How To Go to an Amusement Park Again, According to Experts
When in doubt, remember: “Leave the cash, bring your mask.”
With the summer in full swing and the holiday season looming over the horizon, families, couples, and thrill seekers alike are counting down the days until their next trip to an amusement park. And even though the average trip to a theme park mostly consists of waiting in line, we're all feeling exceedingly grateful for time with loved ones right about now.
Going to an amusement park yields unrivaled fun, plain and simple. (Is there anything like that first, harrowing drop on a roller coaster? We think not.) Yet just like everything else over the past year, amusement parks have been shaken up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and even now, as several parks across the country are welcoming visitors and tourists back onto their grounds, it's understandable if you have some remaining hesitations about visiting.
If you've got your sights set on a serious adrenaline rush, though, we're here to guide you through everything that you need to know before you visit an amusement park again. To give you the most helpful information, we reached out to professionals with experience in public health and amusement park operations. So thanks to insights from Dr. Brandi Campbell — an Atlanta-based microbiologist with a PhD in applied and environmental microbiology who currently evaluates public health and STEM education projects — and Dedra Brown-Harvey — the marketing and public relations manager for Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags White Water — you’ll be ready to visit an amusement park in no time.
Keep your arms and legs inside the compartment, and please remain seated. The guide is about to begin.
Expect updated health and safety measures
Roughly a year after businesses first found CDC-approved ways to reopen in a safer manner, some of those more innovative and extensive safety measures from early in the pandemic may or may not still be around at every theme park you come across. Previous protocols such as contactless infrared (IR) thermal imaging for touch-free temperature checks, timed ticketing, and reservation systems largely faded away after the Covid-19 curve first began to level out a bit, but with that said, there are still plenty of basic health and safety protocols that you should definitely expect when visiting an amusement park.
“Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags White Water have been open since June 2020, well over a year now, and while we initially had extensive safety, sanitization, and social distance measures in place, we’ve updated our safety protocols,” Brown-Harvey explains, contextualizing the constantly changing safety measures to which Six Flags Over Georgia and several other amusement parks across the nation have had to adapt.
For the most part, amusement and theme parks across the country are sticking to thorough and frequent sanitizing of high-contact surfaces like rails, eating areas, and rides. You can also expect there to be far more hand-washing stations spread throughout the park than pre-Covid. Above all, parks are doing their best to follow CDC guidelines, so visitors can relax knowing that the parks will fashion their own health and safety protocols accordingly.
Be aware that cash may no longer be king
In addition to dropping your hard-earned money on amusement park tickets (or, in Six Flags’ case, monthly memberships), you should always prepare yourself to spend more money once you enter the park. Carnival-style games, meal breaks, and souvenir shopping is all a part of the experience, and while you probably don’t think there’s anything new about spending money, there actually may be, depending on the park you visit.
Some parks — like Dollywood, SeaWorld, and Silver Dollar City — are still allowing visitors to use cash, but most other popular parks — like Walt Disney World, Kings Island, and Six Flags — either highly recommend using cards or have enforced strict contactless payment-only protocols.
(FYI, Brown-Harvey notes that Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags White Water, specifically, have transitioned over to a contactless payment system, but they have also introduced new technological resources for visitors who stumbled into park grounds with a bunch of cash on them.) When in doubt, remember: “Leave the cash, bring your mask.”
Keep your distance (even from mascots)
Obviously, getting fully vaccinated is your best line of defense against Covid-19, but while at the park, there are several things you can do to safeguard yourself and others. Mask mandates vary from park to park, so even if you are actively working to protect others by wearing yours, that favor may not be returned by everyone else. Many parks may have a policy that fully vaccinated visitors don’t need to wear masks, but they also don’t verify guests’ vaccination status, so you likely can’t assume that everyone who you see without a mask has been fully vaccinated.
As for the mascots and costumed characters who appear throughout many of the most popular amusement parks in the country, it’s best to keep them at the same safe distance that you would keep your fellow park visitors. “A mascot could be harboring a respiratory disease, but if they’re inside their suit and coughing, that's going to reduce the number of particles that come outside their suit,” Campbell says. “If they're walking around hugging a bunch of people, you know, there's a possibility of transmission there, but I don't think getting close to a mascot is any more dangerous than getting close to any other person.”
Similar to other public spaces, Campbell says that washing your hands, refraining from touching high-contact surfaces, and avoiding physical contact with others are pretty much the best ways to protect yourself while visiting an amusement park. “You don't have to hold the handrails when you're standing in line, but if you do touch things that a lot of people are testing, wash your hands!" Campbell says. "It's a lot more effective than hand sanitizer, so wash your hands a little more.” Oh, and don’t go overboard with things like gloves — you’re probably not using them correctly anyway.
Take advantage of the park's app
Since protocols vary across amusement parks, make sure that you’re caught up on all the specific updates for whichever park(s) you plan on visiting. Six Flags Over Georgia isn’t Cedar Point, and Walt Disney World isn’t Busch Gardens — the only way for you to know park-specific information is by familiarizing yourself with it. Luckily, all the amusement parks mentioned in this article, along with several others, have apps that you can download ahead of your visit.
Some apps may allow you to make ride reservations or order food in advance, while others may just serve as insightful resources with park maps and FAQs. With some parks temporarily closing certain restaurants or potentially only offering to-go eating options, you’ll also be able to figure out the food situation by checking the park’s app. That way, you’ll know exactly which restaurants and eateries are open, temporarily closed, or operating with pandemic-related restrictions. Regardless of how well-developed the apps are, though, you’ll be able to find out all the park information that you’ll need by using them or accessing the park’s official website.
Check your physical and mental health
During a time in which Covid-19 cases are still on the rise, it’s important to accept that your first trip back to an amusement park starts with you. Before entering any highly populated area — in this case, a sprawling property filled with electrifying roller coasters and countless entertainment attractions — you need to make sure that you are physically and mentally up for the task. According to Campbell, one of the biggest ways to do that is by simply taking care of yourself by eating healthy and managing stress.
“If you're traveling to go to an amusement park and you've gotten rundown, you've had a lot of stress, you haven't gotten enough sleep — all of those things suppress your immune system," Campbell says. "I would say that's the first thing people want to think about before they head back into the world.”
Whether you’re bringing the family to Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, or seeking thrills at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, theme parks across the country will undoubtedly stress the importance of staying home if you are not at your best health. At Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags White Water, for example, Brown-Harvey confirms that park guests are ultimately responsible for protecting themselves against Covid-19. Bottom line, be honest with yourself and take into account how you’ve been feeling and who you have been around. Then make a responsible decision on whether or not you’re ready to return to your favorite amusement park.
All that said, who’s looking forward to going to that amusement park that’s been calling your name since early 2020? Be safe, friends, and get ready for a heck of a tea cups bender.