SeaWorld will reopen its roller coasters Monday after a 13-month closure
The San Diego park will take a phased approach, with some of its thrill rides like Electric Eel and Manta opening first. Journey to Atlantis and Shipwreck Rapids will open later
Starting Monday, SeaWorld will reopen its thrill rides and coasters, marking the first time they’ll be accessible to visitors in more than a year, the San Diego park announced Thursday.
Although SeaWorld has been open since early February under separate, more relaxed state guidelines for zoos, its rides have been off-limits because of restrictions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The state of California, however, recently issued revised guidelines that permitted amusement parks to reopen April 1, subject to a number of limitations, including reduced capacities.
Now that San Diego County has just entered the orange tier of the state’s color-coded reopening blueprint, SeaWorld can be open at 25 percent capacity as opposed to 15 percent under the more restrictive red tier, but only California residents will be allowed. Reservations are also required.
“I think there’s a ton of pent-up demand for the rides,” said SeaWorld San Diego president Marilyn Hannes. “It’s been a year. Certainly, our fans, our pass members, the locals are wanting to go on the rides again. We hear that all the time.”
Among the rides that will be available next week as part of a phased reopening are the Electric Eel and Manta coasters; Tentacle Twirl, a jellyfish-themed swing ride; Riptide Rescue; and several rides geared to younger children like Abby’s Sea Star Spin, Elmo’s Flying Fish and Aqua Scout.
Thrill rides like Shipwreck Rapids and Journey to Atlantis, as well as the Bayside Skyride, will reopen in a second phase, which should arrive as the weather warms up, but no specific date has been announced, Hannes said.
Also uncertain is the opening date for the Emperor coaster, which was supposed to make its debut last year but was sidelined by the pandemic. Construction of the coaster, billed as the tallest and fastest floorless dive coaster in the state, is complete but testing is still ongoing, Hannes said.
“We’ll decide the perfect time to open Emperor,” she said. “I think it’s very close. It’s a business decision. It is going to be an incredible addition to the park and it deserves a plan of its own.”
Although the overall park will be limited to 25 percent capacity, SeaWorld is something of a hybrid in that it also has animal exhibits. Under the state zoo guidelines, it will be allowed to go up to 50 percent capacity for its indoor exhibits like Turtle Reef and Penguin Encounter, Hannes said. Seating for its outdoor animal shows like Orca Encounter and Dolphin Days will continue to be socially distanced.
An enticement for visitors, Hannes said, is a current Southern California pass promotion it is offering at $9 a month, which includes unlimited admission and a 50 percent discount on parking.
Little by little, California theme parks are starting to open back up, although the largest — Disneyland, California Adventure and Universal Studios — have yet to resume operations. Universal will reopen next Friday, while the Disney parks are scheduled to reopen April 30. In San Diego County, Legoland reopened last Thursday, and the smaller Belmont Park in Mission Beach opened its rides back up that same day.
The easing of state-imposed restrictions on theme parks and other businesses like restaurants has made rehiring a challenge, as they all are seeking to ramp up at the same time. Hannes said SeaWorld is in the midst of hiring several hundred workers and encouraged interested applicants to visit https://careers.seaworldparks.
“We’re all reopening at once, and some people have moved out of state, some have moved to other industries, people are transitioning into in-person schooling, so people are still in flux,” Hannes explained. “We’re all in this place where we need to hire a lot of people at once. It’s unprecedented but we’ll get through it.”
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