Theme park crowds stay away due to COVID-19 spikes – Orange County Register

Theme park crowds stay away due to COVID-19 spikes – Orange County Register

The pent-up demand that Disney, Six Flags and other theme park operators expected after COVID-19 threatened to cancel their summer seasons hasn’t materialized as surges in coronavirus cases across the U.S. have kept visitors at home.

Quarterly reports from Disney, Universal, Six Flags, SeaWorld and Cedar Fair paint a grim picture of the theme park industry with revenues down more than 90% and attendance close to zero during the recent three-month period when most parks were shuttered by the global pandemic.

Since then, many parks across the U.S. have reopened with reduced capacity limits and extensive health and safety protocols only to be faced with surges in coronavirus cases across the U.S. that have dampened visitor enthusiasm for a day of fun on thrill rides and roller coasters.

California theme parks remain closed indefinitely while they await still-unreleased state guidelines for safely reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

SEE ALSO: California theme parks reopen — without rides

Lower than expected attendance has forced big industry players and regional theme parks across the U.S. to reassess their operating plans after reopening following extended coronavirus closures.

Relief has turned to grief for theme park operators who anxiously awaited reopening this summer only to find themselves reducing hours, cutting back on weekly operating days and dropping reservation requirements even as they contend with state-mandated attendance caps.

Spikes in coronavirus cases in states across the U.S. have brought with them a harsh new reality for theme parks: Visitors aren’t yet ready to return en masse and may not come back until a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine is widely available.


Disney theme parks in Florida, France, Japan and Shanghai have reopened while parks in California remain closed. Hong Kong Disneyland reopened in mid-June but reclosed in mid-July after a spike in COVID-19 cases in the communist-controlled city.

SEE ALSO: How 50+ Disneyland attractions could change when the parks reopen

Disney’s reopened theme parks have seen lower demand due to government-mandated capacity restrictions and visitors’ COVID-19 health concerns, according to the company’s latest quarterly report.

Revenue at Walt Disney World has been less than originally expected due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida and reduced travel to the state, according to Disney CFO Christine McCarthy.

“We expect demand will grow when the COVID situation in Florida improves,” McCarthy said on a call with analysts.

Disney World had “ample demand” when a new reservation system debuted six weeks before the Florida parks reopened, according to Disney CEO Bob Chapek.

“Then unfortunately COVID struck again and all the numbers started going up,” Chapek said on a call with analysts. “This gave some level of trepidation to travelers who are anxious about long distance travel, jumping on a plane and flying to Walt Disney World.”

Disney parks have had a higher-than-expected level of reservation cancellations as COVID-19 cases ebb and flow, according to Chapek. Disney World has replaced the fall off in long distance travelers with locals and annual passholders, according to Chapek.

“Typically someone who travels and stays for five days to seven days is marginally more valuable to the business than someone who comes in on an annual pass and stays a day or two and consumes less merchandise and food and beverage,” Chapek said on the call.

Six Flags

Six Flags has reopened amusement parks in Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Maryland and New Jersey while other locations remain shuttered due to the pandemic.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo reopened the animals-only Marine World Experience without rides or coasters in early July. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia has not announced a reopening date.

SEE ALSO: Six Flags won’t let pandemic scare off Fright Fest

Six Flags expects daily attendance at its reopened parks to hover around 25% to 30% of theoretical capacity for the foreseeable future with parks in non-surge states seeing attendance numbers in the mid to high 40% range, according to company officials.

Reopened Six Flags parks initially saw “solid demand” due to pent-up desire to have fun in a safe, outdoor environment, according to Six Flags CEO Michael Spanos.

“A recent spike in coronavirus cases in many of the states in which we operate has had a negative impact on demand of these theme parks.” Spanos said on a call with analysts.

Six Flags has seen a split in the last month with attendance dropping at reopened parks in states seeing surges in COVID-19 cases and parks in non-surge states reaching reduced capacity limits.

“All boats rise or drop depending on the surge,” Spanos said on the call.

Spanos remains “very optimistic” Six Flags parks will see an attendance rebound when the health crisis subsides.

“We’re surveying guests every week,” Spanos said on the call. “What they’re telling us is when they see a flattening of the curve, they want to get out. We also see a chunk of guests that are saying when they’re comfortable with the vaccine, they want to get out.”

Cedar Fair

The parent company of Knott’s Berry Farm has reopened Cedar Point and Kings Island in Ohio, Dorney Park in Pennsylvania and Worlds of Fun in Missouri.

Cedar Fair has put five parks — California’s Great America, North Carolina’s Carowinds, Virginia’s Kings Dominion, Minnesota’s Valleyfair and Michigan’s Adventure — into “deep hibernation” with no plans to reopen in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Two of Cedar Fair’s largest parks — Knott’s Berry Farm and Canada’s Wonderland — remain closed until further notice but in a “state of readiness” to reopen.

SEE ALSO: Knott’s Berry Farm could reopen this year ‘with a little luck’

Lower than expected attendance likely reflects growing public concern about recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country, according to the Cedar Fair quarterly report.

“Consumer confidence may not improve measurably until there is broad availability and distribution of a vaccine or treatments to reduce the spread or effects of the coronavirus,” Cedar Fair CFO Brian Witherow said on a call with analysts. “This may prove to be an attendance headwind for the foreseeable future.”

Cedar Fair attendance at reopened parks has hovered in the 20% to 25% range with Ohio’s Cedar Point and Kings Island parks seeing days with attendance in the 30% to 40% range of theoretical capacity.

The “disappointing” attendance numbers have fallen below government-mandated reduced capacity limits, according to Witherow.

“While disappointed that trends are a little bit softer than we’d like, we are encouraged by the fact that folks are still coming out to the parks once they reopen,” Witherow said on the call.

Regional Parks

Regional theme parks across the U.S. have scrapped plans for advance reservations that deter visitors and have been forced to close on slower weekdays during the middle of the summer as returning crowds have failed to materialize as expected.

SEE ALSO: Is another Star Wars cantina coming to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge?

Dollywood in Tennessee abandoned its reservation requirements and will close on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting Aug. 11. Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark no longer requires reservations for season passholders and has reduced operating hours since reopening. Pennsylvania’s Kennywood decided to close on Mondays and Tuesdays through the rest of the summer (except Labor Day) just two weeks after opening.

Idlewild, another Pennsylvania park, returned with seven-day operations on July 11, cut back to five days a week on July 15 and then slashed the schedule to just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on July 24. The 1878 amusement park — one of the oldest in the United States — has also reduced daily operating hours while progressively opening rides and food stands throughout the day.

A handful of smaller parks have given up and canceled their 2020 summer seasons — including Denver’s Elitch Gardens, New York’s Seabreeze and Pennsylvania’s Conneaut Lake and Del Grosso’s.

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