Some children are naturally fearless when it comes to theme park rides. I know my daughter is. Were it not for height requirements, she would’ve happily boarded Lightning Rod at age two.
I, of course, was the exact opposite. I can still recall the anxiety I had when visiting theme parks as a child. While I absolutely loved going, I was pretty nervous about getting on…well, anything.
Clearly every child is unique in this regard. Having experience with both extremes, here are my suggestions for visiting Dollywood with a less-than-fearless child.
Before Your Visit
If you’ve never visited Dollywood, you may not know what rides could be problematic. As such, it’s probably a good idea for you and your child to go through the list at dollywood.com and see what rides they may be hesitant about. This should give you a good baseline to begin planning your day.
If your child is concerned about a particular ride, it may be a good idea to let them experience it on Dollywood’s YouTube channel. This should give both you and your child a better idea of what to expect on any given attraction.
If you sense a general nervousness from them about your upcoming visit, you’ll find lots of Dollywood overview videos on YouTube as well. The idea is to “hype up” your trip in a way that helps convert their nervousness into excitement.
Finally, consider packing items to combat your child’s nervousness. These can be pragmatic items like ear plugs for fireworks or glow-in-the-dark bracelets for lower light areas. They can also simply be distraction items (e.g. toys) to deploy when queued for a ride your child is nervous about.
The Big Day
When your Dollywood day arrives, you have two options for tackling the rides your child is nervous about: get them out of the way early or build up to the experience.
Personally, I think the build-up method is the way to go. This way, your child has experiences to draw from when needing confidence to tackle their more challenging rides.
Also, while YouTube ride videos are great, there’s still a wide gap between videos and the actual experience. If you’re on the fence, take advantage of Dollywood’s parent swap to test the ride out before ultimately deciding if it’s right for your child.
If All Goes Wrong
Even if you feel like you are on the same page, I promise there’s still a chance your child will decide at the last minute they don’t want to ride.
If this occurs, let a Dollywood host know that you need to step aside and reassure your child for a moment. Once you have the situation under control, my suggestion is to let your child know that they can decide what the next step is – whether that is to leave the queue or continue boarding.
In reality, if your child is truly too afraid to ride, it’s usually best to leave. Dragging a child kicking and screaming onto a ride is probably not the best decision for all concerned. However, only you know how much of a nudge is appropriate for your child.
If you do have to switch gears, remember that Dollywood has plenty of rides tailored to your less-than-fearless child. My favorites include:
You can find the complete list at dollywood.com. Click Filter By and select Children to see the appropriate list.
Beyond rides, you’ll find a number of highly-themed play areas like Hidden Hollow and Wildwood Creek in Wildwood Grove, Lil’ Pilots Playground in Owens Farm and FireHouse Fun Yard in Wilderness Pass. These are great for regrouping after a stressful situation. And, seasonally, there may be fun options like the Bubble Foam Zone during Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration.
Another option is Dollywood’s top-notch entertainment line-up. You’re sure to find a number of shows that appeal to your child. If they are a bit too antsy for a show, also you can find a number of walk-around entertainers and characters in the park. They are a lot of fun to meet and can help put your child at ease.
Finally, the best gear switch for your less-than-fearless child may simply be a relaxing stroll through the park’s more calming areas like Rivertown Junction and Craftsmen’s Valley.
Remember the Fun
At the end of the day, a visit to Dollywood is supposed to be fun – not a high-pressure, anxiety-filled experience for your less-than-fearless child.
While walking this tight-rope can sometimes be frustrating as a parent, my ultimate suggestion is to be patient and encourage. At some point, your child will likely be confident enough to join you on an attraction you’re excited for them to experience. There’s no need to rush it.
Plus, look at it this way: if they do choose to skip a ride, it will be yet another experience to look forward to on a future Dollywood visit.
So, a win-win!