COVID left its mark on Legoland. Here's how — and what it will mean when the park opens

Peter D. Kramer
Times Herald-Record

GOSHEN - The orange road-construction barrels and yellow caution tape fit right into the sea of primary colors at a sneak peek of the $500 million Legoland New York Resort this week. 

Hard-hatted workers in DayGlo vests were moving earth, planting, painting, polishing. From a drone's eye view, it might have looked for all the world look like a Lego construction set.

But those are real-life workers working on a real-life deadline, and they're making up for time lost to the global pandemic.

Legoland New York Resort, the ninth Legoland park, was to have opened July 4, 2020, a grand opening that has been pushed back till no one's sure when. Or at least those who know aren't saying.

Legoland New York is getting ready to open soon in Goshen April 28, 2021.

Sneak peek: Take a look inside Legoland New York 

Legoland photos: 73 images inside the park

On Wednesday, the most that Stephanie Johnson, Legoland divisional director, would offer for an opening date was "this summer."

Instead of a single, mammoth balloon-and-streamers Opening Day, the U.K.-based park owner Merlin Entertainments will settle for a "phased opening," revealing parts of the 150-acre hillside park to visitors who will have to navigate a thicket of protocols and precautions beyond the you-must-be-this-small-to-ride-this-ride variety. 

As amusement parks throughout the mid-Atlantic shake off the mothballs for the summer of 2021, after an entire season lost to COVID-19, they might well look north to Orange County and the soon-to-open Legoland to see how the brand-new theme park — according to its owner, the first to open in the Northeast in a decade — has been marked by the pandemic, and the accommodations it has made to keep the virus at bay.

Those accommodations have been considerable, making for an altered experience. Many are baked into the new park and will outlast masks and capacity limits.

COVID has left its mark on Legoland New York

COVID has certainly left its mark on the park, with innovations that were unthinkable (and unnecessary) in February 2020, when Legoland New York was steaming to that July 4 opening:

  • Construction was halted entirely for two months at the start of the pandemic in March 2020;
  • Its opening was delayed by a year;
  • Supply-chain issues and travel restrictions hampered the arrival of team members and machinery, delaying the delivery of some rides;
  • It has adopted New York state standards on masking, and social-distancing protocols;
  • It will stay under state-mandated crowd size limits, currently at 33% capacity;
  • It will conduct temperature checks on visitors;
  • It is not holding a grand opening, but more of a phased rollout.

There is a whole other level of pandemic-prompted change coming to Legoland, changes that likely will be found at parks across the country.

Article continues below gallery.

Keep your distance

In a remarkable concession to the pandemic for a company literally based on making connections, patrons will find that Legoland expects them to keep their distance: when they buy tickets, enter the park, buy food, stand in line for a ride and even take photos with Lego characters.

There will be lines at the attractions, but those in the queue will be reminded, by markings on the floor, to stay 6 feet apart.

Tickets must be purchased online and will be digital only; there will be no paper tickets.

The park will be cashless, with only debit and credit cards and contactless payment accepted. Those who bring cash can exchange it for park-issued swipe cards.

Food purchases will be handled via an app or at a kiosk. 

Connor McCully, senior manager of admissions and park presentation, said guests who stay at the adjoining 250-room Legoland Hotel will also see limited human contact.

They'll check in via an app or at a lobby kiosk, he said, and "there'll be no need to even talk to a person to get to your room."

When guests arrive at their rooms, they'll meet the room's digital voice assistant, capable of ordering more towels, or room service, and more.

"It can even tell your child an immersive bedtime story, which I think it's the coolest part," McCully said.

Legoland New York is getting ready to open soon in Goshen April 28, 2021.

Still Legoland

But it will still feel like Legoland, said McCully, whose company operates similar parks in Florida and California, with this newest one being the largest.

He said a Legoland fixture — a chance for kids to take photos with oversized Lego characters roaming the park — will remain, but with a tweak that won't keep it from reaching the standard that is set for the park.

"It wouldn't be that classic Legoland experience without some incredible character meet-and-greets," he said. "These character meet-and-greets will be socially distant, but they'll be just as bricktastic as ever."

McCully said Legoland will follow state guidelines on park capacity, currently capped at 33%, and added "the capacity is going to change based on what the government tells us to do."

He would not divulge the park's capacity, full or otherwise, (that's proprietary, he said), but added: "We will make sure that we provide the best possible experience for our guests and also the safest possible experience for our guests."

Spokesman Matt Besterman said every guest age 2 and older who can medically tolerate one will be required to wear a mask, in keeping with New York state guidelines.

Park goers will be permitted to remove their masks while swimming or on water rides, or while eating, and eating and drinking is confined to those seated in designated areas.

"Any guest who does not comply with this requirement will be asked to leave the park," Besterman said. 

Peter D. Kramer can be reached at pkramer@lohud.com or on Twitter at @PeterKramer. Read his latest stories. Please follow the link on the page below and become a backer of this kind of coverage. It only works with you as a subscriber.