A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Newport Aquarium emerges from long shutdown as a safe and entertaining favorite family destination

By Tory McKinley
NKyTribune intern

The Newport Aquarium is back after a 100-day long shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and the excitement is real. The reopen is well underway — and measures have been taken to assure it’s a safe (and still favorite) family destination.

Photos by Tory McKinley, NKyTribune

“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response from our guests — and our employees are super jazzed to be back,” said Eric Rose, executive director of the Newport Aquarium.

Looking out for the community’s health and safety is a top priority for this favorite family destination. With the reopening comes a Play Safe initiative that ensures social distancing guidelines are being followed properly and safely, including staff safety training.

“We are substantially more conservative than the state standards, for the comfort and well-fare of our guests and employees,” said Rose.

A guest reservation is required before coming to the Newport Aquarium. The decision not to allow walk-ups has allowed for the number of guests to be controlled and regulated, as well as providing a VIP type experience, allowing for more interaction and space to view the animals.

“We are seeing more demand than we have availability. Many days we are selling out, it just depends on the day and time.”

Guests will be scheduled to enter at 15-minute increments and will receive a temperature screening as they arrive. There is a requirement of masks for all guests ages 3 and older. In addition, there are marked paths to follow throughout the exhibits to ensure the flow of traffic is steady and equally spaced. Several additional sanitation stations and safety signage have been installed as well.

Although the Aquarium just reopened to the public, they were never really closed. The Newport Aquarium is a 365-day operation; they just didn’t have any guests in the building at the time.

“We have over 6,000 animals here at Newport Aquarium. We had a team of 24 animal care specialists who worked 7 days a week during the close.”

The entrance

Whether it’s Sunday, Monday, Christmas or the pandemic, the exhibits require special care and maintenance to ensure a healthy and happy collection of animals. However, there were some unique factors during the shutdown that had to change due to guests not being in the building during the day.

“Many of the animals are behaviorally stimulated by our guests,” said Rose. “The animals can see out just as well as we can see in. When you see the penguins swimming back and forth with the kids in front of the windows they are receiving behavioral enrichment – but all of a sudden overnight, that disappeared.”

The level of enrichment that the animals usually received during the day was increased dramatically to provide the stimulation that they would usually get when interacting with guests.

This excitement was felt from the animals and guests alike as the reopening took place. There are a lot of young families that frequent the Aquarium, and have had a pent up eagerness to get back.

“The kids need that outlet during the pandemic, and we are able to provide that safe environment for them to have a little bit of emotional release and enjoyment,” said Rose.

One new exhibit that guests can look forward to is the new Shipwreck: Realm of the Eels. The project was a million-dollar investment, making it the largest and most expensive renovation to date for the Aquarium.

This new exhibit had its grand opening one week before the pandemic shutdown and never got to officially open to the public. It features a wide-open, theatrical shipwreck that is home to many new animals, including green moray eels. Unlike the small corridors of the other exhibits, it’s open layout has luckily benefited the guests.

“It’s worked out exceptionally well to provide space and social distancing and activity where you can enjoy all the animals without feeling confined with other guests.”

Whether you are looking for a safe, family destination or are a marine life lover – make sure to sign up for a slot to plan your trip to the Newport Aquarium.

“The energy in the building is huge,” said Rose. “Guest comments are extremely positive. We are happy to be open and doing what we’re doing, and figuring out where we go from here.”

For more information and everything guests need to know before their next visit, go to NewportAquarium.com/PlaySafe.

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