I usually like to pass on information about good experiences, and great accommodations, but in Carowind’s case I simply cannot. I did my research before we went on vacation, ensuring that the park did indeed have accommodations. You can find them on Carowind’s website.
This is the thing I would like others to understand about traveling, and/or visiting amusement/theme parks with ASD children: it takes our families more time (and more money) than the typical family to visit these parks, and many times our children have difficulty enjoying them. As parents, we work hard to ensure our children have a good time, while at the same time trying to not pull our own hair out of our heads!
I do not seek accommodations because I am trying to get out of standing in line, or because I think it is a perk my children receive for having autism; I seek accommodations because they make the trips possible! Not easier; just possible. Without accommodations at parks, we would likely not be able to visit AND if we did, it would not be an enjoyable trip.
Our trip to Carowinds took five days. Most families do not need five days to see the park with their children; in fact, they can usually do that park in a day or two at the most. For us, we can only visit for a few hours per day, so in order for our children to enjoy the park the way others can, we need more time there.
What does that all mean? That means 5 days admission price instead of one—or two, and a five day hotel stay instead of none, or just overnight accommodations. It means feeding a family of five for a week, and not being able to take the children to these parks as often as others, or as often as they would like to go. It means a lot of work, walking, and effort on our parts. To ask for accommodations in order for the park to take our money to visit is but a small thing. Can you tell I am getting myself all riled up before I even tell you about the accommodations, or what happened?
First the Good (since the list is short): Seasons Passes; Alternate Entrance Passes; and Boarding Passes
Carowinds offered Season passes for less than the price of two day’s admission, and the passes have a payment plan where they can be paid over 6 payments. Although we live three hours from the park, and will likely not visit again this season, just having them for the five days we were there saved us a bundle of money. Additionally, with the Gold Season pass, we received free parking and ten percent off all purchases in the park, which was great. Five days of parking at $15.00 per day would have cost us $75.00 alone!
When we entered the park, after having our pictures taken and season passes issued, we proceeded directly to Guest Services where I informed them that I am visiting with three autistic children. I requested Alternate Entry Passes, and Guest Boarding Passes (as informed by their website).
Guest Services were knowledgeable, respectful, and quickly filled out the required paperwork. It did not take long, and we were issued 6 pieces of paper. The three Alternate Entry passes allow us to enter the rides through the exit, or wheelchair entry without having to wait in long, crowded lines with children that could not wait amongst that many people.
We were also issued three Boarding passes (one for each child) which were meant to be used if the lines had more than a half hour wait. In this case, since the passes are not intended to allow the kids to ride with no waiting, the ride operator would give a written time (based on the line length) to return and ride without waiting. In other words, if the line is 30 minutes long, you still waited the 30 minutes to ride, but did not have to stay in line to do so.
When the return time is up, you proceed to the alternate entrance of the ride, present your boarding pass and ride without waiting. Remember, you have already waited the same amount of time as if you stood on line but were free to walk around the park, or in our case chase the Tantrum Tot around the park while we waited. Each pass, whether alternate entry or boarding pass was good for entry of the disabled individual AND THREE OF THEIR GUESTS.
These accommodations seem like they would be helpful and adequate—if they worked the way they should have, AND if the staff manning the attractions were knowledgeable, and/or helpful. They were neither!