When SeaWorld – San Antonio announced that it was closing down due to COVID-19, I had to make one last trip to enjoy the park. Three months later with no penguins, no otters, no park at all, I was chomping at the bit to head back as soon as they opened up. I spent several hours walking the entire length of the park, curious to know what the “new normal” at a major theme park would be like.
I was fortunate enough to get some inside info regarding what I could expect when I passed through the gates. Now I’m set to offer up a full report as to what I experienced in my visit on their first day open again.
How To Enter: There is now a pre-entrance which consists of a large (thankfully air conditioned) tent. By the time you wind your way through the fencing, you’ll have your temperature taken by an employee using a hand-held scanner. There were 10 different tubs of hand sanitizer you could pump out any time you wanted and a whopping 400 in the park itself. Once you’re done there, you can proceed to the main entrance. I spoke to an employee and anyone who refused to wear a mask (can’t enter the tent without one) would be escorted out by security.
Quick Tip: This is one of the few air conditioned places in the park. Enjoy it while you wait in line.
Dining Changes: I decided to stop in and grab an Italian Panini (get it toasted, trust me) sandwich. Want a drink? SeaWorld has a strict “no straws” policy to protect their animals and they still sell the refillable cups. But if you want to fill that refillable cup, you first need to grab a paper cup, fill it, then dump it into your refillable cup. Uhh…yeah, sure. While there, I spoke to an employee who said they have EIGHT different squirt bottles filled with sanitizer that they use on the PIN pads, the bar on the door you press on to exit, hand rails, ledges, trash cans, anywhere you might put your grubby hands. In addition, they received specific guidance from leadership to clean up a table and chairs as soon as someone leaves.
Quick Tip: ALL toppings, condiments, and utensils are kept away from the customer. If you want ketchup, mayonnaise, fork and knife, make sure to ask for it when you order your food.
Animal Viewing: As said in my previous article, the animals are at low risk for getting the disease. However, there are plenty of “stand here” stickers on the ground so you can practice social distancing, even on a moving sidewalk to view the penguins. Heading to a stadium? Every row, every seat, every handrail is sanitized down by a team of employees after you leave. One employee at Shamu Stadium confirmed that a squad of 10 tackled the facility three times a day after you move on.
Quick Tip: There ARE employees wandering around the park making sure people are wearing masks and practicing social distancing. While there are a whopping 14 areas specifically designed for you to remove the mask and take a load off, keep the mask on otherwise.
Play Games, All Sorts: Every ring you throw, every ball you toss, every water gun you shoot is disinfected. Game Operators spend their downtime wiping everything down as needed. One employee had the wonderful task of wiping down any arcade game touched by kids and adults alike as soon as they move on. Every touch gets a wipe every time. It’s extensive.
Quick Tip: Aim for the bottom of the bucket when you’re playing Lobster Pot. The proof is in the picture.
Shopping For a Sweet Ride: Employees confirmed to me that the roller coasters are wiped down once per hour from top to bottom to include the seats, the harnesses, the hand grips, anywhere you might have made contact. Here’s a fascinating tidbit of information. If you wander into a shop, every snow globe, every t-shirt, every Christmas ornament is sanitized every single night after the park closes. When you make a purchase, you can ask to have it sprayed if you want.
Despite the “new normal” I still had a terrific time out at the park. The worst part of it all is wearing a mask in the 93 degree heat, but taking more breaks made it a little more bearable. My quick tip? Grab a drink. You’re allowed to remove the mask to take a sip and that gives you a respite from breathing through that cloth. SeaWorld does sell masks for $10 each, but you get the fourth mask free.
The biggest question mark is the reservation system. I went to the website, logged into my account, and booked one for today. However, no one ever asked for the bar code that was emailed to me. When I asked Guest Relations (on the way out of the park) how the reservations worked, she just shrugged a little and said: “It’s all different. Sometimes it links the reservation to your pass, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes you have to show the bar code. It all depends on how you set up the reservation and whether or not links to your pass.”