Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has taken the first step to welcoming back guests amid the coronavirus pandemic by receiving approval for its reopening plan from Hillsborough County.

Like Orlando theme parks, Busch Gardens will need approval at the local executive level from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor before getting the final OK from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The park’s plans are similar to what has already been proposed by Universal, SeaWorld and Disney World. All employees, as well as guests over the age of 2, will be required to wear face masks inside the park. Temperature checks will be administered before guests enter and cleaning and sanitization will be “significantly increased,” according to the proposal. 

To allow for the physical distancing recommended to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the park will have signage in queue to keep guests spaced apart and will adjust seating on its rides, though the park’s plan didn’t offer specifics on how many seats or rows will be left empty between parties. The park itself will operate at reduced capacity. 

“We have the unique opportunity to manage capacity at our parking toll plazas as well as our front gates,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay president Stewart Clark said in a letter to Tom Fass, assistant county administrator for Hillsborough County. “We will manage capacity appropriately so that we can maintain all of our physical distancing protocols in all of our locations.”

Some parts of the in-park experience will be eliminated upon reopening, such as buffet-style restaurant service, single-rider lines and open play areas. 

Physical distancing will also be encouraged at the Adventure Island water park by spacing out lounge chairs, limiting capacity in pools and rivers and not grouping unfamiliar guests on raft rides. 

What the Busch Gardens doesn’t include is a proposed opening date. Its sister park, SeaWorld Orlando, is aiming for June 11 reopening, though its presentation applied only to its Orlando properties and not Busch Gardens.

Orlando Rising asked Busch Gardens if Iron Gwazi, it’s highly-anticipated hybrid coaster, would debut when the park reopens. The park did not respond. The roller coaster had begun test runs days before the pandemic shut down theme parks across Central Florida in mid-March.

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