ORLANDO, Fla. – The wait is finally over as SeaWorld Orlando opened its gates Thursday for the first time since fears of spreading the coronavirus shuttered the theme park industry.
The company shut down its parks in mid-March due to the dangers of COVID-19 and furloughed hundreds of employees.
SeaWorld is the second Central Florida theme park to open its gates after gaining a seal of approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
Universal Studios welcomed eager theme park fans inside their park last week.
On Wednesday, News 6 got a first look at how park officials will keep guests safe and comfortable when they visit.
“We’ve taken a lot of steps here to make sure that our animals, our staff and our guests are all safe,” said Jon Peterson, of SeaWorld Orlando.
Just like other Central Florida attractions, there are social distancing markings on the ground and hand sanitizer stations throughout the park for guests.
As for the rides, employees said riders will sit in every other row and workers will be constantly wiping down the seats.
“We really want to make sure they are having a good experience here when they visit all of our three parks in Orlando,” said Kyle Miller, SeaWorld Orlando park president.
The company said guests over 2 years of age are required to wear a face covering or mask and will undergo temperature checks before entering the parks.
Guests will also have to make a reservation online to gain entry to all three SeaWorld parks, which will be closed on select dates.
“With a reservation system, we are able to ensure that each guest that comes to the gate to come in and experience our amazing park,” Miller explained.
The park will be closed each Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of the year.
Decked out in SeaWorld gear, Nathaniel Henson and Lydia were the first in line at SeaWorld on Thursday.
"It's been three months without SeaWorld and we miss the animals and we miss the rides," Nathaniel Henson said.
“We reserved on the 9th because we actually had trouble reserving on the 8th we had to get the system to work for us but once it worked we got reservations,” Lydia Henson said.
Valentina Di Francesco and her family also arrived at SeaWorld early as well.
"We are very lucky to be here and healthy that's important," Di Francesco said.
“Yes! Finally they can open and we can go inside to see,” Pietro Riul, 11, said.
Aquatica will be closed Monday and Wednesdays, and Discovery Cove will likely be closed most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay also reopened Thursday with similar restrictions in place.