Thursday, July 2, 2020

Opening Weekend Review for 2020 (June 26-27th)

The last few months have been full of emotion for me, in February we were all looking forward to a new season, a month later… we were all left wondering if there would be a 2020 season at all. All the parks across the country were closed, including Universal Orlando and Disney World. Everything was closed. Then finally, hope sprung anew, Worlds of Fun followed the trend of several other parks across the country and announced an opening date, June 22nd.

Cannas out in the parking lot island.

For 22 years I have written opening day reviews, not every year, but most of them. Of course, I had to write an opening weekend review for this year too, but this year it’s for different reasons. 

Walking through the health screening.

There is a line in a movie I love that goes something like, one day we will wake up and be like every other team where winning is everything and nothing else matters, So someday, I will probably get back to writing and complaining about paint, flowers, and capacity but this opening weekend review won’t be it. 

Instead, I am going focus on our experience and hopefully, in 10 to 20 years we will all look back and will have the memory written down and preserved of what 2020 at Worlds of Fun was like. And maybe, just maybe, this will help someone today have an idea what a visit to Worlds of Fun is like these days so that they can decide to visit the park.

Jeff and I headed off to WOF Friday afternoon arriving around 2:15 pm. I had read that WOF was not doing temporal temperature checks as most parks are (forehead), but is scanning people remotely for temperatures instead. This type of measurement is the same style as what Disney is doing at Shanghai Disney, it was much faster that way, and both days it took only a few moments and we were on our way to the gate. Throughout the park, touch points are greatly reduced so at the gate you scan your own pass, and at retail locations, you scan your own credit cards.  

A couple of overall points, there are hand sanitizer stations all over the place, I counted them on the app which doesn’t even list those in the ride stations, and it's over 40 different spots, there are also hand sanitizers at each ride entrance and exit. Every bathroom has a bathroom attendant to clean the bathroom and control the flow of guests in and out of the bathrooms. There are disinfection crews that go around cleaning tabletops and benches throughout the park, and I almost felt bad for the park service employees they were looking for things to sweep up.  

Chickie and Pete's is all closed up.

Overall rides that are closed as of June 27, 2020, include Detonator, Cyclone Sam’s, Steelhawk, Fury of the Nile, Viking Voyager, Falcon’s Flight, Skyliner, Boomerang, Worlds of Fun Railroad and Ripcord. Every single ride at Planet Snoopy had a ride attendant, except for the small children’s boat ride (Peanut’s Yacht Club).  

The europa bathroom but they all have bathroom attendants like this.

Since the weather was still up in the air regarding possible thunderstorms I wanted to get the coasters out of the way first so we headed towards Prowler. I was very much impressed with overall landscaping, if you have seen my video I did at Busch Gardens Tampa about two weeks ago I noted that the landscaping looked like it had been left to its own devices for the last three months. Worlds of Fun’s most definitely did not. It overall looked like it's been cared for and has expanded on previous years' number of topiaries. Of course, the big addition to landscaping this year doesn’t seem to have been noticed by many and that is the fact that the Scandinavia entrance/International Plaza trees have all been replaced. Previously, the six trees in a circle were all the original Silver Maples, (except one that had been replaced about a decade ago due to storm damage). This offseason they were not only replaced but replaced with mature specimens, so we don’t have to wait around 4-5 seasons for the trees to provide shade again.  

Viking Voyager with the trees planted in 2016.

We found both Grand Carrousel and Fjord Fjarlene operational both days right at 11 am, Norma’s Funnel Cakes is also currently the only place to get funnel cakes in the park. A big change is that the park has finally and appears permanently closed up Chickie and Pete’s, or the restaurant that has been known as Smorbord, Inn of Four Winds, and All-Stars over the years.

Funnel Cakes on display at Norma's

Lucy at Tivoli Music Hall for social distancing photos.

Though there are no shows, there are several character photo stops around the park, allowing guests to take selfies with Peanut’s characters that are separated by 6-feet.  We saw them in three locations, one on the small stage by the candy shop in Scandinavia (by Voyager), in front of Tivoli and the last one is in Americana by the old Skeeball Hall. 

No more chipping wood or pealing paint on Voyager.

Moving onto Voyager, the trees that were replaced in 2016 have grown considerably and are now to the point of actually providing serious shade. In regards to Voyager, it appears the entire queue house has been re-painted and wood replaced, some of it was looking rather ragged the last few years, and while its the same color, it looks overall much nicer.

Nordic Chaser was not only running but received some work over the off season.

Voyager was not in operation as mentioned previously (and the boats are all AWOL), however Nordic Chaser, Scrambler, and Sea Dragon were all in operation on both Friday and Saturday. I noticed that the central boat for Nordic Chaser which had been appearing weathered last year received a great deal of work and the flags had been replaced around the ride.  

The RelaxZone by Sea Dragon.

Across from Scrambler and next to Sea Dragon was the first RelaxZone, or mask-free zone in the park, on the small dock area that used to have the remote control boats. I believe it also used to be a smoking area. Let me also add just in case people are wondering the RelaxZones are free to use, and there are a total of four including the one previously mentioned in Scandinavia, the second is the side patio by Moulin Rouge, the third is at Country Junction by Depot and the fourth is in Pigpen’s Petting Farm in Planet Snoopy.

Zulu was also running as we passed by heading to Prowler and when we turned the corner we saw that Prowler had a small line down the steps, lines appear longer due to the social distancing in effect for all the rides. I believe we ended up waiting about 10-15 minutes, they were running two trains but only loading every other row and we ended up waiting for the front row. There has been some talk about re-tracking on Prowler over the offseason, and there has been some track work that has had an overall positive impact on the ride experience.

Moroccan Merchant.

We next headed towards Mamba. We passed Gorilla Grill (I still call it Congo Clearing!) Which we noted was closed, and then stopped by Moroccan Merchant, in the past few seasons this has been the default clearance store. Moroccan Merchant isn’t the clearance store anymore, it's received a whole new African theme, complete with a giant black panther (in case you didn’t know that is the cat portrayed in Prowler’s logo), Prowler merchandise, a nice area devoted to Egyptian merchandise and a retro Fury of the Nile shirt. Overall, I love what they did with the shop. A couple of points regarding shops in general, all registers have plexiglass separating the employee from the guest and have separate doors for entrance and exit.  

Social Distancing in Prowler's line.

So normally at this point to get to Mamba we would turn left, head by Boomerang and Nile up the hill to Mamba. Only at this point, you can’t, the whole Casbah Game area, walkway past Boomerang and Nile is completely closed off. So to get to Mamba you have to head up to Europa and cross the train tracks to Forum road. We passed the floral clock which looks nice once again, and up the hill to Europa.  


The second RelaxZone (mask-free) area is right up the hill next to Moulin Rouge, again nice and shade covered. With Moroccan Merchant giving up its discount store merchandise it looks like that distinction now belongs to Deja Vu which was advertising buy one shirt get one free and 50% off all cups/shot glasses etc. They have some of the older retro merchandise there and lots of good options when I checked.  

Buy one Get one free at Deja Vu.

Second RelaxZone by Moulin Rouge.

On Saturday we came back and rode Le Taxi Tour, but it was operating both days. Pretty much same reliable ride, very minimal wait. (five minutes?) I did also ride Flying Dutchman, another of WOF’s original rides on Friday too. They were assigning boats when I got on, one change I noticed is that there are two separate seat belts in each boat, I remember when they added seatbelts years ago (when I originally rode it it didn’t have seatbelts at all), but I thought those were just one belt for each boat. Looks like they changed it sometime recently.  

There were lots of new little topiaries throughout Europa, a bull in front of Taxi’s, which also appeared in a re-built center garden area. The park had also removed the bushes in front of “Le Them Eat Cake” (aka Paisano’s Pizza/Pizza Patio/International Cafe) and planted a few flower topiaries in front of it now. It opens up the area a bit.

Social Distancing at Le Taxi Tour's queue line.

Falcon’s Flight was another ride that is listed on the non-operational list at this point, but Autobahn across from it was operational running eight cars. There was one time we passed on Friday afternoon when the ambassador for Autobahn was just standing there waiting for riders! That was a first.

This walkway was opened up about half through last season, and had been closed off for decades.  Its open again while the train isn't in operation as it crosses the train tracks.

So we headed up the train crossing road that crosses directly between Flying Dutchman and Falcon’s Flight and leads to Forum Road.

A quick comment on the train before anyone asks… no, we don’t know when the train will be back. From what I have heard the plans are still for this season. What I can tell you is that I know for a fact work is progressing on Levi right now. 

Trellis over the patio by Oasis (old Mummy's Yummy's)

You can see the work occurring on the turntable of Nile.

To clear up the confusion I use old terminology for the walkway between Africa and Americana and call it Forum Road, named for the theater’s original name, the Forum Amphitheater. So we took Forum road back towards Africa. The blocked off walkway starts right on the hillside up from Nile’s entrance, the patio up on the hill is also closed off. You can however see Nile’s loading area across from Coasters like normal. There has been a bit of work to Nile that hasn’t been noted by anyone. It appears all the boards on the vertical conveyor belt have all been replaced, as well as there has been some work replacing boards on the turntable itself. An interesting factoid is that Nile was the first rapids ride ever to use the turntable loading system.  A big difference that I noted between Nile and Voyager was that Nile had 16 boats in its holding area, like it was about ready to go, while Voyager didn’t have any of its boats visible.

We checked out Coasters since it is one of only five full-service restaurants open at the park this weekend (the others include Subway, Cotton Blossom BBQ, Gold Rush Pizza and Just Pizza in Scandinavia). There have been two changes I noticed to its menu this year, they added a Beyond Burger (non-meat) to its menu, and yes its included in the dining plan! Two, they added a new shake the Coasters Rockin’ Shake, served in a plastic Worlds of Fun mug, its available in strawberry or chocolate, comes with whipped cream, cookie, candy straw, and cherry. Yes, it tasted VERY good. Yes, I bought it specifically for the collectible cup.  

Someone asked if there were any current roller coasters were you walk under the track in the queue line, like you did with Orient Express.  

So we make it to Mamba. I believe all in all we waited maybe five minutes for Mamba and again that was for row 3 car 1, it would have been a walk-on had we just picked any seat. I do think that it's an overall different experience with a half-full train, and reminds me a lot of test riding it, in that it feels more like its direct ancestor, the Arrow Mine Train. I still love you Mamba. It DOES need a paint job though.

Third RelaxZone at Country Junction Theater in Americana.

After Mamba we headed back to Americana, the third RelaxZone is at Country Junction theater, again a nice shaded spot, and probably the largest spot, easy to spread out. Detonator was another one of the rides on the non-operational list, one thing I noticed on it though was it and Steelhawk too had stickers designating seats that are unavailable due to social distancing. It makes me think that there are certain rides, like Detonator that they are planning on having open sooner rather than later. Sam’s on the other hand right around the corner had a fence in front of its doorway, and though the park hasn’t made any official statement I do believe of all the rides down right now it, by the very nature that it’s an indoor ride, will probably be one of the last to open.

You can just barely see the Social Distancing stickers on Detonator's seats.

We didn’t head up into Planet Snoopy until later on Saturday but when we did I noticed almost all rides up there in operation. The drink stand also in Planet Snoopy and the one in front of Detonator were staffed and open. The only ride in Planet Snoopy that was not in operation was Peanut’s Yacht Club the old circular boat ride. What I half expected was that the park would do a Six Flags, and have one ride operator cycle around various rides, but instead, they still have one ride operator to each ride, allowing them all the to operate at once. The Snoopy Boutique store and theater were the only major attractions that were closed, and I also noticed fences around the various Snoopy figures around the area to prevent touching of surfaces and prevent spread. Many of the kids' rides did have social distancing stickers on them with seats closed off to allow for distance between riders just like the bigger rides.

The third RelaxZone is in Planet Snoopy and is in the old Peanut’s Playhouse/PigPens Petting Farm structure. There are benches that surround the interior walls, allowing places for people to sit down but still social distance themselves.

4th RelazZone at Planet Snoopy.
Heading back to Americana we found Mustang Runner which was also in operation both days. Across from it, Blue Bronco/Prospectors’s was closed but Gold Rush Pizza (Old Vittle Griddle) was open. It appears that both it and Gorilla Grill either kept their enclosed exteriors from Winterfest (my thought) or had new enclosures added (Jeff’s thought). Either way, the ordering counter is now enclosed, but seating is still outside, yet covered as it has always been.

This is one of those things I am not entirely sure of when it changed, but I know the last time the train operated those chains weren't covered.  I don't know if its added so they can easily clean them or what but it's a small change I noticed.  I still think its hilarious how the bar sign still points at the train!

We next headed over to Timber Wolf, which was the only coaster operating only one train both Friday and Saturday. Like all the coasters it was only loading every other row for social distancing, the good news here is that the open rows are the good rows anyway. We decided to ride in the front row of the second car. Before being able to board though the crew disinfected the train while we waited, a process that took about five minutes from spraying everything down to running it once around empty to dry it out. During the time waiting I spent thinking how much history that one little station has, it has been home to two different coasters, (three if you count EXT stand up as a separate coaster experience), plus it has the Orient Express chicken exit sign. Though the old “futuristic” lights are gone, the loading gates still don’t line up to the Timber Wolf train. That’s not a negative, to me it’s frickin’ awesome.

Old Orient Express Chicken Exit sign

So onto the ride. First, the trains have received new foot pedals for unlocking restraints manually, a nice addition as many can remember sitting stuck in the seat while the ambassador had to jimmy it open the old fashioned way. Onto the ride, overall the sections of the coaster that have been re-tracked are so far holding up well, I had some good airtime after the first drop. What struck me though was that the final 180-degree turn, the turn I have not so affectionately termed in the past as the “jackhammer turn”. Well, it is no longer the jackhammer turn. While not a long piece of track it makes a definite difference in the ride experience. Now if only we can turn down the trim brakes amiright?

No surprise that bicentennial square has now been completely fenced off (that happened last year), the entrance to the old Skeeball Hall is now a character meet-and-greet, social distancing style, in that you can get a selfie with Charlie Brown, Sally, etc. The topiary liberty bell is also out once again for the season, yet another pleasant surprise.

Steelhawk with the evacuation system partially in place.

You can see the "this seat closed" Social Isolation stickers on various seats.

Steelhawk is another ride that is not currently operational, interesting enough it had its ride evacuation system partially set up, something I had heard about but never actually seen. What makes me think though that Steelhawk might be in line for operational status is that like Detonator, every other seat had its “this seat is closed for social distancing” sticker applied.  

Patriot looks FRICKIN' AWESOME with its new paint.

On Friday we stopped at Cotton Blossom BBQ for lunch, it still offers some of the best food options located in the park. Most of the options remain the same from last year, however, it appears they have switched out the Brussel sprouts for fresh green beans. I stuck with the macaroni and cheese. I also learned something new, you can get bread with each meal but you have to ask for it.

The line for Patriot on Saturday made it down to the lower queue.

Patriot was next door and though I used to ride it, looping coasters have started bothering me recently so I don’t ride loopers anymore, Jeff also didn’t feel like riding it (weird). However, it was running two trains both days, and of course, the ride was re-painted in the offseason and looks AMAZING. I still can’t get over that Tik Tok video of the guy painting that perfect white line freehand… seriously that is talent. Patriot was really in need of a paint job, and it looks just as good as it did when it opened fourteen years ago. Crazy.

Another update I haven’t seen mentioned much is that the wood plank trim around the Ripcord lake appears to have been all replaced. Judging by the fact that the Ripcord dock still has a pile of wood next to it I would imagine it might still be a work in progress.  

Timber Wolf merch at Front Street Emporium.

Front Street area looks also pretty fabulous, trees are growing in very nicely I think and I believe that the area will provide some very nice shade in just a few more years. One aspect I don’t think they planned on doing permanently but I think looks good enough to keep permanent is the spacing of the umbrella tables. Several dozen tables were added last year as expanded seating for Cotton Blossom BBQ, these same tables, probably because they were too close together for social distancing were spread out this year both around the Front Street fountain and the walkway to Patriot. I like it spread out, it has a very park-like, sociable atmosphere to it.  

Walkway closed at Skyliner.

I discussed earlier the walkway in Africa between Boomerang and Nile being closed, the other walkway closed off was the one from Skyliner to the Orient. Skyliner is also closed at this point.  

So moving onto the Orient. I have to say I think the Orient section just keeps getting better and better, its the smallest section but I don’t think there is any doubt that it carries the theme the best of any of the five themed areas of the park. The bamboo which was cut back last year has grown back in abandon, It looks very nice. The pond area has new red and yellow lanterns and the pond itself has been stocked with koi fish, along with two new small bubbling fountains.  

Panda Express was also not open, but has received a small update in the way of new queue line fencing, most likely a necessary attempt to control the line, it also adds a nice theming detail to the restaurant itself. A nice touch. Spinning Dragons continues to have its grass center island, an update added last year.  

Bamboozler was also running, and it too has received some cosmetic updates specifically to its ride pad which has been downsized (since it was originally built for the larger footprint of the Oriental Octopus), the exit has been moved to the side near the bathrooms, and the old exit has been turned into a beautiful new topiary garden.

I love these, but I almost didn't notice them as they are above eye level at Richshaw Richard's.

Rickshaw Richard’s hasn’t changed a whole lot, maybe with a few subtle theming additions added (I almost missed the Chinese Dragons by the entranceway, those are far too cool to be stuck up above your head). The merchandise is still an eclectic mix of 80’s retro, Star Wars, and Harry Potter mix. 

Plexiglass now separates the retail ambassador for guests.

Crossing the Scandi/Orient bridge that brings us back to the entrance. A quick note on the Torii gate, still totally awesome. Some may comment the paint is drastically pealing, it is, but not for the reasons you would think. I honestly believe its because the sanitizer spray is causing the paint to peel, this has happened on the train at Busch Gardens too. Something about the chemical similarities to paint remover.  

A few days before the trip I read how Cedar Point had restored one of its old band organs, so it made me think about Worlds of Fun’s, the one that was restored in 2011. Let me tell you, it sounded great this weekend, for those not familiar with band organs, they truly prove the genius of early 20th century “technology”, accomplishing so much with so little.

So overall opinion? We had a great time. I think sometimes the world needs just a bit of bad news to make you realize and truly appreciate what you have, and how much you miss it when it’s gone. I know one of my highest priority points was getting to rides I hadn’t ridden in years, not because I was scared to ride them but I think I had just maybe gotten too familiar with them always being there. I haven’t ridden Scrambler since it was Americana, I haven’t ridden Fjord Fjarlene since Rockin’ Reeler was still around, I haven’t ridden more than one coaster a visit since I can’t remember when. I probably rode more rides in those two days then I had in the whole prior season combined. I will always remember riding Scrambler as a kid with its tube lights and Worlds of Fun rainbow color scheme, now I will always remember riding Scrambler as a err… much older kid, getting squished like a pancake, yes you know who you are.

One point is true, 2020 will never be looked back upon as a normal year. Sometimes it's easy to forget what happened what year, which will most definitely not be the case this year! It was the year the Chief’s won the Superbowl, it was the year Worlds of Fun’s season started the latest in its 47 years of existence, at the end of June, The year we got Ambassadors back, the year we all rode coasters with masks on… I have made so many trips to Worlds of Fun over the years, but for some reason, I don’t think I will ever forget this one, it was just so joyful to be back. And that’s the point. Out of everything that has happened so far this year… I want to remember going to Worlds of Fun, if that’s the highlight, then well at least its a highlight, a wonderful memory that I have that can never be erased. I can’t wait to see everyone at the park!