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Wartime Travel

Is it OK to Visit Theme Parks?


Updated March 25, 2003
With the prime season just around the corner, U.S. theme parks and amusement parks, already reeling from a crummy economy and post-9/11 anxiety, are bracing for more hard times as the war in Iraq unfolds.

Wartime brings uncertainty and apprehension as it poses questions and concerns for people thinking about going to theme parks. Amid heightened U.S. Homeland Security advisories, are parks safe? Is it appropriate to have fun at theme parks and amusement parks during a war?

Citing lowered passenger traffic since the start of the war, the major airlines have reduced flights and are considering employee layoffs. This would seem to indicate that destination theme parks, such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, might face another round of turnstile woes, at least in the short term. A protracted war could wreak havoc with attendance.

What about safety?

Should vacationers and day-trippers postpone or cancel their theme park plans? Safety concerns are among the likely factors that could sway a decision. But officials insist that their parks are, indeed, safe. A Disney spokesperson says that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are working with federal, state, and local authorities to formulate and refine security plans. "Visitors should feel comfortable," the spokesperson says.

As with most venues that attract large crowds, the major theme parks have established screening procedures at their gates. Visitors should expect to walk through metal detectors and/or have their bags searched. Those are the most visible security measures. Park reps say that they have also developed behind-the-scenes processes and procedures to assure guest safety.

Is it appropriate to go on vacation?

Beyond safety issues, is it right to hop aboard Dumbo with a war raging? It's a personal issue with no easy answer. Some might argue that these are somber times and our attention should be focused on the war. Others could counter that an escape into the fantasy world of theme parks would provide a needed respite from the war's harsh reality. If you fall into the latter camp, you should be able to find some good deals on airfare, hotels, and park discounts from vendors anxious to attract customers. It's also likely that attraction lines will be unseasonably manageable.

If you decide to take a theme park vacation, keep a few things in mind:

  • If you change your mind and decide you don't want to follow through with your vacation plans, most airlines and hotel chains have relaxed their cancellation and rescheduling policies and will offer full refunds or make changes without penalties. Check the details before you book your trip.
  • Don't take pocketknives, nail clippers, or any of the items that wouldn't pass muster at the airport to theme parks. They have similar security procedures.
  • Allow extra time at the airport and theme parks for security checks.

Seasonal parks, those that typically attract visitors arriving by car, may see less of an impact from the war. Cindy Sarko, spokesperson for Busch Gardens Williamsburg, says that that while she has no idea what affect the war will ultimately have on attendance, the opening weekend was "business as usual." As to whether it is appropriate to visit a theme park during wartime, she says, "guests are coming and connecting as a family. Theme parks are wonderful places to spend quality time. If we can help families have some fun in these troubled times, that's great."

Take the poll. Would you visit a park now?

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