by Paul Ruben
In 2011 I visited Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for the first time in about 20 years. I had such a good time I visited again last year. This time I wanted to check out their new wing coaster, Wild Eagle.
you know what I discovered? Dollywood and its sister park, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, are on average flat. That is, at Silver Dollar City you enter at the top of the hill and walk downhill into the park. At Dollywood you enter at the bottom of the hill and climb upwards. Taken together, on average they’re flat. But that didn’’t help. I was tired of walking uphill by the time I reached the back of Dollywood.
There was a reward for the walk, however. Wild Eagle is located at the rear of the park, its highest point. This was to be my first ride on the B&M version of a wing coaster, a cross between riding an inverted coaster with no floor and a diving coaster with no track above or below. Would riding Wild Eagle make me feel like an eagle, diving and soaring, swooping and turning?
Yes and no. There I sat, legs outstretched with my imagined talons ready to pluck prey along the way. Once off the lift hill we dove, soared, swooped and turned. The swooping part was best. But what about the four inversions? Eagles don’t fly head over heels, do they? They don’t loop. They soar and swoop. Swooping rules.
I rode in the front and I rode in the back. There are no bad seats on this ride. You can swoop from anywhere. It reminded me of the lyrics from the old Frank Sinatra song, “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away …”
It made me feel like I was flying.
There are a lot of experiences that make you feel like flying. Base jumping off the side of a mountain in a wing suit best simulates flying, but that’s not safe and that’s not a ride. Flying in an plane is flying, but you’re enclosed. I want to feel like a bird, like a wild eagle. When birds fly they don’t have a floor, and neither should the ride.
On Wild Eagle my feet dangled; that’s good. Dollywood’s Wild Eagle is a good simulation, especially with its mountainous location, and especially when you sit in an outside seat far from the track. But suspended and inverted coasters are also floorless. Your feet dangle free on chair swings like the Wave Swinger. When tilted, there is the added sense of swooping. Then there is the new breed of very tall chair swings like Mondial’s Wind Seeker or Funtime’s Star Flyer. They fly high like an eagle but they don’t swoop. In fact, many of the newer generation of spinning rides, such as Fabbri’s Booster or KMG’s Speed, also feature suspended seating. Then there’s Disney’s Soarin’, a serene, multi-sensory experience that is like a peaceful hang-gliding flight over California, simulating the feeling of free flight from 40ft in the air, but without the wind in your face.
But which of these is the best? That’s easy. Whichever one I’m riding.