Summertime without a theme park visit? Seemed inconceivable—until the novel coronavirus pandemic virtually shut down the globe.
More than two months after Six Flags Entertainment closed the doors on popular destinations including Six Flags Magic Mountain (outside Los Angeles) and Six Flags Over Georgia (outside Atlanta), the theme park operator says it is beginning to reverse course.
Six Flags Frontier City in Oklahoma City will reopen on Friday, June 5, the company announced Tuesday—at “reduced attendance levels” and “in a preview mode June 5–7 for members and season pass holders only,” it added.
The company believes its sprawling outdoor parks pose a “significantly lower risk of exposure” than its indoor waterparks because guests aren’t confined in one area for long periods of time. “Because our parks cover dozens or even hundreds of acres, we can easily manage guest throughput to achieve proper social distancing,” Six Flags president and CEO Mike Spanos said in a statement.
Not that the company isn’t taking extra precautions. Thinking of taking the family, local laws permitting? Here’s what you should expect:
Online reservations. Expect scheduled entry and staggered arrival times to minimize exposure to other guests.
Face masks. A no-brainer, and yet: All guests over the age of 2 and all employees will be required to wear face masks covering the nose and mouth. (Accommodations may be made on a case-by-case basis for persons with disabilities, health concerns, religious restrictions, or other circumstances.) If you forget yours, you can purchase one at the front gate.
Temperature checks. Six Flags will use thermal (infrared) imaging sensors to screen the temperatures of guests and employees prior to entry. Expect to be asked if you’re healthy and to acknowledge the new health policies.
Touch-less bag checks at security.
Social distancing everywhere. Six Flags will add distance markers to all park entry, ride, restroom, store, and restaurant lines. Dining areas will be spaced out. Guests will be separated by empty rows or seats on roller coasters, rides, and attractions. Capacities at indoor venues will be reduced to meet social distancing requirements. Viewing areas will be spaced out.
More mobile food ordering, so you don’t have to handle menus and payment. Condiments, cutlery, and napkins will be provided with each meal. Self-service buffets and salad bars will be overhauled.
Lots of sanitization. High-touch points get extra attention: public seating, tabletops, counters, doors, trash cans. Rides, restraints, and handrails will be cleaned during the day. Restrooms stalls and sinks will too. Hand-washing and hand sanitizer dispensing stations will be installed throughout the park.
The company didn’t offer any indication when it would reopen its other parks in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Missouri, New York, and other locations—though all are subject to their own state and local health regulations pertaining to the pandemic.
For the company’s part, Six Flags is hoping that these safety steps—plus the gradual reopening of the 26 theme parks in its portfolio—will help revive its business before high season kicks in across North America.
The Grand Prairie, Texas, operator said last month that it saw 27% fewer guests (to 1.6 million) and recorded a 20% decrease in revenue (to $26 million) in its first fiscal quarter compared to the same period in 2019. Before the company suspended operations on March 13, it was on track to increase its attendance by 19% from the year prior. Seven-figure losses in sponsorship and partnership revenue only added to the pain.
Six Flags withdrew its earnings guidance on April 8 and boosted its credit facility by $131 million (and then closed a private offering of $725 million aggregate principal amount of senior secured notes) as it worked to reduce operating expenses and free up cash for the long haul. Its stock price slid from about $38 per share to about $10 between February and March; it has since rebounded slightly, and now trades around $25.
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