Branson, Missouri is a very interesting town. The Vegas in the Bible Belt simply stands out for its immense number of tourist traps, country theaters and hotels. Bible faithful Christians definitely get their money’s worth and go to the top with the big musical show in the Sight & Sound Theatre. Yes, the audience in Branson is different and this is also a good thing, as this way, the tourist stronghold is at least halfway tolerable. I was looking forward to two days in the amusement park Silver Dollar City.
When the Marvel Cave was explored for lead ore in 1869, the potential of the area was of course still little known; after all, the first expedition did not lead to any findings. But as the miners were sure that one of the hall ceilings contained marble, another expedition was started in the year 1882. Admittedly, instead of marble, only limestone and a huge amount of guano (bat poop) was found. After four and a half years, the mining was over and the area was sold.
William Henry Lynch acquired the cave and a square mile of surrounding land in 1989, in order to guide tourists through the cave a few years later. After some initial difficulties, the cave has now been open to visitors without interruption since the early 1900s, making it one of the oldest tourist destinations in the Ozarks. After the death of William Lynch, his daughters took over the business before vacuum cleaner salesman Hugo Herschend leased the cave for 100 years.
After his death his wife Mary and their two sons Jack and Peter took over the business. After the construction of a funicular railway at today’s cave entrance, the focus shifted to the area around the cave to attract more tourists. With the reconstruction of a typical 1880s Ozark Village, the foundation stone for today’s Silver Dollar City theme park and the Herschend Family Entertainment Group was laid.
And this is exactly what one enters immediately after leaving the parking tram. In a deeply immersive way you are immediately transported back to the 80s, more precisely 100 years before my year of birth. In this area, you will find the craftsmen in the different manufactures, regardless of whether candles, fudge, jam or all imaginable wood and glassware, everything is produced in front of the eyes of curious passers-by.
The first attraction on our round trip takes us on a time travel as well, although a more modern interpretation of it. Steam punk has gone all the way to Silver Dollar City and on board is the company Mack Rides. The roller coaster manufacturer from the Black Forest surprises with its most innovative roller coaster so far, the Time Traveler. The concept of a revolving gondola roller coaster is by no means new – but the design is definitely.
After having taken a seat in the train with its four gondolas, the trip can start right away. Slowly, one is carried out of the station before one immediately gets into a 90° fall. The passengers that up to now only went forward and backwards are rotated by an eddy current brake that is installed on one side, whereby no ride is the same as the other. 27m further down the ride takes us through a valley, before we climb up a dive loop and see the world in all imaginable positions upside down. With momentum we now follow the terrain along the roller coaster Thunderation in slight swings. A turning curve leads us into the first block brake of the ride, where we also come to a stop and the rotation slows down to a minimum.
It doesn’t take too long and our train is accelerated on the launch track ahead, but unfortunately the rotation starts jerkily. Over a high banked turn we are now rapidly heading for the next element in a steep curve. In a 95ft high loop we now experience the world upside down for a second time, which is a breathtaking feeling. This is followed by a fast driven turn, which immediately leads into the third inversion element of the ride. The corkscrew marketed as Zero-G Roll is not of bad parents and convinces all along the line. After another turn and a small hill we reach the second launch section, which gives the train the necessary energy to reach station level. A turn, reminiscent of a dive loop, and a steep curve leading up to it mark the finale of the ride, before we immediately find ourselves on the braking track and soon at the station.
The Time Traveler is a very special roller coaster, which convinces with its breathtaking setting in all points. The layout is simply unique and stands out by the elements used; the not quite jerk-free first launch is the only weak point of the ride, which convinces the family audience of the amusement park like no other roller coaster.
To the sounds of a country version of If I Could Turn Back Time, we go straight to the neighboring roller coaster Thunderation, where I would have loved to have fulfilled my wish for a time travel. Until a few years ago, the second, as well as the fourth car of the five-unit trains ran backwards. Nowadays, however, all eyes are directed to the front, which unfortunately makes this very special mine train from Arrow a little less special.
Like the Time Traveller, Thunderation’s wild ride starts right after leaving the station. In a right turn we slowly but surely pick up more and more speed. After a short straight we immediately whiz through a left turn before we enter a steadily tapering right turn spiral. This then leads into a short tunnel, whereupon we race over a short hill. A right-hand bend close to the ground on the slope is the highlight of the ride. After a short left turn we are slowed down in a block brake, whereupon the lift hill of the ride is waiting for us. We are now leisurely going uphill again. At the top we immediately enter another left turn, which soon falls off unexpectedly steeply. After a short ascent and a right turn we are at the station level, where we now come to a halt in the braking section in front of the station.
Thunderation is a great Mine Train, which like all late Arrow Mine Trains is characterized by its very intense ride. The layout is incredibly impressive due to its hillside location, even though the ride after the lift hill could have been a bit longer.
Fans of rustic theme rides will get their money’s worth with The Flooded Mine. On the way through the Flooded Mine of the local Country Prison you try to stop the prisoners from escaping. You can aim your pistols at various targets, but a ride without using them is much more fun.
Right next to The Flooded Mine is the station of the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. The big small gauge steam train takes you through the Ozark Mountains and the amusement park for about 20 minutes. In between, the train is robbed in a show interlude by several inexperienced bank robbers. A wonderful fun, which you should not miss by any means.
In the children’s area The Grand Exposition we meet numerous rides from the Italian manufacturer Zamperla. Here, little amusement park fans can experience their first roller coaster ride on The Grand Exposition Coaster or take one lap after the other on one of the numerous roundabout rides. In addition to a boat swing, there is also a wave swinger, a teacup carousel, a Regatta ride, as well as a Disk’o and several smaller carousels from the manufacturer.
The children’s area that I find particularly interesting is Fireman’s Landing, where there are other classic round trips in a coherent atmosphere. The most interesting attraction is the S&S Double Shot Firefall, which was previously located in the nearby amusement park Celebration City. When the sister park closed in 2008, the ride moved from one location in Branson to the other. The ride itself convinces with its great airtime and should therefore not be missed by anyone.
Passing the construction site of the new rafting ride Mystic River Falls we are now heading towards another attraction from S&S, the Screamin’ Swing Giant Barn Swing. This oversized swing transports the passengers with compressed air to a very remarkable height, from which you should have a great view of the new rapids ride, as well as of the nearby roller coaster Outlaw Run.
Outlaw Run is the first wooden roller coaster from the manufacturer RMC, who previously gave the old wooden roller coaster Texas Giant from the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park a new life as a steel roller coaster with its I-Box solution. As with the New Texas Giant, visitors can expect a wild ride over numerous breathtaking elements, many of which were first installed on this roller coaster.
The ride on Outlaw Run begins immediately with the lift hill of the resort, which takes you up to a height of 107ft. After a small dip, the train speeds over a narrow hilltop, whereupon, detached from our seat, we fall a good 162ft to the ground in an 81° steep gradient. After a pressure-laden valley we immediately shoot up a steep left turn, which immediately changes into an over-banked inversion at the top of the hill. In another left turn we race through the valley and instantly take a series of turns that lift us out of our seats at all times. In a twist & turn we experience for the first time the feeling of lateral weightlessness on a roller coaster before we enter the next valley. Over another curved airtime hill we approach the finale of the ride. Following a flat Airtime hill we spiral up close to the ground in a double Heartline Roll. Shortly afterwards we reach the braking section of the layout, whereupon our ride ends in the station.
What a ride! Outlaw Run is definitely not a roller coaster for weak stomachs, as it is a pretty tough one. The many airtime moments and at the same time incredibly pressure-packed valleys make for a breathtaking ride that you will never forget. The two inversions at the end of the ride are also a novelty for a wooden roller coaster, which can make you feel a bit dizzy. The ride is simply awesome and should be experienced by every roller coaster fan!
On our way back from the dead end around the roller coaster Outlaw Run we come across the very slick interactive water ride Tom and Huck’s River Blast, where you can follow the paths of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Another highlight in Silver Dollar City is the dark ride Fire in the Hole. The ride deals with the fire in the mining town of Marmaros, which was created from the guano mining of the Marvel Cave. A vigilante group called Bald Knobbers is suspected to have burned down the village. More details are not known, but in the end the park decided to tell this story. Passing several scenes, the path leads us uphill in a big oval, whereby you watch the inhabitants trying to extinguish their village before you cross a collapsing bridge and the ride becomes a roller coaster. A second descent follows as one avoids an oncoming train. Under the yell Fire in the Hole you crash into a warehouse for dynamite, which fortunately could be extinguished. The watering slows down the train, shortly after you’re back in the station.
The Powder Keg roller coaster has an equally interesting history – even if only from an engineering point of view. Before it became the unique launch coaster of today, it was a water roller coaster for several years. The roller coaster was opened in 1999 under the name Buzzsaw Falls. The prototype from Premier Rides had a longer whitewater ride before it changed into the roller coaster part. A longer helix led towards the lift hill, where after a short ride in lofty heights the final shot was waiting. However, just four years later the ride was already rebuilt. The manufacturer of the new hardware became S&S Power, which means that the visitor can now expect a powerful blast of compressed air.
The journey starts with a transfer track leading up to the side of the launch track. After arriving at the launch track, the train now moves to its starting position, hooks into the catch car and waits for its release. At some point a warning siren is switched on and a traffic light switches from red to green. The launch rapidly brings us up to 64 mph, whereupon we climb a hill. Accompanied by delicious airtime you glide into the valley below you. In a wide right bend you approach another airtime-laden hill. A slightly over-bent curve joins, followed by a third hill, which bends to the left at its apex. After a speedy curve the track profile suddenly changes, whereupon you ride the track of the former water roller coaster at a breakneck speed. Then after a wide curve the lift hill of the layout follows. At the top, the rail profile changes again. While the water roller coaster would have started its final shoot down at the same level as the launch section, we now bend a bit further to the left and plunge down the big slope of the roller coaster. This is followed by an extremely intensive helix, which however also describes the final part of the ride. Shortly afterwards we find ourselves in the braking section of the ride.
Powder Keg is a really fine roller coaster. The launch, the plentiful airtime and the nice pressure in the curves and valleys characterize this roller coaster, even if the finale is a bit too much anti-climactic. All in all, however, the roller coaster is a guarantee for a good mood.
Just like the neighboring whitewater course American Plunge. Although the ride basically consists of a slightly longer concrete tunnel and a single and extremely wet shot, the ride built by O.D. Hopkins is definitely worth a ride.
Right next door is the entrance to the last roller coaster of the park. The B&M Sitting Coaster Wildfire is the top dog in Silver Dollar City since the year 2001. With its location directly on one of the slopes of the park the ride looks even bigger, which is underlined by the skilful use of the terrain.
The trip begins with a short dip out of the station, where you dive under the large viewing platform. On the other side of this platform the lift hill of the roller coaster is added, which takes you up to a height of approximately 120ft. After a predrop, a wide curve follows, whereupon a slope with a height difference of 155ft descends. As is typical for B&M, strong G-forces await you in the valley before we approach the first inversion of the ride. In an Immelmann we change direction, whereupon we make our way towards the huge loop. In a wide curve close to the ground we rush towards the Cobra Roll, which we pass through as usual. This is followed by a sweeping over-banked turn, which releases you just as sweepingly into the final corkscrew of the track. A helix introduced close to the ground then sends you into the final brake of the layout. Shortly thereafter you’re already back at the station of the roller coaster.
Wildfire is my favorite roller coaster in Silver Dollar City. The ride is simply terrific and is enhanced by the setting directly on the hillside and surrounded by the Ozark Mountains. Besides, Wildfire is actually my 600th roller coaster I’ve ridden – a milestone I wouldn’t wish otherwise.
After all the roller coasters and rides it is now time to take a closer look at Marvel Cave in a one hour guided tour. Over the huge Cathedral Room we first go deeper and deeper into the cave. In the following rooms, the history of the cave is then more and more explained. After several narrow passages, whereby one should always take care of one’s head, the old funicular takes us back to the daylight. The Marvel Cave is basically the highlight in Silver Dollar City and should not be skipped.
This brings us to the end of the report. The day is coming to an end and the rides are now all closed. However, Silver Dollar City wouldn’t be Silver Dollar City without adding a little more to the fun. In the Echo Hollow Amphitheatre the big show at the end of the day is just beginning.
Silver Dollar City is a beautiful amusement park that can rightly be called the best amusement park in the world. The park offers a great mix of roller coasters, rides and shows that you can rarely find anywhere else. Accordingly, the park’s target group is a bit different – during my visit in April, it consisted almost exclusively of pensioners or families with younger children. In other words, Silver Dollar City is a theme park for everyone.
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