Theme Park of the Day: Legoland California

Should You Take Children to a Theme Park This Summer?

May 30, 2021, 11:09 AM · With theme parks across the country relaxing their Covid-19 prevention rules, many parents might be wondering if it is safe to bring their young children to a theme park this summer.

Safe, effective vaccinations are now protecting millions of Americans over age 12, clearing the way for theme parks and other destinations to resume more normal operations. But vaccinations are not yet approved and available for children under 12. That leaves kids potentially vulnerable as Covid infection rates remain high among non-vaccinated people in many communities. The lack of vaccines also means that kids can continue to be vectors for the spread of the disease and its many emerging variants.

Many theme parks are asking non-vaccinated guests to wear masks to help prevent Covid's spread. But it would be foolish for responsible parents to trust that all non-vaccinated people will abide by that request - especially when so many of the adults who have refused to get vaccinated also have been the trying to get out wearing masks during this pandemic. If a venue is not requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test for admission, one should continue to assume that there's higher risk you that will encounter a Covid-infected person there.

So how can you protect your children when people are not wearing masks and physical distancing is no longer being enforced?

Risk management is one of the reasons why we were supposed to learn math in school. The better you understand the probabilities involved, the more effectively you can judge the risk. An unvaccinated person - such as a child - will be safest at a destination that is either requiring proof of vaccination or negative Covid tests, or that is continuing to enforce safety measures such as mandatory mask usage and physical distancing. Beyond that, being outdoors is safer than being indoors, thanks to air circulation minimizing the risk of contracting this airborne virus. Moving around is better than remaining in one place, where you might have extended contact with an infected person. And visiting communities with low Covid infection rates is better than visiting communities where the disease is spreading faster.

All together, a theme park with all outdoor rides would probably be a relatively safe destination to visit this summer, especially in a state such as California where Covid rates remain low. Kids can further protect themselves by wearing an N95 or other high-quality, well-fitted, multi-layer mask during their visit. If you are worried about meal times, consider visiting the park just in the morning or the afternoon, then eating lunch and dinner somewhere you can remain away from people whom you do not know are safe to be around.

The judgment gets tricker at parks with many indoor attractions and restaurants, such as those found at Disney and Universal. If a crowded venue enforces mandatory mask use indoors - or requires proof of vaccination to take off a mask - that reduces risk. But having a bunch of unmasked people indoors somewhere where there's no required proof of vaccination increases it.

It's all probability, though, so there is no definitive answer here. Ultimately, it's up to parents to make a judgment call. Are you comfortable with your child's mask use protecting them indoors or in crowded outdoor places this summer? Or would you prefer to look for vacation destinations that are requiring proof or vaccination or negative Covid tests to reduce the risk of infection? Or do less-crowded destinations appeal more this summer, as you wait for the government to approve use of Covid vaccines for children under age 12? (That decision is expected this fall.)

I hope that all Theme Park Insider readers and theme park fans get vaccinated as soon as possible, so we can help make this question moot by putting Covid in the past. In the United States, vaccines are free and widely available to everyone ages 12 and older. They are safe and effective. Yes, the second-dose side effects can knock some people on their rear for a day, as their immune systems step up a gear. But it's easier now to get a second-dose appointment on a Friday or Saturday so that you've got the weekend to recover. And many states and communities are offering financial incentives to get vaccinated. (If I win California's big $1.5 million vaccine lottery, I will buy free Butterbeers for 1,000 guests at Universal Studios Hollywood one day, followed by free Dole Whips for 1,000 at Disneyland the next.)

I also hope that all parents soon will be able to get their kids vaccinated, as well. Don't listen to people who've been wrong about this pandemic from the beginning and who continue to insist that there's no need to get vaccinated or that there's no risk to kids. Less risk is not no risk, and parents have every right to hold off on a theme park visit this summer, if they think that is the safest thing for their family.

The parks will be there this Christmas and next year. And they'll be ever better than ever then, too.

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Replies (11)

May 30, 2021 at 11:24 AM

Beyond the obvious (being vaccinated, among other vaccinated people), Robert's point about community spread of the virus is (probably) the biggest factor to consider. The heading "Local conditions" in this article (https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-11-23/indoor-movie-theaters-safety-covid-pandemic) has some really good information. You can check out state positivity rates here (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/tracker/overview).

You'd prefer it to be in the 2-percent or lower (with adequate testing) to feel very comfortable. My personal opinion (and all the caveats that come with it) is that Florida is going to have a very hard time hitting that bar. Like Robert said, the theme parks will still be there next year. There's no shame in waiting and doing something else this summer. Maybe save up and do an even better vacation next year! One of the first stories I remember reading on this site was Robert's incredible reports back from Japan! Seems like a great trip, and worth waiting for!

May 30, 2021 at 11:33 AM

Another excellent article, thank you. Here's hoping Cali's numbers continue to drop and that more contagious variants are kept at bay, at least until under 12's can get the vaccine too.

May 30, 2021 at 12:31 PM

First off, if one really would ponder putting their child under 12 in a very heavy-duty N-95 mask (which has been used for years at my work when sanding metals and carbon fiber), one should really just stay home if your fear or health risk factors are that bad. Though I wear a normal, 3-ply disposable mask at my workplace throughout this pandemic, no way I could comfortable wearing an N-95 mask all day, and would not see a kid easily doing this.

This all said, my vaccinated teen daughter (she got the CV shot early thanks to having health issues), my vaccinated Mom (69 YO), and I (vaccinated too) did go to Universal Orlando and Sea World Orlando this past April and had an amazing time! The most weary I was about people standing too close without mask was honestly and weirdly at LAX airport in the terminal. We did not get sick, but we wore normal clean/ fresh masks as per the past mask rules, even ate indoors at least 12 times, and came home well. The vaccines work incredibly well... and even those who still catch CV after fully vaccinated the rate of hospitalization or death is miniscule. At this point I think people need to choose what works best for them and their sense of safety.

May 30, 2021 at 12:48 PM

I was surprised to see you allow comments on this, but I'm glad you did.

I am fully vaccinated. I still wear a mask, because I know I could contract the virus, have no symptoms at all due to the vaccine, but still spread the virus to others who are not vaccinated and using current rules to not wear masks knowing that nobody is checking.

But I'm getting to the point where I may stop wearing my own mask because unvaccinated people who aren't wearing masks have made their choice (and they are the same people I had to be the "mask police" for all the time, so they never cared about my safety -- and as I work in a casino with no restaurant, everyone in the casino is old enough to have received the vaccine -- I don't have any 11 year-olds at work who the vaccine has nt yet been approved). But I feel like a jerk for even considering this. Even my boss was surprised that I'm still wearing one , but I'm trying to look out for others (who never cared about my health pre-vaccine and got mad when I would remind them that masks were required).

Do I look out for others, or do I just let them take their chances? I haven't made that decision yet.

May 30, 2021 at 7:10 PM

@kenny i do think it's worth considering there *are* those who cannot get the vaccine due to underlying health concerns. that's part of the reason it's critical we reach a state of herd immunity. i know many people (the ones you mention, correctly!) have co-opted the phrase, but I'm with you — in very crowded areas, I do feel like it's "the right thing" to wear a mask to protect the most vulnerable until vaccinations are better distributed.

May 30, 2021 at 10:50 PM

Universal had a really sweet deal on 15 month annual passes packaged with a stay at Cabana Bay, so my wife bought them. We honestly thought that they would at least keep the mask requirements for indoor rides until the vaccine became available for most children (mine are 6 and 9). Very disappointed with their decision to drop the mask mandates, but I will just stick to Volcano Bay and IOA (mostly outdoors) until my kids can get vaccinated.

May 31, 2021 at 6:22 AM

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article. Great post I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this interesting and knowledgeable article
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May 31, 2021 at 11:01 AM

@digitalindia coming strong on the forums with lots of engaging theme park-related opinions baby!

May 31, 2021 at 8:39 PM

I don’t have kids, but I’ll be heading back since I’m vaccinated and won’t be wearing a mask if not required either. There’s just no reason to at this point, and the tiny risk that makes others continue to wear theirs is no worse than the risk of a cold or flu, which we don’t mask for

June 1, 2021 at 9:10 AM

Honestly, this is a much larger question that isn't just about COVID. You need to look at your kid's ability to adapt to a different theme park experience. I took my kids to Six Flags Great America on Sunday, and to put it mildly...it was a mess.

1) The park is woefully understaffed, and it really impacts the experience. Rides were understaffed, and had two people running roller coasters that traditionally have 3-4 employees. This really impacts wait times.

2) Being understaffed impacted the wait times for food...over 75 minutes was the average.

3) Using the mobile food ordering app was a disaster, and food pick up times were 30-45 minutes after the times you requested.

4) Ride maintenance was obviously not a priority in 2020. Maxx Force, the big 2019 addition, was down the entire day. The Great American Eagle was down numerous times during the day, as was Vertical Velocity, which pushed wait times to astronomical numbers across the entire park. They are not currently opening any of the water rides, which are capacity eaters. Without them, people have no where to go but the bigger thrill rides.

5) Overall, their app is a disaster. Their wait times on the app are not within a country mile of being accurate. The posted wait time for Justice League was 35 minutes, actual wait time...one hour and 55 minutes.

6) With reservations still required, we anticipated that there would be reduced capacity...the park was as full as I have ever seen it, and NO ONE was actually checking to make sure people actually had reservations. This is a different, required bar code, but the front gate personnel were not checking for reservations.

7) Finally, whatever your thoughts are about COVID, vaccinations, masks, etc.. Great America's policies are nonsensical. No masks required, except when riding a ride or in line for food. And enforcement was "spotty" at best. Often times not enforced, but we watched a ride controller kick four naval recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station off the Fiddler's Fling because one person in their party had their mask fly off. Not good optics on Memorial Day weekend, when the ride controller was surrounded by people sans-mask.

8) All in all...Six Flags seems woefully unprepared for what promises to be an extremely busy season. I know their corporate strategy is to sell memberships, but I am not sure how many people will be rushing back to renew, if there aren't significant improvements. The anger from guests was visible in food lines, ride lines, and across the parks. No one wants to wait 35 minutes to purchase a Diet Coke from a beverage cart.

June 1, 2021 at 10:34 AM

I strongly believe that you're taking a risk walking out your front door, and that the precautions many places are (or were) taking are more for show than for actual protection. In my opinion, any place requiring proof of vaccination is not any safer than a place relying on the honor system. If an unvaccinated person wants to go to a place that requires proof of vaccination, they will find a way, and without robust anti-counterfeiting measures on the CDC vaccination cards, requiring proof does not provide that much more safety than the honor system and individuals assuming that everyone around you in a public place has COVID. It's definitely easier to remain unvaccinated and travel to places not requiring proof, but I don't think requiring proof of vaccination substantially reduces the risk of coming in contact with an infectious person.

I think masking requirements are the best mitigation right now, but I also appreciate removing that burden from guests that are vaccinated, and allowing inoculated guests to walk around unmasked is an important incentive to increase vaccination rates.

As an unvaccinated person (or parent of a child under 12), you have to understand the risks in any situation. For my family (my wife and I are both vaccinated, but have an 11-year old son who's not yet eligible for the vaccine), we accept these risks, and are planning one big theme park trip this summer to the Southeastern US - the "belly of the beast" - and potentially a shorter trip up to Ohio along with regular visits to our local parks in the Mid-Atlantic. We plan to wear masks in public settings and do our best to keep space between us and other groups as well as not linger for long periods of time in indoor spaces. However, we understand that there may be spots where we may end up close to unmasked (and potentially unvaccinated) guests or in situations where we have no choice but to spend some time indoors with other unmasked individuals. However, we still feel that the benefits of our first vacation since January 2020 are absolutely worth those very insignificant risks. Yes, theme parks will still be there next year, but for a child (who just grew over 54" last summer and has been waiting patiently to the new world of rides that opened up to him) waiting another full year to have these seminal experiences would be more detrimental than the microscopic risk of contracting a severe form of COVID that could just as easily be picked up during one of his summer camps or soccer practice.

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