Gatorland reopens after COVID-19 shuts down park for two months

Gatorland Orlando had previously asked to be included in phase two of the governor’s reopening plan

Hundreds of people lined up to show their support at Gatorland's reopening.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Gatorland reopened to park guests on Saturday after getting approval from the Governor and Orange County mayor earlier this week.

Mark McHugh, the park's president and CEO, said they were waiting for this day.

"I couldn't be happier, couldn't be happier. We've been working for two months to get to this day," McHugh said.

RELATED: Gatorland announces reopening date alongside Universal, other attractions

The theme park reopened for the first time Saturday morning since closing on March 18 due to COVID-19.

McHugh said people lined up outside the park an hour and a half before it was set to open. Park-goers were excited to be back, including annual pass holder Betty Forbes.

“I love to come every year in May to see the nesting birds. I thought I was going to miss it this year,” Forbes said.

The park got approval from Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Governor Ron DeSantis to reopen. McHugh said they submitted a 32-page policy manual outlines safety procedures for guests and employees.

Changes to the park include:

  • All queue lines at admissions, shows, rides, food venues and retail shops have been marked for safe physical distancing based on CDC guidelines;
  • The park itself, food venues, retail shops, all shows, and rides now have reduced capacities and seats to provide comfortable and safe social distancing;
  • Frequent and visible disinfection of all “touch” areas throughout the park;
  • All counters, tables and chairs at food venues are sanitized and cleaned after every guest;
  • All public areas throughout the entire park are thoroughly disinfected every night;
  • Over 100 additional handwashing and hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the park;
  • All employees are required to have their temperature checked before working and wear face masks at all times in the park;
  • By entering Gatorland, guests must agree that:
  • They do not have a fever, cough or other symptoms of COVID-19
  • Gatorland reserves the right to check their temperature if they exhibit symptoms
  • They will endeavor to maintain social distancing from other groups
  • They will frequently use handwashing and hand sanitizer stations
  • Guests are also encouraged to wear face masks.

Meghan Perry and her family are visiting from Massachusetts. She said they wanted to check out the park as soon as they found out it was reopening.

"It's nerve-wracking, but with social distancing and stuff I think everything will be fine," Perry said.

McHugh is hoping this is a sign of good things to come.

“I think that the tourism business is opening in a very safe, methodical manner and we’re hoping people start coming back,” he said.

Nearly a dozen other area attractions will seek approval for reopening from county leadership before plans are submitted to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

About the Author:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!