with admission. I figured this would be a good way to get out of the heat for a while with the added benefit of some good exercise. The tour guide was great, and while I’m quite sure that her spiel was carefully canned it was nevertheless amusing to me as a first time participant. One particular highlight was a warning about some low clearances, which for maximum effect should be imagined in a deep southern accent: “Please watch your head. If you forget to watch your head, please watch your mouth.”
Once back above ground I decided that I’d wrap up my day with a trip on the park train, and was on board ready to depart when it closed due to a “weather phase”. There was no obvious change to the sky over the previous six hours and change, but after determining that everything else of consequence was also shut I decided not to wait it out and instead headed for an early dinner at Lambert’s Cafe about thirty minutes up the road. (As an aside, in what universe does poor weather make it unsafe to operate a train? I hope nobody tells the fine folks at Irish Rail; we’d never get anywhere.)