Zoos and aquariums aren't just for elementary school field trips; they also make unique and unforgettable venues for meetings and events. Read on for a variety of spots across the Garden State.
Cape May County Park & Zoo
With more than 550 animals composed of nearly 250 different species on 85 acres, the Cape May County Park & Zoo in Cape May Court House has one of the finest collections of animals in the state. “We have a very successful snow leopard breeding program, and we recently had a baby giraffe and baby bongo born,” says Jean Whalen, assistant parks director. “We’re free, which makes us stand out from the other zoos in the state.” There are 14 pavilions located throughout the park, and many companies rent them for corporate meetings and events to enjoy the zoo atmosphere. “We host everyone from church events to small corporate functions; Frito-Lay had a big event here in the summer for its employees,” Whalen says. “Seven pavilions can accommodate one to 100 people, but we’ve had people rent out as many as four, with large corporate functions of up to 400.” Catering options are available in small quantities through the zoo.
Popcorn Park Zoo
Popcorn Park Zoo in Forked River was established in 1977 for the sole purpose of providing a refuge for wildlife that was sick, elderly, abandoned, abused or injured and could no longer survive in their natural habitat. “As time went on, we expanded to include exotic and domestic animals,” says Renee Szorosy, administrative assistant. “All our residents once faced these circumstances, as well as exploitation and illegal ownership. Over 200 of these animals and birds now live in spacious surroundings in the heart of the scenic Pine Barrens.” Although there isn’t a large event space, the zoo does have a picnic area for parties that can hold up to 40 guests, and there’s plenty to see at the zoo. “You may be greeted at the gate by a gaggle of geese, but soon you will see a marvelous array of animals including lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, cougars, horses, pigs, ponies, bobcats, sheep, rheas, emus, alpacas and more,” Szorosy says. “Many different types of monkeys clamor for your attention in the monkey house, and the Refuge abounds with all kinds of native wildlife including white-tailed and fallow deer, a bobcat and American black bears.”
Turtle Back Zoo
Essex County’s Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange has 130 species of animals and 1,300 specimens from five continents, along with a carousel featuring endangered species, a walk-through aviary with over 500 parakeets and a butterfly tent (open Memorial Day to Labor Day). “Our facilities generally cater to family-centered events such as birthday and anniversary parties,” says Brint Spencer, director of the zoo. “However, we have also hosted company outings, community group events and meetings, business meetings and educational programs.” Discounts on admission to Turtle Back Zoo are provided to groups. “You can have a corporate meeting while being surrounded by our Komodo dragon and reticulated python in our Reptile House,” Spencer says. “Alternatively, you can have a buffet set up within our Education Center.” Both options are limited to 100 guests.
NOTHING FISHY ABOUT THIS
Atlantic City Aquarium
Atlantic City Aquarium offers a perfect location for small to midsize functions, thanks to its 1,000-square-foot aptly named Harborview Room. Nestled on the waterfront at Gardner’s Basin in Atlantic City, the aquarium features exhibits including a Mid-Atlantic tank, Loggerhead sea turtle, a tropical rainforest, cow nose and southern ray touch tank and a diamondback turtle habitat. “For bigger corporate events, guests can have the whole facility after-hours and enjoy walking around the tanks and seeing the sea life,” says Lisa Schall, director of operations/CFO. The aquarium can host up to 100 in the meeting space and 300 in the full venue. “People really love Groman, our sea turtle,” Schall says. “He’s a favorite of those walking around during events.”
Thanks to its location on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, Jenkinson’s Aquarium has a host of great ocean life and aquatic species inside its tanks. Cindy Claus, director of the aquarium, notes it is available for evening functions such as corporate parties or business meetings. “Guests can get up close to our tanks and see Atlantic sharks, Pacific sharks, coral reefs, penguins and seals,” she says. “We don’t have a banquet room, but the events can be held throughout the venue, right up in front of the tanks.” The space can accommodate as many as 200 and is a big draw for business events and special occasions. “We are right on the beach on the ocean, and there’s not a lot of those around,” Claus says. “It’s a unique place that lets people connect with nature.”
Adventure Aquarium in Camden has the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast, is the only place in the United States to exhibit the great hammerhead shark, one of only six facilities in the U.S. to have little blue penguins as permanent residents and the only aquarium in the world to exhibit hippos. The aquarium features one-of-a-kind exhibits with more than 8,500 aquatic species throughout 2 million gallons of water. “You can hold an event in our Currents Ballroom, with full views of the Shark Realm exhibit and Philadelphia skyline, or you can have your event in the aquarium space, where your guests can have access to the exhibits on that floor and still have their dinner and dancing in the space, as well,” says Stacy Steffen, catering sales manager. The Ballroom can accommodate 30 to 300 and features a built-in projector, 9-foot-by-12-foot projection screen and a podium.