In mid-March, Southern California's theme parks closed their doors for two weeks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Little did they know that the two week closure would stretch into the region's first offseason, with parks remaining shuttered for over a year. As theme parks elsewhere around the globe reopened and proved they could operate safely, multiple false starts occurred on the west coast, with each one raising questions as to whether the industry could survive out here. Finally, just under a year from the initial closure, new guidelines were released to permit a long overdue reopening of these facilities, and this time it's a go.
I was fortunate enough to secure a reservation for Six Flags Magic Mountain on April 2nd, their second day of post-pandemic operation. After several visits to Six Flags parks in 2020, I've become convinced that the chain has done the best job of adapting to operation under pandemic restrictions (at least if the destination parks are excluded), and excitedly awaited the opportunity to ride some of my favorite coasters again. Given everything the park faced, I kept my expectations in check, but I'm happy to report that the park has exceeded most of my expectations and, while there are still some kinks to work out, is probably about 80% of the way to the excellence I observed last summer and fall at other locations in the chain.
For those curious about what to expect as parks reopen in California, here's a brief recap of what I experienced...
-Parking was probably the biggest frustration of the day. The signage is a little unclear so I initially missed the turn due to thinking it was only for the vaccination site that occupies a majority of the lot. Once in the line it took about 30 minutes to get through the toll booths as only three of them were open but five or six lanes fed into that. Therefore, despite arriving about 20 minutes before my reservation time, it was actually about 20 minutes afterward before I actually got to the front.
-The entry process is extremely smooth. First, your reservation is checked a second time to confirm that the time and number in your party is correct. This is where you will be stopped if you arrive early (you can enter the parking lot before the time on your reservation). From there, you pass through a shipping container to be scanned by a thermal camera for a temperature check, then through a touchless scanner to check for any dangerous objects. An alarm at either of these points will result in you being pulled aside for secondary inspection, but otherwise you just keep walking through. From there it's off to the turnstiles. There were no ID checks at any point, but the online system will not allow those outside of California to make reservations and signs at the park warn anyone violating the policy will be ejected without a refund. The whole process is identical to what I've seen at other parks in the chain and is the best I've witnessed at any park.
-Policies in the park are pretty similar to other Six Flags parks with a few "California enhancements." Masks are required at all times unless you are seated at a table in a designated dining area, and extra security has been hired to enforce this. Distancing markers are present in all queue lines, and while I will say that they weren't perfectly followed there was definitely space between parties. No indoor dining or queuing is permitted at any time, and a few attractions have rerouted their queues to avoid indoor portions. Only two trains worth of riders are allowed on the station platforms at a time, but unlike some other parks there is no assigned seating. Most coasters are seated every other row, with Tatsu and X2 being the primary exceptions to that rule due to their train designs. Rides go down for sanitizing periodically (at least hourly, possibly every half hour), which is usually about a ten minute delay.
-While the park didn't feel overly crowded, it definitely felt busier than I expected and I expect they were actually at maximum allowed capacity. It should be noted that the park has a capacity of over 60,000 and is admitting approximately 10,000 per day, which is in line with an average summer weekday in normal times. As such, ride lines were comparable with those of a day I'd describe as busy but manageable. Several coasters (Apocalypse, Goliath, Tatsu, Twisted Colossus, West Coast Racers) had posted wait times of over an hour, but in practice most were around 45 minutes. Because of the staggered entry times, arriving early really does make a difference, and I was able to ride more in the first two hours than in the rest of the day combined. I highly recommend trying to get a reservation for 11 A.M. or earlier and being there on time, as that may make a significant difference in how much you're able to ride.
-Operations were surprisingly good even by normal standards. All coasters except Tatsu were operating two trains (Twisted Colossus and West Coast Racers had three), and operators were generally sending trains out with limited stacking. I know it's easier when half the seats are empty, but I'm happy to see that poor operations are not a contributing factor to wait times. Downtimes were a bit higher than typical, but that's to be expected when everything isn't quite back in the groove yet. We fortunately only had one ride go down on us (Riddler's Revenge, which turned about a 35 minute wait into 70), but I did miss a ride I wanted to do due to downtime (Full Throttle) and another that we ultimately made it onto (X2) was constantly up and down throughout the day.
-Batman and Ninja were the only coasters closed. Batman is down for a major refurbishment and isn't expected to return until summer. Ninja had maintenance employees actively working on it when we passed and looks like it could open any day now (I'm hearing reports it has since reopened). For non-coasters, the water rides and a few of the flat rides were closed (CraZanity, Jammin' Bumpers, Swashbuckler, and a couple Bugs Bunny World rides). Surprisingly, Justice League was open, but we didn't ride as the queue looked to be at least a 30 minute wait.
-Only a limited number of food locations were open. Fortunately, service was pretty good (at least at Johnny Rockets) and it only took about 15 minutes to get lunch. We just waited in line rather than messing with mobile order as it has reportedly been very problematic. Food hasn't changed much, but there's something enjoyable about eating theme park food when you haven't done so in some time.
-In total, I managed to get on nine rides during my approximately six hours in the park: Three on Twisted Colossus, two on Scream, and once each on Riddler's, Tatsu, Viper, and X2. I am satisfied with that, and will attempt to ride the rest over the next visit or two. Overall, I felt mostly satisfied, completely safe, and tremendously overjoyed to be back at my second favorite California theme park! I'm planning to visit again in a month or so to see how things have improved, and may even try to squeeze in a third visit before summer arrives.
So, should you visit Six Flags Magic Mountain right now? If you live in Southern California, have a Six Flags pass, and are willing to accept a lessened but still highly enjoyable visit, I would absolutely encourage you to check it out. I have absolutely no concerns about the safety of their operation, and I honestly feel safer there than almost anywhere else I've been in California in the past year. I do think some adjustments need to be made if the park wants to operate successfully at a higher capacity than they are now (more parking lanes, more open food locations, a working mobile dining option, and loading all rows on rides), but for now what they're doing is satisfactory. If you do choose to visit, keep the following tips in mind...
-Get your reservation as far out as you can, and as early in the day as possible. The difference between an 11 A.M. reservation and a noon reservation, for example, could be as many as three rides. Ideally, try to reserve at least a couple weeks before visiting so you have full selection of times.
-15% capacity does not mean the park will be dead, it just means it will be less busy than a peak day, so keep your expectations in check. There will be lines similar to what is typical of summer days, and they will move slowly since most rides have capacity in line with one train operation. Lines often appear longer than they actually are due to distancing.
-Bring a backpack with at least one bottle of water per person. The drinking fountains are not currently in operation, and you will burn time quickly waiting to get water at food locations as there is no express line just for drinks.
-If you want to ride Full Throttle, Goliath, New Revolution, Superman, or West Coast Racers, ride them as early as possible as they have the lowest capacity due to pandemic restrictions and the queuing areas can be miserable. Save X2 for later in the day because it probably has the highest throughput at the moment.
If you're venturing out to the park and have any questions not answered above, feel free to ask! It was so nice to finally get back to a local park, and I can't wait for the rest of them to open over the next couple months.Tweet