CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn (WABC) -- For the first time in more than 18 months, Coney Island amusement parks -- including the iconic Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park -- welcomed back visitors Friday.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer were among the elected and community leaders on hand for the grand reopening ceremony.
The decades-long tradition of "Blessing of the Rides" took place on the boardwalk in front of Deno's, while the traditional egg cream christening of the Coney Island Cyclone kicked off the festivities at Luna Park.
"This is one of the best days of year," de Blasio said. "Coney Island comes back, the rides come back, now New York City will come back."
Deno's provided free rides on the Wonder Wheel for 100 frontline workers, including EMT, FDNY, NYPD, and staff from Coney Island Hospital.
"We are extremely grateful to finally be given the opportunity to show the public that we can operate our parks safely for guests," park co-owner Dennis Vourderis said.
The first ride on the Cyclone was reserved for local hospital workers, with the park giving 500 frontline heroes free admission for the day.
"A lot of positive energy," said Alessandro Zamperla President and CEO of Central Amusement International Inc. "Just ready to open the gates and welcome the laughter and the smiles."
Luna Park introduced six new attractions for children this year, ranging from swings and coasters to racing games. The new rides include Circus Candy, Fire Patrol, Rainbowheel, AeroMax, Grand Prix, and Mini Mouse.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand," one guest said. "People want to get out."
The boardwalk acts were back, and so were the sights, sounds, and smells of Nathan's and all the boardwalk has to offer. Emotions were flying high, as rides were spinning and sling shooting the first guest of the season.
"I'm so happy the park is open," Sydney Sclar said. "It's been so long, I missed it. It was sad we couldn't have it last year."
Attendance is limited to just 33% of capacity, and reservations are required. Added safety restrictions include physical distancing, controlled admissions both online and at the gate, distanced eating areas and ride seating, hand sanitizing stations located at every ride, and frequent cleaning of high-touch areas.
"It's a lot of fun, once the weather changes and the fireworks start, which hopefully they will this year," another guest said.
The parks will be open weekends until Memorial Day, then they will be open seven days a week all summer long at 50% capacity.
Masks must be worn at all times, and the main entrance has changed so park staff can monitor the number of guests coming and going.
And you can't just walk around anymore. You'll have to have a wristband, which you can obtain through an online reservation.
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