One of the most important things for tourist attractions to do as they begin to reopen after lockdown is to make their visitors feel safe and comfortable.
Thorpe Park have done a great job of this, with clear signage throughout the theme park and staff actively practising social distancing, wearing masks, and reassuring guests.
Having experienced that a couple of weeks ago, I felt relatively confident that things would be just the same at sister park Chessington World of Adventures down the road.
Paw prints led up the path from the car park to the entrance ... these would be found all over the park to show groups where to stand to remain 2 metres apart.
There was a substantial but fast-moving queue to get in, as all guests had to have a quick temperature check before being allowed through.
Margaret and Katie were waiting for me at the gates. Our reservation confirmations were checked, and we were soon into the park.
Katie brought a surprise guest!
A large safety guide.
Sanitising the hand sanitiser!
Seeing as it only had a 5 minute queue, we decided to make Tomb Blaster the first ride of the day.
What's that behind the social distancing sign?
Tomb Blaster has had a nicely done retheme this year, with some theming changes, a new soundtrack and a storyline added.
Chessington's new area for 2020 is the Rainforest.
We decided to try out Jungle Rangers.
Socially distancing on my queueline paw print.
Old crocks in the brand new cars.
Gone is the Wind in the Willows theming, to be replaced by some jungle animal statues and arguably a rather dull soundtrack and storyline.
The Land of the Dragons entrance has had a colourful repaint and looks great.
Time for a coffee break ... although we were sent away from Donut Express at Adventure Point, as they don't do the coffee and a donut deal.
Keep left on the footpath.
The sight of one tiger, and social distancing goes out of the window.
Found the coffee and donuts!
The giant buddha's original blue paint scheme is beginning to show through.
Tiger Rock did not open until midday, but a long queue formed a while before that ... not much evidence of social distancing though.
We avoided the hour plus wait for Tiger Rock, and went for a ride on Dragon's Fury instead.
Although we managed to keep our distance in the queueline, again there were large groups of people not even attempting social distancing, and the staff were doing little to remind people.
Blue Barnacle, the pirate ship replacing Black Buccaneer, hasn't yet arrived in port.
A brilliant idea in the Gruffalo queueline: transparent screens.
It would be fantastic to see these in more queuelines where parts of the queue pass in close proximity.
We had a picnic lunch sitting on a bench outside Room on the Broom, which is currently closed.
Must be time to sanitise our hands again.
Vampire had one of the shorter queuetimes posted, so we made that our early afternoon ride.
Again, a general lack of social distancing in the outside section of the Vampire queueline.
Although the worst was yet to come ...
Chessington weren't bothering to batch people into the inside queueline section (which they normally do even in non-Coronavirus times!), meaning there was a crush of people stuggling to keep social distance in a very confined indoor space.
But remember, Chessington have thought out all their procedures and operations carefully as the park is supposedly "Covid secure".
Coming into the station.
Vampire then suffered a breakdown, leading to engineers on ladders and the train in the brakerun having to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, some of the staff in the station removed their masks and went along chatting with guests in the boarding gates.
Again, we'd been careful to keep our distance so had plenty of space, but due to the general mis-management and lack of batching into the indoor section, there was a large bunch of people waiting on the ramp.
After a substantial wait, Vampire was fixed and we finally got a ride.
Next up was a trip to the gift shop.
Entry was being well managed, with a limited number of people allowed in at once.
Similar to the system at Thorpe's Megastore, each guest was required to take a basket ... once the pile of baskets had run out, the maximum number of people were in the shop.
If you handled something but then decided not to buy it, you were asked to hold on to it and place it in a special "quarantine bin" at the exit.
Queue times, even for the small rides, were very long - overall the park felt very busy, especially when they were supposedly severely limiting the number of people being allowed in each day.
The queue time for Zufari was a comparatively "quick" 45 minutes, so we decided that would be our final ride: the park was closing at 4pm, which made the day very short.
Queueline TVs were playing a fancy film asking guests to social distance, but staff were again doing nothing much to enforce it and a lot of people didn't seem to care.
Or at least, the queueline TVs were showing a fancy film about the park's Coronavirus rules when they weren't showing a Government information film about Brexit.
Seemed a bit too weird and political for a theme park TV.
Distancing on the trucks themselves was handled well though, with parties separated by empty rows.
The giraffes seemed pleased to see everyone after lockdown.
Well, at least most of them were.
The cave finale has been given an update this year, with new lighting and some other tweaks.
The entry/exit to Zufari is part of a one way system, which meant a long walk back along the footpath through the zoo and past the hotels.
Many of the interactive activities around the zoo had been cordoned off due to Coronavirus.
A Common Kusimanse came out to say hello.
And so, the rather short day at Chessington came to an end.
There have been many changes at the park this year, including the new Rainforest area and log flume, the storyline added to Tomb Blaster, new cave ending on Zufari, Elmer's Flying Jumbos retheme, removal of Rameses Revenge and construction of Croc Drop, and the ongoing replacement of Black Buccaneer with Blue Barnacle.
In normal times, there'd be a lot to talk about and praise the park for with these.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the focus.
It is clear that the park have put work into all the changes and new procedures required to lower the risk for visitors, but this is sadly proving insufficient.
In dramatic contrast to the overwhelmingly fantastic experience I had at Thorpe Park two weeks ago, at Chessington we found a large proportion of guests to be ignoring social distancing, with the staff largely unbothered about trying to remind people about the necessity of it.
Especially given the two park's differing target markets (Thorpe's naturally rebellious teenagers vs Chessington's nicely behaved families) it was a massive shock to witness.
It appears the park needs to do much more if Chessington is to really be "Covid Secure" and provide a safe environment.
Of course they can't be accountable for every guest's actions or for them ignoring the rules, but things like the queue management and lack of batching on Vampire are badly thought out and, given Chessington has been open for almost two weeks, should have been recognised and sorted out by now.
The park felt overcrowded today too - although there is supposedly substantially reduced capacity, have they gone overboard and sold too many tickets?
The social distancing markers in the queuelines are not working either.
While the paw prints are cute, they are obviously not having the same impact as Thorpe's clear purposeful yellow dots and easy-to-understand signage.
As it stands, Chessington World of Adventures does not feel a particularly safe place to visit right now.
It's strange to type this, but at the moment I feel like I'd have a much better, and safer, day out at Thorpe Park.
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