Even though it was a Tuesday morning, cars kept rolling through the gates at Safari Lake Geneva, just five miles from downtown.
Owner of the sanctuary, “Jungle” Jay Christie, who certainly looked the part with an almost entirely khaki-colored outfit and leopard print neckerchief, says that since the park opened for the season on May 1, it’s been about 10 times busier than normal.
“On average, we’ve been getting about 450 (people) per day, and that’s been pretty consistent since the middle of the first week of May,” he says, noting that May is usually one of their slowest months.
“We really appreciate folks sharing that this is the first time they’ve been out of the house, at least as a family. It’s the first really meaningful family outing they’ve had, at least beyond their own neighborhood, since this all started,” he says.
Typically, visitors pile into a wagon and are guided around the park as staff share information about the roughly 20 species of animals — which originate from every continent except Antarctica — from Arabian camels to emus to zebras to plains bison. Most of the animals came to the sanctuary from zoos, and the park’s mission is centered around conservation.
When the coronavirus began to spread around the U.S. a few months ago and social distancing restrictions were put into place, Christie says the sanctuary pivoted away from its typical safari offerings and began allowing guests to drive around the park on their own for the first time ever.
The near touchless experience allows guests to book and pay for a reservation online, only coming into physical contact with staff if they ordered a bucket of grain to feed the animals. In order to accommodate the new plan, Safari Lake Geneva created a gravel road so guests could easily navigate through the park.
With the new, self-driving experience, visitors can go at their own pace and drive through the park as many times as they’d like, Christie says. Before, the park experience was much more structured with tours running on a tight schedule. Ticket prices have been lowered too, and now cost $18.95 for an adult and $11.95 for a child.
It’s likely the park will continue exclusively with the self-driving tours through the rest of the year, Christie says, and will re-evaluate its approach for 2021.
Christie recommends people make reservations well in advance, noting that the park has been booked up two weeks out and will likely get busier as the summer goes on.
If you go:
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Nov. 1
W1612 Litchfield Road, Lake Geneva
Tickets are $18.95 for adults and $11.95 for kids and are reserved online.