Closed attractions find ways to reach out and teach in age of coronavirus
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Closed attractions find ways to reach out and teach in age of coronavirus

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Alligators and other Gatorland residents are featured in new social media platform shows that the attraction will produce while it is closed for the coronavirus pandemic.

Alligators and other Gatorland residents are featured in new social media platform shows that the attraction will produce while it is closed for the coronavirus pandemic. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. - If you can't go to the alligators, then Gatorland will bring the alligators to you. No, the longtime Orlando attraction is not ramping up a reptile-delivery service. It is introducing two daily productions streamed to stay-at-home folks created by the coronavirus pandemic. Temporarily closed attractions are using internet and social-media platforms to entertain and educate.

Gatorland started small last week, literally, with two baby alligators and a crocodile almost tiny enough to fit into the hands of workers. They appeared on the attraction's new "School of Crocs" show, which is scheduled to air daily at 10 a.m. EDT on Facebook Live.

"That one we're gearing more towards kids that are out of school and trying to put a twist of education in ... our quirky, corny style of humor that we're well-known for at Gatorland," said Mark McHugh, president and CEO of the attraction. There also will be behind-the-scenes glimpses on topics such as the care and feeding of Gatorland's full-time residents, he said.

Maintaining the relationship that attractions have with customers will be important during this period of upheaval, said Susan Storey, director of global communications at Orlando-based International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, during a webinar last week.

"You want to help keep your brand alive and top of mind with them," she said. "That doesn't mean clobbering them over the head with 'Don't forget to come visit.' It really means reminding your customers that this is an industry that is fun, and that this is the time that you are here to offer fun and you're here to offer support."

At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, staff members are creating videos with educators at exhibits within the Brevard County attraction.

"Yesterday, we were out at the Apollo-Saturn V Center, so we taped some videos about the rocket, the science behind the rocketry, the moon program," said Dee Maynard, education program manager. "We also, for the younger children, are doing some read-alouds, where we have a space-themed book that we're reading to them."

Maynard said about 25 videos are planned so far and they will be released over time. She expects segments revolving around Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station as well as an aeronautics-themed exercise.

"We're going to show kids some things that they can build at home out of common household objects," Maynard said. "Basically, you can pull some things out of your recycling bin and turn them into rockets."

Walt Disney Co. recently launched a free 32-part online program called "Imagineering in a Box," which highlights the creative process.

"With so many families at home together right now, we thought this would be an especially useful time to share this program with you," Josh Gorin of Walt Disney Imagineering wrote on the official Disney Parks Blog. Disney has also packaged together an existing series of tutorials where viewers can learn to draw characters, including Mickey Mouse.

Gatorland's two-pronged approach will mix education in the morning with entertainment in the afternoon with "Later, Gator," set for 5 p.m. daily on its YouTube channel, McHugh said. Last week, staff members dipped into an otherwise empty pond alongside an albino Burmese python, which slithered through the water and up onto shore.

There were cannonballs.

"The one in the afternoon is really to have fun and get people smiling and laughing again," McHugh said. "In tough times like these, that's what people need - more humor in their lives."

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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