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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Second Phase for the Places We Love in Hampton Roads: Your Guide to What’s Open and What’s Not

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of Penny Neef.

I’ve kind of lost track of the pandemic reopening phase we are in right now. I’m pretty sure we are in Phase II. I do know that our Governor is slowly allowing public places to reopen. Restaurants can begin opening inside dining. Hair salons are reopening. I even notice the TJ Maxx by my house is doing a brisk business. I’m happy to continue cooking at home with an occasional carry-out. My hair can just keep growing until fall. I do not need one single thing from TJ Maxx.

What I really miss (besides my grandchildren’s hugs) are the places we love to visit around Hampton Roads with the grandchildren – Virginia Zoo, Virginia Aquarium, Chrysler Museum, Mariners’ Museum, the Virginia Living Museum and so many others.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of our favorite places in Hampton Roads and what you can expect right now. Check the websites before you go. Things can change at any time. Let’s hope we can continue to visit the places we love.

Two paths diverge at the Norfolk Botanical gardens. Well kept flowers line the triangle created, and a statue of a lady can be seen a bit farther down one trail.

Norfolk Botanical Garden Very happily, one of our favorite places has remained opened throughout this crazy time. Walking through Norfolk Botanical Garden Norfolk Botanical Garden has been good for my body and soothing to my soul. For a while, none of the buildings in the Garden were open, not even the restrooms, but now there are a few restrooms open throughout the Garden. Check the website before you go. It is online ticket sales only. The children’s splash pad and the butterfly house will remain closed, but tram rides start back up again June 12.

Colorful giraffe statue at the Virginia Zoo

Virginia Zoo Virginia Zoo opens the gates June 25 with capacity limited to 25%. It will be an advantage to have a Zoo membership. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be for Zoo members only. The public will have to purchase tickets online and reserve a time to enter. Zoo members will also have to reserve times.

Some of the buildings, like the World of Reptiles, will be closed. The splash pad at the entrance of the Zoo will not be splashing. There will be a one way, one-mile loop around the Zoo.

“The staff and animals have missed seeing all of our visitors, so we are anxiously waiting to welcome everyone back through our gates,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “Your next visit to the Zoo will look different, but the health and safety for our animals and human friends is our top priority, which is why we have created our own staged opening approach to ensure a safe environment, positive and fun experience for everyone.”

A child at the glass at the aquarium watches the fish.

Virginia Aquarium The aquatic animals at Virginia Aquarium will welcome us back on June 19. Like the Zoo, capacity will be limited, online tickets and a reserved time will be necessary. There will be a one-way path through the Aquarium. The Aquarium will be providing hand sanitizing stations throughout. They will not take any reservations from 1:00 – 2:00 each day so that staff can do a sanitizing sweep throughout the building. The giant screen theater and the café will remain closed.

“We are excited to begin reopening to guests and members, and we are pleased to implement these new policies to help protect our guests, members, staff, volunteers, and animals. Their safety is paramount, and these procedures will ensure that their only focus during a visit to the Aquarium is to enjoy themselves,” said Cynthia Spanoulis, President and CEO of the Virginia Aquarium. “We are proud to be a continuing community resource and pillar of marine science, even during our closure, and we appreciate all of the support from our friends.”

Dr Haley Neef blowing glass at the Chrylser Glass Studio

Easter Egg Time! Dr Haley Neef is the one blowing glass in this photo!

Chrysler Museum of Art We all love the Chrysler Museum. It’s a place of beauty and serenity for me. My grandchildren love the interactive Wonder Studio, which sadly, will remain closed. I’m happy to report that most of the Chrysler is opening for members only June 16 – 19 and to the public June 20. The Chrysler is always free (free parking too), but you will have to reserve timed tickets online, as they also will be limiting capacity.

The Café will remain closed, but you can reserve tickets online for the very popular Perry Glass Studio demonstrations at noon each day. The Chrysler is an interior space, so everyone, staff included, ages three and up, will be required to wear a mask.

Virginia Living Museum Virginia Living Museum in Newport News is open right now. The Virginia Living Museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits. You can purchase tickets at the door and masks are required indoors. Some of the “experiences” remain closed, like the Touch Tank, Dinosaur Discovery Trail and the playground, so know before you go.

The Museum will be limiting capacity. The visits are not timed out and reserved, so there may be a wait at the door. The Café is not open, but the Museum will allow you to bring your own snacks and eat outdoors at picnic tables.

Statue of a lion at the trailhead of the Noland trail. it is wearing a wreath as a necklace.

Mariners’ Museum and Park Mariners’ Museum in Newport News will remain closed until we get to the Governor’s Phase III plan. My favorite part of this complex will reopen on Monday, June 15. That is the park surrounding the Museum and the Noland Trail.

Noland Trail is the closest thing to a “real” hike to my home in northern Suffolk. There is free parking at the trailhead. Noland Trail is a 5-mile loop through woods and over and around Maury Lake. I think I’ve counted thirteen bridges. It’s a dirt trail, not something for a stroller, with plenty of tree roots to watch out for. Towards the end of the loop, hikers emerge out of the woods onto the Lion’s Bridge on the James River. It’s quite a nice view.

There are no restrooms, food or water available, so come prepared. The Museum is encouraging social distancing on the trail, which shouldn’t be a problem. Check here for updates on the Museum and Park.

A child looks down from the battleship Wisconsin.

Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin will remain closed until further notice. They have Virtual Adventures live on Facebook every weekday at 11:00 am. They range from tours of different areas of the Battleship Wisconsin to tips for World Environment Day by a staff member.

A child playing with light on a screen at the Children's Museum.

Children’s Museum of Virginia and other Portsmouth Museums The Children’s Museum of Virginia, Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, Lightship Portsmouth, and the other Portsmouth Museums are also closed until further notice.

The Children’s Museum has lots of online learning and activities on their website, including virtual tours of some of the best places in the Museum.

Let’s hope that the public continues to wear masks and practice social distancing at the appropriate times, and that we will be able to visit some of our favorite places in Hampton Roads sooner rather than later. Let’s also hope that I can give my grandchildren some hugs real soon, or at least see them in person, six feet away.

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