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SeaWorld San Diego set to reopen Friday on limited basis with Zoo Days

A trainer performs with a dolphin during the Dolphin Days show at SeaWorld in June.
A trainer performs with a dolphin during the Dolphin Days show at SeaWorld in June.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Food and craft beer take center stage as SeaWorld San Diego welcomes back a limited number of guests with safety measures.

SeaWorld San Diego will reopen on a limited basis starting Friday after nearly six months of being shut down because of COVID-19.

The park on Monday announced that it would offer Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews Fridays through Sundays from Aug. 28 through Sept. 27, plus Labor Day.

Visitors will have access to outdoor animal exhibits and presentations, as well as a chef-created barbecue, a curated selection of craft beers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks. Park hours will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The limited reopening should allow SeaWorld to bring back a portion of the 2,000 employees furloughed in March when the park closed, at least on a part-time basis.

SeaWorld appears to be taking a page from the Knott’s Berry Farm playbook with the limited reopening, said Todd Regan, executive editor of Micechat, a theme park industry online watchdog website.

“Knott’s reopened in food festival mode a little over a month ago,” said Regan. “It has been so successful for them that they have expanded it to encompass more food. So I think that is the model SeaWorld is following.”

SeaWorld San Diego is welcoming back visitors under state and county health guidelines for zoos, aquariums and museums, which are allowed. To date, amusement/theme parks aren’t allowed to open in California under state health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

SeaWorld is a licensed and accredited zoo, so it can welcome back guests for outdoor exhibits on the 40-acre park but won’t operate roller coasters or indoor exhibits.

Available attractions include orcas, bamboo sharks, stingrays, sea lions, otters, penguins, dolphins and flamingos, among others. Educational presentations at the dolphin, sea lion and orca exhibits will be offered with social distancing seating.

Tickets for Dolphin Encounter, Sea Lion Feeding, and Ray Feeding are available for purchase, with reservations required in some cases.

The number of people allowed to enter the park will be “significantly limited,” according to SeaWorld. The park is requiring reservations in advance. Under state safety guidelines, there will be additional cleaning, physical distancing, face-covering requirements and temperature screenings.

“We have enhanced our already strict health and safety measures to implement best practices in health and safety protocols that will promote an outdoor experience for families and friends that is fun, memorable and safe,” said Marilyn Hannes, president of SeaWorld San Diego, in a statement

Tickets went on sale Monday at 9 a.m. at the SeaWorld San Diego website. All guests, including Fun Card holders and annual pass members, must purchase a date-specific ticket in advance

Each ticket includes a tasting lanyard for barbecue and paired craft beer offerings. The cost is $74.99 for adults and $64.99 for children, ages 3-9.

“That seems like pretty high prices to me,” said Regan. “Will people be enticed at that price point or will they say I am going to wait until the rides reopen?”

For annual pass members and Fun Card holders, the price for Zoo Days is $30 for adults and $20 for children.

During the closure, SeaWorld extended the expiration dates of annual pass and Fun Card memberships to make up for the months of closure. While the park is hosting Zoo Days, the event is not being considered as the official reopening of the park. So annual pass and Fun Card memberships will continue to be extended until there is an official reopening.

Food and drinks are key themes for the reopening, with menu items including specialty beer-infused BBQ brisket sliders, shrimp tacos, grilled fish, Impossible burgers and German bratwurst. The park also is offering a curated selection of craft beers, including many from Southern California, throughout the park.

“When I was kid SeaWorld didn’t have any rides,” said Regan. “You went to see the animals and go around and eat. That is kind of what this experience is. It’s a little bit like old school SeaWorld.”

Updates:

2:41 PM, Aug. 24, 2020: Updated throughout with comments from SeaWorld and industry experts.


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