Joe and I are great fans of theme parks. We live in Central Florida, so once Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World reopened, in June and July, respectively, we studied their COVID protocols and decided they appeared to be sound enough where we could feel safe. We’ve since visited both parks several times and think they generally appear to do an adequate job of COVID safety (here’s a post where we compared the two, since there are some differences and we think one park does it a little better than the other).
As time went on and the world better understood the coronavirus’s ins and outs, we felt more comfortable to venture out even more. Still not ready to go on a plane, we decided to go on a road trip. We studied how Dollywood was handling COVID and thought it would be OK, as long as we always had a “Plan B” available (similar to our visit to northern GA, we knew we would be in a part of the country where mask usage might not be as prevalent as where we lived [here’s our post about what it was like to be pro-mask people in an anti-mask tourist town]. That’s why we wanted to have alternate plans at the ready).
Dollywood did a respectable job of actively keeping people safe and getting guests to comply with their COVID restrictions. It’s unfortunate that about 30% of their guests still wouldn’t wear masks, wore them inappropriately or wore unsafe face coverings such as gaiters or bandanas, but we were prepared for that and our “Plan B” plans worked out well (Dollywood at Christmastime is enchanting, by the way – here’s some of what we saw).
Being 2.5 for 3 at the theme parks we visited, we decided to take a chance and go to SeaWorld here in Orlando. Its holiday lights have long been one of the best in the area for a large theme park and a visit would be kind of festive. We usually get cheap tickets via Daily Getaways, but they didn’t offer those this year. Fortunately, SeaWorld had a Black Friday sale. So, after reading their page about COVID safety, we decided to go.
Although they did a few things right (i.e., plexiglass at areas where you needed to pay for things, announcements for safe practices, occasional application of electrostatic antiviral spray on the ride cars), there was plenty they did wrong.
Compliance for appropriate mask use was about 60%; yep, even worse than Dollywood’s. We saw people wearing gaiters and bandanas, people whose noses were uncovered, people with their masks off while they ate/drank while walking, and whole families that were walking around and wearing no masks whatsoever.
I never saw one employee actively encourage mask use. I did, however, see one employee with her mask worn below her nose.
SeaWorld has a “face-covering free zone,” just as Disney, Universal and Dollywood do. Instead of it being a specially made space to chill out without a mask, theirs are located in the stroller parking areas. So anyone who wanted to park their stroller had to potentially be at risk of being around someone not wearing a mask? That’s…dumb. And granted, no one was using the “face-covering free zones” because they could just as easily walk around the park face-covering free, anyway. But that’s not the point.
True to their word on their website, SeaWorld had signage and markings throughout their guest areas to encourage social distancing. They were both the most ineffective things ever. Their markings on the floor had no rhyme or reason (the example on the left was in an open area, with nowhere where queues would ever be necessary). They had shows in the streets that drew closely converged crowds. And employees silently holding signs that said to remain socially distanced did little to stop people from being on top of one another at times.
SeaWorld has a small area of its park where they annually offer entertainment, food, drink, shopping and meet & greets with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer during the holiday season. The area, which is largely a walkway with kiosks and booths on both sides, doesn’t open until about 5 pm each night. This caused crowds that started when the area opened, with entirely too many people – especially the aforementioned unmasked people – in the space where the festivities were. When the nearby ice skating show let out, it was even worse. Frankly, it was the first time I felt unsafe, COVID-wise, since the spring.
There were so many ways they could avoid this:
- Keep the area open all day, instead of only from 5 pm onward, so the number of people in the space would be spread throughout the day
- Spread the Christmas area out, or move it to a larger area of the park, so it wasn’t bottlenecked into one small part of the park (just because that’s where they “always have it” doesn’t mean it had to be there this year, too. They had 8 months to plan for this)
- Use some of those poorly placed social distancing markers for people to wait in a queue and limit how many people were in the space at one time
Their hand sanitizer stations were nowhere near attractions or places where you would want people to clean their hands before/after touching, for example, hand grips on rides or buttons you could press. Instead, they were in the middle of “nothingness,” or off to the side in quiet walkways, or stuck in the bushes.
Our Take On All This
I’m not sure what SeaWorld’s problem is. Does their management not take COVID seriously? Do they just not know how to do things effectively? Or have they just not thought everything through? In general, it just seemed as if they passively checked all the boxes but, for lack of a better term, did them all “half-assed.”
I can tell you one thing, though – of the four theme parks we’ve been to, this seemed the least safe in terms of COVID. We are NOT going back to SeaWorld until all this #coronacrapola is over.
Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands #wearamask
Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and get emailed notifications of when we post. Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group – we have 16,000+ members and we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!
This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary