Social Distancing at Knott's
Since everyone has been asking, here are some of my thoughts on the opening night of #TasteofCalico at Knotts Berry Farm, my first visit back within the gates of a theme park since the COVID-19 closures. First of all, it was nice to be back inside the Farm. I was discussing how Knott's should do something similar to this a few weeks ago with friends, so it was like they heard me from 30 miles away! Of course going last night during this pandemic came with a slight sense of guilt, and a lot of fear. I debated whether to go or not, despite purchasing the tasting cards. I ordered a clear backpack from Amazon and loaded it up with hand sanitizer, gloves, disposable silverware, zinc tablets, wipes for the tables, several masks, and any other neurotic thing you could think of. Still hesitating, I made my way down the 5 Freeway, stuck in “back to normal” rush hour traffic. Knott’s opened the marketplace and figured out creative solutions for merchandise pick-ups, outdoor seating, touchless transactions, etc. before Disney and Universal. Having visited numerous times since May, I have been impressed every time with their processes and procedures. Last night was no different. I have personally ordered several handheld touchless thermometers myself, and found none to be accurate. My last visit to Universal CityWalk, I asked the guard to please see my temperature on the thermometer. It registered under 97 degrees. I made a joke saying how that couldn’t possibly be right. The guard laughed and said it probably wasn’t. A lot of good those do. The same thermometer was used on guests when entering Downtown Disney.
Arriving last night, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-signed, and organized the security and health check area was. Instead of a handheld thermometer to enter the park, thermal imaging cameras were used. Knott’s beat out the Peacock and the Mouse on this efficiency and technology. My only concern is that the health check is done inside of the old California Shop. Wouldn’t it be safer for employees and guest to move that outside? Nonetheless, I was only inside for a matter of seconds before being told to proceed to bag check. Upon entering, your ticket/pass is scanned from behind plexiglass, and is completely touchless. Your tasting card was placed on the entry column for another no-touch transaction. Country music was playing loudly over the speakers, which added energy. Popular Ghost Town Alive characters greeted attendees from atop on the Gold Trails Hotel with welcome messages and jokes. I loved “Nice to see you, I thought I recognized that forehead.” A funny way to break the ice, since we only see half of everyone’s face now. Overall, despite the fears, it was a great night, with plenty of social distancing and delicious food. I give props to Knott’s management for finding a creative way to be open outside and INSIDE the park. To just be able to stroll through Ghost Town and enjoy the music and sights was enough for me. I actually didn’t miss the rides at all. It was good to see familiar staff faces and regular guests. In summary, I feel the procedures Knott’s has put in place so far is much more professional and on-point compared to Universal and Disney. Observations… - The park was immaculately clean. Staff was wiping and re-wiping everything. Park services staffing levels exceeded what I felt was necessary (but that’s a good thing!). - Sanitizing stations were EVERYWHERE and clearly marked. Staff was repeatedly wiping these down as well. - There was ample signage and overhead announcements reminding you of social distancing. - Entrances and exits to shops were clearly marked. Plexiglass separated staff from guests. Like the Marketplace shops, you scan your own merchandise, swipe your own pass/credit card, and then bag your own items. It’s a system that works really well, but still offers personal interaction. - The queues were properly socially distanced. Unfortunately, the lines extended out of the pre-set lines, forcing guests to estimate six feet, which most did without an issue. - I did not see one guest NOT wearing a mask. I was worried about passing people with their masks off that may be roaming and eating. Other than one or two people with a beverage, almost 99% of those in attendance were seated and eating. So, this was not an issue. I assume most people felt the same way. - There was more than enough tables to spread out from others. We sat at four different tables and had no one around us at any of them.
- Restrooms were being closely monitored to prevent overcrowding and cleanliness. - Your tasting card has a QR code on it, so you scan your own when ordering. New silverware dispensers are also touchless. - I ordered my food from the card, got napkins, silverware, bought additional food, and went shopping. I did not touch one thing other than my phone or my food all night. It was 100% touchless. - Other than being around more people in one place than I have seen in the past four months, most of my worries were gone… BUT I DID NOT LET MY GUARD DOWN. A few items to refine… - The food service, while friendly and organized was incredibly slow, which caused wait times of 20+ minutes. This backed up the lines out of their queues, forcing guests to manage their own distance. The lines need to be extended and the service needs to be sped up. - Food wasn’t being dished out until it was ordered. With that many people in line, you can have a few items ready to go once people walk up. It’s not going to get cold, melt, or get thrown away. - Guests were buying additional food and alcohol (which is a good thing), but this slowed down the process of scanning your card and getting on your way. - The crowd size last night was perfect. I would assume, based on the empty tables, they can increase attendance slightly. This would probably be fine if they worked on speeding up the food service lines. - Please, please, please give the staff member at the exit a plexiglass shield. They are exposed to everyone walking out with no protection. In Summary… Potential exposure risks are everywhere. Going to Knott’s obviously is not essential, but every precaution they could have taken, they did. Guests also did their best to keep themselves and others safe (something I was concerned about). Seeing how cities are shutting down main streets to move restaurant operations outside, I did not see how Taste of Calico was any different. In fact, it is a more controlled and monitored environment than strolling through your neighborhood shopping and dining district or outdoor mall. The fresh air and mandatory (enforced) mask use makes it safer than a trip to a stuffy Costco or Wal Mart. I pray that the team members and attendees stay healthy and that this can be the first step to a sense of normalcy with precautions in place to beat the virus and return to the life we once knew. If the event continues past next week (sold out tickets seem to indicate that it will), I will definitely return as long as the same safety precautions remain in place.