East England theme parks during COVID-19

Wipeout, Pleasurewood Hills

During a warm June weekend, we visited Adventure Island, Pleasurewood Hills and Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach.

The UK is now almost 15 months on from the first COVID-19 lockdown, and restrictions on the parks have never completely gone away since.

Now, as the country enters its second summer of restrictions, theme parks are operating with some residual social distancing laws still in place.

Although the so-called ‘freedom day’ in England, earmarked for 21 June, now appears likely to be delayed by at least a month, it would be fair to say that many a theme park guest has already given up on coronavirus control measures,

Mask-wearing across all of the theme parks was at a minimum, even within indoor areas and toilets.

There was occasionally some attempt by guests to keep apart in queue lines, but also many were back to virtual cattle pens, despite markings remaining clearly in place at all of the parks.

The wiping down of restraints and other contact points seemed to be rare, but there was ample hand sanitiser available throughout all of the parks.

Varying crowds

Pleasurewood Hills is quiet on the Saturday of our visit. The signature rollercoaster Wipeout, as well as a couple of other big rides, are also out of actions due to technical issues.

The Norfolk park sadly comes across as struggling, and one cannot help but wonder if this is a result of Covid, or wider problems exacerbated by the pandemic.

At Adventure Island, a steady flow of people are about all day during this term-time Friday – with today’s closing time extended from 8pm to 9pm.

Rage, Adventure Island
Rage, Adventure Island’s signature rollercoaster, was operating on one, socially-distanced train

As 6pm nears a further modest influx of people enter to take advantage of the Essex amusement park’s half-priced wristbands evening offer.

The staff are young but are by far the best trained at customer care an interaction. Their enthusiasm stands out for sure.

Varied admission policies

At Great Yarmouth, the Pleasure Beach is the busiest of all the parks on this Saturday afternoon. It has adjusted its admission policy for Covid, requiring pre-booking to enter.

It is a contrast to Adventure Island, which has retained its unrestricted and free walk-on admission policy outside the very busiest of times, when numbers are controlled.

The Pleasure Beach is today offering its four-hour, 12-4pm slot for £13.50, which was extended to 5pm during our visit.

The veteran wooden Roller Coaster remains as iconic as ever, and today is operating two trains at half-loads due to social distancing measures.

Roller Coaster, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach
Great Yarmouth’s famous Roller Coaster was running two socially-distanced trains

The park’s new generation Waltzer model retains an element of old-school seaside amusement park action and intensity even without staff spinning the cars.

Across all the parks, staff are not seen to challenge non-mask-wearing – but why should they have to given where public attitudes appear to be on the issue now?

Guest attitudes

In relation to the theme park industry, whatever the government announces regarding the next stage of lockdown easing on Monday, it will have negligible impact on guest behaviour at parks.

That ship has already sailed, but that is not to say the largely-outdoor parks are not safe, or that they are are breeding grounds for the disease.

Whether rightly or wrongly, people are now either fatigued of social distancing and masks, are increasingly confident as the vaccine programme progresses, or possibly both.

Until theme parks and rides are proven as a significant source of infection transmission, there is an argument that they should be allowed to continue their recovery from months of damage unabated.