BLOWING ROCK — Like attractions and hospitality-oriented businesses everywhere around the world in 2020, surviving the pandemic proved a challenge. That included the challenges facing theme parks such as Tweetsie Railroad, which reopened to the public on April 2.
“The hardest thing we have ever done is to tell employees they can’t come to work and close our doors,” said Cathy Robbins, who with her husband, Chris, are the owner-operators of the popular, family-oriented, heritage railroad and Wild West amusement park.
Now with 2020 in the rearview mirror and the park reopening, Robbins said that many of their employees have returned, anxious to provide guests with the same fun experiences offered in the past — with some health and safety protocols.
“With a couple of hundred acres, it’s not hard to achieve social distancing,” Robbins pointed out. “The biggest hurdle has been the train, which of course is the centerpiece of the attraction. We have had to put limits on the occupancy of the train.”
While the 3-mile train ride serves as the main attraction, there is plenty more to do in the park. It is one of those places where kids and adults alike let their imaginations run wild while discovering fun in its many Tweetsie dimensions.
There are “country fair” rides, such as a Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, merry-go-round and a chair lift to Miner’s Mountain. Young boys and girls will thrill at taking the “controls” of a biplane or helicopter. Then there is the test of G-force stamina with Round-Up. Be swept away by a tornado. Learn about the force of gravity with Freefall. Cruise around the Turnpike.
Up on Miner’s Mountain, you may not find real gold, but you can enjoy the miniature Mouse Mine Train for a tour of North America’s only “Cheese Mine.” Then twirl, twist on Tweetsie Twister.
Don’t let the name, “Deer Park Zoo” fool you, as there are species other that bucks and does. Visitors have the chance to meet an African pygmy goat, a European fallow deer, a Nubian goat, a llama, an emu, a burro, miniature horses, micro-mini donkeys, Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep and yellow-bellied and red-eared slider turtles. There is a whole world of animal species out there besides dogs, cats and goldfish, and the kids will be amazed at what they find at Tweetsie.
Robbins explained that the live entertainment acts and dining facilities are all open air, so social distancing is a breeze. Along the train ride, there are action-packed scenes with the good guys vs. the bad guys.
Diamond Lil’s Can-Can Revue is a colorful, live show in Tweetsie Palace, where a Magic Show is sure to spark a child’s curiosity. There’s other interactive live entertainment, as well as the Tweetsie Railroad Country Clogging Jamboree.
“It was a challenging year for the business,” Robbins said, “although we did get to open for Christmas. Certainly, you take a financial hit when the business can’t open its doors. The federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP loans were a big help in terms of being able to reopen and in keeping at least some of our people employed.”
Robbins said the staff at Tweetsie are now putting all of the previous challenges behind them and looking toward the future.
“We are looking at 2021 and beyond with a lot of optimism,” Robbins said. “The state of North Carolina has done a good job of getting people vaccinated. We are hoping that with more people getting vaccinated that they will open more of the state, including entertainment facilities.”
Robbins said there is much about Tweetsie Railroad that is “good old fashioned family fun.”
“The state has done a good job getting people vaccinated and as even more people do, things should open up more,” Robbins said. “The mandates require us to take reservations. Because of the social distancing requirements, we are limited to about 140 riders on each train.”
Opening weekend at tweetsie welcomed the Easter Bunny at the park, and Thomas the Train is arriving in June. The always popular frisbee dogs will be coming in July. Robbins added that Tweetsie plans on hosting July 4 fireworks, but the event may be a little different.
“Of course, a lot of people are in their cars, anyhow,” Robbins said.
Railroad Heritage Weekend will come in late August, then the crowd favorite Ghost Train will return when Halloween nears.
“There is always a lot going on at Tweetsie,” said Robbins, “and we are really pleased to be able for people to enjoy the experience again.”