Dorney, Hershey parks could expand alcohol sales under bill

Amusement parks like Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom could sell alcohol at concessions throughout the park under a bill heading to the state senate. PHOTO/FILE –

Amusement parks like Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom and Hershey Park would be able to sell alcohol at flexible locations throughout their parks under a bill that has just passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. 

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Berks/Lehigh, introduced the bill that would allow the parks to obtain public venue liquor licenses as compared to the restaurant liquor licenses they have now. 

Mackenzie said the public venue licenses are used for such venues as sports stadiums, golf courses and zoos. 

Under current law, Pennsylvania’s dozen or so amusement parks can only obtain restaurant licenses because they aren’t listed as public venues. 

That restricts where they can sell alcohol to specific spaces within the park that the restaurant license covers. 

Dorney went to court a number of years ago to argue that it should be able to apply for a public venue license, which it said better reflected its operations. 

It lost the argument, but MacKenzie said it was mostly because it was a legislative issue and not one for the courts, which is why he introduced the bill. 

He said he thought the law change was fair. 

“The parameters for restaurant licenses are pretty low but they’re very expensive,” he said. 

He noted that a public venue license is only $5,000, but restaurant licenses are generally in excess of $10,000 or more depending on the county. He said that Hershey Park, for example, has several restaurant licenses to cover the areas it wants to sell alcohol in. 

He said for Dorney Park, which has a regular season and a fall Halloween season, it would be advantageous to have different kiosks located in different areas of the park depending on the season, with some areas closed during the off seasons. 

“Dorney wants to be able to move concessions around at different times of the year,” he said. 

Other than providing flexibility, MacKenzie said the bill won’t change much at the parks. 

“They already sell alcohol there. Parks like Dorney are very responsible with their alcohol sales,” he said. “This will put them more in line with other attractions.” 

The bill passed the state house by a 199-1 vote. It now heads to the state senate. 

After nearly $500M in 2020 losses, Dorney Park parent company ready for new season

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in South Whitehall Township. PHOTO/FILE


As expected, 2020 was not a good year for amusement parks, and Cedar Fair, the parent company of Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom reported a drastic drop in revenue for the year.

Cedar Fair said with a limited season, and lower attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, net revenues for the company totaled $182 million versus $1.47 billion for 2019.

That led to a loss of more than $590 million dollars, when factoring in added expenses the company incurred implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies and other operating costs.

The good news is the company expects the pent up demand for amusement parks will make 2021 a much better year.

“We are optimistic that levels of attendance at our parks and resort properties will significantly improve in 2021, particularly as COVID-19 vaccines become broadly available over the next few months,” said Cedar Fair President and CEO Richard A. Zimmerman. “In anticipation of improving demand, we are poised to resume normal operations, particularly during our seasonally stronger back half of the year. We have strategically designed our operating plan for the 2021 season specifically to minimize cash burn in the pre-opening period and correlate park operating calendars with forecasted demand while growing our season pass base for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.”

Zimmerman said in response to the pandemic, the company made great strides in process improvements and found cost saving opportunities.

For 2020, operating costs and expenses totaled $484 million compared with $991 million for 2019.

“These efforts have reduced our use of cash and positioned us well to emerge from the pandemic as a leaner and more cost-efficient organization,” he said.

Zimmerman said he expects the company’s parks will benefit from lingering COVID-19 caution as families continue to look for outdoor, closer-to-home entertainment options.

After a late opening in 2020 because of the COVID-19 shutdown, Dorney Park closed its season early, shuttering on Labor Day, Sept. 7 and foregoing its popular Halloween-themed weekends. Wildwater Kingdom never opened for the season because of the pandemic.

Plans are on track for both parks to be open for the 2021 season.

Dorney announced Wednesday that it planned to hire “thousands” for the upcoming season.

The park said it is hiring ride operators, security, aquatics, horticulture, food & beverage, merchandise, finance, maintenance and entertainment workers.

Gateway Ticketing helps venues ride the rollercoaster of reopening

Crowd management will be an important component of the reopening of venues post-Covid-19. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES –


A Gilbertsville company has been on the frontlines of helping entertainment venues and attractions around the globe as they look for ways to reopen safely post-COVID-19

“We’ve kind of been on a rollercoaster,” said Matthew Hoenstine, principal of destinations for Gateway Ticketing Systems Inc. “I don’t know if it’s gotten to the exciting part yet.”

One thing he does know, is that with working with other countries around the world, such as China, which is further along in its reopening efforts, the U.S. has the advantage of seeing what has worked – and what has not.

The first challenge Gateway faced when the virus hit was handling the massive amount of returns that were coming in as venues and events were cancelled.

“It isn’t something venues normally do on that scale,” he said.

Mechanisms weren’t in place to process large amounts of refunds needed all at once. Couple that with the fact that most employees at these venues, such as theaters, museums and amusement parks, were now working from home.

Having a functional way to do refunds, and by remotely working staff, meant developing new software and technology. Now, he said, Gateway is concentrating on ways venues can bring those patrons back in safely and while still being able to make enough money to justify reopening.

The ability to make enough money is one of the big concerns among amusement park operators in the U.S., most of which are seasonal. Many of them, including those in Pennsylvania, have yet to receive word on when they’ll be allowed to reopen to the public.

“There are some parks that have a certain date where the ramp up costs will be more than they can ever recoup,” Hoenstine said. “But were not there yet.”

There is hope to be gained from what they are seeing in China, where there has been ups and downs in their reopening of entertainment venues. As they began to reopen, capacity management was one of the largest concerns, and that too took planning and technology, he said.

“Let’s say you only want to let 100 people into your venue,” he said. “How are you letting that 100 people in?”

He said options, particularly for places like museums, were to let people in spaced 15 minutes apart, or to reserve the first hour for members or season pass holders, who he called a valuable asset that venues want to foster and keep.

Other controls need to be considered as well, so those 100 people aren’t all going into a venue and then congregating in the same place. Care needs to be placed on how people are moving through a venue. Signage, and perhaps barriers, need to be in place to maintain social distancing.

Hoenstine said they often found out what worked and what didn’t by watching what was happening in China, which began reopening some of its entertainment venues in March. Some reopened too quickly and saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases. They closed back up again, made some changes and reopened.

The same thing could happen here as venues reopen in the U.S., but we are at an advantage of having more time to learn, he said.

Another thing that might help these venues, which are often busiest in the summertime, is the possibility of extending the peak season. If schools don’t reopen, parks that normally just open on weekends in the fall may be able to pick up weekday business from families looking to get out of the house. Special promotions such as Dorney Park’s fall Halloween Haunt, may be more successful this year because of the pent up demand.

Meanwhile, museums and theaters could become places to supplement the education of children who have been remotely learning.

The key to coming back is to emphasize the efforts each venue is taking to be safe, clean and COVID-19 free, Hoenstine said.

He said before people return they will want to know that these venues are putting their health first, and that needs to be first and foremost in any advertising or other messaging they put out.


Amusement parks will stay closed Memorial Day weekend

Dorney Park & Wild Water Kingdom, like other parks in the state, won’t be opening Memorial Day Weekend. PHOTO/FILE –


Memorial Day weekend should mean the official opening of the summer season for Pennsylvania’s amusement parks, but this year the festivities are at a standstill. Those who run the parks don’t know when or if they can open for the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Park operators are being cautious about saying too much about what kind of season, if any, they may have. But they do say they are preparing as much as possible for the day they are given the green light to reopen and are trying to give their parks’ fans as much information as they can.

“Given the uncertainty created by the pandemic, the situation remains very fluid and there is still a great deal of unpredictability on the horizon,” said Garrett Gallia, vice president of communications and corporate relations at Hershey Park.

Parks such as Hershey in Derry Township, Dorney Park & WildWater Kingdom in South Whitehall Township and Knobels in Elysburg all have an indefinite start date at this point. All three are located in counties that remain in the red zone in Pennsylvania’s reopening plan in which stay-at-home orders are still in place.

Opening isn’t a word they’re tossing around.

“We continue to work closely with local and state health authorities to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the best information we have currently, we do not anticipate resuming operations at any of our parks in the near term. This projection remains fluid and subject to change as the situation evolves, including if state and local guidelines are modified.” Richard Zimmerman, president and CEO of Cedar Fair, Dorney’s parent company, said recently in a statement to investors.

Tana Korpics, public relations manager for Dorney, said she is keeping the public up-to-date on the latest news about any potential for activity at the park, but so far there hasn’t been much to report.

Knobels said it is also posting any updates on its social media, but it is advertising for virtual interview for potential employees for if and when they can reopen.

If and when they can reopen, however, the parks are thinking ahead about what kind of health and safety protocols need to be in place to keep employees and park visitors safe from the spread of COVID-19.

One of the biggest concerns they have is social distancing in parks that can get very crowded in the summer, especially on weekends. Social distancing plans include capacity management, queue line management and a planned park and ride reservation system at Hershey.

Cedar Fair said it had similar plans for its parks, including Dorney, that also included COVID-19 training of staff, cashless transactions. All of the parks’ plans include increased cleaning and sanitation.

“As we contemplate what new measures could be necessary, our overarching goal is to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone inside our properties, while still providing our guests a best-day experience,” Cedar Fair’s Zimmerman said.

What to do about season ticket holders who’ve already purchased tickets for the summer 2020 season is another issue. Dorney and Hershey both said they will be honoring this year’s season passes through 2021 to make up for any lost time.

Knobels does not charge general admission or have season passes.