BUENA PARK, Calif. — Pirates Dinner Adventure General Manager Julio Duran didn't know what to expect when they announced the reopening of the dinner theater show about a month ago.
The company didn't hold a news conference or do a lot of advertising, but almost immediately after announcing the reopening via email and website, their phones and online reservations began lighting up.
"To be honest, we're really surprised," Duran said of ticket sales. "People are excited. Some of the shows are already sold out."
Officials at Medieval Times, which is also reopening next week, said many of their shows have sold out, too.
"Fifteen months of the closure of a lot of entertainment venues has created this type of demand that we and others will benefit from," said Celeste Lanuza, senior vice president, marketing and sales at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. "All of these special occasions that were skipped last year — birthdays, anniversaries, graduations — we're seeing a huge amount of those, making up for the lost time."
After more than a year of being closed due to the state's coronavirus pandemic-related shutdown orders, the Pirates Dinner Adventure and Medieval Times interactive dinner shows — both staple attractions in Buena Park's Beach Boulevard corridor — reopen next week.
Pirates Dinner will reopen June 15. Medieval Times will reopen June 17.
"This marks a positive step for our local business owners to safely reopen their doors to visitors," Mayor Connor Traut said. "The pandemic took away our life, sense of community and so many aspects of our lives. It stopped bringing people into the community. We're hoping this revival of what many call the roaring 20s is real lasting and deep in its impact."
The reopenings of these tourist attractions come as California readies to fully reopen its economy in mid-June after shutting down or restricting businesses as part of a statewide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Starting June 15, vaccinated people, for the most part, will be allowed to go maskless outdoors and some indoor facilities (unless a business restricts it) and not have to follow social distancing mandates.
Businesses can reopen at full capacity. Employees at offices are still required to wear masks unless everyone in the office is fully vaccinated. That ruling could change soon.
Unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks, California officials said.
No one is policing the activity. The state is trusting people to do the right thing.
For Buena Park officials, the reopening of their other economic engines is another step closer to recovering from the pandemic.
Last year, the city's Beach Boulevard corridor, where Pirates Dinner, Medieval Times, Knott's Berry Farm and other businesses line up, was, at times, deserted.
The statewide shutdown of places that attract large gatherings forced Knott's, Medieval Times and the Pirates Adventure to close. Medieval Times and Pirates had to furlough and lay off hundreds of staff.
"When you drove through there, it was like a ghost town and depressing," Lanuza said of Beach Boulevard.
Sales tax is the largest source of revenue for the city's general funds. Due to the pandemic, city officials estimated a decrease of more than $4 million in the city's 2020-2021 budget. City officials project a $2 million decrease in transient occupancy tax or bed tax.
"The pandemic's impact was more than just a budget and economic impact," Traut said. "It was [the loss of] livelihood and life experiences."
But things are looking up now, said Traut, who attended Knott's Berry Farm's grand reopening just a few weeks ago. He plans to visit Pirates Dinner and Medieval Times sometime soon.
"I'm planning to go and bring my family," Traut said about Pirates and Medieval Times. "I know they are going to create an environment that is safe given the circumstances."
The Pirates Dinner Adventure is a pirate-themed live-action show where guests eat dinner in a 750-seat theater. The show runs for about two hours. Ticket prices range from $37 to $85.
At Medieval Times, visitors experience an 11th-century Medieval four-course feast and watch knights participate in a jousting tournament.
When the Pirates Dinner Adventure and Medieval Times reopen next week, there will be many changes.
Before the pandemic, the cast and pirate actors of the Pirates interactive dinner show usually set up the night's storyline in a pre-show performance, greet guests and lead them to their tables. This time around, visitors to Pirates Dinner will go directly to their seats, and the actors will remain and interact with visitors while inside the arena.
At Medieval Times, guests usually eat their dinner using their hands, but for the first time, visitors will be able to request silverware for their meal, Lanuza said.
The knights and other members of royalty will be wearing masks. Additionally, there would be no meet-and-greet with the knights after the show.
Both Pirates and Medieval Times officials will reduce capacity to about 50%.
The Medieval Times arena, which could fill up to more than 1,100 people, will only allow 350 to 400 people per show. The Pirates venue has a maximum capacity of 750 people and will only allow about 300 people to watch the show.
Both companies will require staff and visitors to wear masks for now.
There will also only be one show a night at both venues.
"We're going to start very conservatively," Lanuza said. "Safety first. We want our team members to adjust to the current situation and be confident with everything going on."
"This is the safest way to re-enter the market." Lanuza said. "We don't want to make any mistakes. We're trying to earn the trust of our guests and team members."
Duran, the general manager of Pirates, said they are going to start slow.
"We're going to do things little by little until things return to normal," he said.
Despite the changes to their respective shows, both officials said they couldn't wait to greet guests again.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand and excitement," Lanuza said.
"It's about time to start feeling the happiness of customers," Duran said.