'Staycations' helping to keep turnstiles going at local attractions
By Scott E. Pacheco
Despite seeking local government bailouts, Miami Children's Museum and Jungle Island are getting more visitors than a year ago.
And Miami MetroZoo, after unveiling its Amazon & Beyond exhibit in December, has felt a record attendance spike. This trend is due in part to a recession that has forced some families to be more careful with vacation cash, choosing a "staycation" instead of traveling, attraction officials say.
"We are half the price of every other attraction in Miami," said Eric Stephens, director of MetroZoo. "It's the best bang-for-your-buck attraction here in Miami. We think people can't afford their Disney vacations so they are doing their staycations."
MetroZoo's attendance jumped 73.4% in December, 63.4% in January, more than 40% in February and a smaller climb in March. It hit an unprecedented 95,360 in January. The zoo charges $15.95 for adults and $11.95 for children.
A water park, hotel and family entertainment center are out for development on zoo property, and proposals — each to include all three elements — are due the first week of May, Mr. Stephens said.
And on the horizon is an exhibit on Florida eco-systems. The 5-acre, $31 million project is in the first parts of the design document phase with an ultimate timeline of opening in late 2012, Mr. Stephens said.
Meanwhile, the Children's Museum says donations and government grants fell way off, resulting in it asking the City of Miami for $400,000 to pay off debt. Still, admissions rose 3% and memberships 22% over the past year, according to a March report of the museum's finances.
"Overall, our success is contributed to the fact that we are a safe, fun educational alternative for families offering a lot of value for the dollar," said Deborah Spiegelman, executive director, in a statement.
General admission to the museum is $15, Florida residents pay $12 while children younger than a year are free.
Last week the city commission decided to defer Jungle Island's annual rent payment of $400,000 for 48 months and to lend owners $800,000 from the general fund.
Ronald Krongold, owner with Bernard Levine, said theme park attendance is up, rising from about 500,000 local and tourists last year to a projected 700,000 this year. Attendance rose during January and February, he said, adding that the park is increasing its advertising and marketing outreach.
"The Jungle is doing very well right now," he said.
Jungle Island's banquet hall and catering business is also doing well, especially with the economy now, he told city commissioners recently. He said he is booking more charities that want to host fundraising dinners and events at the park, which can accommodate them for less than can other venues. Organizers save because they don't have to spend $500 to $1,000 a plate, the park says.
Also, silent auctions and barbecues for groups in the theme park are up.
"We are being inundated with this type of event," Mr. Krongold said.
Jungle Island admission is $29.95 for adults, $27.95 for seniors and $23.95 for children ages 3-10.
At Monkey Jungle in southern Miami-Dade business has remained steady and hasn't "seen a big change yet," said Sharon DuMond, owner.
"Our experience so far has been that the European market as well as the local market has helped us because they have stayed strong," she said. "In the local market people are finding things to do in their backyard — we are seeing a lot more families out."
Admission to Monkey Jungle is $29.95 for adults, $23.95 for children 3-9 and free for children under 3.
Miami Seaquarium attendance is down about 1% from last year, said Andrew Hertz, general manager.
"In a word, fine," he said of business. "Not great, not where I'd like it to be."
However, he said Easter accounts for the "three biggest days of the year" and had occurred already by this time in 2008. He said also that the dolphin experiences — odyssey (deep water) and encounter (shallow water) — are doing well.
"It's a growing product — it's ahead of where it was last year at this time," Mr. Hertz said.
The Odyssey program is $199 for everyone. The Encounter is $139 for adults and $99 for children. General admission is $35.95 for those 10 and older, while ages 3-9 are $26.95. An annual pass upgrade is $7.95added to regular adult orchild admission price.
For the upcoming year, Mr. Hertz likes the Seaquarium's positioning.
"I am cautiously optimistic," he said. "There's 5.5 million people within an hour drive of my front gate…. We are not immune to anything, but we feel cautiously optimistic with how things are trending right now. Travel this summer is going to be a big bellwether."
Miami Today staff writers Risa Polansky and Yudislaidy Fernandez contributed to this report.