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Six Flags is reaching back to a beloved tradition at its Wild Safari park in New Jersey in an effort to resume operations in the age of the coronavirus.
For some 40 years, families, animal lovers and thrill-seekers took to their cars to drive through the Wild Safri park. But in 2013 the park banned cars and guests in favor of open-air group vehicles driven by Six Flags staff. Now those vehicles have been shelved in favor of personal cars and social distancing.
In a statement, the company said the safari is now "designed to be contact free" to ensure customer safety. In addition by "requiring advance reservations, we can regulate the amount of cars visiting the safari each day to ensure proper social distancing and eliminate overcrowding.”
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Six Flags' sister parks in New Jersey -- Great Adventure and Hurricane Harbor -- will remain closed. They were slated to open part-time in April and seven days a week on May 21. Many of Six Flags' 26 parks around the world operate seasonally but in recent years some have moved to remain open all year long, such as Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to rethink the way they operate, hence Six Flags’ taking a page out of its old playbook.
The park will now offer guests a self-guided experience through 1,200 exotic animals from six continents that spans 350 acres and 11 simulated natural habitats.
From 1974 through 2012 more than 10 million guests experienced the safari this way, but the company changed the format to guarantee guests would comply with safety protocols, like not stopping their cars for too long.
Six Flags shut all its theme parks in mid-March amid the COVID-19 outbreak but opted to reopen the Jackson, New Jersey, safari when Gov. Phil Murphy lifted restrictions on drive-through and in-car gatherings, a park spokesperson told FOX Business. Now, as the park reopens, and with social-distancing measures in place across the U.S., officials are aiming for the safest option. The park earlier this week also said it would re-open its Frontier City theme park in Oklahoma City at a limited capacity and with safety measures.
Under the "new" old rules, safari-goers must keep their windows rolled up and doors shut. Feeding or touching animals is forbidden, all cars will be inspected before entering and rules will be enforced by park staff.
Anyone who violates the rules will be ejected without a refund and possibly prosecuted.
Six Flags will also screen employees’ temperatures each day and require staff to wear masks and gloves where appropriate. No additional services will be offered, so the company advises guests to plan accordingly for bathroom breaks, gas and food.
A full list of safety requirements is available on the park’s website. Six Flags’ shares were down more than 4 percent at market close Friday and more than 53 percent on the year.
The company did not say when the remainder of its theme parks would open but said on its website that, following local and regional COVID-19 health directives, it will ”open as soon as it is safe to do so. While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the properties, the safety of our guests, team members, and animals is always our highest priority. We will continue to closely monitor this evolving situation, and follow the most current guidance from federal, state, and local officials.”