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The Difference is People—Dollywood’s Award-Winning Hosts

   PIGEON FORGE, Tenn.  – Dollywood’s devoted guests have known for years that much of the park’s southern charm comes from the open arms of the caring and inviting hosts, as Dollywood’s employees are known, who call the park home. So it was no surprise when  Amusement Today, a publication focused on the theme park industry, presented Dollywood with the 2012 Golden Ticket Award for the World’s Friendliest Theme Park. When Dollywood again received the award in 2013, it was further validation of the park’s dedication to treating guests with the type of genuine hospitality often missing in today’s world.

Park hosts, quick with a smile, are eager to serve guests and help them with issues that may arise throughout the day. Guests routinely leave the park feeling as if they are leaving family. Other guests call Dollywood their second home. No matter how guests feel when they leave, there is one common thread… Dollywood is different.  

Exceeding Expectations

Dollywood’s employees are its greatest testament to customer service. From helping with directions to providing dining suggestions, friendly park hosts sincerely care about the guest experience. In fact, hosts routinely go beyond the call of duty to assist guests and ensure their day ends on a positive note. Sheila Hames, Merchandise Supervisor, once searched high and low to help a guest find his false teeth. She eventually found the misplaced dentures… after searching through a dumpster.

“Everything about this place makes me want to go above and beyond,” Hames said. “That is what Dollywood stands for, and it’s what we do. I love to say hello as I meet guests in the park. They are surprised when you do it. Sometimes, you meet the one person who really needed to hear it. To see that smile makes my day!

Providing solutions for guests is Barbra Anthony’s favorite part of the job. Anthony, Sales and Services Team Lead, once helped a family who drove across the country, only to have their Dollywood tickets stolen before they arrived in town.

“We try to fix every problem,” said the 24-year Dollywood veteran. “Once we found a record of the purchase, we replaced their tickets. We didn’t think much about it, but a few weeks later, we received a letter from the father. He went into detail about the ordeal and then finished by telling us we had saved his vacation. While it was just business as usual for us, he told us that without our help, their vacation would have been ruined. You know how that made us feel?

“How can you not love working at a place where your job is to smile and make people happy by helping them? I love solving problems and helping people.”

Finding a New Home

Thanks to the park’s infectious hospitality, many current hosts sought employment at Dollywood due to the warm experiences they had as guests. So enthralled with Dollywood, Hames moved from Connecticut to work in the park.

“We came to Dollywood on a family vacation 18 years ago, and I fell in love with the people,” she explained. “After my kids grew up and moved out, I came down and fell in love again.

“This is a family park; it was somewhere I wanted to bring my children. At Christmas, they say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It was nice to be able to come and hear that. It gives you a happy heart to be here.”

Zach Sims, a 22-year-old Southern Illinois University graduate, already has worked at Dollywood an impressive nine years. As a child, Sims’ family frequently traveled from Illinois to Dollywood for family vacations. When he was four, Sims told his parents he wanted to own the East Tennessee theme park. He decided at age 12, however, the role as company president was a better idea. “Dolly probably wouldn’t sell it to me,” he explained to his parents at the time.

Sims and his family have relocated to the area due to his love for Dollywood. An Attractions Supervisor, Sims’ goal is for guests to leave the park with the same fond memories he had as a child.

“My inspiration comes in knowing I was part of creating a memory,” he said with a smile. “I remember having great memories as a kid at Dollywood. I treasure those experiences, and I want to be part of a team that can help give those memories to another family.”

After witnessing an exchange between mother and son in 2010, Sims knew he had made the right decision in coming to Dollywood.

“I was leaving work one day and I passed a young couple with their two small kids,” he began. “The youngest child was fussy, and I could tell the mother was stressed. I started to stop and help. At that moment, the older child said to his mother, ‘I had the best time of my life. Thank you for bringing us.’ The mom started to cry, and I knew if I stopped, I would cry; I didn’t want to spoil that moment for them. To hear a child say that is amazing. How often do you hear that? What a wonderful place to work!” 

One Big Family

 After 32 years with the U.S. Postal Service, Don Surrett found retirement was not the perfect fit. As he considered what to do with his newfound free time, he reflected on the trips his family took to Dollywood through the years. One theme resonated among his memories.

“Everyone seemed so happy and it was obvious they enjoyed their jobs,” Surrett said. “There is a reason this is such a friendly place. It’s our people. They love what they do, and because of that, they want to help our guests in any way. Friendliness is what makes our park run.”

For Anthony, and many other hosts, Dollywood literally is family. She met her husband Jack, a member of Dollywood’s maintenance and construction team, while working in the park.

“God put me here for a lot of reasons,” she said. “One was to meet Jack. Another was for me to work with my Dollywood family to help people. We have an amazing family atmosphere, and I love that aspect of it. This is a great place to work because of the people and our company. They treat every employee like a valuable member of the team. All the things that make you a good employee flow out because you are made to feel welcome.”

Hames said satisfaction comes when she has giving her employees the necessary tools and environment needed for success. When she does her part, Hames knows the guest experience is unrivaled.

“I love trying to be the best servant leader I can be,” she said. “I believe when you come to work you should enjoy it. If my folks enjoy what they do, it will come out in their interactions with our guests. I love working to give those around me a great place to work. When I do that, I know our guests are in for an unmatched experience.

“Dollywood is about helping people and helping each other.”