Theme parks are back, kinda
The country is still taking its time reopening after months of closings due to Covid 19. Though each state is still deciding on its own timeline for letting people get back to their lives, and large group outings are still shunned in much of the country, theme parks are beginning phased reopenings after shutting in March. Obviously, things will not be going back to normal yet, so it will be interesting to see what things look like in this new, coronavirus, world. Here then is an update on the country's most popular parks, and what you need to know before you and your family decide to plan a visit.
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Let’s start with the Happiest Place on Earth. Depending on the location, Disney’s many parks have different opening dates, rules, and regulations. For instance, limited shops and restaurants in Orlando’s Disney Springs began opening on May 20, and Universal Orlando opened on June 5—albeit accompanied by a warning on their websites. Disney Springs includes this, “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and Guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. By visiting Disney Springs you voluntarily assume all risks related to COVID-19. Help keep each other healthy.” Not exactly the usual warm and fuzzy we expect from Disney.
Disney World, also in Orlando, will begin opening on July 11, with Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios delayed until July 15. The Top Things You Should Know section of https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/experience-updates/ outlines important health precautions, like required face coverings for anyone over the age of 2, random temperature screenings and physical distancing (that means you parades, shows and fireworks).
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom will not allow Anaheim’s Disneyland parks to open until Stage 3 of the four-stage reopening road map—with no firm date in place.
UPDATE: Disney Land has announced that its reopening plans are postponed, and that it will no longer reopen to visitors on July 17 as planned.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (Including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) will open to the general public on Friday, June 5. The park has been outfitted with new social distancing markers directing park goers to new flows and lines. The park has also been updated for contactless payment to protect visitors and staff from direct interactions.
Attendees will be require to pass a temperature check when they enter the park, and people are encouraged to wear masks at all times.
Kings Island makes the largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest. Located in Mason, OH, neither park has announced a firm date for reopening, though a message from Mike Koontz, VP and GM of Kings Island on its website is touting the opening of its newest Orion roller coaster, with a drop of 300 feet, as well as a promise to put the safety of its guests first. The park’s Grand Carnivale nighttime parade and its Summer Nights block party, are both being pushed back until 2021, as well as all 2020 Season Passes and add-on products.
Six Flags is the largest regional theme park company and the largest operator of water parks in North America—with 26 venues in all. Though kids all over the country are disappointed they won’t be able to freely ride the coasters and waterslides from coast to coast, the Oklahoma City-based Frontier City opened its doors on June 5, with a 3-day preview mode for Members and Season Pass Holders only. Attendance levels will gradually increase during the month and Six Flags President and CEO Mike Spanos believes the park can easily manage guest throughput for social distancing. Other health restrictions include thermal imaging for temperature checks, advanced security screening technology for touchless bag checks, and expanded mobile food ordering. In addition, guests over the age of 2 will have to don masks and all guests must make a reservation to attend the park at www.sixflags.com/reserve www.sixflags.com/reserve.
The only other Six Flags park open at this time is the Cream Ridge, NJ-based Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure. This too needs a reservation at the above website, and the COVID-19 rules include maintaining space between cars, a 5 mph speed limit and no bathrooms, food or gas availability. Stay tuned for more openings as the summer progresses.
Dolly Parton’s extravagant Dollywood park, set in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, TN, will begin a phased reopening on June 17, while the DreamMore Resort & Spa opens on June 10.
The website’s “playsafe” message includes a similar warning to Disney, reminding customers of the danger of coronavirus and “By visiting Dollywood Parks & Resorts you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.” In addition, daily capacity will be limited and season passholders will be required to make reservations. Other health regulations include physical distancing, temperature screenings before entering the park, and face masks required for age 3 and up—though exceptions include water park rides.
10 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World
Walt Disney sure had some grand plans when it came to building the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. He not only wanted it to be a fun theme park, but also to include an experimental prototype community of tomorrow (EPCOT) that would be a real working futuristic city, utilizing the latest push-button technology a la The Jetsons. The visionary sadly died in 1966, several years before Disney World opened in 1971, and EPCOT eventually just became another theme park incorporated into the larger resort in 1982. But did you know it was once meant to actually be lived in? Below are a few other fun facts that you might never have guessed about the Happiest Place on Earth. 1. It's huge (Puppie2008/Dreamstime) The size of the entire Walt Disney World resort is 40 square miles, or the size of San Francisco. You heard me. The same size as the city of San Francisco. Needless to say, that dwarfs other U.S. theme parks. 2. They have a lot of employees (Paul Brewster/Dreamstime) It's not easy keeping the magic alive. Disney World employs nearly 70,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country. 3. Loads of sunglasses are lost every day Every single day, an average of 210 pairs of sunglasses are turned in to the incredible Lost and Found department at Disney World. Good luck sifting through that pile if your aviators go missing over in Toon Town. 4. People love turkey legs Giant turkey legs were first introduced at Disney World the 90s, and became such a popular item that they were quickly introduced to the other parks. More than 2 million turkey drumsticks are consumed at Disneyland and Disney World every year, and you can even buy all sorts of gear (t-shirts, hats, etc.) with pictures of turkey legs on them. 5. They practice sustainability Who would have thought? More than 30 tons of fruits and vegetables are grown each year at EPCOT's Land Pavilion and used in the resort's restaurants and cafes. 6. Liberty Oak gets around (Michael Gordon/Dreamstime) The Liberty Oak, which stands in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, has spawned over 500 young oak trees via its harvested acorns. 7. There's a hotel suite inside Cinderella's Castle (Michael Gordon/Dreamstime) There's a hotel suite tucked away in Cinderella's Castle that can sleep up to six and has flat-screen TV disguised as magic mirrors. Unfortunately, you can't just make a reservation – overnight guests are winners that are chosen at random by the park each day. 8. The price of tickets has increased over 400% (adjusted for inflation) since opening When Disney's Magic Kingdom first opened in 1971, adult admission cost $3.50. Today, it's over $120. 9. The resort is basically its own functioning city Walt Disney's dreams of the "city of tomorrow" never came to fruition, but the entire resort is sort of it its own self-governing city, complete with its own fire departments and emergency services. 10. It's (sort of) eco friendly Fifteen miles south of Disney World is the Disney Wilderness Preserve, which is a 12,000-acre wetlands mitigation project that Disney company bought it in the 90s. Disney provides funds for restoration and wildlife monitoring in order to offset the lands impacted by the development of Walt Disney World. Fair enough. ("10 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World" was originally published on January 22, 2013 and was updated to reflect current prices and other data and statistics on September 24, 2019.)
As a child, Dolly Parton let her imagination run wild, and now, visitors to her theme park in the hills of the Smokies are reaping the benefits. Officially opened on May 10 and inspired by the iconic country singer’s youthful flights of fancy, Wildwood Grove is Dollywood’s (dollywood.com) first expansion since 2008—the largest and, with a price tag of $37 million, most expensive in the park’s history. We've got the scoop on what's new in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, from rides and attractions to characters, restaurants, and more. A Whole New World The Grove’s anchor is the Wildwood Tree, a massive spectacle with 600-plus colorful lighted butterflies, thousands of leaves, and a babbling brook that pools under its canopy. Beginning in June, the tree will play host to a series of night-time events that change with the seasons. The park’s attractions span the spectrum from kid-friendly to thrill-a-minute: On the less intense side, the Treetop Tower invites riders to take a seat in a giant acorn for a spin to the top of a sky-high oak tree, while animal lovers can mount friendly frogs and black bears for a lively jaunt through their respective habitats. Adrenaline junkies should head straight for the Dragonflier, a 1,486-foot-long suspended roller coaster, or the Mad Mockingbird, a flying scooter that zooms through the air at your command, thanks to a sail that allows riders to maneuver as they see fit. There’s also a 4,000-square-foot climate-controlled play area where the little ones can blow off steam, and a water-filled oasis with pop jets and splashing pools that provides some relief from the hot East Tennessee sun. Fresh Fare and Friendly Faces Adding to Dollywood’s cast of familiar faces are three new costumed characters: Flit and Flutter, a pair of graceful butterflies, and Benjamin Bear, an ursine ambassador with a big grin. Keep an eye out for them wandering the grounds, or pop by during a scheduled meet-and-greet to say hi. When it’s time to break for lunch, Till & Harvest serves up “Smoky Mountain Mexican flavors” across an array of entrees—think: burritos, salads, and the like, fully customizable with a variety of grilled meats and fresh veg. (Sit outside on the patio if you don’t want to step away from the action.) Looking for a souvenir to remember the day? New retailer Mountain Grove Merchants is on the premises with plenty of Wildwood-themed goods to offer.
Disney is introducing its new Disney Flex Annual Passport for $599 on May 21, which gives access to both the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, in Anaheim, California, and comes with a set of benefits and a few rules. Defining “Flex” The Flex Annual Passport can be used with no restrictions from Monday through Thursday every week, when demand is usually lower. Then, during weekends and the high-demand months and holidays, Flex Pass holders must book a reservation via a Disneyland website or its smartphone app. With the Flex Pass, you can visit the theme parks all day or simply stop by for dinner or to take a quick spin on some favorite attractions. It also offers discounts on food, merchandise, special events and guided tours. Blackout Dates It’s worthwhile noting that the pass can’t be used at all during the two weeks around Christmas, and on other blockout dates. It also can’t be used if access to the theme parks, lands, and experiences is restricted or unavailable due to capacity. Prospective visitors should check the calendar of admission dates to see which dates are marked as “Good to Go” so no reservation is required, “Reservation Required” and “Blockout Dates,” where admission is not available. Reservations Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance, and each Disney Flex Passport can hold two reservations during a 30-day window. It is hoped that with the new pass, guests will have more flexibility in planning their trips to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and it will also let the theme parks have crowd control – which will be essential when the much-anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. For further information, please see the Disneyland website here. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet's daily newsletter.
Batuu is a planet on the Outer Rim of a galaxy far, far away. Ask any Star Wars fan, and she’ll tell you that it’s home to Black Spire Outpost, a place where grifters, adventurers, traders, cheats, and runaways famously take shelter. And starting on May 31, you can get there easily from Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. Then on August 29, it’ll be just as simple to get there from Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. To Use the Force, Use the App Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the newest addition to Disney's suite of theme parks, and it promises to be a fantasy land of its own—a wildly high-tech one, no less. The interactive theme park allows for full immersion, thanks in no small part to the Play Disney Parks mobile app, which lets you take part in a variety of escapades familiar to any Star Wars fan (i.e., joining the Resistance, pledging your loyalty to the First Order). Disney's iconic attractions—the whirling cups of Alice's Mad Tea Party, the whimsical boats that cruise through It's a Small World—will never lose their charm, but these new 14-acre lands are, according to the company's statement, “the largest and most technologically advanced single-themed land expansions ever in a Disney Park." Tomorrowland just might seem quaint by comparison. Both the California and Florida parks are opening in two phases. The grand opening will center on the unveiling of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a life-size recreation of the renowned spacecraft. Onboard, intrepid visitors will play the part of gunners or flight engineers or even take a seat in the cockpit and steer the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" as it rips through space. Later this year comes the second phase, the debut of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Guests will be given an active role in the Rebellion, and, thanks to high-tech tricks, come face-to-face with familiar characters. Take a Piece of the Distant Galaxy Home With You Galaxy's Edge will play host to an expansive marketplace featuring all sorts of merchant stalls and DIY activities. At the Droid Depot, you can select pieces from a conveyor belt to custom-build your own droid. Pre-built droids and droid-inspired products are also for sale. At Savi’s Workshop, you can design and craft your own Lightsaber. Elsewhere in the bustling marketplace is Toydarian Toymaker, a stall full of toys crafted by a Toydarian (the flying alien species first seen in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) and Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiques, which specializes in items from the many movies. Drinks to Quench an Intergalactic Thirst Food and drink are also on offer at both parks, including the highly anticipated bar Oga’s Cantina. Cocktails here promise to be out of this world, with creations like the Outer Rim, a jazzed up margarita with a black-salt rim, the Bespin Fizz, a bubbly exotic tipple made with rum and yuzu, and all sorts of spectacle-caliber drinks made with dry ice. Word to the wise: The space, complete with details you’ll recognize from the Cantina in the movie, is relatively small, so factor in time for the wait.