Is it the most beautiful theme park in the world? Possibly. Is it in the middle of nowhere? Definitely. Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. Is it safe during these uncertain times? It felt that way. Silver Dollar City is a goldmine for theme park enthusiasts looking for fun in the middle of the mountains of Branson, Mo.
By Justin S. Landers
This sister-park to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. quickly shows its resemblance. These are considered two of the most beautiful theme parks in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. They both sit in the mountains, and use those mountains to their advantage, as their roller coasts sweep over the hills and provide views of the valleys below. With a waterfall in the middle of the park, and mountain peaks all around, Silver Dollar City is known for its high-thrill rides and deep caves to explore. Unfortunately, due to social distancing measures right now, those caves are unavailable — yet that doesn’t stop this park from being worth the visit!
Temperature screenings have become the new normal at theme parks, and Silver Dollar City is no exception. Unlike Worlds of Fun, which I visited the day before, Silver Dollar City was using handheld scanners. These are slightly less convenient than the walk-through scanning system I had experienced the day prior, but nothing extreme.
The temperature scanning took about 10 minutes, and was immediately followed by a new set of metal detectors before the turnstiles. The metal detectors felt a little crowded, and this was when I felt least comfortable during the day. The entrance to the park is filled with narrow pathways until you make it through their “welcome center” gift shop, which, upon exiting, opens up into a much more wide-open area.
Immediately, the crowds feel like they disappeared, and I made my way to the back of the park to find Outlaw Run to be almost a walk-on. Why wasn’t it? Because they were only running one train. Not a terrible inconvenience — yet. I looped Outlaw Run four times without ever having to wait more than a single train. I then headed back to the front of the park to ride Time Traveler, a Mack Spinning launch ride, and my favorite roller coaster in the park for its unique and varying experience.
This is when things would start to become noticeably problematic. The line for Time Traveler was about 30 minutes long. On a normal park day, this would not be an issue, but this wasn’t a normal park day. This was a Wednesday afternoon, during a pandemic, when time slots had to be reserved and entry was limited.
I had been to Silver Dollar City on a weekday last year as well, as I generally avoid theme parks on weekends. Last year, every ride was a walk-on, so what gives? Well, like Outlaw Run, Time Traveler and every other ride in the park was only running a single train; Time Traveler is capable of running three. In a normal year when there are no extenuating circumstances, this is an inconvenience. However, during a pandemic, when the goal is to keep the lines short so as to avoid crowding of guests at any point, this seems irresponsible on a park’s part. Worlds of Fun had an extremely noticeably smaller crowd, and yet was running two trains on every roller coaster when I visited a day prior.
As I headed over to Wildfire, it was a repeated process: one-train operations causing a backed-up line that even adding one extra train could have eliminated. Powder Keg was even worse, showing lines of up to an hour, as its cleaning process seemed to take the longest. There also did not seem to be a unified agreement for cleaning, as trains would be cleaned randomly, with no apparent rhyme or reason to the system.
Food options at this park were the most plentiful I had seen since most theme parks began reopening. Most parks seem to be limiting what restaurants are open due to the lower number of guests allowed in their park. I was able to get a grilled cheese sandwich with five cheeses, something I always enjoy from this park, as well as a loaf of their famous Cinnamon Bread — an absolute MUST at Silver Dollar City or Dollywood — to take home.
Overall, it was a decent day at Silver Dollar City, which remains to this day one of my favorite parks. They were enforcing their face mask policy throughout the park, and did have social distancing markers on the ground. It seemed, however, that guests were not very concerned with the markers even though most were wearing masks.
As we enter this new way of operating, parks are learning and adjusting, and I’m sure will become more efficient at helping to control the limited number of crowds. Hopefully, the parks are watching each other even more closely than before, and taking note of what does and does not work.
29-year-old Justin Landers owns Just Shoot Light Multimedia Productions. He has been involved in the amusement and theme park industry since 2013 as a freelance photographer and videographer. You can follow him on Instagram @Inverted_Therapy and Just Shoot Light on YouTube.