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San Antonio's Morgans Wonderland Reopens to the Public after Pandemic Hiatus
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Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas spent months preparing for its opening today, March 5th.  The park that describes itself as one where “everyone can play regardless of age or ability and free of economic barriers” remains a special place indeed.

The 25 acres park is committed to being accessible to all, and as it enters its 12th season, despite the pandemic, that has not changed.  Tickets must now be purchased online prior to a visit, and water fountains will be closed, but bottle refill stations are open with bringing one's own bottle is encouraged.  Masks are also a required part of the reopening park, for guests over the age of 3.

According to park general manager Jessica Lizardo, guests will also be required to practice physical-distancing, consume food and snacks in designated areas and use hand-sanitizing stations now positioned throughout the park.  And there will be capacity limits on the number admitted park guests daily, she asserts.

She explains that staff members will also undergo health screenings and temperature checks daily, wear masks, limit time spent indoors, and follow physical-distancing guidelines.  They are also responsible for wiping down high-touch surfaces with disinfectant and using hand-sanitizing stations after guest transactions.  But these changes are a small price to pay for reopening.  The park continues to fill a big need as the first theme park designed to include special-needs guests.  Opened in 2010, that park has always paid the highest attention to guest and staff safety and health, and is currently adhering to all CDC guidelines in reopening.  Today, Lizardo says, “We can't wait for the return of guests to Morgan's Wonderland, but we want to do so in the safest way possible.”

Founder Gordon Hartman named the park for his daughter Morgan after a family vacation in 2005.  Then 12, his special-needs daughter experienced difficulties joining in with the play of other children in a pool, which led to a motivational moment for Hartman.  Selling his real estate development company, mortgage company, title company and insurance company, he began The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation to help people with special needs and establish a theme park accessible to everyone. Donations raised $36 million.

Today, the park's guests range from seriously ill children to “typical” families.  What makes it different from traditional theme parks are: no flashing/strobe lights, fluorescent lights, no balloons which can startle with noise, and easy, wheelchair accessible ride options throughout the entire park, such as wheelchair accessible swings, Ferris Wheel, train, and merry-go-round.  Families are also allowed to bring in their own food to accommodate special diets.

Admission is free for any special needs guests; donations help keep the park afloat.  A third of all park employees are also special needs; and the park design was created so that absolutely any guest, regardless of disability, could ride.  Rides are generally calmer and gentler in operating protocol than at typical theme parks, with special platforms for wheelchairs on the carousel ride and tie downs on the swings.

Perhaps best of all, while not offering an intense “thrill ride” experience, kids and families can nonetheless enjoy plenty of fun.  The merry-go-round has a chariot that allows kids to go up and down in their wheelchairs, rather than just sitting in place; the swings allow both riders in wheelchairs and those without to ride together.

Park areas include a sensory garden with interactive videos and a “grocery shopping” experience for kids; three playgrounds, one pirate themed, one sand play area, and one with a butterfly themed play area; a wharf area that includes catch and release fishing; a car track “off road adventure” ride; and a train ride as well as the swings, carousel, and Ferris Wheel.  The park has 15 attractions in all.

The park's most recent addition is a fully accessible water and splash park including wheelchair accommodating water rides, which opened its doors in 2017.  The waterpark, Morgan's Inspiration Island, does not yet have an opening date set for 2021, but a summer reopening is planned.  Inspiration Island has five splash pad playgrounds, one of them, Rainbow Reef, with warm water.  Calypso Cove includes playable, chime-like music features with water play. Surfing and shipwreck themed water attractions are also a part of the park, as is Harvey's Hideaway Bay, with jungle theming and a 200-gallon dumping water bucket on top, as well as a special small-kids kid's fort area.

Throughout the water play park, there are water geysers and buckets as well as spraying sea horses, with each water feature equipped with handles that control the strength of water.  Individuals with ventilators can use special bags to keep them dry.  The park also has extra safety features such as complimentary waterproof wheelchairs in three different sizes and waterproof RFID wristbands to help parents keep track of their children.

But while the park accommodates all, it is not limited to special needs guests, with 2021 admission rates for guests who are not special needs priced at a maximum of $17 per person for adults.

While two years ago, the park began hosting Summer Special Olympic Games, that event will be postponed this year due to the ongoing pandemic, according to Morgan's Wonderland Inclusion Foundation CEO Ron Morander.  For now, he is just glad the park itself, closed for almost a year, is reopened.
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