When Dutch Wonderland opens the doors to the park for its 57th season, mainstay mascot Duke the Dragon will be safe somewhere else.
"He and Princess Brooke and Sir Branden and everyone had to attend to business and are quarantining in a faraway land," says Dutch Wonderland Marketing Director Jeffrey Eisenberg. "It's very difficult to keep kids away from these characters that they love, so this was one of those necessary decisions that we had to make this year."
It was among a myriad of other changes unveiled at a media preview event at Dutch Wonderland on Monday in advance of the amusement park's public opening on Saturday, July 18. Eisenberg, sporting a custom-made Dutch Wonderland face mask, and new Discover Lancaster CEO Edward Harris addressed the assembled about the importance of safety measures in terms of safe, economic re-openings in both the park and county.
"With other attractions and indoor dining returning just a few weeks ago as part of the green phase, we're glad that Dutch Wonderland is now adding to our destination's offerings and bringing workers back in the process," Harris declared.
"It felt very strange to be here in June and July and to not have guests and rides running," Eisenberg said.
Dutch Wonderland's initial opening date was to be Saturday, May 2, before COVID-19 forced immediate plan changes. Some of the most obvious changes for this Saturday's reopening are now commonplace for cautiously optimistic business in the green phase - masks and contactless temperature checks for employees and guests alike, as well as strict adherence to social distancing.
For those that arrive at the park barefaced, Dutch Wonderland will provide masks at the entrance.
According to Eisenberg, the small dots that now checker the park grounds to remind guests of how close together they are standing are actually a foot or two further than the golden standard of six feet, to account for larger families.
Both season pass holders and standard guests will need to register a day to visit in advance, due in part to Dutch Wonderland operating at a 50% capacity maximum on most days this season. Additionally, the park will close at 6 p.m. as opposed to 7:30 p.m., mirroring Hersheypark's recent hour shortening.
Fans of such staples as the Double Splash Flume and the Kingdom Coaster will still be able to experience those rides, just with a seat or two in between riders. Attractions will be cleaned at least once per day, and door handles, railings and other "high risk areas" will be sanitized throughout the day.
For those needing a break from wearing a mask, two fenced "Mask Break Zones" have been set up in the park, complete with an employee present to enforce social distancing and the zone's 10-minute time limit.
"Enforcement" has been a tricky prospect for businesses opening in the green phase, but Eisenberg insists that the park will be stringent about making sure guests are following health guidelines, to the point that the park has a system in place to remove guests who refuse to properly mask or distance themselves.
"We're asking all of our employees, from management down to our frontline team members, if they see a guest not wearing a mask, to direct them to those 'Mask Break Zones,' Eisenberg explains. "We get it - it's warm, it's not easy to wear these things, but it's a condition of us being able to open to keep everyone safe."
Beyond that, safety measures become apparent the more distance you cover in the park. Plexiglass shields provide a transparent protection for the operators of carnival games."Self-serve food" as an idea cannot function, so it no longer exists within the park.
Perhaps most tragically, winners at the game Lucky Ducks, who in past seasons were able to "trade up" to bigger prizes with more wins, will have to stick with the first prize they win.
So long as Lancaster County stays within the green phase, Dutch Wonderland's season will stretch until the first two weekends of October. For all the differences between this summer and the last, Dutch Wonderland looks more or less the same as normal - it's just the "normal" that's changed.