As a basis for this blog post, I will be using an article I wrote for InPark Magazine. The article took two weeks to develop, compose, and undergo editing. State officials and theme park management were interviewed and everything was vetted.
InPark Magazine. July 13, 2020
That’s reporting and them’s the facts. Now, on to opinion.
This is what I believe:
- California’s theme parks will likely not open in 2020 as “theme parks” – in particular, no rides nor indoor attractions.
- Parks will open under the guise of Stage 2 businesses that they can meet reopening guidance for.
- While Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has reopened as a zoo, under the moniker “Marine World Experience,” I’m highly skeptical that SeaWorld San Diego will open this year. Unlike Discovery Kingdom and the SeaWorld parks in Texas and Florida, the San Diego park operates on land leased from the city. It is currently under a rent deferment due to the situation surrounding COVID-19, as are most businesses on city-leased land surrounding Mission Bay. However, under its lease agreement, SeaWorld is required to make an annual minimum payment to the city of just over $10 million. Once operations recommence, the city also gets a percentage of parking, admissions, food and beverage, and other revenue streams. With competition in the market from the San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, and SEA LIFE Aquarium, and the Summer season pretty much a wash, it looks like the park might actually lose less money by remaining closed for the rest of the year than reopening to a low admission cap and just animal attractions.
- While the Disneyland Resort could extend Downtown Disney by opening the Main Street and Buena Vista Street sections of its theme parks under the guise of a shopping mall, it might be better off by following the Knott’s strategy by opening select areas of its parks for ticketed events with capped attendance. Other parks, depending on location, will likely find opening select sections of their parks under the guise of shopping malls or for limited ticket events to be a profit risk.
- Some parks with go kart tracks, laser tag, and miniature golf could try to open under FEC guidelines. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has many such participatory activities.
- Having been to the Marine World Experience, and having talked with folks who have been to other Six Flags parks that have opened around the country, I’m comfortable that the theme park industry has their act together. In fact, I felt more comfortable and safe at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom than I do at my own local grocery stores.
- But it’s not up to the parks. It’s up to the individual states. And here in California, the state bases its regulations on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases , hospitalizations, and deaths reported in each county. As they increase, businesses are forced to re-close or modify operations for a prescribed number of weeks. And each time that happens, the reopening road map gets pushed back and the opening of theme parks gets farther and farther away.
- I consider the Summer season to be over. Schools are about to start up again and most districts have elected to go virtual in the Fall. I don’t expect the state to permit theme parks to open earlier than September, which means they’ve missed out on most weekday family visitation at a time when interstate and international tourism is pretty much nonexistent.
- They could open around Labor Day weekend, which would place them in the perfect position for Halloween events. However, I don’t see how Halloween Horror Nights, Haunts, and Scary Farms can take place under current guidance, unless there are no scare zones with fog machines and guests wander through mazes two or four at a time with monsters and ghouls living on the other side of plexiglass. I anticipate some major cancellation announcements of theme park Halloween events within the next few weeks.
- They could reopen around Thanksgiving for the holidays. It would be a true Christmas miracle. That’s hoping, of course, that the predicted second wave of COVID-19 doesn’t hit around Sept – Nov, pushing state approval of theme park openings back even further.
- My best guess is that, especially with the Rose Parade being cancelled – and that’s almost six months away! – parks won’t reopen until the beginning of 2021. This means that 3/4 of the 2020 fiscal year for California’s parks (1/2 for Disney, which starts its fiscal year in October), would be considered a wash.
So that’s my opinion.