Regular readers will know that I planned a tour of UK theme parks for my birthday last week. As promised, here is the trip report.
I want to start with my conclusions. More detailed information will follow. There will be pictures.
The headline is this: After over a year of non-stop COVID horror, and after four months of what felt like an interminable and brutal lockdown that sometimes pushed me to the edge, it was awesome to get away. And — here’s the key take-home — it felt like COVID was over. That last point might be a little controversial: I’ll explain.
In the UK we have not had the kind of super-strict mask mandates that some states in the US have had. You don’t in general have to wear a mask outdoors. For the last four months wearing a mask indoors hasn’t been much of a thing because there have been no indoors to go to, other than your own house. Oh, and essential shops, i.e. supermarkets, which have been very hot on COVID regulation. But I get everything delivered, so shops haven’t been a thing for me.
We are now at Stage 2 — which means that, for example, theme parks have reopened, but only outdoor attractions, though the rules are a bit confusing, perhaps. BTMR and Splash would be OK, but not Space. NRJ would be OK, but not FOP. It’s to do with where the queue is and how socially distanced the ride is. Masks have to be worn on rides (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when the ride is one like BTMR — how much COVID transmission can there be?) but not necessarily in queues, and not when wandering around. All eating and drinking must be outdoors, but there are no mask requirements and you can saunter around nursing a Frappuccino if you want to. It helps that the two parks I visited are much more open and spread out than the WDW and UOR parks: you don’t so much have rides right next to each other (like in Fantasyland).
So for the first time since December, I was able to get in my car and drive out of my home town. I was able to check into an Airbnb (but not a hotel — those are still closed). I was able to go to a theme park (two, actually). And I was able to stay in a self-contained cabin. I felt free. Sure there were points where I had to wear a mask, and times when I forgot I was wearing one so that I was doing so even though I didn’t have to. And there was some hand-sanitising going on. And they weren’t necessarily filling all the seats on the rides. But — honestly — it felt like pre-COVID. It was great.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any political opposition to mask-wearing. But I did feel perhaps a little complacent about the facts that (a) I’ve had the first vaccine shot, and (b) the UK COVID numbers are looking pretty good right now.
I also chose to take my trip mid-week, when most people are at work and most kids are at school. Theme park number one was virtually empty. Social distancing was not only possible, but pretty much impossible to avoid! (From what I’ve seen online, weekends are a very different experience.) Theme park number two was busier, but social distancing was still very easy. And mask-compliance was great. At no point did I feel unsafe. (As I did — though only once — during my DLP trip when I left the line for HM because I felt people were crowding too much.) Where there were lines, barriers had been erected — sometimes plexiglass, sometimes more imaginative extensions to the existing theming. At theme park number two, I had the equivalent of Express Pass, so that I never waited in lines anyway.
I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but it sure was nice to forget about COVID for three days and just have some damned fun.
(More generally, in the UK, COVID is fading a little from public consciousness. Our news bulletins are no longer wall-to-wall COVID. After four dreary years of all Brexit all the time, followed by all COVID all the time, it’s been such a relief to get back to political scandals and soccer dramas. I imagine you must feel something similar now that the 45th president is no longer in the news all day every day.)
Oh, yeah. The reason for my hilarious thread title will become apparent when I get to the main trip report itself. For now, I’m checking out. Back later.