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Kings Island with face masks? We visit Dollywood to see if it works

How theme parks are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic
Posted at 8:18 AM, Jun 24, 2020

The long wait is over for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana theme park fans.

Kings Island has started taking reservations on its app and website for passholder preview week starting July 2.

The Mason, Ohio, theme park is coming to life: Its flashing sign along Interstate 71 is announcing its opening, and a giant poster for the new coaster Orion is ready to greet guests at the entrance.

But theme parks will be a very different experience this year.

Video shows changes to expect

A video on Kings Island's websitefrom park owner Cedar Fair shows the changes you should expect to see when you arrive at the park.

The changes begin with making a reservation, then taking an online health check the day before your visit.

"You'll need to complete a pre-visit health screening about 24 hours in advance," Cedar Fair's Tony Clark said in the video.

Once you arrive, you will go through a temperature screening in a tent outside the gate and will need to wear a mask at all times.

But will it work? Will guests wear a mask?

To find out, we visited Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, during its opening weekend.

Dollywood making it work

Dollywood was one of the first theme parks to reopen in this age of coronavirus.

Different? Yes. But it is still a theme park, and the rides are open.

Just like with Kings Island, you need to reserve a date to visit Dollywood. Once we arrived, we started with that mandatory temperature check.

The line moved quickly, with the park running at less than half its normal capacity.

Inside, guests — including younger children — wore face masks without any complaints that we could see, even in the 85-degree heat. That was despite the fact that face masks were not universally worn at nearby Pigeon Forge attractions and restaurants.

Six-foot social distance markers lined all ride wait areas. Guests did their best to adhere to the distance suggestions, with the exception of some longer coaster lines where some people got too close.

The biggest change to the major rides was that only every other row was filled on roller coasters, like Lightning Rod and Tennessee Tornado.

That made for somewhat longer wait times, as did disinfecting wipe-downs every few rides, where a train was taken out of service for a few minutes for a complete spray and wipe.

Hand sanitizer and wash stations were everywhere. Ride operators even squirted guests' hands with sanitizer before they would get on each ride.

The biggest change impacting guests was that most of the park's indoor attractions, including Dolly Parton's original tour bus and stage shows, were closed.

That was a bit of a disappointment at a park that features a large number of stage shows, but it should not impact Kings Island and other Cedar Fair parks, where much of the focus is on rides.

But the park is open. And visiting Dollywood was a great experience, as it should be next week when Kings Island opens its gates.

For now, only passholders can make a reservation at Kings Island in advance of its July 2 opening. Click here for details on how to make your reservation.

Kings Island opens to the general public on July 12.

As always, don't waste your money.


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