SANDUSKY, Ohio — Kalahari Resort, the state’s largest hotel, will welcome its first overnight guests in three months today, with its companion indoor and outdoor water parks reopening within a week.
Karolyn Doro, corporate director of rooms for the resort chain, said the Sandusky property has new guidelines in place to keep guests and employees safe during the coronavirus era.
Among the changes:
• Fewer lounge chairs and tables in the waterpark area, and fewer tubes in the wave pool and lazy river, to keep guests at least 6 feet apart.
• Extra cleaning and hand sanitizer in all rooms and public spaces, including the arcade, spa and fitness area. High-touch items like coffee makers and pens have been removed from guestrooms.
• Changes in room service and stay-over service to minimize staff-guest interaction.
• Markings on the water slide stairs and other attractions to keep queues from getting congested. “It is new to everyone so there are reminders everywhere,” said Doro.
The resort also has created a new staff position, Wellness Concierge, whose chief responsibility is to inform guests of policy changes, answer questions and enforce rules.
Doro said the resort has not set capacity limits for either the hotel or the water park, but expects that decreased demand in the short-term will keep the resort from overcrowding.
“We’re forecasting lower occupancy this summer,” she said, as state stay-at-home orders gradually expire and Americans slowly begin to travel again.
She also said the resort will not require that guests wear face masks — not in the water park nor in the other public areas. “Of course, they are welcome to wear them if they would like,” said Doro.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that swimmers not wear masks in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when wet. The CDC also notes that there is no evidence that the virus can spread through water in pools, hot tubs or water play areas.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, however, recommends that water park guests wear masks in common areas, near other guests, and when interacting with employees.
Doro said that Kalahari employees will wear face masks and face shields, depending on their position.
She also said that guests at Kalahari’s Poconos property will be required to wear face masks out of the water because of Pennsylvania mandates.
Kalahari Sandusky is one of three waterpark resorts in the Wisconsin-based chain. The original resort, in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, reopened in late May. The newest one, in eastern Pennsylvania’s Poconos region, will reopen next week.
Ohio’s Kalahari, which opened in 2005, was for years the largest indoor water park in North America, at 173,000 square feet. It lost that title in 2015 to sister property Kalahari Poconos, with a 220,000-square-foot water park.
With 890 overnight rooms, Kalahari is Ohio’s largest hotel. The complex also has more than 200,000 square feet of convention and meeting space.
Kalahari has been closed since mid-March. Last week, the resort, along with Cedar Point and Kings island, sued the state of Ohio, arguing that the government didn’t have the right to keep the parks closed.
A day after the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Mike DeWine said the state’s amusement parks and water parks could reopen starting June 19.
An Erie County judge ruled this week that Kalahari could reopen its water parks immediately. The resort’s outdoor water park will open June 13, with the indoor water park opening June 19.
Also in Sandusky:
• Great Wolf Lodge Sandusky announced this week that it would reopen June 26. The 271-room hotel with adjacent 33,000-square-foot water park is participating in the company’s Paw Pledge program, which includes increased disinfection and sanitization, physical distancing and other initiatives to keep guests and employees safe.
The resort said it will initially reduce capacity at the facility to 50% or less to prevent overcrowding; add markers in queues for waterslides and other attractions to promote social distancing; add hand sanitizer stations and provide complimentary masks to guests; and offer contactless payment options and remote food ordering.
• Castaway Bay, the indoor waterpark owned by Cedar Point, does not have an opening day yet, according to a park spokesman.