SANDUSKY, Ohio — With temperature checks, mandatory face masks and stretched-out ride queues to keep guests apart, Cedar Point makes its pandemic-era debut Thursday, two months later than initially planned.
“It’s a whole new park experience,” said Cedar Point General Manager Jason McClure, talking through a face covering during a park preview tour to members of the media Wednesday. “It comes with some compromise.”
Still, he said, the park is ready to show visitors a good time. “People are really looking for fun,” he said. “There hasn’t been much fun recently.”
Indeed, Cedar Point was planning a year-long celebration in 2020, its 150th anniversary. You can still buy an anniversary T-shirt or hat in the gift shop, but other plans for the party, including a new river ride and nighttime parade, have been delayed until 2021.
This year, park officials seem to be happy to be opening at all — numerous amusement parks across the United States have not set opening dates, due to continued spikes in coronavirus cases.
Those that have opened – including Cedar Point sister park Kings Island, which opened last week — have made numerous adjustments in an attempt to keep guests safe.
Among the changes that Cedar Point visitors can expect:
• Capacity limits and reservations required. The first two days of operation are reserved for season passholders, with single-day admission starting Saturday. Limits will start at about 20% percent of total capacity – about 10,000 to 12,000 guests – and increase throughout the summer. “The point of the reservation system is to avoid someone driving from Cleveland and being turned away,” McClure said. Other than Thursday and Friday of this week, there are slots available for reservations throughout July.
• Face masks required for all guests over age 2, including on rides. The park has set up four RelaxZones, where guests can remove their masks temporarily.
• New systems for ride queues, dining areas and retail shops, where signs on the ground and elsewhere encourage guests to stay at least 6 feet apart.
• Cedar Point employees will be enforcing the rules, although guests will be expected to do their part, too, said Kristy Bacni, digital communications manager at Cedar Point. “The only way we can have this great experience is with our guests’ help,” she said.
The park is operating with reduced hours this summer, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., down from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (and sometimes later).
McClure said staffing has been a challenge, due to the delayed opening, as well as changes in college schedules, making it more difficult to hire students.
“We are definitely still hiring,” he said. “Anyone looking for a fun place to work – where you can ride roller coasters on your break – Cedar Point is the place to be.”
Staffing issues also contributed to the decision to not open Cedar Point Shores, the park’s separate-admission waterpark, this summer, he said.
He said he was unsure if Castaway Bay, the park’s indoor waterpark resort, would reopen this year. Sawmill Creek Resort in nearby Huron, which Cedar Fair purchased last year and started remodeling, will not open in 2020, according to McClure.
One other note that will interest coaster fans: Cell phones again will be banned in the ride queue for Steel Vengeance, the wild coaster that debuted in 2018. The coaster, which flips riders upside down four times, is notorious for emptying pockets.
Last year, Cedar Point, in response to widespread criticism from guests who wanted their phones while they waited in line, installed zippered pouches on the ride trains to hold loose items. McClure said those zippered pouches will not be used this year, in part because they slow down the loading process and in part because they would be difficult to keep sanitized. Instead, riders will have to leave phones, keys and other items in a paid locker or with a non-rider.
McClure said the park might use a ride-reservation system for Steel Vengeance and other popular rides, if the lines get too long. Kings Island last week passed out “access passes” for Orion, its new coaster, when lines exceeded the queue area and guests started clustering together as they waited. The passes allowed guests to come back at a set time to ride.
“We’re prepared to do that if ride queue area is full and social distancing becomes a problem,” said McClure.
Seating capacity on rides will vary according to the ride’s configuration, he said. On GateKeeper, for example, all seats will be filled because they are 6 or more feet apart. MaxAir, on the other hand, will have at least two-thirds of its seats blocked to keep riders far enough apart.
McClure said the park is committed to running as many of its top rides as possible. “Will every ride open every day? No. But our core, key rides – those will be our focus,” he said.
He also said he is planning for Cedar Point to stay open through HalloWeekends, the very popular Halloween-themed event that runs weekends in September and October.
But he added: “I don’t know anyone who is confident saying anything in the future is definite.”
Health and safety issues, as well as financial considerations, may affect future decisions, he said.