Covid-19 Claims 2020 Theme Park Season
By Erik Chalhoub
Because 2020 won’t stop rearing its ugly head, the California theme park season is essentially over, despite the fact that it’s still summer.
It’s September, but the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s rides remain closed, and likely will continue to be so through the rest of the year as the public health order is in effect indefinitely. California’s Great America and Gilroy Gardens, which never opened in 2020, announced in August that they will forget about this year and instead focus on 2021.
Disneyland thought it was going to reopen in July, but pulled the plug as Covid-19 cases began to rise in the state. Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld San Diego remain dark.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has opened its gates to the public, but is only allowing guests to view its animal exhibits. Its sister park Magic Mountain, closed since March, is somehow still planning a Halloween event. Knott’s Berry Farm has found success with a limited capacity food event, but with no rides.
New attractions from the Boardwalk, Great America and other parks that were supposed to debut this year have been pushed back to 2021.
You get the picture. Covid-19 has decimated the theme park industry in 2020, but there is no guarantee that 2021 will be any better. Reports are being released frequently on dire revenue projections, layoffs and more bad news circulating the industry, and the pandemic-induced recession is going to be felt for years to come.
California health officials are still determining how theme parks and their “higher risk” operations can reopen during a pandemic. There is no timeline on when that may be.
The closures have been especially difficult on Gilroy Gardens, which was going to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.
“We miss our guests, especially the children, and are committed to having ‘The Best Birthday Party Ever!’ in 2021 when we can finally celebrate our 20th birthday,” said Barb Granter, vice president and general manager of Gilroy Gardens. “Our community, guests and members have been especially wonderful and supportive during this challenging time, and I’ve been so touched by their kindness and love for this special place. We are so grateful for their continued loyalty and support.”
But is there any good news rising out of the mud? Yes, and it’s right here in Santa Cruz.
The Boardwalk recently announced it will host drive-in movies. The movies are being screened Friday and Saturday nights through Sept. 26 in the River Parking Lot.
“We are excited to offer quality entertainment to the community in a safe environment,” said Karley Pope, the Boardwalk’s director of sales and entertainment. “All relevant health and safety protocols will be followed, and we are confident guests will love this unique experience.”
The schedule is as follows:
Sept. 4-5, 8 p.m.
Sept. 11-12, 8 p.m.
Sept. 18-19, 8 p.m.
50 First Dates
Sept. 25-26, 8 p.m.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Oct. 2 & 3, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 & 10, 7:30 p.m.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Attendance is limited to 120 vehicles, and the cost is $25 per vehicle.
Boardwalk officials said if the concept is successful, more movies will be added in October.
For information and safety protocols, visit beachboardwalk.com/Drive-In-Movies.
Although Boardwalk rides, arcade, mini golf and other attractions are closed, various food and retail concessions are open with outdoor dining and pickup/delivery options. Face masks are required when entering the Boardwalk.
All 2020 season passes have been extended through the end of 2021.
No scares this year?
September is usually the month when theme parks transform for Halloween. But how could an event that relies on close quarters and in-your-face scares survive a pandemic?
Six Flags Magic Mountain is trying to figure that out for its Fright Fest event this year. The park recently sent out a survey to its season pass holders asking for their opinions on a variety of different scenarios.
Those include Plexiglas barriers between guests and the scare actors, haunted houses with no actors, actors that remain more than 12 feet away, or a haunted hayride-type experience. Off-the-wall ideas include disgusting eating contests and a Lucha Libra wrestling show.
Regardless of what Magic Mountain decides to do, Halloween events at theme parks in California this year will be nonexistent. For instance, Great America’s and Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt events have been canceled.
Theme park nerds such as myself can’t wait to return, and that is good news for parks in the future. We just have to get through this crisis safely first.