• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”

Carowinds in Review: Accommodations, and more: A Big Fat “F: Part III

To continue my rant on the awful Autism Accommodations offered at Carowinds Amusement Park in the Carolinas…

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In Part II, I discussed the staff being ignorant of the supposed policies and procedures surrounding the use of Alternate Access Entrances, and Boarding Pass Accommodations meant to assist families visiting the park with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Each time we attempted the use of these “accommodations” we had a frustrating and often infuriating experience with staff members manning the park’s attractions.

I did report the problems we were having to Guest Services, and asked for further clarification of the policies. I wanted to ensure that I understood how it “should” work BEFORE I argued with their staff. Fortunately, I did understand correctly. We were told that we should never be made to wait in lines with the children, or for the children. If there was a wait more than ½ hour the attending staff member is required to give a return time. Additionally, I was told to have any staff that was having difficulty knowing what to do to call a supervisor. Of course doing so, would only cost more time, and cause more confusion.

The Good: Redeeming Trip Qualities

We always try to schedule our family vacations during the school year. I know many will say that we should not, or they would not take the kids out of school for a week in order to vacation. For us, the quality of our family time is worth way more than any one week in a classroom! Last year we made our visit to Orlando in early May ensuring to visit theme parks when the crowds were low because school was still in session. This year, we went during the last week of school and there were simply almost no lines on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday because those were the last three days of school here in South Carolina. I will say that I am very very glad we did too!

For the rest of the trip, (until Friday) we did not attempt nor need to use our accommodation passes because the lines were short and tolerable. Additionally, we spent most of our time at Boomerang Bay, which made the trip to Carowinds completely worth it.

The Tot absolutely loved the kids zones in Boomerang Bay (Carowinds Water Park) and the older boys loved the water slides, which were not crowded during the week, and adored the wave pool!

The Bad: Food Prices at the Park are Outrageous!

I am still having difficulty getting over paying $7.00 dollars for an ice cream cone for the Tot! Yes, the ice cream cone cost $5.99 (a regular sized cone that you can get at McDonald’s for a dollar) and they charged an additional .99 for sprinkles!

Most meals were priced at approximately $10 per meal (per person) and the food was not good. There was little there that my little ones, who are very picky eaters, would eat. Luckily, we already know we can only do a couple of hours in the parks each day, and ensured we had five days to visit, so we ate all our meals outside. We bought lunch and ate before we went in, and with the park closing at 6:00 pm most nights that week it was easy to wait until closing time in order to get dinner.

We were able to buy a bucket of popcorn for $4.99, which was refillable for the whole season for only .99 cents each refill. This was a good deal for us, since all the kids love popcorn for a snack. We also purchased a season refillable cup. The cup itself cost $12.99 with soft drinks refillable all day long the day of purchase for FREE and for the rest of the season for .99. For us, this was also a good deal considering there are five of us, and a large drink in the park costs $4.99. We refilled our cup many many many times!

The Ugly: Terrible Autism Accommodations

To sum it up, we had a lovely trip because it was a slow week. But the times we needed to, or attempted to use the appropriate accommodations for our children on the rides at the park they proved more trouble than what they were worth. After day one (Monday, Memorial Day), we did not use the passes again until Friday. However, on Friday the two times we did use the passes were meet with the same types of difficulties that we had on Monday.

Specific Difficulties:

White Water Falls

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The boys entered through the exit/alternate access entrance only to be turned away and told that it was “hazardous” to allow anyone to board through that entrance. Really? Why do you have an alternate access entrance, and how in the world could it be hazardous. They sent the boys to wait in line.

The Intimidator

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I am very proud to announce that Aspie Teen has conquered his fear of heights and roller coasters and ran from coaster to coaster all week proving it to himself!

Hubby went to the Intimidator with Aspie Teen with his Alternate Access. They ushered Aspie Teen to the entrance to wait at the front ALONE while Hubby stood in line. When Hubby reached the front of the line, they allowed Aspie Teen to board the ride with him. Again, the line was not too long, but no one should have been made to wait in line while the child with accommodations waited alone. If the Teen would have fled (as he had in the past trying to conquer this particular fear) we would not have known which way to go look for him.

Carowinds Gets a Big Fat “F”

For these reasons, and those outlined in the first two parts of my review of Carowinds, I give them a big fat F!!! They failed tremendously in providing accommodations appropriate for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, AND many of their behaviors could have put an ASD child in danger. (i.e. making them wait alone and unattended while the parent waits in line).  And in the process managed to act bored, annoyed and frustrated the whole time we were speaking to them about it.

Our Aspie Family had a great time on our vacation, spent some wonderful family time, and watched the Tot splash around like a madman for hours in the kiddie pools. But, if you are considering Carowinds for your ASD families vacations, know that the accommodations (unless the park trains their staff and addresses these issues) are completely useless.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert , contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, three of which are on the autism spectrum.
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