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Hurricane Harbor welcomes back guests

Thomas Lin of Milwaukee, Wis., enjoys floating on a raft in the Castaway Creek lazy river on Opening Day, July 20, at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. Lin was at Six Flags with his family.
Thomas Lin of Milwaukee, Wis., enjoys floating on a raft in the Castaway Creek lazy river on Opening Day, July 20, at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. Lin was at Six Flags with his family.

GURNEE – Six Flags Great America communications manager Caitlin Kepple of Libertyville described it as “the perfect water park day.”

Hurricane Harbor Chicago in Gurnee opened for members and season pass holders July 20 and will open to the public July 27. The Great America amusement theme park remains closed as the company works with the state to determine an opening date.

Amid COVID-19 concerns about health and safety, some might remain leery about venturing out, but many welcomed opening day and the opportunity to enjoy the water park’s attractions.

“I went out of curiosity to see how the park would run and to get a feel for what it would be like when the actual theme park would open, if it gets to open,” said Bob Bendorf of Chicago, who founded the Six Flags Great America Junkies – a roughly 2,300-member group – about a year ago.

“Being there, if anybody asks, ‘Should I go?,’ I would definitely say yes. Go out to the park. Have fun. I felt totally safe there,” Bendorf said.

Hurricane Harbor Chicago, along with Hurricane Harbor Rockford (formerly known as Magic Waters), opened with new safety measures and hygiene protocols in place, as well as a new reservation system at www.sixflags.com/reserve to manage attendance levels. 

Visitors older than 2 are required to wear masks when not on water slides, water attractions or in pools. Visitors also must pass “state-of-the-art thermal imaging” temperature checks before entering.

Other measures include social distancing requirements, touchless bag checks, staggered arrival times, multiple hand-washing and hand sanitizer stations and extensive sanitizing and disinfecting throughout the park, including a frequent wiping down of seating, rails, doors, life jackets and tubes and rafts used as part of the rides. 

A limited number of complimentary life jackets are available upon request, but families are encouraged to provide their own life jackets for children shorter than 42 inches or those who are not strong swimmers.

All reopening guidelines were created in accordance with Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan and developed in consultation with local government leaders and epidemiologists, Kepple said.

“From the very beginning, we’ve taken the threat of the virus very seriously,” Kepple said. “It’s a robust health policy. It’s a comprehensive plan. Something to consider is we have acres of outdoor space where people are able to socially distance.”

Guests were excited to return and seemed to understand the need to wear masks unless on their way to or riding the water slides and attractions, she said. Masks are available at the front gate for any guest without one.

Employees both enforced the mask policy – asking those not eating or drinking to put masks on while lounging – and thanked those wearing them throughout the day, Bendorf said. 

“Obviously, it’s a learning experience not only for the staff there, but for all the guests and the visitors entering the park,” he said. 

Kepple pointed out the park’s newly expanded mobile food ordering system with touchless transactions provides another layer of safety and will remain in future seasons.

Lounge chairs in seating areas were tied together in small groups, Bendorf said, allowing families to sit together, but still be socially distanced from others.

“It was busy, but it wasn’t busy to the point where you weren’t able to maintain social distance,” said Bendorf, who has gone to Six Flags annually since being brought there as a 1-year-old when the park first opened in 1976. “There were plenty of spots you could be and not be around anybody.”

Although reservations are required, the system is designed with some flexibility for guests to make spur-of-the-moment decisions if “you wake up and it’s an 80-degree day,” Kepple said.

“We are encouraging guests if they know they’re coming with a group or family certainly to reserve that day and time as soon as you can and build your visit around that,” she said.

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