If you’re looking to scream at the top of your lungs on a speeding, looping roller coaster to de-stress from the coronavirus pandemic in the coming months, prepare for a different theme park experience than the one you may have experienced in past years.
Although specific reopening and guest-safety plans have yet to be released, a few local amusement parks provided a glimpse last week into what a “new normal” might look like when restrictions are eased and they resume operations.
Hersheypark and Six Flags Great Adventure both said visitors would have to make reservations for admission. Hersheypark is also prepared to implement a ride reservation system.
The Dauphin County park may also institute stricter capacity management, queue line management, coronavirus training for staff, the installation of touchless hand sanitizers, more frequent sanitation, and the use of personal protective equipment, a Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. spokesperson said in a statement.
As Pennsylvania and New Jersey theme parks prepare to make drastic changes when state orders allow them to reopen, industry giants nationwide are grappling with the same questions: How can they keep park visitors safe and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus at places that normally serve as carefree escapes? Even if parks reopen, how quickly will people feel comfortable returning?
In Orlando, where theme parks bring in billions of dollars a year, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have yet to set firm reopening dates. An Orlando-area economic recovery task force unveiled broad plans, CNBC reported, that would include a phased reopening — first at 50% capacity, and then at 75% — requiring that guests stand six feet apart while waiting in line for rides, and mandating employee temperature checks, among other safety measures.
Ohio’s Cedar Point, which calls itself “the roller coaster capital of the world,” on Friday postponed its summer-long 150th-anniversary celebration until 2021, and said its “reopen date is still uncertain.”
Pennsylvania health officials will allow theme parks to open only in the least-restrictive, green phase of the commonwealth’s tiered reopening plan, which no counties have yet reached. Hersheypark will be ready to open in early June if permitted to do so, but plans remain “fluid,” the spokesperson said, and the park will follow guidance from Gov. Tom Wolf and public health officials on reopening dates and safety precautions.
“We recognize that the decision to reopen isn’t entirely ours to make,” she said.
Whenever Six Flags opens, all ticket holders, including members and those with season passes, will have to make reservations. “To meet state social-distancing guidelines and ensure the health and safety of our guests,” the park wrote on its website, “all visits to the park must be pre-scheduled using our online reservation system.”
Details of the online reservation system weren’t immediately released, and Six Flags did not respond to requests for comment. A company spokesperson told NJ.com that Six Flags was putting “the finishing touches” on the system.
In northern Pennsylvania, near Bloomsburg, Knoebels Amusement Park will not open before June 7, a spokesperson said. Knoebels has assembled a team to plan for operational adjustments, which could include installing hand sanitizers throughout the park, more rigorous cleaning and sanitization, and training for staff.