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Dollywood Changes Operations During Pandemic; Alters Operation Schedule

Dollywood is currently open Friday through Monday

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Dollywood was one of the first theme parks to reopen as pandemic rules closed and then allowed reduced-capacity reopening of entertainment.

Reservations in advance were initially required, but that restriction was lifted in July. According to company president Craig Ross, “With the favorable feedback from our guests and the confidence our management team has…we are going to make it simpler and easier to visit the park without prior planning by removing the current reservation requirement.”

Also initially, guests were not required to wear masks on outdoor rides, although they were required elsewhere throughout the park. That has now been amended, and guests are mostly required to stay masked-up during their visits. The exceptions are water park rides, while eating, and on a few “select outdoor attractions” according to the park's website. Guest temperatures are taken before entry, and a short series of four questions are asked about guest health also prior to entry. Anyone with a temperature, and anyone who rode in the same vehicle as that guest will be denied entry but offered a refund.

Throughout the park, there are a wide variety of signs placed to alert guests about social distancing and hygiene. And speaking of hygiene, hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere in the park. Rides operate at 50% capacity. And food and merchandise venues feature plexiglass dividers, water fountains are closed, indoor theaters and other indoor attractions are shuttered. Self-serve buffets at food venues are understandably gone. Single use utensils are a yes, and moving any socially distanced furnishings in dining areas is a no.

Entertainment at open air venues is very much alive, however, with every other row blocked off.

Currently, the waterpark has reduced its hours to Friday-Sunday; the theme park operates Friday-Monday. When the park first opened, mid-week visits were available as well. Presumably the weekends offer stronger attendance; and with the resort also open, the new hours point to over-night visits. To encourage visitors to enjoy longer stays, the park that Dolly Parton built is offering guests staying at the DreamMore Resort 10% off per stay and four free tickets to Dollywood's Splash Country for dates at the end of August and Labor Day weekend.

Now through September 21st, the park is offering their Homeschool Days promo. Students from Kindergarten through 12th grade can purchase a park ticket for $37; accompanying adults for $47. Tickets must be purchased a minimum of 72-hours in advance. Students and their families can also receive a special rate at the Dollywood DreamMore Resort.

In another ticket-pricing promo, all guests purchasing a single-day ticket online pay the regular children's price of $69.

The park is reportedly doing steady business, although the reduced operating days reveal that weekday attendance was not as strong. Since mid-August, Dollywood have given annual pass holders a survey asking what would encourage annual pass renewal. Current pass holders have passes extended beyond the year's end – all the way to June 15, 2021. The main thrust of the survey is to examine what would get these pass holders to renew through the rest of 2021 and all of 2022.

With that in mind, questions focus on extra incentives such as additional free bring-a-friend passes, free meals, lower prices, Time-Saver passes, souvenir mugs, or free parking passes. Also being queried is the option of longer payment plans for pass holders, a move that would reduce monthly payments.

The price to renew for the balance of 2021 and all of 2022 is close to $125 based on the survey, but nothing has been set at this time.

Also this month, the park set up Dollywood's Everyday Heroes Appreciation Days, which offered frontline workers one-day Dollywood admission tickets online for $39 for use from August through September 21st. A special redemption code redeemable at employees' workplaces was required to purchase.

Earlier this summer, the park was successful in instituting a Flower & Food Festival that extended until August 2nd, considerably longer than the fest runs in average years.  The park has a couple of unique features that makes it different from other parks. As mentioned, certain coasters do not require masks; and there are “Mask Free Break Zones” that allow guests to remove face coverings while staying six-feet from guests who are not a part of the guest's own group.

When not in that zone however, there are six-foot-apart markers to remind guests to stay apart.

Currently, a number of rides and children's play areas remain closed, six at Dollywood Theme Park, including Lumberjack Lift, Granny's Garden, Lil' Pilots Playground, Firehouse Fun Yard, Hidden Hollow, and Wildwood Creek. In Dollywood's Splash Country Water Park, Bear Mountain Fire Tower, RiverRush, The Cascades, and Fire Tower Falls are closed.

Those rides are closed either because they are indoors, or as with the children's play areas, don't allow for social distancing.

At all open rides, cleaning and sanitation have been increased; brief shut-downs for cleaning happen throughout the day.

The resort also has similar restrictions and cleaning in place, with masks required except when dining or swimming, six-foot distancing rules, and increased cleaning that includes CDC-recommended disinfectants. Staff, as at the theme park, are properly masked.

In a recent Billboard Magazine article Parton described her reasons for reopening the park when she did, as well as current safety restrictions and the number of days open. “We are certainly not going to have a great year this year…Hopefully by coming back, we'll pick up some stuff that we've lost…  I'm still hoping for the best.” As is much of the theme park world.
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