SeaWorld San Diego reopened on Aug. 28. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego.

SeaWorld San Diego reopened on Aug. 28. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego.

After being closed for almost six months due to the coronavirus pandemic, SeaWorld Entertainment reopened SeaWorld San Diego on Sunday, Aug. 28, at limited capacity and for a limited time for now.

By way of a new experience dubbed “Zoo Days: Bayside BBQ & Brews”, the park will allow guests back to the park three days a week, Fridays to Sundays as well as Labor Day, until Sept. 27.

The goal is to encourage visitors to explore outdoor animal exhibits and marine life presentations while enjoying over 50 craft brew options and select wines as well as chef created BBQ dishes. This includes food items like beer-infused BBQ brisket sliders, shrimp tacos, grilled fish, Impossible burgers and German Bratwurst and will be available at all onsite restaurants.

Although rides will remain closed for safety precautions as well as all indoor animal structures, guests can roam 40 acres of park grounds and view open-air exhibits with animals and attend live educational presentations with physically distant seating. The hope is that if the activation has a good turn out this first month, park officials will extend the deadline, continue to increase guest count and bring more employees back.

New Way to Visit SeaWorld

“This is a completely new and different way to visit SeaWorld, with the difference being you make a reservation and buy an all-inclusive lanyard,” said Marilyn Hannes, president of SeaWorld San Diego. “The company has been opening parks since June, so, we had the benefit of examining those company practices. Our goal is to show that despite the limitations and new procedures, it is not overwhelming. This is still SeaWorld and you can still come by and have a safe, fun day out via this new outdoor experience.”

The lanyards will sell for $75 for adults and $65 for kids (members pay between $20-$30) and will include six drinks and food items, available throughout the park. All restaurants and gift shops are open, she said. For an additional price, attendees can also engage in interactive experiences like Dolphin Encounter, Sea Lion Feeding and Ray Feeding.

25%-30% of Typical Guest Count

Twenty-five to 30% of typical guests will be allowed in the park, said Hannes, adding that 100 employees have been brought back for now. While reservations, which opened on Aug. 24 online, have been scant so far, she hopes getting the word out will entice San Diegans to come by for the new and innovative activation.

“Reservations launched just a couple of days ago and it’s a new process for people,” she said, “but we are encouraged and hope to continue to get reservations over the next few days.”

Accredited Zoo

SeaWorld is a licensed, permitted and accredited zoo and will operate with enhanced health and safety protocols. This includes cleaning and sanitizing, physical distancing, face covering requirements and temperature screenings.

For example, Lisa Aiu, vice president of operations, said the maintenance crew has been using backpack foggers to disinfect the park. Over at the sea lions feeding area, they’ve put markers up that say “high touch areas,” so that guests are aware before placing their hands there. And, at the Dolphin Stadium, there are markers to encourage groups to sit six feet apart and every other row is being skipped as an added precaution.

300 Animals

While closed, SeaWorld San Diego made the best of its downtime, said Hannes. Aside from preparing to open and enhancing cleaning procedures, it rescued over 300 animals since March, said Hannes. Elsewhere, it created rest areas, said Hannes, particularly one by the bay, where folks can sit apart and enjoy the waterfront views while taking a break from their masks.

Like other theme parks across the country, SeaWorld closed its 12 parks nationwide on March 16 amid lockdown. SeaWorld San Diego is the 10th location to reopen since then and one of the largest for the enterprise, joining other parks in Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.