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Review: Barnstormer at Dollywood

Barnstormer close-up
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5
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Dollywood has opened its new $5.5 million addition, Barnstormer, in time for the start of the 2011 season. What can riders expect from the S&S Screamin’ Swing ride? Theme Park Tourist correspondent Steven A. Lowe headed to the park to find out.

Barnstormer was launched on March 25, 2011, with a brief but fun performance by Dolly Parton. The Dollywood PR Department was kind enough to invite me to this event, and they made sure everyone was well-fed and entertained.

Though the VIP treatment made my job much easier, it did not affect my review of the ride. I planned to return the following day with my family, but the weather was uncooperative. We were able to return a few days later, however. The weather was beautiful and the park was not crowded.

First Impressions

According to the pre-construction announcements, Dollywood built a “critter-themed barnyard” locale named Owens Farm to house the new Barnstormer attraction (Dolly’s mother was an Owens, and there were quite a few Owens and Partons at the launch event). I did not notice a strong “critter” theme, other than a couple of pig props in the “Pig Pen” water play area plus a caterpillar and a butterfly in the “Granny’s Garden” play area. However, the experience and surroundings were consistent and added to the ambiance of the attraction – that’s about as close to a “realistic” barnyard as most people would want to get.

Barnstormer sign

The first impression is the sign leading up to the covered bridge.

Owens Farm bridge

The entrance to the Barnstormer area is through a covered bridge to the Owens Farm.

Owens Farm pond

The landscaping is beautiful, and includes some very pleasant water features.

Grist Mill

Barnstormer is next to the Grist Mill, which is an authentic log structure built in 1982 (where really good coffee and cinnamon bread are served!).

The attention to detail is excellent. Everything looks authentic and even feels authentic. The airplane in front of the Barnstormer seems to have a real wood propeller, and there’s even dirt on the tires like it had just landed. The weather vane on top of the barn looks just right, as does the windmill next to the barn.

Barnstormer pendulum

The surrounding areas are equally eloquent in their reproduction artistry. Of course, the giant pendulum swinging in and out of the ‘barn’ reminds you that you are not in a real farmyard!

Pig Pen

Pig Pen

The Pig Pen is aimed at younger guests.

This is a water-play area for smaller children, with randomly-spouting water jets to surprise and amuse. A few children braved the less-than-balmy temperatures, including one who seemed happy just to lie on top of a jet and giggle when it spouted, and another who frantically ran from one jet to another trying to get wet. I personally did not participate in this particular attraction, but it did look like fun!

Plane playground

Plane playground

Probably the only safe place to let your kids climb on a plane wreck.

This is a dry play area for smaller children, rendered as a crashed airplane, with a springy ground cover. It was not open on the preview day, but it was open when we returned. I was too large to fit into the climbing areas, but judging from the giggling and running around that my son (age 3.5) did, I’d say it was an enjoyable experience.

Granny’s Garden play area

Granny's Garden

Parents can put their feet up while kids play in Granny's Garden.

This is a pretend garden play area for smaller children, with a butterfly ramp, a caterpillar crawl-through barrel, and a treehouse slide. Again, I was too large to fit, but my son seemed to be having fun. There is plenty of seating for parents to rest while they watch.

Note that each play area has its own attendant to help keep things orderly and safe. They were without exception very pleasant and helpful, especially the gentlemen manning the Pig Pen station. He also knew exactly where to stand to keep from getting wet.

On to the main event!

Caveats and Confessions

I like pendulum rides. Pendulum rides are like giant swing sets, and make me feel like a little kid on the playground again. So I had high expectations for Barnstormer based on the pre-construction description, but once on-site I resolved to be thorough, inpartial, and ruthless.

Lines and Wait Time

When you enter the waiting area there is a large sign describing the ride and the rules, like all of the attractions at Dollywood. One says “High Thrill Ride” and warns that “The ride manufacturer prohibits persons with a fear of heights from riding the Barnstormer”. I laughed and went on in.

The interior resembles a barn somewhat, with amusing signs on the walls, but is a model of efficient queuing. Attendants alternate selecting people from different entrances and assign them to wait in color-coded stalls, to ensure the proper number of passengers on each "flight".

Barnstormer entrance

Barnstormer's entrance and queue feature some strong theming.

When it is your turn to ride, you simply follow the color-coded line on the floor that matches the color of your waiting area, sit down, and buckle in. There are bins at the sides to stow loose items while you ride.

The first time I rode, I was VIP’d in through the Q-Bot entrance and only had to wait about 5 minutes. I’d guess that the normal wait time was around 20 minutes, because the ride was not particularly crowded on that day – I don’t think many people knew that it would be open early. When I returned a few days later, in the morning only one pendulum was operational, but since the park was not crowded (Wednesdays and Thursdays are the least-crowded days to visit, by the way) the wait time was less than 10 minutes. Later in the day both pendulums were operational and the wait time was still far less than I expected for the newest ride in the park.

The Ride

In common with other S&S Screamin’ Swing rides around the world, Barnstormer features two swinging pendulums which can hold sixteen riders each. The ride reaches a height of 81 feet, a maximum rotation of 230 degrees and a top speed of up to 45 miles per hour.

Barnstormer pendulums

Every rider gets a front-row seat on Barnstormer.

Each of the two pendulums has two rows of seats, back-to-back. This allows everyone a front-row seat, though the scenery will vary depending on which pendulum you ride and which way you are facing. I sat on the left pendulum facing the barn, but I don’t think the experience is significantly affected by where you sit.

I think of the ride as being about ten "swings", five forward and five backward. The first eight swings build to the climax and the last two decelerate and stop. To the best of my recollection, here is how it went:

Swing 1

Swing 1 - Hey, this thing is faster than it looks! You can really feel the wind.

Swing 2

Swing 2 - Not too bad, I can handle this.

Swing 3

Swing 3 – There’s a slight weightless feeling at the top transition of the swing…probably just my imagination.

Swing 4

Swing 4 - It seems scarier going backwards, I wonder why?

Swing 5

Swing 5 - I can see over the roof now. The wind noise is considerable!

Swing 6

Swing 6 - The weightless feeling seems to be lasting longer. I’m not sure I like that.

Swing 7

Swing 7 - I see nothing but sky. It is pretty, but not relaxing. Gripping the harness doesn’t help but it’s something to do. Birds passing overhead appear to be laughing at me.

Swing 8

Swing 8 - I am looking straight down at the ground, 8000 feet away [Note: actually about 81 feet]. If I grip the harness any harder my fingers will break. The weightless feeling seems to go on and on. We’re not moving. My heart is pounding. I think I just discovered what “height vertigo” means. The people look like ants. I think I’m not touching the safety harness any more. Why aren’t we moving? I hear a little girl screaming. It might be me, I’m not sure. [Note: elapsed time about one second.]

Swing 9

Swing 9 - We’re moving again: straight down at the ground. The wind noise is so loud I’m sure we’re going to crash. But we don’t; the ground rushes by, fast. I’m looking over the roof again. I can feel it slowing down. I try to remember how to breathe.

Swing 10

Swing 10 - Much slower now, breathing back on automatic.

My first steps were a bit wobbly, and it took a few minutes for the rush to fade. On the way out I looked at the sign again: “High Thrill Ride” – they are not kidding!

Video

Dollywood’s extremely courteous and efficient PR Department graciously provided a short point-of-view video clip, since taking a camera on the ride would be dangerous – if you let it go, there’s no telling where it might land!

Our Thoughts

I’ve never been to Dollywood before, and had a great time. The PR event was fun, Dolly looks and sounds great, everyone treated us nicely, and the ride was fun. When I went back with my family a few days later, nothing changed: the park was clean and orderly without being cloying, everyone was friendly and helpful, and we had a great time.

The Barnstormer ride overall is outstanding. It looks great, and it sounds right. When watching the ride I couldn’t tell if the “whoosh” sound was natural or generated. When on the ride all I heard was wind-noise!

The surroundings are well-tailored and suitably themed. The passenger processing is courteous, efficient, and entertaining. The instructions and accommodations are clear. The seats are large and comfortable; the staff are well-trained and confident. I saw and heard nothing that detracted from the experience. We did have one glitch: a harness not locking down properly caused a minor delay in launching, but the staff detected and fixed the problem immediately, so this only added to the anticipation – and I did not see it happen again. The final touch is right before the ride starts; the seat-tending staff retreats behind a barrier and puts up a chain so they can’t accidentally leave while the ride is in operation – reinforcing the carefully crafted impression that the ride is dangerous. (Which it would be, if you stepped in front of it while it was moving!)

The ride delivers what it promises: a fast-moving, high-flying thrill ride with just the right balance of fun and terror. If you like pendulum rides, you will love this one!

While trying to go to sleep that night, when I closed my eyes I had momentary flashes of being at the top of swing #8, looking down and hanging motionless in the air. I don’t think I will forget that experience any time soon!

I cannot think of a single realistic* thing that could be improved or changed without altering the integrity of the experience, so I’m giving the Barnstormer at Dollywood 5 stars.

(* Sure, they could serve hot cinnamon rolls and coffee while you’re standing in line, and Dolly could personally sing Hello to everyone as they climb aboard the ride, but neither of these is practical.)

To see more photographs of Dollywood's latest addition, check out our Barnstormer image gallery. All images used in this article were taken by Steven A. Lowe.

You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section, and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.


There are 8 comments.

I just wanted to leave a comment that I really enjoyed reading your review. I've never been to Dollywood, but this really makes me want to visit and test out the new ride. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for the kind words! I also love roller-coasters, but have to say that even the Tornado (three 360-degree rolls and loop-de-loops) did not make my heart race as much as the Barnstormer.

i have riden Rush at thorpe park and it is real fun however not well themed so this looks alot betor i hope i will be able to ride it at som point

I loved your review! I go to Dollywood regularly and I am a huge fan! I just rode the Barnstormer this week, and I think your review fits it perfectly! I waited in the standby line multiple times and only waited a max of 10 minutes, even when the entire "barn" was full. They move people through so quickly, that even when you're waiting, you feel like you're progressing toward the front. I had 2 concerns about the design of the queue area, however. First, there is not much queue area to begin with, and this will definitely be a popular ride in the summer. Where are they going to put all those people? Second, the holding stalls with colors were great, and I saw no problems with people knowing where to go, but my husband and I thought it would "fool-proof" the loading system if the floors of the holding stalls were painted the color of the path you were supposed to follow. The first host we had told us specifically what our color was and that we were to follow that path to our seats, but the subsequent hosts did not. We had a few people who asked us where we were supposed to go once we got in the holding stalls and had to explain the paths to them.

I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip to Dollywood! They are always courteous and it is always a wonderful trip! Thanks again for the great review!

Thanks Laura, I'm glad you liked the review and the ride!

Any suggestions for improvements will doubtless be welcomed, if you care to email dollywood and tell them about it.

I rode Barnstormer yesterday for the first time; my "dear" husband let me have the first ride while he watched the kids. I think it was a trick. My impression was much like the one you wrote and I'm thinking I would have been happy to get off on the second swing. Funny how you have to "remember" to breathe on those last two peak-swings. "Hubby dear" was waving at me with both hands in the air when he got on the ride; well, except for that final "peak" swing that is. My kids REALY enjoyed the children's play area. All three places. It was fun to watch them run around the water spurts which gave my pulse a chance to get back to normal. BTW did you notice the electric heart difibulator hanging on the fence by the exit gate at Barnstormer? That is a new feature I don't recall seeing at other Dollywood rides before.

This was the most incredible experience I've ever had. I've been going to Dollywood for years, but this... I'll never forget.
Walking up to the ride, my friend commented on how short it seemed, and said that he assumed it was because it was a new ride, and that way the crowds could get through the lines more quickly.
By the time the ride was over, and both of us were lucky to come out of it with dry pants, he was whimpering that, "It isn't over so quickly for the lines... It's over so quickly because Dolly is a kind, merciful woman."
I couldn't do anything but nod in agreement and shakily make my way over to the smoking area to recover.

Looks harmless in line. Once this got going, I had to enter coping mode. It was very uncomfortable for me! It truly kicked my butt. Props to the kids that ride thisthing over and over. I love coasters.This thing is intense.

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