What I Wish I Had Known Before Taking My Kids to an Amusement Park During a Pandemic

Here's what happened when my two kids and I met my mom at the amusement park.

When my mom first suggested we meet at Hersheypark in Pennsylvania for a short getaway together so she could see her grandchildren, my initial reaction was: “No way!” We were in the middle of a pandemic, after all, and a trip to an amusement park with my two kids, five and seven years old, seemed like an unnecessary risk.

But after we were forced to cancel two trips to see my mom, who lives in Virginia, my children were missing their GG (short for “Grandma Glenda”). Even if we did want to make the five-hour trip from our home in Connecticut, my kids and I would be required to quarantine for two weeks upon our return because of the travel advisory. This same travel advisory limited the number of states we could both go to without quarantining—all four states in between us (Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York) were on the list at the time we were planning our trip.

But beyond that, I have happy memories of my own childhood trips to Hersheypark. In particular, I remember celebrating my 10th birthday at the park with my family and my best friend. My brother won me a giant stuffed unicorn that made my day!

So, I told my mom I would give it some thought.

Hersheypark’s COVID-19 precautions

My first step was to research what precautions Hersheypark is taking to protect its guests and staff. Much like other amusement parks including Disney World, Hersheypark is limiting the number of guests who can enter the park each day and is requiring guests to make advance reservations in order to do so.

All employees and guests are required to wear masks. While I’m fully onboard with mask requirements and recognize that they’re one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I wasn’t certain that either of my young children would be able to wear a mask correctly all day—and they hadn’t yet been in a situation where they were required to do so.

Most of the rides and attractions at Hersheypark are outdoors, and social distancing measures are enforced. Lastly, Pennsylvania hasn’t been on Connecticut’s travel advisory list, which means its transmission rate of the coronavirus is less than 10 percent.

I decided we could go, with the thought that we might spend a few hours tops at Hersheypark and the rest of the time at our hotel, the Hershey Lodge, and its outdoor pool. I also opted to go in the middle of the week, Tuesday through Thursday, figuring that both the park and the hotel might be less crowded than on a weekend.

On our way

I packed up my kids in our Lincoln Navigator, one of the 18 best cars for road trips, which is comfy enough and had more than enough room for our luggage plus a cooler that I packed full of road trip snacks and breakfast foods. Bringing snacks and breakfast was not only a way to reduce our expenses; it also cut our exposure to other guests.

Our drive was easy—if there’s any upside to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s less traffic. We made it there in under four hours and zero bathroom stops.

At the park

The next morning, we woke up early and enjoyed a light breakfast in our room before heading out to take advantage of the Sweet Start hour, where hotel guests are allowed to enter the park an hour earlier than everyone else. As guests of the Hershey Lodge, another perk is that our park admission was automatically reserved for the day.

Before we got to the park, in addition to all the other standard mom warnings (no fighting, hold my hand, etc.), I reminded my kids that they would need to wear their masks all day and pay attention to the signs telling them where to stand. And once we got there, before we were allowed to enter, we had our temperature taken contactlessly. My kids were old pros at this part after their time at camp, where a counselor took their temperature each morning before they could get out of the car.

Thanks to the Sweet Start hours, the lines for the rides were pretty much nonexistent for the first hour of the day. We headed straight to the Comet, an actual roller coaster that even little kids get to ride. Was it odd wearing a mask on a roller coaster? No stranger than it is to me that we now wear masks every time we step inside a public place (though, of course, I still do).

Taking things seriously

Courtesy Anne L. FritzAll of the other guests we saw were wearing masks, most of them properly, though a few wore them without covering their noses. If a staff member spotted a guest not wearing a mask correctly, they were quick to call them out on it by making a general announcement reminding all of the rules, like they did when we were on the monorail and the bumper cars.

My mom is the queen of hand sanitizer, so she dutifully doled it out to the four of us after every ride.

We only waited in a sizable line once the entire day, and that was 30 minutes for the new Reese’s Cupfusion. Everyone I saw kept their masks on and gave people more space in line than usual, though that said, there definitely was not six feet of space between groups.

By lunchtime, we were all happy to enjoy some time without our masks on while we ate outside.

Time to swim

After lunch, we were ready to cool down at the Boardwalk at Hersheypark (entrance to the water park is included with your ticket to Hersheypark). We enjoyed the wave pool and the lazy river, both without our masks on; as at many pools, masks aren’t required to be worn when in the water.

Like some of the rides throughout the park, the waterslides that my kids could have gone down solo were closed. That’s the only time they expressed disappointment about missing out on an experience.

What I wish I had known beforehand

With the precautions Hersheypark is taking, I felt perfectly safe throughout the hotel and theme park. And I was so proud of my children for wearing their masks the entire day without complaint. They were certainly happy for the breaks from wearing it they were given—at lunch and at the water park. The only things I would do differently are: bring an extra mask for everyone—after wearing one a few hours, it did get sweaty and a fresh mask would have been a welcome reprieve—and I would pay better attention to the wait times as shown on the Hersheypark app so we could have better avoided long lines. That said, I’m happy that I did the research that I did ahead of time, and I would jump at the chance to go back, especially if it means giving my kids more time with my mom.

Next, read on to find out what one woman wishes she knew before taking her family on a road trip during a pandemic.

We're ready for the roadljubaphoto/Getty Images

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Anne L. Fritz
Anne L. Fritz is a freelance writer, editor and mom of two based in Stamford, CT. Prior to launching her freelance career, Anne worked for Woman's Day, Life & Style, Seventeen, EverydayHealth.com and more. You can find more of her musings on motherhood and more at Forever35.net.

Fritz is on a lifelong hunt for the fountain of youth. She's convinced her two young kids, who won't let her sit down for longer than five mintues at a time, are it. Or maybe it's karma paying her back.