It's becoming increasingly difficult to evaluate how theme park reopenings are going without being on the ground. As a Californian waiting for Disney World to open to make my Eastbound trek, I've been doing my best to gauge the situation from the other side of the country. It's hard to discern from afar if things are going well or poorly, since many reports conflict, and evaluating mask usage or distancing is ambiguous and ever-shifting, like the crowds.
There are some troubling reports coming out of the newly reopened parks, along with some encouraging news, all of which is being relayed to us by theme park reporters on the ground. We will bring our own balanced perspective when I'm in Florida next month, but until then, here's the theme park news you may have missed this week:
OPENINGS ALL OVER
We've seen multiple theme parks begin opening to guests within the past few days, all with required masks, social distancing protocols, and updated cleaning procedures. Dollywood's first day back in the game was exclusive to passholders — the Tennessee park reopens to the public tomorrow — but it appears Mother Nature is a card-carrying member, considering how bonkers the weather was for part of the day.
Rehashing each park's safety protocol is starting to sound as repetitive as It's a Small World's soundtrack, so let's focus on the differences.
Dollywood clocked 700 updated operational procedures; Coaster 101, which also reported on the increased cleaning, noted an interesting shift to roller coaster protocol: Masks are not required on “high thrill rides." (Which are socially distanced and operating at half capacity.) Play areas are closed, stores have assigned entrances and exits, indoor theaters are closed, but at least there will still be cinnamon bread:
Busch Gardens reopened last week, as well, and while early reports showed distanced roller coaster rows and limited experiences like many other parks, any opening details were quickly overshadowed by... the shirt:
I was not on-site for the opening, but the reports out of SeaWorld paired some good news with some bad. Updated safety protocol included clear theater signage for outdoor shows and some very cute socially distanced character meet-and-greets, but other accounts, like Theme Park University's, call out opening day flubs. Mask-wearing is reportedly not being enforced, and more than one reporter has shared a personal account about folks getting too close.
There are two sides to every story — I've seen the same park entrance both socially distanced and cramped in different photos — but this one felt like a trend. (We'll check back once it's open for a bit longer to see if things have changed or remained the same.)
Which brings us to Universal Orlando Resort. It's impossible to discern from afar how things are actually going, since photos can be misleading, but as we discussed last week, reports coming out of Wizarding World and beyond since the June 5 opening have been positive. The crowds were low, the cleaning was regular, and the mask-wearing was enforced.
With theme park crowds seemingly the busiest they've been so far over the weekend at Universal parks, my concern continues to lie with the pain points that only emerge once each park hits or nears its newly amended maximum capacity, which reportedly happened this weekend at Universal's Volcano Bay.
Upon park exit at the end of the day, guests were backed up in a queue for buses back to the parking garage and resort hotels that caused severe crowding. In response to Florida State Representative Anna Eskamani on Twitter, Universal shared that the situation was resolved swiftly and that park officials "put processes in place to ensure this does not occur again," but it's seemingly not the only instance of crowding at park closure.
Theme park podcaster Average Dis Nerd shared that CityWalk quickly became overcrowded on Friday evening as both parks emptied out nightly at 6PM into a downtown district with limited restaurant capacity, leaving social distancing markers irrelevant. (Same with exiting the Hogwarts Express between both parks.)
Much of Universal's opening has appeared to go extremely well — instances like these are few and far between — but this is the first time theme parks have ever had to reopen with a full spread of new safety guidelines. As COVID-19 numbers spike in Florida, which may or may not be due to increased testing data, be mindful of whether or not visiting the parks is the right decision for you, as these procedures are new for everyone, employees and guests alike.
DISNEYLAND MAKES IT OFFICIAL
Well, somewhat! The California theme park resort's opening dates are still subject to governmental approval, but Disneyland is set to open on July 17, which is also its 65th birthday. Disney California Adventure is slated for that day as well, with Downtown Disney beginning to welcome guests on July 9. Disney's Grand Californian and Paradise Pier Hotels are slated for reopening on July 23. (Disneyland Hotel was curiously not included in the announcement.)
This is just the first wave of news — no mask policies, detailed safety procedures, or amended attraction lists came with the update, but guests will have to obtain a reservation to enter the parks, just like at Walt Disney World. Ticket sales are currently suspended (they'll return at a later date), and like other parks, fireworks and nighttime entertainment will not be offered at the reopening, while characters will be found in the parks but be unavailable for meet-and-greets.
More news is likely to break in the next week, so stay tuned for details.
UNIVERSAL HOLLYWOOD BEGINS TO REOPEN
So much theme park news this week I nearly forgot: Universal Hollywood CityWalk is now open! Only a limited selection of restaurants and shops have opened their doors, but it's enough to keep one theme dork entertained until the SoCal parks start welcoming guests:
TWEET OF THE WEEK:
One theme park you don't have to worry about packing extra face masks for? This throwback look at The World of Sid and Marty Kroft in Atlanta. The real version was extremely short-lived — it opened in May 1976 and closed six months later — but appears to have been just as much of a technicolor doozy in real life.
LINKS LINKS LINKS
- Disney will be discontinuing vacation packages that include air travel next year.
- Hong Kong Disneyland will reopen this Thursday.
- Plan to visit a Florida theme park sometime this year? This mask guide will help prepare you.
- Universal Studios Japan re-opened and, well, this is worth a read.
- Will folks traveling to Florida from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey have to self-quarantine upon arrival? We finally have an answer.
- I have a lot of thoughts about 'Olu Mel joining the Duffy & Friends gang.
- Curious what Disney World hotels will look like when they start to reopen next week? This coverage of Disney's Vero Beach Resort, which opened yesterday, might answer some questions.
- Major League Soccer is coming to Disney World.
- Kennywood Park will reopen to the public on Saturday, July 11, with annual passholder previews starting Monday, July 6.
- Hersheypark will open on July 3, with Season Passholder previews on July 1 and 2. Its new Candymonium hypercoaster will debut then as well, hitting max speeds of 76 miles per hour and clocking the most airtime of any coaster at the park.
- The Bourne Stuntacular, Universal's new tech-savvy show featuring a massive LED screen, free-fall stunts, practical effects, and plenty of surprises, is now in technical rehearsals and open to the public.