Whether guests prefer spooky thrills and chills or family-friendly fun without the fright, there’s Halloween entertainment waiting at the Columbus Zoo.
This fall, the zoo is once again hosting Boo at the Zoo, a family-friendly Halloween celebration held each weekend in October with activities for visitors as they explore the zoo, according to a press release. Through Oct. 31, the zoo has a second Halloween event to offer: ZOMBIEzi Bay, which features haunted houses, scare zones, amusement rides and event-exclusive food and beverages.
“We’re not just a haunted house, we are an evening experience, an overall experience,” Anthony Sabo, vice president of water park operations and guest services at the zoo, said. “We want people to come here and spend multiple hours and really enjoy an entire evening.”
This dedication to creating an enjoyable evening experience has not gone unnoticed, as the zoo was voted best place to spend a Saturday afternoon by readers of The Lantern. However, the recognition comes as the zoo navigates some controversy.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced in a Wednesday press release that its independent Accreditation Commission voted Friday to deny accreditation to the zoo, which was first granted in 1980. According to the press release, the decision came as a result of financial mismanagement and “intentional and repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members intended to supply baby animals — mainly big cats — for entertainment purposes.”
The zoo intends to appeal the association’s decision to deny accreditation and will have until Oct. 30 to do so, according to a Wednesday press release.
“The poor decisions of a handful of people should not negate the good work this team does and how much staff members contribute to the AZA through committee work and leadership roles,” Jerry Borin, interim CEO and president of the zoo, said in the release. “Nobody currently working at the Zoo had anything to do with the position we find ourselves in today. We’ve acknowledged the wrongdoings of the past. We’ve also made changes and updated policies to ensure those cannot happen again.”
The zoo’s operation and visitor experience will not be affected by the ruling, according to the zoo’s press release.
Sabo said ZOMBIEzi Bay was created to extend the operating season of the zoo’s water park, Zoombezi Bay, and to make use of the water park space in a way that would deliver a unique experience to visitors.
ZOMBIEzi Bay is home to four haunted houses, including Sinister Sideshow, a 3D experience that mimics a circus sideshow with clowns; Eternal Darkness, a near-pitch-black experience that plays with fear of the dark; Pleasant Screams Laboratory, a laboratory run amok; and Catacombs, a crypt-themed experience, Sabo said.
Sabo said the event also features two outdoor scare zones, where actors roam the pathways and interact with guests, and six amusement rides, including its Sea Dragon roller coaster and Havoc bumper cars.
“ZOMBIEzi Bay is an event intended for teens, it’s intended for adults,” Sabo said. “But it’s still in an atmosphere that is safe and an atmosphere where you can have a lot of fun and experience a wide variety of attractions all in one place.”
For the young at heart, Jeff Glorioso, director of events and promotions at the zoo, said the zoo offers Boo at the Zoo. Children and their parents are invited to dress up in Halloween costumes as they meet the animals, go trick-or-treating throughout the zoo and enjoy Halloween-themed celebrations and attractions.
“Seeing animals, learning about the animals, all while you’re celebrating a fun, ‘merry-not-scary’ Halloween — it just adds to the excitement,” Glorioso said.
Glorioso said Boo at the Zoo features many different activities and attractions this year, including Tommy C. Turtle’s Trick or Treat Trail with 13 trick-or-treat stations scattered throughout the zoo, a giant pumpkin carver and the Zoo Boo Choo-Choo train ride through Vertebrate Village. He said Boo at the Zoo is considered a Halloween tradition for many families throughout central Ohio.
“Especially now, if you have a family that has teenagers and younger kids, you can come to the zoo property and do it all in one night,” Sabo said.
ZOMBIEzi Bay will be open through Oct. 31, with ticket prices ranging from $28.99 to $32.99. Boo at the Zoo will take place during the weekends throughout October and is included with admission to the zoo.