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Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride

If Pigeon Forge Were Tokyo DisneySea, Then This Thing Would Be Its "Journey To The Center Of The Earth."

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My first visit to Dollywood this past August was overstuffed with delightful surprises, no small number of which were discovered just outside that gorgeous park, on the main drag through Pigeon Forge, TN.

I'm going to guess you've heard at least a little about the East Tennessee tourist-trap megalopolis of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge, a magical region where you're never more than a stone's throw from a go-kart track, mini-golf course, wax museum, or some other unique "attraction." We didn't have time this trip to fully explore the entire area, quite sadly, because I would have loved to have experienced everything, and I mean everything. Up to and including: the Mysterious Mansion; the Forbidden Caverns; the Elvis Museum and Gift Shop; the "Lumberjack Feud;" and this stuff, too:

A "Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Show..." Would you just look at that? GOD BLESS AMERICA!

I'm a wax-museum junkie and this one made my eyes water with desire. Do they have a Chamber of Horrors in there? I bet they do, and I bet it is awesome. Except for the missing broadcast antennas on top of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings (seriously, why?), this exterior is brilliant. Their "Mount Rushmore" features John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin and that's as good a foursome as any I can think of.

Yup, that's a big model of the Titanic, and it houses a Titanic Museum, which, according to these reviews, is quite good. I wonder if they host "Leo Cry Parties" for visiting Japanese schoolgirls. Hopefully.

In short, there are a lot of reasons for me to return to Pigeon Forge. But we did NOT miss the go-karts. Hell, no.

Like Branson, MO, Central Florida, and The Wisconsin Dells, Pigeon Forge has been awarded "Gold Certification" by the National Go-Kart Heritage and Preservation Foundation (NGKHPF, or "Nagkehpiff") for its dizzying assortment of courses. I'm fairly sure we all dropped at least 50 clams driving the noisy little bastards, and it was worth every penny. Some runs were better than others; the "Roller Coaster track," in particular, was sick. And at another place, with an entirely elevated course, I managed to score a finely tuned machine that proverbially sucked the headlights out of every other car in the race. SO MUCH FUN!

On a "slick track," I completely spun out on the far turn. Go-karts are the freakin' best, man.

The only other attraction I was 100% committed to hitting was the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, because it's a dark ride, reason enough, and also because it's supposed to be a legendarily wacked-up dark ride. No doubt if you ask some people for their opinions, you'll hear things like "not good," or "poor quality," or "scientifically inaccurate," or "a grievous insult to anyone with an IQ above 40."

Don't listen to those people. The validity of their opinions notwithstanding, you must ride the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride.

There it sits, right up against the busy thoroughfare, a huge warehouse-type structure with some parking spaces out front. According to the ride's web site, this "multi-million dollar high-tech adventure attraction will amaze your senses with state-of-the-art sound, animatronics, and great special affects."

At first glance, there is no reason at all to doubt these claims. Check out this tableau: pretty convincing rockwork, you got the dinosaurs up there, moving around, roaring and making noise, they look pretty good, and the waterfall, very nice... except for those two mannequins, I mean, that's a little odd, right? First, if I were a time-traveling explorer who'd returned to the age of the dinosaurs, I'd be carrying some high-caliber boom-stick, yo. And second, I wouldn't be hanging around right next to what appears to be a brewing death-match between a T-Rex and a velociraptor. Like, they're not even trying to hide or anything...

And then there are these other figures standing at the far end of the short queue, more "explorers" ready start their "high-tech adventure." Um, yeah, the guy in the middle...

What is that expression on his face? Happiness? Horror? Something in between? I don't really know. But if ever see any real human looking like that, I'm going to run in the other direction as fast as my legs will carry me.

Anyway, into the boats we go, about $14.00 poorer. (I know, that's a real pinch. The good news is I can't imagine you'll ever wait more than five minutes to ride.) The bubbling waters, the big wooden doors, there's a sense of mystery... so far, so good.

The portal opens and we enter darkness. Hold on to your butts.

So, right inside, there's some audio... of someone talking... I think. And a droning electronic sound... Wait, what did he say? I couldn't tell... But there are rocks and plants and dinosaurs, as promised. GRRRR!!!

Some of the dinosaur animatronics are reasonably convincing, if not exactly "amazing." RRRAWRRR!

And what others lack in scientific accuracy, they make up for by being completely IN YOUR FACE. AAAARRRRGHGGHGH!

We float along from one random scene to another, all of it accompanied by indefinable, slightly out-of-synch "sound effects." I think at one point we wondered if a car alarm had gone off. This critter above, in urgent need of some dental work, is a brachiosaurus, if I'm not mistaken? "Just think of it as... kind of a big cow."

"Dude... Dude. No, dude, lissen, lissen... dude, LISSEN! Dude... I am so wasted..."

Either this 'raptor is deeply fascinated by something floating in the water, or someone needs to get in here and help the poor fella back onto his feet.

Can you have a Jurassic boat ride without spitters? Of course not, and this one spits real good, so bonus points for that.

Another angry T-Rex head, GGGRRRAAWWWW! I don't think the folks at Universal Creative are losing any sleep.

Now, if the whole ride were filled with these "real" dinosaurs, it would have been fairly unremarkable. Thankfully, that is not the case.

I'm no paleontologist, but if this is supposed to be a pterodactyl, I'm almost certain that liberties have been taken. SKRAW! SKRAW!

I think he's flashing us.

Again, not a paleontologist, but I'm SURE no dinosaurs ever looked like this dude. It's got opposable thumbs, for crying out loud...

LOLOLOL! This is straight out of a Godzilla movie.

And he's comin' ta get ya! EEEEEYYYARRRRGH!

So there are things that are recognizably dinosaurs, and then there are things that have some dinosaur-like qualities but are far closer to monsters from "Land of the Lost," and then there are these arbitrarily placed bits of head-scratching weirdness, like the Day-Glo-colored "Audrey II" plants pictured above.

What the damn is this supposed to be?! NOMNOMNOMNOM!!

Finally (it's a good, long ride, more bonus points there), we reach the end. And we sit and wait for the exit doors to open. And wait. And wait some more. And then AAAAAGHH! Another huge T-Rex lunges!!! And then that goes away.


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I won't give away the best (only) "joke" of the ride, but it happens early on; look up. And there are other little treats as well, including one very effective moment of misdirection.

So maybe this wasn't about time travel at all... Maybe in that opening narration, which we couldn't hear clearly, there was some explanation about a crazy jungle that exists right now? And it's filled with both dinosaurs and other freaky monsters? Maybe?

Not like it really matters. What does matter is that the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride has a goofball charm all its own, and I recommend it to anyone with a soft spot for "so bad, it's great" entertainment.

The rest of you, stay as far away as possible.



© Robert Coker.
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