Parakeet Pointe at the Aquarium of the Americas provides visitors with a hands-on experience. // (c) 2011 Bernie Saul
It’s an understatement To say that summer in New Orleans can be rather warm. The weather isn’t too much of a problem if you’re visiting for a convention or hanging out in museums and music venues, but it’s tough on outdoor spots such as the Audubon Zoo, part of the Audubon Nature Institute, a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that also operates several of the city’s nature attractions.
That’s why managing director Larry Rivarde came up with the Cool Zoo, a waterpark within the zoo with jumping water spouts, a 28-foot water slide in the shape of an alligator, a spider monkey soaker, bubbling fountains, water-spitting “snakes” and more. The stand-alone waterpark also offers the Cool Shop with swimwear, flip-flops and more; a snack bar serving burgers, hot dogs and beignet fries; family restrooms; shaded seating; lockers; and cabana rentals for parties.
Admission to Cool Zoo is $4 for Audubon members and $5 for non-members in addition to the regular Zoo admission, which is $14.95 for adults, $9.95 for children ages 2-12 and $11.95 for seniors 65 and older. Audubon members receive free zoo admission. Cool Zoo wristbands are purchased at the front gate or at the entrance to Cool Zoo.
“As an add-on, it’s really inexpensive,” said Rivarde, adding that visitors can spend all day at Cool Zoo if they like.
Cool Zoo also offers a $10 ticket that includes admission to the waterpark and the dinosaur exhibit as well as the use of the carousel and train all day.
For those who think waterparks are for kids only, Rivarde admitted to enjoying the water slides on several occasions.
“It’s big enough for kids of all ages,” he said.
Over at the Aquarium of the Americas, also part of the Audubon Nature Institute, things have shifted in a different direction. Executive vice president and managing director Karyn Kearney was searching for ideas for a new interactive exhibit when she spotted a little-used balcony used for overflow dining. She transformed the second-floor space into an aviary for 800 free-flying parakeets and called it Parakeet Pointe. Guests to the aquarium may purchase a $1 seed stick — which is basically a Popsicle stick with millet attached — and the parakeets come calling, sometimes landing on visitors’ hands.
“Parakeets are delighted to see the visitors with their seed sticks and greet them in a friendly way,” Kearney said.
The response has been tremendous, she said, and popular among all ages.
The aquarium partnered with nonprofit groups and schools in New Orleans — including the Association for Retarded Citizens and St. Michael Special School — to create 50,000 seed sticks. For the grand opening in March, students and members of these organizations were VIP guests of the aquarium.
Admission to Parakeet Pointe is included in aquarium admission, which is $19.95 for adults, $12.95 for ages 2-12 and $15.95 for seniors. The Aquarium is also home to the IMAX Theater and offers combo admission prices.
Special prices are available for groups to both the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium of the Americas. n