Donald Kolwyck and his wife, Sharon, were next in line to ride the Full Throttle roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain when a voice on a loudspeaker announced that the ride was temporarily offline for technical problems.
“Oh, I guess we are back to normal, then,” Kolwyck joked, noting theme park rides’ reputation for breaking down.
Normal? Not quite.
More than a year after closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Six Flags Magic Mountain is back to operating stomach-churning thrill rides and selling high-calorie snacks, albeit with a slew of new coronavirus safety protocols that begin at the front gates, extend to the rides and restaurants and even affect the men’s bathrooms.
The Valencia theme park dubbed the Thrill Capital of the World opened Thursday to annual and season passholders, the first day allowed under California’s reopening guidelines that cap attendance at 15% of maximum capacity, among other rules. The park will open to the general public Saturday.
Other major Southern California theme parks are still gearing up. Universal Studios Hollywood is scheduled to reopen April 16. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim plan to reopen April 30. Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park is expected to open sometime in May.
Most of Magic Mountain’s attractions were operating Friday, except for an indoor acrobatic show and a bumper-car attraction, both closed because they violated the state’s social distancing rules. Several indoor queuing areas were shut for the same reason. The state guidelines require all queuing areas to be outdoors and visitors from different households to stand at least six feet apart while waiting.
“It’s Day 2,” park spokesperson Jerry Certonio said. “We are still working out the bugs.”
Most guests seemed unbothered by the requirement that everyone wear masks, remain six feet apart and sit separated from strangers on rides. The rides were also stopped every few minutes so workers could wipe down the seats and lap bars with disinfectant.
“We are happy and excited about all the safety rules,” said Cesar Romero of Cypress, who visited the park with his daughter and two nieces.
To ensure the park keeps attendance under 15% of capacity and all parkgoers are residents of California, as required by the state, Magic Mountain requires visitors to book reservations online. Pandemic restrictions in Los Angeles County are set to loosen further next week, and Certonio said the park expects to be able to increase attendance to 25% capacity.
When entering the park, visitors walk through a temporary building where a thermal camera automatically reads their body temperature. The system alerts park workers if it detects anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. In case that happens, emergency medical technicians are stationed nearby to take a second temperature reading with a hand-held device. Visitors with temperatures over 100.4 are not allowed in.
To prevent security screening from creating crowds and bottlenecks, Magic Mountain no longer stops visitors at the entrance to search their purses and backpacks. Instead, parkgoers stroll past a new touchless scanner that screens for possible hidden weapons. If the scanner identifies a suspicious object it flashes a red light, and a security officer pulls the person over for further screening.
When loading the rides, park employees space parkgoers at least one row apart. Families and groups of friends can sit together but a row away from strangers.
Manny Dickerson of Simi Valley, who visited the park with his three children, said he didn’t mind waiting for the workers to clean and disinfect the rides. “It feels safe,” he said. “We are happy to be back.”
Social distancing was even adopted in the bathrooms, where adjacent urinals were blocked off.
Three of the park’s restaurants allow visitors to order food through a smartphone app to reduce the need to wait in line. The app notifies the visitor when the food is ready.
The Kolwycks, who said they had their first date at Magic Mountain three decades ago, returned to relive memories. But the changes were a welcome sight for Sharon Kolwyck, who works as an emergency room nurse.
“We are OK with all of the safety measures,” she said as she waited to board Full Throttle. “Once they get used to all of this, it will probably run a little smoother.”