2020 - How a global pandemic changed the way we enjoy theme parks and attractions for the foreseeable in a dramatic and uncompromising way!
As closed season 2019 finally drew to a close and the 2020 season began back on a cold and windy February weekend on the Flyde Coast enthusiasts and the general public could never in their wildest dreams have predicted the sheer gravity of the change about to take place in the weeks and months ahead!
The 2020 season started off in it’s usual way with a mass gathering of theme park Vloggers and Bloggers at the Velvet Coaster in Blackpool as everyone prepared for the commencement of the brand new season which lay ahead, little did we know that in the weeks ahead everything was about to change forever.
It’s fair to say that not only has this year’s UK theme park season been a much shorter one than usual, however it has been one which we can guarantee we will never, ever forget, and for all the wrong reasons too.
With a full scale national lockdown prohibiting theme parks and attractions from reopening to the public until July 4th UK theme parks and attractions would be asked to close at the end of March 2020 by the UK government in response to containment measures put in place to stop the spread of the current pandemic.
This as expected forced unimaginable strain upon the entertainment and leisure industry to fight for their very futures as their income went from 100% to 0% overnight!
But, apart from the financial impact suffered how have the UK theme parks and attractions changed since they reopened and how has this affected the way we have enjoyed the rest of the season here in the UK?
The main thing to take away from this year is this – We have all had to change and adapt throughout daily life in general, however when it comes to visiting theme parks the changes in place have not only been very obvious, however they have also reduced the availability of attractions across the UK for the rest of the season as a whole making it in some cases an eye on impossible to get out there and enjoy most of the attractions we love to visit the most.
This is mainly down to the severely reduced capacities that theme parks and attractions have had to operate at, and although these were gradually increased as the year went by it has still made it very difficult for most of us to secure tickets for the times we have wanted to visit the most meaning we have had to book weeks, if not months in advance in some cases just to enable us to visit our favourite attractions in the first place.
Capacities are not the only aspects of operation to see reductions though as ride availability has also seen significant reductions throughout the 2020 season as a whole as well.
Although this is to be expected with any normal season due to unforeseen technical issues etc. reductions in some cases have also been down to the way queue lines have operated as well meaning that rides such as The Smiler for instance at Alton Towers has had to close it’s queue line in most cases due to reaching capacity.
This has therefore meant that as a result no further guests have been allowed to enter the queue line for the ride concerned until the ride hosts have been satisfied that there is sufficient safe space to allow new riders to begin queuing again once more.
Alongside this full social distancing within queue lines on all rides has meant that wait times have not only increased, however they have also become unmanageable at times too.
Wicker Man received such huge queues throughout the summer 2020 season that guests in some cases ended up queuing as far down as Haunted Hollow meaning that wait times ended up being between 3 to 4 hours alone, and that was without the regular deep cleans every half hour.
There have however been some positives to have come out of the changes which have taken place. These have ranged from extra care and attention being paid towards guest welfare (with some exceptions unfortunately) throughout their visits to a much more personal approach from ride staff and admissions staff alike.
This was none more evident than when we visited Alton Towers. The sheer level of commitment by staff to both guest welfare and satisfaction was evident by the fact that they continuously asked if everything was ok, if you were having a good day and if there was anything further you required. Although we understand they usually adopt this approach as a rule we definitely felt that the guest service level was increased since reopening in July to accomodate a much more personal and guest focused approach meaning that no matter when we visited, we always felt welcome.
How Consistent was Change this season?
Regardless of the ongoing Pandemic here at Theme Park Insanity we still managed to make a major first time visit this season and this came in the form of our first ever visit to Thorpe Park Resort back in August with our friends over at Coaster Gen!
It’s fair to say that during this visit even though the same level of care and attention was paid to guest experience and safety throughout our visit for the first time since exiting the first national lockdown we felt able to forget everything going on at the time and have a trip we will never forget.
Even throughout this visit we still saw plenty of deep cleaning taking place, plenty of safety measures in place and a consistent approach to guest safety inline with all other Merlin owned parks and attractions.
This season we didn’t just visit Merlin owned parks however as you will know and as such we also paid a visit to Flamingo Land Resort for Luke from Coaster Gen’s first ever visit too.
The sheer amount of differences we saw here was astronomical. Not only were masks NOT compulsory on rides, however most guests at the park seemed to be in the mind set that social distancing was not key to keeping everybody visiting the park safe.
This didn’t however mean that most people weren’t trying their utmost to stay safe and throughout the day we did still see plenty of guests not only wearing masks, but also doing their very best to stay a safe distance too.
It’s definitely therefore fair to say that approaches to guest safety throughout the industry have been consistent where the parks and attractions are concerned, however the changes between attractions and the level of co-operation has varied far more where guests and their willing to follow the rules have been concerned.
Here at TPI we have done all we can to always follow the rules, wear a mask when compulsory and stay our distance at all times, however it’s also definitely fair to say that this isn’t an approach which seems to have been universally adapted to by all visiting the parks.
Some parks however such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach not only adapted a strict one way system, however they also had security out and about around the park enforcing the rules.
This is also something we started to see at all other parks as the 2020 season progressed, although we definitely feel all parks should have followed this approach from the start.
What have been our highlights this season?
Regardless of all the change we have had to endure this season we have still had an absolutely fantastic time and have been able to visit as many parks as possible throughout the rest of the 2020 UK season.
Our ultimate highlight this season however definitely has to be our first ever visit to Thorpe Park in Surrey!
For over 15 years we have wanted to make the trip as previously mentioned in another post, however due to crippling anxiety we have been unable to pluck up the courage to do so
Well, we finally decided that after all the hardship we had endured as a result of the lockdown that 2020 would be the yea we would finally do it, and on the 8th of August 2020 at around half past 8 in the morning we were finally stood in front of the ‘Island like no other’ ready to embrace our first ever rides on the likes of Stealth, The Swarm and even Saw: The Ride!
It’s safe to say that rides on Stealth, Saw: The Ride and The Swarm were amongst our ultimate highlights of the weekend having been major bucketlist coasters for us since beginning our journey as enthusiasts all those years ago, however the weekend also threw in a few surprise bonuses along the way as well meaning that our weekend at Thorpe Park is one we will definitely cherish for the rest of our lives!
Any Low Points?
For us the main negatives to come out of this major season of change were reduced ticket numbers (especially on the pass holder pre-booking side for Merlin Annual Pass holders) which as much as we understand the reasons for still unfairly impacted our plans to visit other parks quite significantly and the sheer volume of cancelled events and postponed openings!
2020 Should have been a major season for openings of brand new rides and attractions.
These includes the likes of Tornado Springs at Paultons Park, ‘Inversion’ at Flamingo Land (which we have to admit we were the most excited for) and The World of David Walliams including Gangsta Granny: The Ride at Alton Towers Resort.
this season was also set to be Alton Towers’ 40th anniversary and as such the resort had made major plans to celebrate this occasion in style, however due to the obvious those plans unfortunately never came to fruition.
As much as we can understand why all of the above happened the way it did, it definitely dampened our spirits for the year ahead and as such we are hoping and praying with every ounce of energy we can muster that 2021 is the year when all of this will change and the brand new additions to the UK industry can finally open the way they planned to do so in 2020.
How do we see 2021 playing out?
When we consider the current situation we are all in and the present 2nd National Lockdown we are all currently stuck in we have to admit that things are definitely looking less than positive for the festive season ahead, however with the announcement by our government recently that they are aiming to beat the virus by Spring 2021 it’s fair to say that we are cautiously optimistic that the 2021 season could see a much more normal return where park openings and operations are concerned.
This is of course all dependent on us doing the best we can to play our part throughout the closed season, and as much as we may not agree with some of the restrictions and measures currently in place (which believe us we really don’t as they infringe severely on our freedoms and civil liberties) we have to do all we can to keep going and play our part to combat this horrific pandemic and hope we can start to resume a much more normal way of life in the season to come.
If we can do this then it’s fair to say that 2021 may just be the year we all need after what has unequivocally been an absolute shit show from start to finish this year!
We therefore think that although it’s very difficult to say for certain at this point 2021 may just be a bigger and more importantly more NORMAL(er) season yet.
It’s no secret that 2020 has been absolutely devastating for not only the UK theme park industry, but the industry worldwide as a whole, however what we have seen this year is a community who have in times of hardship and horror come together to support, nurture and look after each other as a whole, and this by far has to be the most positive thing to have come out of the current season.
With what seems like petty differences put aside we really do feel as though we have all played our part in enabling each other to keep fighting and get through this together, and that for us has been the most important part by far.
Here at TPI the amount of love and support we have been shown by the community we are proud to call ourselves part of has been absolutely mind blowing at times and for that we want to thank each and every one of you for helping us not only get through this, but also stay strong when times have really proven particularly difficult.
We really hope that we see the same as we not only move forwards into 2021, but also the years to come as well.
As long as there are theme parks and attractions to visit there will always be an amazing community here as well, therefore let’s stay safe, support each other and get through closed season together! We can do this guys!