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Santa Cruz Boardwalk: California's Oldest Amusement Park is First to Open but Forced to Close One Week Later
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While indoor attractions remain closed, Santa Cruz Boardwalk's outdoor rides were open for thrills – but only for residents of Santa Cruz County. Reservations were made prior to 5 p.m. the day prior to attendance. Select outdoor rides were open the 7th and 8th   making the beach boardwalk attraction the first amusement park reopened in California during the pandemic.  One week later however, as the county moved into Tier 2 risk level, the park was forced to close again.

The midway rides that were open included the Sky Glider gondolas that traverse the boardwalk from above, the Fireball, Shockwave, Sky Glider and the Sea Swings,  which swoop out over the bay, as well as family-friendly kiddie rides such as the Kiddie Cruzers and Jet Copters, and the iconic wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. The new Lighthouse Liftoff was also open for attendees. There were two different reservation times available for park goers: from noon to 2 and 3 to 5 p.m. Ride purchases were made using a points system.

The park was built in 1907, and has a second distinction already to its name as both a state historic landmark and the oldest amusement park in the state. Santa Cruz County was the logical place to open an amusement park, as the county has entered the pandemic's orange tier, which allows small parks with under 15,000 in attendance to reopen at a 25 percent capacity, or 500 attendees per reservation time-period. While Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood are among those champing at the bit to reopen, large theme parks such as those will have to wait until the county in which they are located reaches the yellow tier, according to Governor Gavin Newsom's COVID-19 restrictions. As glad as Santa Cruz residents and Boardwalk staff are to open the boardwalk, many of the biggest theme parks in the state are not pleased at all, and are exploring legal action to reopen. The California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA) held a virtual conference at the end of October with theme park heads from Universal Studios, Disneyland, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Attendees expressed strongly that the state is “unfairly and unreasonably keeping large theme parks closed for the foreseeable future.”

The opening plan had outdoor rides open, but indoor attractions such as the carousel were closed. Boardwalk goers without reservations, including non-locals could access shopping and dining attractions, as well as mini-golf and bowling. The many dining options are also available to-go with curbside pick-up or delivery options. Every iconic seaside treat is available online, packaged and delivered to purchasers' cars. Delivery is available through Grubhub or Door Dash under the moniker Boardwalk Fun Foods. Both options have been highly successful for the park. Options are wide ranging: from Philly cheesesteaks at the World Grill & Beer Garden to corn dogs and artichoke hearts – a regional favorite – at Surf City Grill. On the dessert side, to-go options include a retro Freeze, funnel cakes, and saltwater taffy. The food options are available Tue-Thu 12pm–5pm and Fri-Sun 12pm–6pm.

The Buccaneer Bay Mini Golf and Boardwalk Bowl also reopened, and both were also open to everyone to enjoy, without the restrictions of the rides themselves. Attendees park-wide were required to mask and social distance from those outside their own home bubbles; distancing markers are on the ground at queue lines as well. There are hand sanitizing stations provided throughout the park; cleaning protocols have been increased as well.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes enthused that with boardwalk rides sitting unused since March, park staff were excited to get back to work, but safety protocols were firmly in place, stating that “The safety of our employees and guests will remain our top priority.” She added that “Our entire team has been working towards this day since before the Boardwalk first reopened food and retail locations in late May.”

Boardwalk admission was $25 for regular guests and free for season pass holders. But season pass holders must still make reservations, which can be placed only for the upcoming weekend, rather than for many weeks in advance. Reyes describes this policy as “like making a tee time.” This restriction assures that the Orange Tier remains in place prior to making a reservation.

To make sure that only Santa Cruz County residents purchase tickets for boardwalk rides, there was a three-step verification process in online purchasing. Those wishing to attend must acknowledge a residency disclaimer while setting up a reservation; purchasing was not allowed without a Santa Cruz County zip code in patrons' billing information. And, at the ticket office, staff members checked addresses on IDs when tickets are picked up. Reyes said that the Boardwalk staff realizes that some part-time residents, such as students, could experience some difficulty getting past the two last steps of this verification process, but the new system is required to follow COVID-19 guidelines. She added that anyone experiencing verification difficulty could speak to a guest services representative directly by phone; and that the boardwalk would accept a student ID as a form of verification.

The boardwalk was hopeful that rides could be open for non-Santa Cruz County residents once the county moves to Tier 4, but with the slide back to Tier 2 and the closing of the park, Tier 4 remains far off currently.  The park has planned for contingencies in moving back and forth between the Tiers and all are hopeful they will be able to assume operations shortly.  But for one weekend at least, residents got to experience the thrills and excitement of California's oldest amusement park once again
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