Summer Camps Make a Safe Comeback
After attraction leaders canceled summer camp activities last year, both operators (and kids) from around the U.S. couldn’t be happier about this year’s offerings—and how quickly guests wanted to come back for summer fun.
“The demand has been extremely high, and we are fortunate enough to have sold out our entire summer camp program for the 2021 year,” says Bailey Dawson, manager of education programs and operations at Georgia Aquarium.
Georgia Aquarium staffers—who made the difficult decision to cut all planned camps for 2020 months before the summer season began—kicked off Camp H2O with limited capacity, new health guidelines, and a rejuvenated spirit for educating their younger fans.
This year’s program has a capacity reduction of about 30% with three different camps for children ages 5 to 13.
“We have altered our traditional hands-on activities and created more project-based learning models that still convey our message of conservation, awareness, and innovation,” says Dawson.
In Scottsdale, Arizona, the demand for summer camps at OdySea Aquarium was so high that employees started fielding inquiries in January. Camp Ocean teaches children in kindergarten through eighth grade about diverse fresh and saltwater species, different ecosystems, animal adaptations, marine biology, and conservation through a variety of activities. The camp has a waiting list due to a capacity reduction of about 45%.
“Part of the excitement and exclusivity of Camp Ocean is the behind-the-scenes tours and interactions with our animal ambassadors,” says Jess Peranteau, the aquarium’s director of animal care and education. “Since those programs were on hold during COVID-19 at OdySea Aquarium, we also were not able to offer them to our campers.”
Peranteau says employees didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the camp and opted to cancel 2020’s offerings instead.
Keeping Campers Safe
Offering a more regular summer schedule and programming is a huge win for attractions, but many operators found themselves navigating a new approach to learning while creating a safe environment for guests and employees.
“We faced a few challenges when restructuring our summer programs around COVID-19 protocols and training our staff on new procedures,” says Dawson. “However, our team was able to create an engaging and exciting experience for these kids that we hope they truly enjoy.”
In addition to reducing capacity, mandatory mask policies will not only be enforced at Georgia Aquarium and OdySea Aquarium, but also at Marineland in St. Augustine, Florida.
Marineland’s full summer camp program returned this season after modified versions were offered last year. Due to Florida’s statewide business operations plan during the pandemic, “Summer Adventure 2020” was offered as a way for would-be campers to still have dolphin experiences and receive educational booklets.
Leaders from all three attractions agree that providing a safe environment is critical in the success of summer programs. Each have established safety protocols that include increased cleaning and sanitation efforts in classroom and camp areas.
“We want to provide a safe environment so that our campers and their families feel comfortable sending their children to Marineland summer camp,” says Travis Burke, North American executive director of The Dolphin Company, which owns Marineland.
Planning teams for all three attractions overlap on several safety issues, including the need to observe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on social distancing. OdySea campers will travel in smaller groups during tours, while Georgia Aquarium and Marineland campers will find themselves outside more often during the day to allow for better spacing.
Marineland purchased additional supplies to ensure campers have their own resources to work with, and OdySea provided attendees at OdySea with a guide listing the supplies campers will need to bring themselves for activities each week.
The Importance of Camp
After a disappointing 2020 for many, there’s a sense of optimism over this year’s offerings and even more hope for a better 2022.
“[There are] so many reasons it was important to offer Camp Ocean this year,” says Peranteau. “OdySea Aquarium has worked hard to become a vital, resourceful, and familiar entity in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, and we know that families not only love to visit and learn about sea life and conservation, but parents are eager to send their children to camps that foster educational experiences in an exciting, unique environment.”
Burke says last year’s modified programs let the staff stay connected with their camp families during a difficult year and coming back as close to normal was critical this season.
“The pandemic forced change, forced innovation, and made us better,” he says. “We will not shy from our responsibility. As educators, it is our mission, together with the families, to share the world with these campers.”