PHOENIX — After closing in March, reopening in June, and closing again because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Phoenix Zoo has eagerly started to welcome people back to the animal park.
The Phoenix Zoo reopened to its members first, Sept. 14-18, 2020, and then opened to the general public on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, according to Linda Hardwick, the zoo's director of communications.
"It has been a long time coming and we are ready. The staff, the keepers, even the animals are ready to welcome everybody back to the zoo," she said in a Zoom interview with ABC15 before reopening.
To start, the zoo's hours will be limited to the first part of the day, 7 a.m. - noon, due to the summer heat, she said. In October, hours will shift to 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., according to the website.
Capacity will be reduced, but at 125 acres, there is plenty of space for people to roam the zoo and to safely social distance, she said. Tickets can be purchased in advance, but that is not required. Admission can be purchased at the front gate, which is $17-$25 per person.
"When people visit the zoo, they will notice some changes definitely. All of our staff will be wearing masks. Anytime guests will be interacting with a staff member, we will require them to wear a mask as well," she said.
There will also be six-foot markers placed throughout the zoo.
Both the zoo's indoor and outdoor animal exhibits will be open, as well as some of its rides and al la carte experiences, such as the carousel, Stingray Bay, camel rides, and safari cruiser tours (those require additional fees).
Staff will clean the carousel and safari cruiser after every ride, rider, and tour, she said. Those experiences have their own fees on top of zoo admission.
The 4-D theater, giraffe encounter, Monkey Village, indoor Orangutan viewing area, goat yard, and the playground and structures along the Children's Trail will remain closed, the zoo's website said.
Like most of the tourism and hospitality industries, the zoo was hit financially hard during the pandemic. Between March -- the start of the zoo's peak season -- and September, the zoo has lost nearly $6.5 million in revenue, Hardwick said.
"More than 80% of our revenue comes from that gate admission. So when you do not have people coming through your gate, you do not have revenue coming in," she said, adding that those funds help maintain the zoo and the daily care that keepers need to provide to the zoo's 3,000 animals.
Hardwick thanked the community for supporting them throughout the pandemic with donations, campaigns, and by purchasing tickets to "Cruise The Zoo," a drive-thru experience the zoo launched while closed.
"It has been a lifeline for the zoo," she said, noting that the program has brought in nearly $1 million since it launched.
There are three more Cruise The Zoo weekends to experience: Sept. 4-7, 11-13, and 25-27. Admission is $50 per car for members and $65 per car for non-members. Tickets have to be bought in advance. More information.
A SNEAK PEAK AT ZOO LIGHTS
For those looking ahead to the holidays, Hardwick also said that Zoo Lights, the zoo's yearly holiday lights display, would start nearly three weeks earlier than usual.
Zoo Lights will open to members on Nov. 4-6, and then to the general public on Nov. 7, and would go through January 2021. She also said that Zoo Lights would have both a walk-through experience and drive-thru experience, similar to "Cruise The Zoo."
"I think everybody right now is looking for something to celebrate. Typically we start celebrating Zoo Lights the night before Thanksgiving. But, we said, ya know, let’s start the beginning of November," said Hardwick.
As in previous years, the zoo will be covered in millions of lights and lighted animal displays. Hardwick said the illuminated animal lanterns that debuted last year would return this year. She also said that the zoo would open another trail this year to allow people more room to spread out while at the zoo.
Ticket information and other details about Zoo Lights wasn't immediately available, but Hardwick said more information would be posted to the zoo's website soon.