DENVER -- After waiting patiently for more than a year and a half, Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park's biggest fans are back and more than ready for a good time.
"I'm a software engineer. I spend every day in my house, so I am ecstatic to get out and actually see that there's still a world here," season pass holder Michael Miller said.
The park reopened Saturday since closing at the end of its season in 2019. Only season pass holders are allowed in this weekend.
"We got our passes a year over a year ago, and then not being able to use them … so it's been really great," Jessica Miller said.
Elitch Gardens, which was supposed to celebrate its 130th season in 2020, has remained dormant for months because of the pandemic, but the opportunity finally came recently to reopen.
"We worked hard to try to get open last year, but under the circumstances, it was just not going to be possible," general manager David Dorman said.
And it wasn't an easy task reopening the 65-acre theme park and making it pandemic-ready, either.
"Bringing it back to life after being dormant for a year and a half was especially challenging, especially considering all the brand new protocols we're implementing to keep people safe," Dorman said.
Those new protocols include masks throughout the park, social distancing, and new hand sanitizing stations.
"I love Elitch Gardens. I love amusement parks. … And right now, I love getting out. It's just nice to be out right now," season pass holder Corey Smith said.
Even with the reduced capacity and restrictions in place, Smith says it feels a bit like life before COVID-19.
"To come out and be with other people, just the energy in the place, not a lot of people ... It's nice. It's really nice," he said.
The park has hired about 500 employees, but it's still in need of nearly 800 employees as we get closer to summer.
"We are well-enough staffed for operation today and for the coming weekends, but we know the summer's coming. And that's almost an everyday operation and need a lot more people to run the park when it's open every day with longer hours," Dorman said.
The park will open its doors to the general public next weekend. Reservations are required.