Amid the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic late last spring, the operators of Splish Splash in Riverhead held onto hope that conditions would improve to allow the water park to safely open for its 30th season.
Behind the scenes, offseason work like painting and various updates to prepare the 96-acre site for the season continued. Then it became a waiting game as New York rolled out its four-phase reopening plan.
But as a massive site that attracts thousands of visitors, clearance for amusement parks of its size never came last summer. And by late July, Splish Splash formally announced its 2020 season had been canceled and they were instead looking ahead to 2021.
After a long, long wait — 634 days to be precise — the reopening finally arrived May 29 on Memorial Day weekend.
And then the rain came. So the wait continued.
And then came more rain.
After its first two days were washed out, the water park officially reopened on Memorial Day. And while the weather still wasn’t ideal for swimming with temperatures in the low 60s, the first wave of guests — some wearing wetsuits — still made their way back for the first time since the end of the 2019 season.
This past weekend, Splish Splash got back to normal as temperatures climbed into the 80s and excited guests navigated the Lazy River and braved the Riptide Racer, Dr. Von Dark’s Tunnel of Terror and other thrill rides.
“Everyone just seems very excited to get out,” said Danielle Trombetta, the park’s new director of marketing.
Reopening the park came with its challenges, namely hiring enough staff, which has proven challenging in a number of industries coming out of the pandemic.
“We have a lot of new hires and they’re all energetic,” Ms. Trombetta said. “They can’t wait. Even today when I was talking to a few guests, they were very excited to be back. And luckily the weather’s cooperating today.”
In April, Splish Splash began a big hiring push to help fill the nearly 1,000 seasonal positions it takes to operate over the course of a season. An announcement at the time noted that Splish Splash would offer starting hourly pay rates up to $18 an hour with added eligibility for perks and bonuses. New and returning seasonal employees who completed the hiring process by May 16 also received complimentary 2021 Basic Season Pass for themselves and up to three immediate family members.
A job fair at the water park will be held Tuesday, June 15, from 3 to 6 p.m., Ms. Trombetta said. Lifeguards and cooks are two of the main positions where the water park still has openings.
In prior years, Splish Splash would also hire internationally through the J-1 Visa program, which allows around 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories per year to experience U.S. society, according to the U.S. Department of State. However, the pandemic put a halt to that program, limiting another pool of potential employees.
The park had planned opening day festivities to celebrate the 30th season. Carter Rubin of Shoreham, who won the last season of “The Voice,” was scheduled to perform May 29 along with the Port Jefferson School of Rock.
The postponed performances will now be Sunday, June 27, and are expected to begin in the morning shortly after the park opens.
Signs around the park remind visitors to maintain social distancing and wear a face covering if not fully vaccinated. The park is not requiring guests to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated. It’s up to individual guests to follow the honor system as the park is not requiring proof of vaccination.
“If you’re not vaccinated, you do still have to wear a mask,” Ms. Trombetta said. “It will not be on the rides itself, it will not be in the ride queue line, but if you are walking to an attraction or waiting on line to get food.”
Ms. Trombetta said a reservation system for tickets for the non-season members allows the park to control the size of the crowd on given days to allow social distancing. She said the park has internal figures it uses in terms of figuring capacity limits. Tickets will only be sold online.
“We are following CDC guidelines so I know in New York there are technically no capacity limits for outside, but you still have to maintain social distancing,” she said. “The safety of our guests is still very important to us.”
Ms. Trombetta said the most up-to-date information on the park’s hours is available on its website, splishsplash.com. The park is currently open Wednesday through Sunday and will expand to include Monday and Tuesday at the end of June when schools close.