Zoo EventsEvents from a Planner’s Perspective

January 15, 2019

A zoo wouldn’t be a zoo without its animals and plants, but the Virginia Zoo also offers plenty of other things to see and do, including year-round events to fill every niche. The Zoo’s Events Department helps plan everything from educational events to holiday-themed happenings and even private events like corporate picnics, networking events and weddings. While detailed information on booking events at the Zoo can be found in our Event Guide, Events Manager Jenn VanLeuvan answers the most common questions we get from clients.

Q: What should people know about events at the Virginia Zoo?

A: Many people are surprised to hear that we have private events here at the Zoo. Yes, we have our own Zoo events, like concerts and movies, but we also rent out several spaces within the Zoo for private events. We host company picnics, family day events, client appreciation events, networking mixers, weddings, and more.

Q: What size groups can you accommodate?

A: We have 12 different venues here at the Zoo, so we can accommodate a range of event sizes. We can easily accommodate a group of 100 people, but can also host a picnic for 3,000 people.  This year we are unveiling new Small Event and Corporate Retreat Packages to better serve some smaller groups. Our staff can help you choose a venue which would be the best fit for your event.

Q: What is the best thing about an event at the Zoo?

A: The animals! Daytime event rentals at the Zoo include not only a private venue but also full access to the animal exhibits and other Zoo amenities. This is great built-in entertainment for your attendees and is entertaining for guests of all ages. An always-popular add-on to your private event is an animal ambassador. You can choose between a variety of encounters that give an especially unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

Q: Planning an event is really overwhelming. Do you have any tips for organizing an event?

A: If you are looking at several venues, make sure you carefully review any proposals – they do not all look the same or include the same things! The best way to get the full picture of your event is to compare your proposals line by line, so you’re clear about what exactly you’re booking. Be sure to also get quotes for catering, rentals, and any other additional entertainment you’re looking to have, as these can all be cost factors for your event. One of the great things about an event at the Zoo is that our catering is handled in-house. You will be able to organize your venue, event set up, and catering all with one planning team and one contract, so your planning process is streamlined and simplified.

Q: What kind of food do you have for events, just hotdogs?

A: Hot dogs are our most popular Zoo item (did you know we sell thousands of hot dogs per year?!), but we have a full range of catering options for your event, including breakfast buffets, hors d’oeuvres, action stations and more. We even offer gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options upon request. Our cookout options are extremely popular for our picnics, but we can provide a fully customizable menu for any event from cocktail parties to wedding receptions.

Q: Can you decorate for an event?

A: Decorations are definitely allowed, as long as they come from our list of approved décor and follow our guidelines for installation. We have had everything from luau themes, hay bales and mums for fall, to a winter wonderland for Santa. Unfortunately, no balloons are allowed simply due to the risk they pose to both our animals and wildlife.

Q: What is something that people don’t realize about having an event at the Zoo?

A: We have some really great event venues. Our Event Pavilion is our most popular because it is large, covered, and centrally located within the Zoo. However, our garden venues – Garden Tent, Formal Garden, and Flora Point – have a more private feel to them and are a little further from the panda-monium of Zoo activity, which is perfect if you’re looking for a little more privacy at your event. You can also hold an event within our exhibit spaces in the evening, which is really great for a networking or client appreciation event where you want to provide a unique experience. Our ZooFarm and World of Reptiles are also fun options for your event.

Q: If you could plan an event at the Zoo, what would it be?

A: Flora Point is my favorite venue, so if I were just picking one spot I’d have a cocktail party there. I also love the idea of a progressive event—start with a cocktail hour in Asia or the ZooFarm, and then move to a dinner in the Event Pavilion. I think the animal ambassadors, especially the Prehensile-tailed porcupine (my favorite!), are always the stars of the event and adding in a train ride is a big hit with adults and kids alike.

Q: What is the most unique thing you’ve been asked about an event at the Zoo?

A: We were once asked by a potential client if they could bring their own wild animals to their event at the Zoo for their guests to interact with. I think they assumed if any venue would let them do that it would be a venue that already had animals in it. But not surprisingly our answer was definitely a no. We don’t allow any outside animals at the Zoo (with the exceptions of service animals), so additional wild animals are definitely not something we can accommodate!

Bookings for 2019 private events are now open. To reserve your date, call the Events Team at 757.441.2374, ext. 250 or email events@virginiazoo.org.

Click here to view the Private Events Guide
Click here for more info about private Zoo events