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Tampa Bay attractions make pandemic adjustments to host Santa this year

The Florida Aquarium, Busch Gardens, Zoo Tampa and others consider how to host Santa Claus during a pandemic to keep Christmas traditions feeling jolly.

TAMPA, Fla. — In an effort to make 2020 Christmas celebrations more “Ho Ho Ho” than “Bah Humbug”, Santa is altering his visits to a local Tampa hotspot. 

The jolly elf himself will set up shop at the Florida Aquarium behind a makeshift plexiglass “snow globe” and field gift requests from eager little children – as safely as possible.

“I wish I could take credit for it,” said Debbi Stone, the vice president of learning at the Florida Aquarium. “It’s really innovative.”

The collaboration led to the aquarium’s decision to build the 2-D “snow globe” for Santa visits. In a pandemic, Stone says, there are no “bad ideas” for making holiday traditions feel more normal.

Families can see Santa at the Florida Aquarium beginning on Friday and then every subsequent Saturday through December 19. Visits are included with paid admission.

“We think Santa is going to be in great shape but we don’t want to take any risks,” Stone said. “Families will still get to meet Santa. They’ll get to talk to Santa.”

Pandemic problems will alter the way most Americans celebrate Christmas. Finding ways to tell old Saint Nick your wishes without sitting on his lap is being addressed across the nation.

Traditions, while important, don’t trump safety.

“The idea was how could we (host Santa) but in a fun way,” Stone said. “Any idea is welcome.”

Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park will also socially distance Santa and elves will wear masks. He will be at the park on Sundays. Reservations are required. 

Busch Gardens will host Santa outdoors after 3 p.m. along with other holiday characters beginning at 5 p.m.

“Jolly elves guide guests to see Santa at a spacious new outdoor location for festive, contact-free family photos this holiday season,” according to the park's website.

Local attractions are doing whatever it takes to keep the Christmas season feeling as jolly as possible.

“(Santa) doesn’t want to miss the holiday season either,” Stone said. “This is his big show.”

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