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SeaWorld San Diego plans a limited weekend reopening

A trainer performs with a dolphin at SeaWorld.
A trainer performs with a dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Food and craft beer take center stage as SeaWorld San Diego welcomes back a limited number of visitors with safety measures.

SeaWorld San Diego will reopen on a limited basis starting Friday, nearly six months after it shut down because of COVID-19.

The park on Monday announced that visitors will have access to outdoor animal exhibits and presentations, as well as a chef-created barbecue, a curated selection of craft beers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks — but no roller coasters or other rides.

The limited reopening should allow SeaWorld to bring back a portion of the 2,000 employees furloughed in March, when the park closed, at least on a part-time basis.

SeaWorld appears to be taking a page from the Knott’s Berry Farm playbook with the limited reopening, said Todd Regan, executive editor of Micechat, a theme park industry online watchdog website.

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“Knott’s reopened in food festival mode for little over a month ago,” Regan said. “It has been so successful for them that they have expanded it to encompass more food. So I think that is the model SeaWorld is following.”

SeaWorld Orlando and other Florida resorts reopened in June. The two-park Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is still closed, although the adjacent Downtown Disney shopping area is open. Also closed are Universal Studios in Los Angeles and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.

SeaWorld San Diego is welcoming back visitors under state and county health guidelines for zoos, aquariums and museums, which are allowed. To date, amusement/theme parks aren’t allowed to open in California under state health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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SeaWorld is a licensed and accredited zoo, so it can welcome back guests for outdoor exhibits on the 40-acre park but won’t operate roller coasters or indoor exhibits.

Available attractions include orcas, bamboo sharks, stingrays, sea lions, otters, penguins, dolphins and flamingos, among others. Educational presentations at the dolphin, sea lion and orca exhibits will be offered with social-distancing seating.

The number of people allowed to enter the park will be “significantly limited,” according to SeaWorld. The park is requiring reservations in advance. Under state safety guidelines, there will be additional cleaning, physical distancing, face-covering requirements and temperature screenings.

“We have enhanced our already strict health and safety measures to implement best practices in health and safety protocols that will promote an outdoor experience for families and friends that is fun, memorable and safe,” Marilyn Hannes, president of SeaWorld San Diego, said in a statement.

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Food and drinks are key themes for the reopening, with menu items including specialty beer-infused BBQ brisket sliders, shrimp tacos, grilled fish, Impossible burgers and German bratwurst. The park also is offering a curated selection of craft beers, including many from Southern California, throughout the park.

“When I was kid SeaWorld didn’t have any rides,” Regan said. “You went to see the animals and go around and eat. That is kind of what this experience is. It’s a little bit like old school SeaWorld.”

Each ticket includes a tasting lanyard for barbecue and paired craft beer offerings. The cost is $74.99 for adults and $64.99 for children ages 3 to 9.

“That seems like pretty high prices to me,” Regan said. “Will people be enticed at that price point or will they say, ‘I am going to wait until the rides reopen?’ ”

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For annual pass members and Fun Card holders, the price for Zoo Days is $30 for adults and $20 for children.

The park will be open Fridays through Sundays through Sept. 27, plus Labor Day. Park hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.


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