By Bill Clevlen
Across Missouri, locals and visitors alike are seeking some sense of normal in, what is left of, a tumultuous 2020. While many of Missouri’s most popular attractions shut down during the spring months, most are now open with new safety procedures in place.
I would say most people have shaken off the fears of COVID-19 and are anxious to simply get out of their houses, just as I predicted in the last issue of MM&E. From the Gateway Arch, to Fantastic Caverns, there are signs of life again in the Show-Me State.
Crowded Attractions at Limited Capacity
Last month, on one of the hottest days of the year, I drove by the Saint Louis Zoo and saw a completely full parking lot in Forest Park. With a new reservation policy in place to keep track of the crowd size, and guests required to wear masks, visitors still came in droves – despite the sweltering heat. Many people seem to be over virtual functions and are ready to experience face-to-face gathering again, after months of being told to stay home.
Saint Louis Union Station, which had just reopened to the public after major renovations in January, was left reeling with the local shutdown orders. Now that the property’s attractions, such as the Saint Louis Wheel and Saint Louis Aquarium, are back open, guests do not appear to be afraid to visit.
“We have taken concrete steps to ensure the safety of our guests” says Nancy Milton, public relations manager for Union Station. She noted that “each guest has their temperature taken, masks are required, and hand sanitizer is readily available.” The Saint Louis Aquarium has also implemented a reservation system to maintain safe crowd sizes.
In addition, the City Museum in Saint Louis, one of Missouri’s most popular tourist attractions, has reopened with new guidelines for guests. Masks are required for anyone over the age of nine, and a special five-person cleaning crew is on-hand during business hours to constantly keep surfaces as sanitized as possible.
Large Attractions, Large Policy Revamping
The state’s larger attractions in Springfield and Branson have pivoted much easier to new guidelines that require guests to spread out. For example, Dolly Parton’s Stampede in Branson has cut capacity in half and can separate each party six feet apart. Many wineries in Missouri have also reopened with the ability to easily encourage distance between visitors.
Wonders of Wildlife, one of Missouri’s top tourist attractions located in Springfield, opened its doors in late May, and it implemented new procedures for visitors such as reserving timed tickets to increase physical distancing and touchless transactions. Team members routinely wipe down frequently touched areas to minimize the spread of germs. And while group events can still be booked, the maximum number of guests is capped at ten, with tables spread at least six feet apart.
Silver Dollar City is one of the Missouri theme parks back in business with new safety guidelines in place. Silver Dollar City, along with Six Flags in Saint Louis and Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, all require guests to wear masks while in the park. Special attention is also given to close-contact zones, such as roller coasters, where guests will notice empty seats as a buffer zone between other riders. And in July, a Japanese theme park implemented a “no screaming” rule for all rollercoaster riders. So far, it appears that theme parks here agree that is a bit over the top.
Not All Attractions Have Bounced Back
Many of the hands-on features we have come to enjoy at museums in Missouri have halted for the time being. Though the CDC updated its guidelines to note that COVID-19 does not easily spread on surfaces, many museums have disabled kiosks and interactive video screens altogether. The National World War I Museum in Kansas City is one of those museums. They have also closed off exhibit spaces where social distancing is less likely. Its observation tower and small gallery spaces are currently closed to the public.
Unfortunately, some popular attractions remain closed. Hallmark’s Visitor Center, Grant’s Farm, Anheuser-Busch tours, and Warm Springs Ranch are among the attractions that have yet to make an announcement about opening back up in 2020. But for all of the places back in business, the general consensus is that the public is taking it all in stride.
“Our visitors are settling into a new groove,” says Sarah Sims, Director of Visitor Engagement and Accessibility at the Missouri Historical Society. “Internal surveys show visitors feel very comfortable visiting us again. Guests also have found staff to be very helpful and appreciated the increased sanitizing stations, the floor markings to encourage distancing, the low building capacity, and were overall grateful and impressed by the safety measures implemented.”
Bill Clevlen is a contributing writer from St. Louis.