PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — More than 700 operational changes will greet Dollywood guests beginning Monday as the theme park reopens for the first time since shutting its doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes will be noticable even before you step foot inside either of the two parks. The first step is making a reservation to visit.
Before entering the park, all guests and employees will have their temperature taken and answer “no” to four questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and exposure:
- Have you had any signs or symptoms of a fever in the past 24 hours such as chills, sweats, felt “feverish” or had a temperature that is elevated for you/100.4 degrees or greater?
- Do you have any of the following symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or chest tightness?
- Do you have any two of the following symptoms: sore throat, myalgia (body aches), loss of taste and/or smell, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, or headache?
- In the past 14 days, have you had close contact with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19?
On the day of your visit, if one person in the vehicle you came in has a high temperature (100.4 or above), you will not be allowed, but you will be able to reschedule your visit at no additional cost.
Turnstiles at the entrance have been removed to reduce points of contact among visitors.
Face masks will be required almost everywhere at the park for everyone over the age of 3.
“When you’re visiting a restroom, it’s really difficult to socially distance inside of a restroom, so that is going to be a place that is gonna require a mask,” Eugene Naughton, vice president of park operations at Dollywood, said.
Face masks will NOT be required when guests are dining in a restaurant or eating around the park, while guests take pictures, while they are on “high-thrill” rides or when they are in a relaxation zone dedicated to taking masks off.
Inside the park, more than 6,000 signs are posted pertaining to social distancing guidelines and more than 300 handwashing stations are in place. Employees will also be wearing masks and wiping down rides.
“So we’re going to be providing hand sanitizer on the way into a ride and also the way out of a ride,” Naughton said.
During Phase 1 of the reopening families will not be put in rows on rides with other families, rides will operate at 50% capacity, and refillable drink stations will not be open.
You can see a full list of park changes online at Dollywood’s PlaySafe webpage, including food safety and enhanced cleanliness features.
Certain areas and attractions will remain closed during the first phase, such as kid’s playgrounds and the Lumberjack Lift, because following the health guidelines would be too difficult.
Dollywood won’t have any shows indoors during the first phase either. Most shows have been moved outside.
News for season pass holders
Naughton said because the park remained close for the usual spring season, all season passes have been extended until June 2021.
Season pass holders will still get some extra perks, despite all the changes at the park.
“For a season pass holder, you’ll have an opportunity to not only select your day, but you’ll also be able to select the time that you want to come. And that will help them, you know, avoid any unnecessary rushes,” Naughton said.
If pass holders miss their reservation time, Naughton said they’ll still be able to enter.
“We’re in the business of managing capacity and it’s going to be really important for us to main sight line of who’s coming. But, if a season pass holder selects a 2 o’clock reservation, but they show up at 2:30, I’m already including them in the capacity of the park, so I’m going to provide a little bit of a flexibility,” Naughton said.
Naughton said season pass holders will also be able to get time savers for rides.
He said his team received thousands of phone calls from season pass holders asking about refunds.
If the guest hasn’t used their season pass yet, they would be able to receive a refund, but Naughton hopes guests will give the park a try before doing so.
“I think we’re going to wow and surprise them with what we’ve done on property. So, I’m encouraging everyone to just give us a try before they decide that they want to get a refund,” Naughton said.
New Flower & Food Festival added at Dollywood
As guests enjoy Dollywood for the first time since COVID-19, they’ll walk through the park’s newest event the Flower & Food Festival.
The festival includes large plant sculptures spread throughout the park, with half-a-million colorful flower blooms.
Guests will see bears, butterflies, turtles and more made of flowers.
The tallest sculpture, which is 14 feet tall, is of Dolly Parton’s mother sewing the ‘Coat of Many Colors.’
Along with the flowers, guests can enjoy a variety of new food and treats, such as grilled citrus shrimp, chicken stir fry, lobster rolls, chocolate-dipped macaroons, blueberry tarts and more.
As soon as guests enter the park, one of the first festival pieces they’ll see is the Umbrella Sky, which is made up of 600 umbrellas hanging over the main walkway.
Naughton said many pieces of the Flowers & Food Festival were difficult to put together because of COVID-19.
“We had a team from Portugal planning on coming to help us from an installation perspective we contracted with. But, because of the travel bans in the U.S., that team wasn’t able to come so our maintenance and construction and events team all got together and learned something new,” Naughton said.
He said the festival also needed help from lawmakers. Several of the flowers were coming from Canada, and that border was also closed.
Dollywood hosts ask that guests keep an open mind when they experience the new safety protocols in the park. The current measures are only for Phase 1. Park officials will continue to monitor any changes and make updates to the plans when necessary.
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