The world is slowly reopening and businesses are restarting operations with new safety measures in place due to Covid-19. As the world reopens and travel resumes, people are looking for fun activities and ways to make memories with their family. Many theme parks have remained closed, such as Disney, while others have restarted operations with new measures in place to keep guests safe. Dollywood, in Tennessee, was among the first theme parks in the United States to re-open with a new set of safety guidelines and protocols. Now, just three weeks into operations I can report that Dollywood may have new rules for visitors, but they are not being enforced. The theme park lacks social distancing in most parts of the park and enforcement of masks is minimal.
Dollywood Reopening Plan
Dollywood has grand plans to be safe and reenergize the life and economy to the Smokey Mountains. Their play safe initiative seems good.
- Daily capacity will be limited – Season Passholder Reservations are required and date-based tickets will be available for general admission.
- Face masks or face coverings are required for all visitors ages 3 and up, with some exceptions. Some of the exceptions where masks are not required are while eating, on water park attractions or select coasters at Dollywood. For a full list of exceptions please visit our FAQ Page.
- Temperature screenings will be taken prior to entry.
- Attraction and dining capacities will be limited to allow guests to have more space to move around during their visit.
- Physical distancing measures have been put in place including physically distanced queues, marked barriers and social distancing reminders.
- Additional sanitation measures have been implemented. This includes high touch point areas being cleaned more frequently and providing additional hand sanitizing locations.
On July 4, 2020, the date of my visit, capacity was capped at nearly 7000 people. Many attractions such as shows, kids play areas, and dinning options remain closed. The areas that are open have reduced capacity. Dollywood does a great job handing out hand sanitizer, cleaning rides and tables, and attempting to keep a clean environment. Their guests, are a different story.
Dollywood Real Life Experience
Should you go to Dollywood is really up to the individual and what you are comfortable experiencing. I want to share my experience so you can see what it’s like inside Dollywood. I did not take many photos, and I wish I would have taken more.
Before entering Dollywood, everyone is required to have pass a health screening and temperature check. Each persons temperature check is done with a digital thermometer and a bracelet is provided to signify you are clear to enter the park. The queue moves quickly and for the most part, parties are respecting the social distance markers before entering the park.
Dollywood Rides & Lines
A theme park wouldn’t be a theme park without long queues for rides. Rides are operating at decrease capacity to encourage social distancing while riding. With fewer people in the park, most waits are short, ranging from 0 minutes to an hour or two for the more famous rollercoasters. The children play areas are all closed due to the high touch areas.
Dollywood did a good job closing down select ride seats and clearly marking them as closed. This makes sense to some degree, but also does not. This requires larger groups to split up and slows down the queues. In addition, it means every rider sits in the same seat, over and over again. Creating very high touch areas such safety restraints and handle bars. It may have been faster to load every seat based on party side, and leave an empty row between parties. Then, disinfect the ride after each cycle.
Currently, before each ride, riders must sanitize their hands. This helps kills viruses and keep the rides clean. Dollywood provides tons of hand sanitizer, both before each ride, after each ride, and throughout the park. In addition, after so many ride cycles, employees spray the ride with disinfectant and cycle it through empty to provide time to properly disinfect and dry.
Lines – Social Distance Problems
The real problem at Dollywood are the ride lines. People queue and do not socially distance. Dollywood has circles every 6 feet to remind guests to keep their distance. Few guests actually follow the recommendations. On several occasions the party behind mine would notice we were keeping our space and they would respectfully keep their distance. On other occasions I had to politely ask the party to keep their distance. This was a common theme, especially with those who were not wearing masks!
As you can see from the photo, few people have masks on or are wearing them appropriately. In addition no one is keeping a proper 6 feet distance. This was a common theme in every ride’s line. Dollywood does make announcements every 5-10 minutes reminding people to wear a mask and keep their distance. Unfortunately, the announcements are often ignored. Even when asked by staff, many visitors did not put their masks on or spread out.
On rides masks can be removed, but must be held. We decided it would be best to keep our masks on as often as possible, even while riding.
As Covid19 has changed the theme park experiencing, Dollywood has adjusted. For example, Dollywood still offers the all you can drink pass, but no longer refills your cup. Instead, each time a staff member hands you a disposable cup to pour into your reusable cup. This creates more waste, but decreases touch points for staff and cross contamination between soda machines and re-usable cups.
Some Dollywood restaurants are non-operational and all are running at reduce capacity. Tables are marked closed and staff clean tables between uses. This is both in restaurants and throughout the park. Signs remain patrons not to use select tables. Other signs remind you to allow a staff member to properly clean the table between uses. Restaurants and bakeries are also better with social distancing. Staff work the door to limit guests and remind people to keep their distance.
You can still find Dollywood’s famous fresh baked cinnamon bread and 25 pound pie! Or chow down on all you can eat fried chicken or a delicious Southern BBQ pulled pork sandwich. Food and concession stands are mostly open throughout the park.
Dollywood To Go Or Not
At the end of the day you need to decide what you’re willing to risk for some entertainment. Dollywood’s Play Safe initiative is mostly well intentioned without any repercussions for guests who do not follow the rules. I would suggest that Dollywood and all theme park follow the airlines rules and ban guests who do not wear masks or ignore staff. As each guest already wears a “health check” wristband, it would be very easy to empower employees to mark non-adherent guests. Three marks or strikes, and you’re out for the day.
If you’re considering a trip to a theme park, you may want to wait. Covid cases are rising in Tennessee and in the county Dollywood is located. High touch point, lack of social distancing in line queues, and a lack of mask enforcement makes returning to a theme park is a solid no for me. Play at your own risk. If you do go, take an abundance of caution. If you tend to be risk adverse, stay home.