students discuss the theme park experience during the COVID-19 pandemic – SCAD District

students discuss the theme park experience during the COVID-19 pandemic – SCAD District

**** Please visit the themeparks official websites for their latest guidelines and openings ****

Written by Eve Katz, Graphic by Tyler Lowe

Disneyland opened in 1955, and since then few can point out a day in which the parks were closed to the public. The year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic brought about not only the fourth closure in park history, but also the first time any of Disney’s parks had closed for longer than a couple of days. Disneyland will reopen on April 30, after over a year of shut down.

The pandemic hit the theme park industry hard, but several parks did still find ways to stay open, albeit with new safety regulations to lower the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The CDC has research specifically pertaining to what themed entertainment spaces can do to make their parks safer for guests. 

Several SCAD students experienced what changes were made to the typical theme park experience. “The list of precautions Disney took to prevent the spread of Covid in their parks is long,” said Billie Redner, a third-year illustration student. She visited Disney World once in March and again in July 2020. “In March, they had hand sanitizer stations everywhere, along with reminders to wash your hands frequently. These things were absolutely all over the place. When I went in July, the park was at limited capacity because of the reservation system and everyone over the age of two was required to wear a mask at all times, except for when they were ‘actively eating or drinking while stationary.’ Written reminders for this rule were everywhere and an audio reminder would occasionally play over the speakers. On top of that, all guests were required to get a temperature screening before they could even get their bags checked.”

First-year production design student Kimberly Mix also spoke of the long list of safety precautions required by California-based park Knott’s Berry Farm, which she visited for the Boysenberry Festival last month. She said that she didn’t see anyone try to evade following the new rules either. “I’ve been very strictly quarantined for the entire pandemic, like not even going to the grocery store, so I was actually super worried that I’d feel very unsafe but they handled their safety procedures very well,” Mix said. “I definitely felt super strange at first but I ended up having a great time! I don’t think I would feel safe going on rides quite yet but an event like this one that gave us the chance to walk around in a fully outdoor setting was a perfect way to utilize the park during the pandemic.”

Beyond just the rides, designers for themed entertainment focus on developing an atmosphere that will continue to immerse guests even if they’re standing in line, walking between rides or ordering a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzel. Despite the fact that the experience had some pretty major changes, guests like Mix were still able to have fun due to that established atmosphere. This is all built on a very important draw that attracts many guests to theme parks: escapism. The pandemic created a world in which the need for escape was higher than ever. 

“The first couple months of the pandemic were really hard for my family, so it was nice to enjoy a safe getaway,” said second-year animation student Sydney Harris, who visited Disney World in July 2020. ”It was a little strange, but I was so excited to be back in the parks. I actually cried while entering because it was still so magical and such a joy to be back. When I went, the capacity was super low, so we hardly had to wait for any ride. I do know the capacity has increased since then and wait times are a lot higher. I felt safe within the parks too, cast members were very good at keeping restrictions in place and I felt safe with the guidelines and capacity that was put in place at the time.”

While the sudden change to the theme park experience seemed daunting, guests like Redner found unexpected positives in the situation. “If I’m being completely honest, I kind of prefer Covid Disney to regular Disney,” Redner said. “The park is nearly empty and no one is allowed to get even remotely close to you? That’s the dream. That is the ultimate theme park experience and I’d be happy to see them switch to this reservation system long term. It was just all around way more enjoyable because I didn’t have to fight crowds or stand around in long lines. The longest I had to wait for any ride was 45 minutes. I was also able to take some time to experience attractions I usually bypass because I had so much extra time after doing everything else.” Although she cited the Florida heat in combination with the cloth mask she wore for her entire visit as a small struggle, Redner said she would much prefer taking any precaution she can than not be able to safely visit the parks.

It’s hard to tell which safety regulations will stay and for how long, but with the reopening of Disneyland coming soon and the vaccine becoming available to more and more Americans, there are bound to be more changes within the coming months. Make sure to keep an eye out for announcements from Disney and other themed entertainment companies to stay up to date.

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**** Please visit the themeparks official websites for their latest guidelines and openings ****

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