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Safe, fun and themed: Great Escape finds ways to use its lodge during pandemic

Safe, fun and themed: Great Escape finds ways to use its lodge during pandemic

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QUEENSBURY — Six Flags is ready to reopen Great Escape. But as officials wait for the state to say yes to amusement parks, they are moving events across Route 9 to the Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Waterpark.

The lodge has taken a beating during the pandemic. Although it reopened on June 26, with portions of the water park opening July 1, the waterslides have been closed since the pandemic began. Waterslides are classified as amusement park rides, which aren’t allowed under the state’s coronavirus control rules.

But Six Flags is making the best of the situation. To draw people to the water park — where the toddlers’ area and the lazy river are the only open amenities — they have been creating events. There was a not-scary Halloween event, followed by the lodge’s normal holiday event, and now the lodge has put together a socially distanced “Snowed Inn” event for every weekend in February.

Officials had to redesign events to make them safe during a pandemic. While they are hoping to open the outdoor amusement park this spring, they’re already thinking about all the traditional events held at Great Escape and how they could be held at the lodge instead. Among the plans are an event for the Fourth of July, usually one of the biggest events at the park.

Bigger isn’t better right now. For “Snowed Inn,” which the lodge has held before, everything had to be changed to make it safe.

“We can’t do activities in a group, so how do we do an activity that’s fun?” said spokesman Jason Lee.

People can take turns roasting s’mores at a fire pit outside. Cartoon pictures of penguins are hidden throughout the lodge for a scavenger hunt that can be done at any time, alone.

In the lodge’s giant ballroom, a handful of tables have been set up, for one family each. The Snow Queen, resplendent in a silver-sequined mask, teaches children how to build gingerbread castles and decorate them with frosting dyed the light blue of Elsa’s famous castle in the Disney movie “Frozen.”

Families sign up for times a few minutes apart so that no one is crowding together at the door.

It made for a much quieter Friday night, with families coming in so slowly that the Snow Queen could personally greet each one.

In the ballroom, and every few feet throughout the hotel, are industrial-sized bottles from which to pump hand sanitizer. Staff, which sometimes outnumber guests, religiously enforce mask-wearing, which is required everywhere except the pool.

Guests confessed they only took the chance on a public venue because of all that effort.

“I looked at pictures online and I saw they’re taking really good precautions,” said Nubia Ramirez. “I said, all right, let’s try this.”

It was the second time she’d gone anywhere nonessential since the pandemic began. The first time was to a pool near her home in East Orange, New Jersey. But this was more serious — a full weekend away, in another state, at a hotel. The occasion: her daughter, Madyson, was turning 10 on Sunday, and her twin sons, Mason and Marlon, turned 7 the previous week.

“We’ve been very careful,” Ramirez said.

But she wanted to find something special to do. Celebrating birthdays without a crowd of friends has been one of the many depressing experiences of childhood during the pandemic. For Madyson, Mason and Marlon, the water park was a fantastic alternative.

Madyson was thrilled to meet the Snow Queen and just as happy to be somewhere other than her house.

“I like how it’s like a cabin,” she said of the lodge’s decor.

After putting three pieces of candy on the gingerbread castle, Marlon said, “Now can we eat it?”

Ramirez laughed and took a photo of their semi-completed castle. She said she was having a great time because she could relax. She felt safe.

“It’s making me very comfortable,” she said. “I think this is really nice. Definitely some family bonding is happening here.”

Lee said that lodge officials knew all too well that no one would come to the water park if they weren’t sure they would be safe. That was their top priority.

He was proud that they had managed to put together a business that could still offer what guests wanted despite the pandemic safety rules.

“To me, this is a win,” he said as he gestured around the water park, where families were laughing and playing despite the lack of waterslides.

At the end of every day, the lights are lowered in the water park for a laser light show. It can be seen from the Northway, with the glass roof of the water park glowing in a rainbow of colors.

Inside, people dance — solo — to the music as the lights reflect off the closed waterslides.

“It’s still an experience,” Lee said. “It’s a mental and physical escape.”

While he wants the amusement park to open, he said it could be worse.

“We were just very fortunate to have a lodge,” he said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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