No April Fools' Day joke, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reopens its rides

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- It's a big day for Santa Cruz County, as it moved into the less-restrictive orange tier and as the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reopened.

The familiar sound of screams and thrills filled the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Thursday morning.

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After the longest closure in the 114-year history of the boardwalk, the iconic vacation destination was open once again to California residents.

"It's very nostalgic," Lake Tahoe visitor Rachel Frank said. "We love to come to Santa Cruz, so it brings back a lot of happy memories. It is a little different with the mask, but it's okay."

"We came in July and it was pretty sad," Cameron Park visitor Jenna Shoemaker said. "My daughter and I walked here at night and it was totally dead. It was strange. We're happy to be back."

The midways of the boardwalk were empty no more.

Reyes told ABC7 News eight to 12 rides will open daily, through the 11, followed by a weekend-only basis for the rest of April.

Park capacity will be reduced to 25% of normal. Once capacity is reached, guests with ride reservations will be given priority entry.

"At times, we may have to close the boardwalk temporarily while the numbers thin out a little bit," Reyes added.

Reyes explained that as an open-gate park, the Boardwalk is without traditional turnstiles.

"So, we don't share our capacity numbers the way some parks do," Reyes continued. "We have provided that information to the state in our reopening discussions."

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The rides open include fan favorites like the Pirate Ship, Rock and Roll and roaring down the tracks once again was the Giant Dipper.

But before you ride, there are some things to know.

Social distancing is encouraged and designated by markers throughout the park.

Online tickets and reservations for rides are highly recommended, but not required.

A limited number of tickets can be purchased the day of.

And, if you aren't immediately eating or drinking, a mask is mandatory, even on the rides.

In addition, rides open at the park will temporarily close during the course of the day for cleaning and sanitizing.

"We're complying under all the guidelines for the orange tier and as Santa Cruz moves to yellow, we'll follow those rules as well," Reyes said. "But, we are very committed to making sure that everyone can still have a great time, but ensuring that everyone stays healthy and safe when they visit or work at the boardwalk."

We visited on Wednesday and met many strolling along in the warm California sun, seemingly caught off-guard by the lasting impacts of COVID-19.

"It's kind of sad because, you know, nothing's open," Oregon resident Virgle Osborne told ABC7 News. "And there's a few things here and there open, but it's a completely different experience than what I'm used to seeing."

Osborne previously lived in the area and frequented the Boardwalk.

Carson Cummings was with his family, celebrating his 12th birthday on the Boardwalk. Besides not being able to ride the Giant Dipper, he pointed to other major changes to the park as a result of the pandemic.

"Just the rides all being closed and wearing masks and stuff," he said.

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Of course, masks remain mandatory. Reyes explained attractions will occasionally close for cleaning and sanitizing. He added, "Spreading people out, getting that social distancing is really important to keeping people safe."

Reyes described the Boardwalk's reopening as "very gradual and measured."

Reyes is encouraging people to make reservations ahead of time.

"If they have an existing season pass, they can make a reservation online. They can make a reservation when they purchase a ride wristband as well. That'll guarantee them access to rides on the day they want to visit," Reyes elaborated. "So that's a really important way to ensure that people can have access to the rides, have a great time, and still allow us to comply with our 25% capacity limitations."

Under the orange tier, state guidelines limit visitation to California residents only.

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Nathan Khalili and his friends traveled from San Jose. On Wednesday, he told ABC7 News, "It is nice to be able to step out of the house, but it's a little bit sad because, you know, we can't interact people the same way."

The days of crowded lines and uncovered screams on the ever-popular Giant Dipper are a thing of the past. However, Reyes wants to make it clear, screaming is not being prohibited.

"I can tell you definitively, there is no prohibition on screaming on an amusement park ride," he shared. "So long as a person is properly masked and well-spaced, and having a safe time."

Osborne added, "I think people are just ready to get out. So, they're gonna have a good time. It's not gonna matter."

Reyes said the Boardwalk has been shut down since March of last year. "We voluntarily shut down before amusement parks were required to do so. This certainly has been the longest extended closure of boardwalk rides and attractions in our 114 year history," he shared.

He said the Boardwalk stayed closed the October following the deadly 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake for repairs.

For more details about the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's reopening guidelines, click here.


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