As the 224 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) collectively welcome more than 175 million visitors each year, it is important to ensure that, in addition to providing great educational and recreational opportunities, the facilities also offer visitor amenities that meet the needs of a diverse group of visitors.
In just the last two weeks, two of these facilities have announced new amenities designed to enhance the guest experience for all visitors.
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
Children with physical disabilities can now enjoy splashing around in Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo’s many fountains with the use of aqua chairs! The Zoo offers four of these waterproof wheelchairs, available free-of-charge to guests with disabilities for use in the Zoo’s water play areas.
Made of PVC and stainless steel, these aqua chairs are designed for use in and around the water. Children in wheelchairs now have the opportunity to use the aqua chairs to enjoy the Zoo’s two exciting water play areas—the Billabong (named after the Australian outback where animals gather to drink), which is an interactive splash zone with in-ground fountains and free standing water features; and Manatee Fountain, which is a circular splash ground surrounded by benches.
The aqua chairs are made possible by a $5,000 Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, committed to supporting organizations that seek to improve the quality of life for people living with paralysis and other disabilities.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from a food allergy and in order to accommodate guests that have dietary restrictions, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has introduced a new line of allergy-friendly dining initiatives for visitors at its ten parks, including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place.
The company partnered with the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN™) to educate and train more than 6,000 culinary employees to assist guests with allergen needs. With more than 22,000 members worldwide, FAAN is a trusted source of information, programs and resources related to food allergy and anaphylaxis.
The new initiatives include:
- Increased personal attention to ensure the safety of each meal. Park restaurant managers and supervisors will work one-on-one with guests and oversee the preparation of each allergen-friendly meal from start to finish. “Chef Cards,” filled out in advance by guests to outline the foods to avoid, are handed to a chef before the preparation of the meal.
- All park restaurants are equipped and trained to take care of guests with allergen needs.
- More menu options, ranging from gluten-free pizza to an allergen-friendly Shamu-shaped chocolate bar, enhance the experience for dining guests. For those on the go, the parks also provide prepackaged snacks such as cookies from companies that specialize in allergen-friendly foods including Divvies and Gluten Free to Go.
- To help guests plan, detailed information on allergen-friendly services and helpful safety tips can be found online at each park’s website. Guests can also download the Chef Cards and fill it out prior to their visit. At the parks, in-park educational handouts are available.
AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos continue to expand their visitor options to accommodate guests with a variety of special needs. As you plan your next visit to your local aquarium or zoo, be sure to visit their website or call ahead to see how they may assist you in ensuring that you have a great experience!
It’s pretty cool to know that there is a governing body making sure that aquatic parks are up to par when it comes to the quality of service they are providing.