Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve written anything at all. Having said that, as the summer has progressed many amusement and theme parks across the U.S. have reopened with health and safety protocols in place. Since parks in my area have been slower to re-open, I haven’t been to many. I have however made it to three parks (Six Flags America, Six Flags over Georgia, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg) in the last month or so and thought it might be helpful to share my experiences and thoughts.
Before I dive in, I will go ahead and out myself with regard to my bias on the current state of things. This should eliminate the need for anyone to virtue shame me or accuse me of pushing an agenda. I’m really not. I have my thoughts. I know they aren’t shared by everyone and that’s cool. I respect your thoughts and I ask the same for mine.
I want to start this off with a brief section that is completely subjective and this is where my bias will show up. You need to know that I believe the virus is very real and presents a dangerous threat to many people’s health. I have also chosen to not live in fear of the virus. I follow safety protocols. I mask up, do my best to maintain social distance, and I live my life. That’s where I’m coming from as I make these observations.
It should also be noted that my evaluations are based solely on what I experienced during one day in each of these parks. I’m sure there are bound to be inconsistencies from day to day.
This is the subjective section of the blog. I believe that people who view theme parks as just something to do and aren’t necessarily enthusiasts will not enjoy the parks as much right now. I know that some will, but from the comments I’ve heard from non-enthusiasts, this is what I think. There are limited dining options at the parks. Not every restaurant will be open and the snack/drink carts that many parks place throughout the midways aren’t there right now. Also, it is most likely that not every ride will be open. I have yet to see an indoor dark ride running. (To be fair, Six Flags over Georgia has been running Monster Mansion. It just happened to be down the day I was there.) If you love riding roller coasters and have a favorite seat, you may or may not be able to sit where you want. I have seen the staff assigning your seat on some coasters both at Six Flags over Georgia and at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
Finally, and this is the big elephant in the room, many will not enjoy the experience because in most parks that are open you must wear your mask at all times unless you are in a designated mask free zone or if you are eating. It’s August. It’s hot. Wearing a mask all day in the heat sucks. If you don’t want to or aren’t able to do that, then you should stay home.
What To Expect
I will break this down by each park that I have visited this summer so you will see the subtle differences.
Six Flags America
This was the first park I visited during the pandemic. It’s a low tier park in the Six Flags chain so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
Reservation was required. You couldn’t get through the parking plaza without showing your reservation. Once you showed it there, you did not have to produce it again.
Before entering the park, Six Flags uses infrared cameras to scan your body temperature as you walk through a tent. Anything over 100.4 and your entire group will not be allowed entry. The good news is, if you register a fever, you are allowed to hang out in a ‘cool down’ area and get rescanned a few minutes later. If you fail then, you’re out of luck.
Hand sanitizer stations were everywhere. They were at ride entrances and exits, store entrances, restaurant entrances, and at the bathroom entrances and exits. In addition there were also some hand washing stations set up in the midways.
Mask enforcement was pretty strict the day I was there. I saw multiple employees asking guests to get their masks on correctly throughout the day. We even saw a ride operator refuse to dispatch the train on a coaster until someone put their mask in place.
Social distancing markers were on the ground in the line queues. I didn’t see staff enforcing these, but I would say 95% of the guests in the park were keeping their distance in the queues.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness and operations of this park. They were doing it right. I give them an A.
Six Flags over Georgia
I could copy and paste paragraphs 2-4 so I won’t rehash that. There was however one significant difference in the entry procedures and that was the fact that the guests were simply ignoring social distancing waiting for the park to open. There were markers down but they were useless. There was also no staff monitoring that entrance line to enforce it.
Mask enforcement here was spotty at best. I will be the first to admit that if I found myself in an area where no one was around except my daughter and I, my mask came down too. It went right back up if anyone was within even 20 feet of me. I did see one or two employees ask people to put their masks on, but most employees were ignoring it.
Ride queues here were also a mess. Just like the entrance, markers were down but no one was paying any attention to them. As you can see in the photos, inside the stations was better. I did my best to keep 6 feet between Carrie and myself and any other group, but it was a little bit frustrating to say the least.
I never felt unsafe here, but that’s me. I am certain that others would have probably chosen to leave the park. When it comes to enforcing their stated health and safety protocols, Six Flags over Georgia gets a C-.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
My home park! I’ll try to not let my bias creep in here.
This park is not fully open, but rather running a very low capacity special event in which only half of the park is open so it’s a different experience altogether.
Reservations are required and must be shown not only at the parking booth, but at the park entry when your ticket is scanned. I was relieved to still have the email on my phone as I left the printed copy of the reservation in the car. Your temperature is checked with the touch-less forehead scan by a member of security and the same protocols for fever that the other parks had, holds true here as well.
The park didn’t have the full out hand washing stations (at least I didn’t see any), but there was hand sanitizer everywhere you turned. I don’t think you ever had to walk more than 50 feet to find some. Good by me.
Social distancing markers were in place all over the park and guests were adhering to them. I never saw a park employee enforce it, but again, I never saw what appeared to be a violation of social distancing.
Mask enforcement was on point. A friend of ours witnessed Finnegan’s Flyer getting stopped only a few seconds into the ride because a guest had pulled their mask down when the ride started. If employees saw people with their masks down, they were reminding them to put them on correctly. No issues here at all.
Ride queues were also handled well. Markers were on the ground and guests were following them. Also, a huge shoutout to the park for marking off 2 consecutive rows right in front of the back row of the coasters so that you could ride in the back row. That was great thinking on their part.
Photo Credit – Andrea Davidson
Busch Gardens took a terrible situation with local government and made the most out of it. When it comes to adhering to their stated protocols, they get an A.
To Go or Not To Go?
This is a question that only you can answer for yourself. I can tell you that if you are the social distancing and mask police, you will find something to get upset about. The enforcement will never be 100% across the board and people are always going to test the limits. So if that’s you, you probably don’t want to go because you’ll be unhappy the whole time and that’s not the reason for going to the parks.
If you are responsible and enjoy the rides and being in the parks, then by all means, get out there and have a good time. The parks need patronage right now as many of them have essentially lost 1/2 of a season or more.
If you’re not ready to go into the parks yet, that’s cool. Don’t shame those of us who are. If you are back in the parks and enjoying them responsibly, that’s great too. Don’t shame or belittle those that aren’t. The parks should be enjoyed.
Have you been back to the parks yet? What were your experiences? Feel free to share them in the comments down below.