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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Is Disney the Only Theme Park Cutting Back Hours?

by Beth Keating
August 15, 2020

In light of the August 10 release of Morning Consult’s survey of Americans’ comfort levels with returning to theme parks, we wondered: Is Disney the only park reducing its hours? Is it fear of flying into a coronavirus hot zone that has guests cancelling vacation plans to America’s theme park capital in Orlando? What else is happening around the country, and how are other amusement parks handling the lower volume of foot traffic to their doors?  

According to the results of the Morning Consult survey (see the full DisneyBizJournal story here), only 17% of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” comfortable visiting an amusement park right now. In contrast, a whopping 76% said they were “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable. Additionally, 17% of Americans are comfortable now, and a mere 31% expect to be so within six months.  So, where does that leave the folks who depend on the amusement parks for their livelihoods? And what are your options if you decide to take to the open road this summer?

While this is by no means an exhaustive look at America’s theme parks, we picked a random sample of parks across the country to see what other parks were doing in terms of operating hours and procedures.

For comparison, in Florida, Disney World is reducing its hours of operation beginning September 8 (and you’ll still need an advanced reservation). Park hours for Magic Kingdom will be 9am-6pm (they were 9am-7pm).  Epcot will be open 11am-7pm (previously 11am-9pm).  Hollywood Studios will be 10am-7pm (previously 10am-8pm), and Animal Kingdom will be 9am-5pm (previously 8am-6pm). This all results in 1 or 2 fewer park hours per day at the “most magical place on Earth.”  (See DisneyBizJournal’s report here.) Plus, there are no “extra magic hours” in sight. That leaves this summer’s guests with as many as a half dozen fewer hours in the parks each day than they had last summer at the same time. Additionally, Disney’s water parks are not yet open.

Over on the West Coast at the “happiest place on Earth,” Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have yet to open, though its Downtown Disney District is open roughly from 10am-8pm (occasionally 9pm). Operational hours have only been posted through August 22.

Florida is also home to SeaWorld, where they are open, but the park is currently closed on Tuesdays and will be adding Thursdays to the closed column in September. Advanced reservations are required, and the park opens at 10am, closing anywhere from 6pm-9pm depending on the day. Universal Studios – and its Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay – are open, with Universal Studios generally at the 9am-5pm mark, Islands of Adventure in the 10am-6pm range, and Volcano Bay 10am-5pm during the week, and until 6pm on weekends. Advance reservations are not required.

Legoland Florida is open from 10am-5pm. Beginning in late August, however, there will be partial week closures. Florida’s water park component is open 12 noon-4pm. However, Legoland California is currently closed.

In Pennsylvania, Hersheypark has apparently followed Disney’s lead in implementing an online reservation system at the “Sweetest Place on Earth” to control park attendance levels. Through Labor Day, Hersheypark and its ZooAmerica facility are open 11am-7pm, while its Boardwalk (an 11-acre waterpark area) is open 11am-6 pm. After Labor Day, things begin to change up a bit, and you’ll have to pay close attention to the daily calendar, as only ZooAmerica remains open during the week, with Hersheypark open only on Saturday and Sunday from 11am-7pm, and the Boardwalk closed altogether. That lasts until the end of September, when Hersheypark takes a two-week break before reopening for Friday, Saturday and Sundays for varying hours for its Halloween festivities, “Hersheypark in the Dark,” which runs until November 1.

Sandusky, Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park, billing itself as the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” does not have an advanced parks reservation system. Beginning this weekend, parks will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only from 11am-8pm. They will also be open Labor Day. After Labor Day, however, Cedar Point will cut back their hours further, operating only on Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-8pm through November 1.  A revamped “Halloweekends” will become “Tricks and Treats Fall Fest” at Cedar Point this year (beginning September 12), to reflect new COVID-19 related changes including social distancing guidelines that the park has adopted. 2020 Season Passes are being extended into 2021. (See their website for the specifics). Cedar Point ranks #24 on TripAdvisor’s 2020 list of Top 25 Theme Parks in America.

In New York, Splish Splash Water Park was set to celebrate their 30th year of operation this summer, but due to the pandemic, will not be opening at all. They look forward to reopening next spring. It’s a difficult decision for a place like a northeastern water park, which relies on a very short season to make its revenue for the year. Great Escape and Hurricane Harbor in Lake George (a Six Flags entity) remains closed, as does Six Flags Darien Lake in Buffalo.

Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, also has a park reservation system.  Their website is presently only posting operations from 10am-7pm through the end of August, with Friday-Monday availability. (The operating schedule is subject to change.) They are also offering limited-time, reduced ticket prices and season pass options to encourage guests. Dollywood ranks #6 on TripAdvisor’s 2020 list of Top 25 Theme Parks in America.

In Missouri, Six Flags St. Louis is open Wednesdays through Sundays only for the next two weeks, and then from August 22-September 20, it will reduce its hours to weekends only. Advance reservations are required, and hours vary by the particular day. (The Hurricane Harbor water park portion of Six Flags St. Louis is also open, with fewer operating days, however.) 

Silver Dollar City, also in Missouri, is open with its theme park, water park and showboat cruise operational. The water park will close after Labor Day, and September and October operating days and times for the theme park will be variable (they are generally closed Monday and Tuesdays from late August on, with a few extra “closed” days sprinkled in.) Reservations are no longer required through Labor Day. (Branson’s Silver Dollar City ranks #9 on TripAdvisor’s 2020 list of Top 25 Theme Parks in America.)

In Idaho, at Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach, the park is open with some of the longest operating hours of any of the theme parks – they are open as late as 10pm some evenings! After Labor Day, however, they are only open weekends, and the Boulder Beach water park will be closed for the season. Until then, Boulder Beach is open 11am-7pm. (Silverwood ranks #20 on TripAdvisor’s 2020 list of Top 25 Theme Parks in America.)

In Oklahoma, both Frontier City (a Six Flags Theme Park) and the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (White Water Bay) water park are open variable days and times, with reservations needed. Check their operating schedule for the specifics, as they are also subject to change.

Honestly, I had no idea there were so many venues in the “Six Flags” conglomerate. Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, one of nearly two dozen parks in the Six Flags chain, also requires advance reservations to enjoy their park. Beginning Monday, their hours will be 11am-7pm until August 31, when you may lose an hour as the park begins closing at 6pm some evenings. Park hours have not yet been released for post-Labor day. The Hurricane Harbor park there is open from 10am-4pm from Thursday-Monday until the end of August, then will be opened September 5-7 and 12-13 only.

Six Flags Over Georgia is open (advance reservations necessary). Beginning this weekend, they are open Saturday and Sundays only, from 12pm-8pm on Saturday and 12pm-6pm on Sundays (water park hours are 1pm-6pm Saturdays and 1pm-5pm on Sundays until September 13th). Hours for the park will vary widely in September, but will remain Saturdays and Sundays only with the exception of Labor Day. October will see the addition of Friday hours from 6pm-midnight. 

Six Flags Great America in Chicago, Illinois, remains closed, but its Hurricane Harbor park (Magic Waters/Rockford) is open, predominantly weekends, from 11am-6pm through Labor Day. 

Six Flags America in Baltimore, Maryland, and its waterpark are open Tuesdays-Sundays 11am-7pm through August 30, with additional days September 5-7 for Labor Day weekend. Reservations are necessary. Hours have not been scheduled for post-Labor day.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Arizona; Six Flags New England in Massachusetts; Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Concord, California; Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Los Angeles; and Six Flags Magic Mountain in California will all remain closed for 2020. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California is closed, but its Marine World Experience is open 11am-4pm Friday-Sunday only (advance reservations required).

Among Texas’s Six Flags parks, Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio is open with Friday and Saturday night fireworks. It operates pretty much weekends only at this point, with widely varying hours depending on the days, with September hours oddly being lengthier than August ones. (Its water park is also open varying days and hours through September 10.)  Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Arlington are operating predominantly on weekends with an occasional extra Friday in the mix (though the water park is open only through September 13); and Hurricane Harbor Splashtown in Houston remains closed for 2020. (Yes, reservations are required at each Texas park!)

By and large, most of the parks which have opened in order to salvage what little they can of their seasons still have seen significantly reduced days and hours at this point. Many are extending special offers, reduced ticket prices, or season pass extensions into next year in order to maintain contact with their customer base.

It probably goes without saying, but here it is anyway: All of the above park hours are subject to change, and likely will, as conditions throughout the country shift in coming weeks. Consider this article just a brief snapshot in time. If you are one of the brave 17%, enjoy whichever open park you choose for your summer getaway. And take your hand sanitizer with you.


Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.

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