Gatorland has a social distancing scheme that is so very Florida

Follow safety protocols at Gatorland — Social Distancing Skunk Ape has his eyes on you! (Credit: via CNN)

Leave it to a Florida destination to come up with one of the weirdest — and most joyous ways — to help people keep their social distance.

The folks at Gatorland have introduced Skunk Ape. And this mascot’s aim is to help the animal park’s visitors get a little kick out of maintaining social distancing.

The park, which reopened on Saturday in Orange County, has a video on YouTube introducing Social Distancing Skunk Ape (his full, proper name).

And they explain some of their coronavirus measures in one of the most imaginative safety efforts that CNN Travel has run across during the pandemic.

‘Fun and safety’

The video actually opens with a vivacious, pig-tailed, hat-wearin’ spokeswoman who says the park’s goal is “fun and safety.”

She then makes enthusiastic use of a hand sanitizer station, calling it “hanitizer,” and points out a safety sign “that says a bunch of stuff.”

Next, she awkwardly but endearingly introduces the “king of keeping away from each other, the Social Distancing Skunk Ape.”

At this point, the camera pans to what appears to be Bigfoot-type creature lurking in dense Florida foliage. Skunk Ape then disappears in the greenery, only to emerge later breaking up two men who walking too closely together. The move is something The Three Stooges could appreciate.

The spokeswoman’s comment on the melee: “He’s insistent that you stay distant!” And that’s just the beginning of her rhyming reminders.

The video even features a notable toilet flush and an appearance by Skunk Ape and the spokeswoman in a men’s restroom.

Like we said, very Florida!

Origins story

Mark McHugh, president and CEO of Gatorland, told CNN Travel in an email interview how Skunk Ape came to be.

“We developed a Skunk Ape character and costume for our Halloween program last year. A local morning radio show personality, Carlos Navarro, with Real Radio 104.1, was talking about everything we were doing at Gatorland for safety, and suggested we use a Social Distancing Skunk Ape.

“My social media director, Savannah Boan, and I looked at each other with wide eyes and said, ‘THAT’S IT!’ We began immediately developing a campaign around this hairy fella.”

Gatorland plans to keep Skunk Ape around.

“The Skunk Ape is part of our Gatorland family, and he will be with us for many years,” McHugh said. “His role as Covid-19 safety manager will extend at least through the summer. He’s always trying to advance up the corporate ladder.”

How are park visitors reacting to him?

They “are not sure what to think of him. For one thing, he’s pretty hairy, grunts a lot and takes his job a bit seriously,” McHugh said.

“Plus, folks are not used to businesses taking a light-hearted approach to enforcing important safety measures, so it takes a minute or two for guests to realize we’re having fun.”

CNN Travel wanted to know a little more about the man inside the costume:

“Right now, we have one person, John Michael Carro, who is the son of my creative director, Dan Carro.

“John Michael is spectacular at the role, and we give him frequent breaks, ice packs under the suit and lots of water. He’ll probably lose 10 to 15 pounds this summer.”

A serious safety message, too

Behind the Skunk Ape campaign lies a serious safety message. Gatorland has posted its safety efforts online, and they include:

– All queues have been marked for distancing from admissions and rides to shows and food venues.

– Capacities on rides and in other places have been reduced.

– Employees get a temperature check before work and must wear face masks. Guests are “encouraged” to wear face coverings as well.

– Rides, show seating and other surfaces are disinfected after each use.

“We are very serious about safety, and we have implemented a tremendous amount of physical and operational changes to ensure the safety of our guests and employees,” McHugh said.

“But people want to get away from the constant reminders of face masks, social distancing and sanitizers. So, while everything is working in the background to keep people safe, the Social Distancing Skunk Ape is fulfilling our mission of creating fun,” he said.

Other attractions in the area

Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs and Universal Orlando’s CityWalk — both shopping, dining and entertainment complexes — have recently reopened with stringent safety efforts.

Those include limits of the number of people allowed in, social distancing signs and ground markers and lots of hand sanitizing stations.

Universal Orlando announced on Friday that it plans to open to the general public on June 5. Guests will be required to wear a face-covering during their visit. The park will provide masks if the visitors don’t bring one of their own.

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