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Dinosaurs invade the Wells Fargo Center parking lot — and people stampede to see them

Jurassic Quest, an interactive exhibit featuring lifelike dinosaurs, has had to pivot to a drive-through show because of COVID-19. Fans don't seem to mind.

Karla DeJesus and her daughter Alejandra Rosario, 5, both of Delran, N.J., pose for a selfie at Jurassic Quest in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Sunday. COVID-19 forced the interactive show to convert to a drive-through experience.
Karla DeJesus and her daughter Alejandra Rosario, 5, both of Delran, N.J., pose for a selfie at Jurassic Quest in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Sunday. COVID-19 forced the interactive show to convert to a drive-through experience.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

In these fraught times of a pandemic that has shuttered schools and turned living rooms into classrooms, add yet another twist to the education landscape: a South Philadelphia parking lot overrun by towering T. rexes and triceratops.

For the carloads drawn to the animatronic attraction known as Jurassic Quest on Sunday in the shadow of the Wells Fargo Center and I-95, it was both welcome change of pace from life at home in the COVID-19 era and an educational marvel — for all ages.

“I didn’t know dinosaurs had feathers!” Linda Jones of Mount Airy said as her 2-year-old grandson, Austin, did his best dinosaur roar in the back seat of her SUV. “I thought it was fantastic, very educational.”

They and Jones’ cousin Jenneka Zimmerman and her daughter, Jaelinn, 7, of Roxborough, had just driven through the hour-long Jurassic Quest, gazing up at looming fanged creatures.

“It was great. They were really live-looking and realistic. Awesome,” Jenneka Zimmerman said.

Billed as North America’s largest and most realistic dinosaur exhibit, the traveling show opened here Friday and is scheduled to run through Sept. 20.

On display are more than 70 lifelike animatronic dinosaurs including not only T. rex and triceratops, but also spinosaurus and the 50-foot long sharklike megalodon. But unlike in past years, when children could touch and ride some of the giant beasts, visitors to this year’s show must stay in their cars safari-style due to the coronavirus.

That limitation did not appear to dampen spirits Sunday. Dinosaur lovers lined up nearly bumper-to-bumper for hours to creep by the exhibits, having traveled from all over the Philadelphia region, rural Pennsylvania, and as far away as New York City and Maryland.

“I liked that it was COVID-compliant, I liked the drive-through idea, and he enjoyed looking at the dinosaurs with the accompanying audio,” Emily Santiago said of her youngest, Everett, 4. The family, which includes husband, Mike, and two older children, drove from Queens, N.Y., and clearly were not disappointed.

Brian and Laura Rogers came quite a distance also, driving from Hartford County, Md.

“We liked everything. It was amazing. We would do it again,” Laura said. So, apparently, would their children: Alivia, 10, said she liked the turtles and the shark; Rachel, 17, said she liked the baby triceratops and the T. rex, while Brian Jr.,15, said he was partial “to the one guy who has the big bulge on the top of his head.”

Jamie Schreiber and his wife, Kirsten, of Drexel Hill, brought sons Christian, 5, and Daniel, 4, to see the dinosaurs, as they did last year when the exhibit was at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Montgomery County.

“Given the times that we’re in, it was good to get out and give them something to do. This was a perfect experience,” Jamie Schreiber said after stopping at the drive-up souvenir tent.

“We saw it on Facebook, both kids like dinosaurs, so we figured why not check it out,’” said Chris Ryan of Riverside, whose wife and an aunt and uncle also took in the show.

Jim and Krystel Krispin of Dallas, Pa., said the $49 for admission plus more than $20 in dino toys was worth it to them and their three children. “The kids had fun. It got them out of the house doing something educational,” Krystel Krispin said.

Dominick Galluazzo, an electrician from Staten Island, N.Y., would have liked a little less asphalt.

“It was good. I just wish the environment was a little better. Not like being in a parking lot. I wish it was more like a safari,” he said, joined by his twin boys, D.J. and Nicky, 4, daughter Sophie, 6, and wife, Veronica. “It was good for the kids,” she said.

Brandon Arnold, general manager for Jurassic Quest, said the Conroe, Texas-based live-entertainment company has been in business for seven years and — forced by circumstances now requiring social distancing and mask-wearing in daily life — began the drive-through variation two months ago, having already made stops in Boston, Dallas, San Antonio, Detroit, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and Cincinnati.

In years past the show featured hands-on and ride-on exhibits. “We had to pivot and shut down for two months when COVID happened and came up with the new business model,” he said.

Not affiliated with the movie franchise, Arnold said, the company leans toward what he called “edutainment.”

“We try to educate our guests as much as we can about prehistoric life,” he said. “We were a successful business before COVID, but the demand feels higher for the drive-through just because there is not a lot to do in the entertainment industry right now.”