After a Year of Challenges, Sarasota Attractions Are Getting Back to Normal
With Covid-19 vaccines more accessible and masks becoming optional in several locations, locals and tourists alike are looking for attractions to visit. Several of Sarasota's classics are open for business, whether at 50 percent or full capacity, with new operating rules that allow people to still have fun. Here's how some of the owners describe how business has changed since the start of the pandemic.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
For more than 80 years, Sarasota Jungle Gardens has been home to most of the town's pink flamingo population. Families can tour the gardens grounds, enjoy a parrot show, visit an old tortoise or feed the flamingos. From March to May 2020, the gardens shut down and staff launched a GoFundMe campaign to pay for operations like feeding the animals. More than $33,000 was raised, and donations continue to be provided. Now, visitors can enjoy a new giant snakes exhibit, one of the few in the area, and a new butterfly house and aviary with exotic wildlife.
"We have been doing pretty well in terms of attendance for 2021, but we still have some catchup to do," says Jungle Gardens owner Nancy Lavick. "We are still missing most of our Canadian and European tourists, as well as school field trips. We have lots of hope for the future."
Sarasota Jungle Gardens is located at 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota.
Sarasota Children's Garden
"We have picked right back up to what we were at almost a year ago," says Sarasota Children's Garden operator Robin Fulk. "I think it's because we are an outside space and are a kid-oriented place. Families are just tired of being home and cooped up."
Since the garden is a nonprofit, it relies on donations from the community. In 2020, it participated in the Giving Challenge, and earned $11,000—a record. The money helped Fulk continue to offer activities to tourists from the North and Midwest, as well as Floridians.
Now, the two-and-a-half-acre garden is expecting between 12 and 14 kids each day during a four-week summer camp program. Fulk is even back to planning events—a Super Hero Dad's Day on Sunday, June 20, and a Dragon Egg Hunt on Saturday, July 24. The number of regular visitors is also up. Fulk saw 26 kids in one day, compared to the 12 or so the garden welcomed last year.
"People are wanting to come out to a place where they don't have to wear masks," says Fulk. "They are encouraged here, but not required, because we are outside."
Sarasota Children's Garden is located at 1670 10th Way, Sarasota.
Smuggler's Cove Miniature Golf
The Tamiami Trail location of this miniature golf franchise has been around for years, hosting lively games of pirate-themed golf and letting people feed alligators. Operator George Schiavone says that for awhile, the course saw just 10 percent of its normal daily customer influx, but now it is back to 100 percent, and is experiencing a tourist boom.
"More than half of our business is from out-of-town tourists," says Schiavone. "The ratio even went up during Covid because people from out of state came to Florida." Schiavone says the nature of miniature golf allows parties to be socially distanced while having fun outdoors.
While the course has not brought back birthday parties and events, Schiavone hopes to do so soon.
Smuggler's Cove Miniature Golf Course is located at 3815 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
The second oldest classic car museum in the country is located in Sarasota. When the pandemic struck, owner Martin Godbey had to sell some of the museum's cars to help pay staff. Now, the number of customers is increasing from 5 to 10 percent since April and May of this year. The museum's theater shows, which bring in about 30 percent of the museum's income, have also started up again, with limited capacity.
"The shows are coming back, but at half scale," says Godbey. "We have tribute acts and quality entertainers that our crowds really enjoy. We are personally looking forward to a good summer, maybe even a stronger one than usual."
Sarasota Classic Car Museum is located at 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
The aquarium has made several changes to accommodate those wanting to visit. During the height of the pandemic, the aquarium was closed, but slowly began to reopen, requiring masks indoors and placing social distancing cues on the floors of the exhibits. Now, the aquarium is open with restrictions—such as limited capacity—and summer camps are underway.
The children's activities at Mote have been so popular that its recent exhibit, "The Wild Kratts: Ocean Adventure," has been extended until Sunday, Sept. 12. Summer camps offer educational programming for ages 6 to 14 through August.
If you still wish to enjoy the aquarium virtually, "Mote Goes #ReMote" hosts webcams of the sharks, manatees and otters, and virtual programs to learn about sea life.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is located at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota.