Trip Report (6/8/20)
Man it has been way too long since I've ridden coasters! With the exception of the Schwarzkopf Wildcat at Adventure Park USA (which I rode a week or so ago) I hadn't been on a coaster since last September, when I rode the surprisingly good Pinfari (I think) at the MD State fair.
Yesterday I finally got back to amusement parks with a short 2.5 hour trip to SFA. I meant to spend more time but due to unrelated circumstances I arrived at the park later than intended.
Entering the Park
I made and printed my reservation the day before and drove to SFA with my sister who was coming using the $10 bring a friend deal. There was some confusion before I left home regarding her ticket, since it initially wasn't clear that the bring-a-friend ticket is tied to my membership, and does not need to be printed out.
Upon entering the park (around 4:30pm), just one toll booth was open, but that was enough given there were only 3-4 cars waiting and the line moved at a reasonable pace. The gate attendant scanned my membership and made sure we both had masks and a reservation, then let us through. Of the 3 parking lots at SFA, only the first one was used, and it was maybe 60% full.
The new front gate area looked pretty much finished, and while nothing fancy, was an certainly an improvement over the old setup of security and tickets in the same place. There was a tent set up to walk through and get temperature checked and go thorugh metal detectors, which we were able to just walk straight through.
On my trip there was a family going to the waterpark in front of the tent that didn't realize that you need shirt shoes and pants to walk through the front gate even if you're just going through the waterpark, and my sister and I waited around akwardly for about a minute before the employee at the gate told us to just go in front of them while they were getting dressed.
There was pretty much no line for tickets. They scanned my membership, and looked at (but didn't scan) my reservation, and we were both in.
With the exception of that one family that was having trouble, the whole entry process was swift and generally well handled.
Crowds and Covid Compliance
Like on a normal day, most people were here primarily for the waterpark. While I did not enter, I could see some of the queues from the parking lot, and it looked somewhat crowded, and while I couldn't tell for sure, I didn't see much distancing there from what little I saw.
Luckily, the dry park was very lightly populated, and we rarely had any issues distancing on the midways and paths. Plenty of sanitation stations all over. Most rides were a very short wait or walk-on, and distancing was mostly respected with one exception I'll get to later.
As far as mask wearing goes, all employees were wearing masks, but maybe 20% of them weren't wearing it correctly (didn't cover nose). As far as the guests, maybe about 90% of the time they were wearing masks. Of that roughly 90%, at least a quarter were wearing it incorrectly. Of that 10% not wearing masks, maybe 70% of the time they were at least socially distant, but there were a noticeable number of people not distancing and not taking masks seriously, which was disappointing, but certainly better than I've seen in reports from many other parks.
Regarding mask enforcement, there were periodic reminders from staff to wear masks, and they were enforcing mask wearing on rides. On roar they even stopped the ride partway up the lift because someone took their mask off.
There were several mask break areas (designated places away from most other people where you're allowed to take off your mask for a few min), but they were pretty easy to miss if you weren't looking in the right direction, and not too many people were using them.
On my visit I didn't see any sanitation of rides, but as my visit was only 2.5 hours long and I didn't spend more than 15 min at any one ride, it is very possible I just missed it. I did notice some sanitation equipment on standby on a few rides.
Also worth noting that all rides had clearly blocked off rows for distancing reasons except Batwing since it's seats are quite far apart already. They did make a point to have at least the very front and very back rows available for all coasters, but this did mean my favorite seat on Wild One (2nd to back) was blocked.
Oh, and that one exception to the whole "distancing was easy" thing I mentioned earlier: I went to Superman for a 2nd ride, but by this point the line was spilling out the station, almost nobody was distancing, and in that particular moment many people around me were wearing masks wrong or not at all, so after a couple min I decided not to give Superman a 2nd ride that day. Luckily, that was by far the worst Covid violation that day.
Impressively for this park, it looked like all roller coasters were running (I didn't check Mind Eraser though), however besides the spinning mouse they all ran one train. with blocked off rows. Thankfully crowds were light enough that this wasn't really an issue (as mentioned, plenty of walk-ons).
Dispatch times given the low crowds were generally reasonable. The only two rides I payed attention to how long it took were JJ and Batwing. On JJ, a train was sent out roughly every 2.5 min, including the ride cycle time, however on one train there was an issue with somebody not wearing a shirt which delayed that dispatch. JJ had the longest line of any ride I actually waited in at about 10 min, but people were distancing and wearing masks.
On Batwing (which I only needed to wait 1 cycle for), I timed the dispatch between releasing restraints to lowering the seats at about 3 min 25 sec.
What impressed me is a few seconds before lowering the seats, I heard a supervisor tell the ride crew (of about 6 people) "That dispatch was too slow, they should have been out of the station 10* seconds ago!" I'm really glad to see visible efforts to improve operations here, even on such a slow day!
*It sounded like he said 10 seconds, but it may have been a different number
As far as the other rides a rode, everything was a 1 train wait or a walk on. On Wild One, I was able to walk onto the front row and get a re-ride without leaving my seat.
The only flat ride I saw that was closed was down for a very interesting reason:
Mobile ordering was available for many places, but I didn't try it out. The one food item I purchased was a small Rita ice cup which I shared with my sister. Nobody was in line and service was reasonably fast. I didn't see much crowding in the other food places I walked by.
How well the rides were running
We rode 8 rides:
Got two front row rides, was running very well as usual! This ride deserves a bit more love from the enthusiast community IMO, it's a lot of fun. My two rides both hauled, gave fun floater, and strong laterals.
Took one ride, walked straight on. Short but has a good kick to it!
Riddler (Round Up Ride)
Looked nice with this year's improvements (will show later), walked straight on as the only two riders in our cycle. Before walking off, the operator told us we had to answer a riddle to get off! ("What breaks when you speak?") I won't mention the answer in case anyone reading wants to figure it out.
Rode just as well as it usually does. Intense and snappy. New paint job looks great! (Will show pictures later).
Was running quite fast. Solid ejector as usual. Normally I like this most in the front, but because time was limited at the park I chose a row that had nobody waiting at time time. Some people had already claimed the back row as well as the closest few rows to the front, so I rode in the next closest seat to the back that was open, which was the 4th seat from the back. I actually got a little pop of air coming down the first big hill, which usually doesn't happen, especially not towards the middle of the train!
Was running rather rough. Not painful, and I definitely enjoyed my (front row) ride, but that ride left me out of breath. That ride is intense, certainly the most intense ride in the park IMO. Still like it more than Superman B&M flyer clones.
Rode in back right. Normally I follow the recommendation to ride in one of the two middle seats, but my sister took one of them and the other one had some drop of some sort of liquid that I wasn't interested in introducing to my pants. The first drop and loop was actually quite fun in that seat, but I did have to keep my head forward to avoid banging.
I got one ride on roar in a middle row. It was running...fine. Not bad, but not really good either. Maybe my opinion would be different in a different row, but that ride was probably the weakest coaster I rode that day. However it was pretty neat to see it stop on the lift so staff could tell someone to put their mask back on!
Changes for 2020
On my way out I took a couple very quick pictures of the new entrance:
One last unrelated thing to note (and some of you may already know this) is that in order to redeem unlimited soft drinks from your platinum or higher membership, you must pick up a special red plastic bottle from guest relations at the front of the park. I wish I had realized this before arriving at the park.
Overall, I had a fun day at SFA. While it was disappointing to see many people wearing masks incorrectly and/or not distancing (including a few staff members), I was mostly able to distance, and there were plenty of sanitation. Wait times were low, and all the rides I cared about were open. I do expect to return later this summer!
1. El Toro
2. El Toro
3. El Toro
4. El Toro
--- I'm not good at ranking...