The Philadelphia Zoo closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and even though Philadelphia has progressed into the yellow phase of Gov. Wolf’s reopening plan for Pennsylvania, it will be a bit before any of us can visit.
“We’ve been waiting to be able to welcome guests back, and we really look forward to it,” said Andy Baker, the Philadelphia Zoo’s chief operating officer. “The animals are the heart of who we are, but the guests are the soul.”
But when will that happen, and what will the zoo look like once it does reopen? Well, some questions have clearer answers than others. Here is what you need to know:
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced last week that zoos can open outdoor areas starting June 26. But the Philadelphia Zoo will be waiting a little longer before welcoming visitors.
Members, the attraction announced Monday, can begin visiting on July 6, while the zoo will be open to the public starting July 9. The zoo’s reopening will come just days after Philadelphia is scheduled to enter an expanded green phase on July 3.
Zoo members can begin reserving tickets online starting on Thursday, while the public can begin purchasing tickets online Friday.
Like most everything else post-pandemic, the zoo will look a little different when it does reopen. For starters, all indoor buildings will be closed, making the entire experience outdoors with Baker said, a “one-way flow” of foot traffic throughout the zoo, just like in a grocery store.
High-touch attractions — such as the swan boats, carousel, and WildWorks climbing course — will stay closed to create “less touch and more distance” among visitors, Baker said. And activities like educational talks from zookeepers will also be on hold.
“By and large, we don’t want to create situations that ask for crowds to gather, and we will minimize interactions that really are a wonderful part of the experience,” Baker said.
Masks, of course, will be required for everyone, except for children under 8 (though masks are encouraged for children aged 2 to 7). And yes, you will need to pay attention to proper social distancing, the zoo’s director of communications Dana Lombardo wrote in an email.
There will also be touchless toilets, faucets, paper towel and soap dispensers, as well as handwashing stations throughout the campus to help keep things clean. Staffers known as the “Clean Team” will help, too, by sanitizing high-touch areas like restrooms and lunch tables.
The zoo will also be limiting the number of visitors allowed on site at any given time, as per city, state, and CDC guidelines, Baker said.
You can’t just show up and buy a ticket. Visitors will need to buy tickets in advance — or reserve, if they are members — and tickets will be timed.
Tickets will run $20 for those ages 2 and up, and parking is $17 per vehicle, Lombardo said. Children under 2 can go to the zoo free of charge, but still need a reserved ticket.
Yes. Concessions will still be available, though they will operate as touch-free as possible, such as ordering in advance. There will also be more grab-and-go food selections, and a focus on touchless transactions.
But if you feel more comfortable bringing your own food, you can.
April, May, and June are the zoo’s biggest revenue months for the year, Baker said, so this has been a challenging time financially for the institution. But while you can’t support the zoo with an in-person visit, there are some ways you can help.
You could consider donating to the zoo’s Spring Back Fund, which helps cover operating expenses. Or, if you want to wear your support, the zoo has released a line of limited edition T-shirts and hoodies, which also benefit the Spring Back Fund. Plus, you can get a personal greeting from the Philadelphia Zoo’s penguin colony via the Cameo app.
Otherwise, check out the educational “Philly Zoo @ 2” program on weekdays on the zoo’s Facebook page, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at zoo operations. Or have some fun on the Philly Zoo to You page, which offers educational resources, such animal-themed science worksheets and DIY activities.