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Linda Scruggs

Ride Accessibility at Dollywood 
Category: Trip Planning
Date: February 1, 2017

As theme park fans, my family enjoys fun, thrills, food, entertainment, and attractions. And yes, the shopping, of course. We love to travel, and while we seek adventure, it may be surprising to know that we also have accessibility needs. Looking at my family, you'd never know one of us has a medical condition. And that can make some of our family adventures difficult to navigate. We don’t have to worry about that at Dollywood. From the moment we enter the park, we feel a warm welcome and genuine Southern hospitality. It's that feeling that sets Dollywood apart and why we have fallen in love with visiting this world-class theme park in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Concerns about accessibility shouldn't stop anyone from planning their next family destination, but a little planning always helps. At Dollywood, my worries were alleviated when I discovered the Ride Accessibility Center, which is specifically designed for families like mine so we can get the most out of our theme park visit. I’m happy to share this information that made my family’s experience great.  

First, I recommend finding the Park Accessibility Guide and Entertainment Schedule online before you arrive. You can download both. Upon entering Dollywood, before heading to any attractions, you should visit the Ride Accessibility Center (next to the Dollywood Emporium across from the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame). This is where you can discuss any accessibility needs with a Dollywood host and receive specific information on rider requirements. This is a small team of six hosts, so you’ll get to know them as you return again and again. You'll receive a Boarding Pass for the attractions you can enjoy along with members of your party and use the accessible entrances. My family was one of more than 20,000 to benefit from a Dollywood Boarding Pass in 2016. What a fantastic program! I'm a nurse, and like you, privacy is important to me. The hosts in the Center provide a personalized and private opportunity to ask questions and gather information to make the most of your visit. They’re wonderful!

I’d also encourage you to enjoy the shows! We rely on taking breaks and discovering everything Dollywood has to offer. The entertainment truly cannot be missed. Indoor theaters have accessible seats that are available on a first-come basis, so be sure to arrive early. Guests who require special assistance can speak with one of the friendly ushers. 

While I love attractions, what makes Dollywood stand out to me is being able to take our time to talk with the hosts and feel relaxed as we explore the park. It's the kindness that makes a difference, and I hope you enjoy many fun moments together during your visit to Dollywood!



My Family's Experience with Dollywood's Calming Room 
Category: Trip Planning
Date: April 10, 2017

Our family recently had the opportunity to visit Dollywood, and we were able to enjoy it to our fullest potential. My kids seek adventure, enjoy new attractions, and are balls of energy, but we often reach a point when everything can feel a bit overwhelming. Whether it's too much to process, overwhelmed senses, or not feeling in control, we often need to take a break and slow things down so we can enjoy our day together.
Thankfully, there is an option for families like ours right within Dollywood. Last year, the park opened a calming room to help kids with sensory overloads. Having concerns about being able to decompress and address our specific needs privately may have deterred us in the past, but now we're able to share new experiences as a family. 

Judy Toth, Dollywood's Ride Accessibility Center coordinator, recognized this issue and addressed it so that Dollywood's warm and inclusive atmosphere can be extended and felt for all families that visit. The first park in the world to design a room specifically for families with autism or other special needs, the calming room is available for up to 30 minutes and offers a recovery from sensory overload in a relaxing and appropriate setting.

Upon entering the room, I immediately took notice of the soothing color scheme. As a registered nurse and mom who understands that every child has a threshold and that's what makes us all unique and special, the calming room provides a supportive and soothing haven.

The room's purposeful features include:
Low lighting options
Weighted blankets
Soft and inviting, over-sized bean bag chair
Various textures
Fiber Optic strand lights
Option to play music
Stuffed animals
Small table with chairs

A mindful initiative that is truly appreciated, we simply spoke to an attendant at the Ride Accessibility Center for assistance. I could feel the intent from the well-trained staff throughout our experience and time in Dollywood's calming room.

Some of my family went off to enjoy the famous fresh-baked cinnamon bread at the Grist Mill while my son and I privately took the break that was needed to calm down and relax. We felt the efforts that went into creating this room, and we appreciate Dollywood’s sensitivity in providing an option that will benefit so many families. 
*Dollywood’s calming room has been created for the purpose of helping our guests with special needs who may have sensory overload while visiting our park. The calming room is a quiet, relaxing environment where the guest and his/her family can feel safe and at ease. To find out more, please call 1-800-365-5996 to speak with our Ride Accessibility Center. When you visit Dollywood, stop by the Ride Accessibility Center adjacent to the Dollywood Emporium.