People wear face masks as they ride ‘The Goliath’, roller coaster at La Ronde amusement park in Montreal, Saturday, July 25, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The wearing of masks or protective face coverings is mandatory in Quebec as of July 18. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Amusement parks welcome back fewer guests with new pandemic precautions

Physical distancing, extra sanitizing in affect at Canada’s them park

Quebecers who have spent the summer missing the Goliath’s 170-foot drops are in luck.

The sky-high ride was among more than 40 attractions in operation this weekend as Six Flags Entertainment Corp. reopened its La Ronde amusement park in Montreal following a months-long closure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But the park — and a handful of its counterparts across Canada — are looking a lot different these days as operators unveil a slew of measures meant to keep guests safe.

“There used to be thousands and thousands of people walking around, huge lineups and crowds and all that, but this is not what you will see when you get to La Ronde because this is a new reality,” said spokesperson Karina Thevenin.

La Ronde opened in preview mode on Saturday and Sunday, along with this coming Friday. It will host a few exclusive days for members and seasons pass holders on Aug. 1 and 2 before welcoming the general public.

La Ronde has rolled out a new online reservation systems that helps it restrict capacity and stagger entry times, so guests can easily physically distance.

When they arrive, guests are asked to don a mask and to step through a thermal imaging system that will measure body temperature and help the park weed out guests who may have COVID-19 symptoms.

While queuing for rides, guests will see footprints and markers on the ground, helping them to keep six feet or more apart, and rides will also have seats blocked off to aid with physical distancing.

While the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park near Tokyo has asked guests to “scream inside your heart” and not out loud to stop the spread of COVID-19, Thevenin said guests are free to make noise as long as they are wearing a mask.

“I tried a roller coaster with a mask on and it works just fine,” Thevenin said. “I was screaming to my heart’s content.”

Meanwhile, Calaway Park in Calgary has kept six high-velocity rides, including Vortex, Ocean Motion, Free Fallin’ and Wave Rider, closed to stop the spread of droplets.

Out of 32 rides, 26 have reopened and six — Dodgem, Storm, Air Gliders, Bumble Blast, Sky Wynder and Dream Machine — require guests to wear a mask, said Bob Williams, the park’s general manager.

Calaway also upped its sanitizations, so rides are cleaned after every cycle, and staff wear face masks and sometimes, also shields.

Calaway settled on what COVID-19 precautions to take at the park by conferring with public health officials and consulting with other theme parks, though few have reopened in Canada.

Canada’s Wonderland, just outside Toronto in Vaughan, and Galaxyland at the West Edmonton Mall both remain closed.

Over in Cavendish, P.E.I, the Sandspit Amusement Park has been open since June 26 with increased precautions and an approach ”like a barbeque where you start low and go slow,” said Matthew Jelley, the president of Sandspit operator, Maritime Fun Group.

The park is operating at about 15 per cent capacity, but it took at least 10 days for it to attract even that many guests, he said.

Instead of charging guests who wanted to go on rides and letting the rest in free, Jelley said everyone must now pay admission.

It was a hard choice to make, but one that was necessary because the park has 365 days of expenses even though it isn’t welcoming guests year-round, he added.

READ MORE: Workers praise Disney virus safety, but will visitors come?

It’s a reality Shelley Frost, chief executive of Playland-operator Pacific North Exhibition, knows well.

The Vancouver park, she said, wasn’t able to accommodate end-of-school or graduation parties and had to open on July 17, far later than it usually would.

“We do about $60 million a year between the fair and our year-round events like concerts and festivals and we already have a confirmed loss of about $52 million of that, so we’ve been doing a lot of layoffs and austerity measures,” said Frost.

The park has yet to hit its reduced capacity rates, but guests are slowly returning to ride the Tea Cups, Sea to Sky Swinger and Bug Whirled.

The park will soon open bigger rides like a wooden roller coaster that Frost hopes will attract teens, but she is keeping her expectations muted.

“We were very excited to be able to be a little ray of hope for things getting close to being you being back to normal, but we are very cognizant of the fact that people are very different in terms of how comfortable they are.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


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