Dollywood: Special Needs Edition

Excited to do our first travel edition part of this blog. We have learned so many things that have made our trips so much easier, mostly by learning from mistakes previously made. Between the zoo, Disney World, Harlem Globe Trotters and more, we hope to share experiences from each place that can help others feel that they too can do these wonderful trips and be able to prepare for them. Subscribe to our blog now and ensure you don’t miss them when they come out!


Dollywood: Special Needs Edition

So let’s jump right into it. Dollywood is a special gem to us, as we have family that lives pretty close to Pigeon Forge TN. We usually end up getting season passes since we go quite a bit, or even the Super Pass since they also have a Dolly Splash Country that the kids love a ton. That’s another post though (see what I did there).

Time to ride the Wild Eagle

Before you get to the information useful to accommodate your child, I really want to brag on this park a little bit. There are a ton of things to do, and have amazing themes. Carter loves this park so much, and this year was his first time he was able to ride everything by meeting the height requirement. You want to talk about stress and anxiety, you better believe when I finally sat next to Carter on the Wild Eagle, I about passed out from fear. Carter man was laughing and smiling ready to go, and all I could think about is this ride going upside down and his shunt to quit working from the pressure. Of course that isn’t going to happen, but the demons creeped right into my head and put the fear of the devil in me. It took everything I could to not go full Marine on the employees at the ride and scream at them to let us off this thing. I am so glad I didn’t though, because Carter man had the time of his life, and loved the Wild Eagle so much. He would not stop laughing and saying “let’s do it again”.

Just imagine what is going to happen when it is time for him to drive a car, epic chaos.


Our Experience and Recommendations

What makes the experience more enjoyable is the height bands you can get at the beginning of the park. They measure the height of your child and give you a colored band that matches certain rides. One of our learned mistakes is taking Carter up to a ride and finding out he isn’t tall enough to get on. This causes major issues and lets the meltdowns begin. By having a colored band on his wrist that coordinates with the signs at the ride, you can walk right past the ones you don’t qualify for and act like it doesn’t exist. This worked great for us for the past few years and get the band every time.


We also have had hard times with him waiting in line. Carter can start stemming and gets his hand and humming going on and can be content for hours. It doesn’t
bother us one bit and keeps him occupied while waiting. His biggest problem is his feet starts hurting and he wants to sit down somewhere. Once that foot starts hurting, the day is about done. Carter just doesn’t like to wait, and we are going to start bringing a small camping folding stool for him to sit on. You can download apps that tell you how long the wait times are, or even by a timesaver pass that lets
you bypass the line and use another line that is much shorter.


Dollywood also has a calming room they have implemented for any sensory overload situation. Straight from their website is the following:

“The Calming Room is a quiet, relaxing environment where the Guest and his/her family can feel safe and at ease. 


The room is equipped with sensory items such as a weighted blanket, fiber optic strands and a teepee”

This is an awesome consideration and really shows how Dollywood has attempted to think of everything they can. They even have a Doggywood for your dog to stay in while you enjoy the park. Emotional support and therapy dogs can
stay at Doggywood and this allows the guests to be able to return quickly to their pet if needed.

Another cool aspect within the park is the multiple splash pads that have. If your child is anything like Carter, they will love water more than anything. This is a good tool for us when Carter starts to get overwhelmed, and is a simple reward system to calm him down.

Lastly, the boarding pass is another great aspect for children with autism, and we have used the program a few times. This allows for a child with special needs and up to four family members to use the ride accessibility entrance instead of waiting in the long ride. How it works is you have a family member go through that entrance and see the ride attendant. They will mark a time on the pass that correlates with the current wait time. Now your family can do other things or wait in a calming room until that time approaches. Then the family can use the ride accessibility entrance and get on the ride. Great idea!

We love Dollywood and will continue to go many times in the future. They always have new rides and different areas throughout the seasons. We love Christmas time the best there, and you can’t go wrong being so close to the
mountains either. Not to mention Kinley loves it too, so it makes an enjoyable day for everyone. In another post, we will tell you about our times going down the road to Cades Cove!

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Have you been to Dollywood? Tell the readers about your time there and what they can do to make their trip a success. 

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