Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted Oct. 4, 2021.
Dollywood is a large theme park, but perhaps more importantly, a very hilly theme park. If you have even moderate mobility issues, you might be intimidated. But, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the experience if you try! I want to share with you a few of the ways Dollywood will help you achieve your goals of a fun theme park experience so you feel that not only can you get around the park, but you can have a very full day as well.
Note: For official accessibility details of all types at Dollywood, check out the Accessibility Information page on Dollywood’s main website or contact Dollywood directly at 1-800-Dollywood to ask any specific questions you may have.
People of Size
Mobility issues come in many shapes and forms with size issues being some of the more complicated to predict as everyone has a different body shape. I’m six feet tall and at one time in my theme park history, I was nearly 500 lbs. I have visited theme parks where I walked into the park, tried every ride and left without doing anything other than eating. This is not a great feeling (and counterproductive!) so I typically stick to just the parks where I know I have at least an attraction or two I can fit.
During my first trip to Dollywood, I was dubious as to whether I could fit on any of the attractions, but I had heard that the Christmas shows were great either way. After walking around the park, I discovered test seats outside all the big coasters to help you decide if you should get in line. I found one roller coaster in particular that worked great for my body type: the Tennessee Tornado.
The seats and safety equipment on this ride will fit a person taller and far larger than I ever was, and this attraction has three inversions to satisfy your appetite for thrills.
Some of the attractions have tighter physical requirements, but as long as you have no health concerns, you almost certainly have this thrilling attraction available at Dollywood!
Getting Around the Park
If you have mobility issues that make getting around the park a challenge, Dollywood may seem daunting at first glance. It’s no flat park! Many of the attractions are uphill, and most have stairs leading to the loading location. Even if you don’t require a wheelchair or Electronic Convenience Vehicle (ECV) to get around, stairs may prohibit accessibility. I have had my hip replaced twice and my knee once. Climbing stairs is very difficult and uncomfortable and doing so too many times would cut my day short.
Dollywood offers alternatives so everyone can participate in the fun. Every major attraction has ramps or elevators to allow you access to the loading area without taking stairs. If this is of interest to you, it’s very important to stop at the Ride Accessibility Center as you enter the park to get a Boarding Pass.
To get a Ride Accessibility Pass, you don’t need a doctor’s note or any documentation, and you don’t need to be actively using any mobility aid. You will need to explain why you need the pass and will need to do this every time you visit. The hosts in the Ride Accessibility Center will ask you some basic questions about your mobility needs to ensure you can ride certain attractions. Attractions have requirements based on the ride manufacturer’s guidelines. These requirements may include a minimum height or use of both legs. In some cases, you may need to remove a brace or other equipment in order to be able to ride.
The Boarding Pass works as a virtual place in line. You present the card to the ride operator after accessing a special entrance marked with an accessibility marker. The ride host will take your Boarding Pass and check the time. They will mark your pass with the time of your next available attraction and let you ride as soon as possible. Sometimes there will be a short wait, so be sure to factor that into your needs. Also, most attractions have a courtesy wheelchair available if needed.
Assistance Boarding and Unloading from Ride Vehicles
In addition to your ability to get around the parks, you also need to consider how well you can get in and out of ride vehicles. Because of company policy, Dollywood hosts cannot help you in and out of the ride vehicle. You either will need to be able to do this on your own or have someone with you who can help. Dollywood hosts will check your restraints but otherwise must be hands-off.
Mobility Device Availability
Renting a mobility device in the park is a very handy option. Once you rent the device, you can use it as much as you need to or even just to get from area to area. The big caveat is that there is a limited supply of wheelchairs and ECVs for rent. Plan to arrive as early as possible to ensure you get one. They may sell out by 11 a.m. on days the park opens at 10 a.m.
Reserving an ECV online at least 72 hours before your visit is a great option on Dollywood’s website here. Be sure and check as soon as you know you are going because only a small number are available to reserve in advance. Most of the supply are available for guests on a first-come, first-served basis.
Going to Shows
One of the things that sets Dollywood apart from other theme parks is its entertainment lineup. Not only are the shows outstanding in quality, they are actually full-length productions. For example, one of my favorite performances is Dreamland Drive-In—a musical show that lasts 55 minutes.
Because of their high quality, Dollywood’s shows are in high demand. At times (especially at Christmas time), people line up to get into a show more than an hour before doors are scheduled to open. If you face mobility challenges, you need to plan ahead.
The Boarding Pass is for rides, not shows, but here are a few tips if standing for a long time is hard for you. If you are in an ECV or wheelchair, you and one other person can have access to theaters before general admission. Look for the marked accessibility entrance and wait there. This can be very helpful if you have any limitations that make it hard to wait longer times. In the theater, you will typically have the option to stay in your mobility device or transfer to a regular seat.
For guaranteed access with minimal wait, you can pick up TimeSaver passes for your party.
Finally, if you are in a large party or you are not using a mobility device for the day, you may be able to get into the theater around the show’s posted start time. Many shows, even with long queues are not completely full, so you may be able to get a seat without waiting in line at all. It doesn’t hurt to ask an usher if they have any seats available!
Dollywood is an amazing place to bring people of all ages and is very accommodating to people with all types of needs. Trust me, with a little planning and understanding of Dollywood’s accessibility procedures, you will be able to have a great time in the friendliest theme park around.