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Maui Ocean Center to reopen after 10 months

Members, Maui County residents can visit for free during phased reopening

Assistant curator Jim Luecke high-fives a group of kids from inside the Maui Ocean Center’s main tank in 2018. The popular attraction is reopening this weekend after a 10-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

The Maui Ocean Center is reopening Friday after a 10-month closure, bringing back in-person ocean education, family-friendly experiences with marine life and a joyful but COVID-19-safe environment, the ocean center said Tuesday.

The park’s doors closed March 17 due to the pandemic and are now set to reopen in three phases that include the addition of an online reservation system.

“We received so much interest from the community that we moved as fast as we could to open it up,” said Marketing Director Toni Rojas during a Zoom interview with The Maui News on Tuesday afternoon. “Through all of this, we’ve seen some challenging times one way or another, so I think when we take care of each other, we’re going to make it through.”

Phase 1 starts Friday exclusively for ocean center members/Na Hoa Kai annual pass holders. Members receive free admission as part of their membership perks but will need to make reservations with their member number through the new online ticketing system.

Members receive a 15 percent discount in both Maui Ocean Treasures and Reef Cafe.

With a little help from Dad Viane Visesio, 5-month-old Amara Visesio of Napili gets up close and personal with a stingray in the Maui Ocean Center’s glass tunnel in 2018.

All active members prior to the March 17 closure will have their membership automatically extended for the period of time that the park was shut down.

For Phase 2, Maui, Lanai and Molokai residents are welcome to visit the ocean center with free admission Saturday and Sunday with a valid Hawaii ID. In addition, a 10 percent discount will be extended at both Maui Ocean Treasures gift shop and Reef Cafe.

For the opening weekend only, Pineapple Dole Whip cups will be half price Friday through Sunday.

General admission resumes Monday for Phase 3 of reopening.

“We are delighted to welcome back our members and Maui Nui community this weekend, and I look forward to personally welcoming you,” said General Manager Tapani Vuori in a news release Tuesday. “Along with taking great care of our marine life during our closure, we took the opportunity to freshen up all areas of the park.”

Families get a thrill from the stingrays and fish passing over the glass tunnel in the Maui Ocean Center in 2018 during the aquarium’s 20th anniversary celebration. The attraction reopens this weekend after a 10-month closure.

The park will now be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily with online reservations required for all guests. Reservation slots are available in 30-minute increments, with the last reservation time at 1:30 p.m., on a first-come, first-served basis.

Capacity limits will be adjusted based on the day of the week, taking into account that the weekends might be more busy than a weekday, Rojas said.

No tickets or reservations will be sold at the front gate.

The revised hours and reservation system allow the guests and staff to maintain social distancing and extra time required to sanitize.

Wheelchair reservations may also be made online, based on availability. Contact information, including email address, will be required and guests are encouraged to show their electronic confirmation at gate entry.

With ever-changing pandemic rules, Rojas said that the concern of having to close doors again will always be there for the Ocean Center and other businesses, but “we just all need to come together and be positive.”

“We also have to be realistic,” she added. “Part of our decision-making is, of course, visitor arrivals and numbers, but we also know that we have our community as well and they are here to stay.”

The Maui Ocean Center is home to one of the world’s largest displays of live coral and exhibits filled with sharks, stingrays, turtles and other sea creatures. Throughout the 10-month closure, the animals and exhibits received full-time care and maintenance from curators, divers and aquarists, Rojas said.

A virtual marine education platform was also available online for kindergarten through elementary school students so that they never had to miss out on learning about Hawaii’s ocean habitat.

“I say community a lot because I believe strongly about educating the next generation, because they are our future and the Hawaiian cultural perspective ties that we have through the ocean, to the land and sharing more of that as well,” she said. “We are not just an attraction. I don’t see it that way. We’re far deeper than that.”

The most challenging part of being closed for an extended period of time during the pandemic was having Ocean Center staff leave on furlough or lose positions altogether, said Rojas, whose hours were also severely reduced. Rojas said that the Ocean Center employed more than 100 people prior to the pandemic but that staffing is “significantly less now.” She declined to share a percentage but emphasized that “it will not affect our products and services.”

“We know we’re not the only ones in that boat. We know that it’s devastating for everybody,” she said. “So that’s tough, and because of the visitors arrivals, and they’re not as high as we’re used to them being, we don’t have the capacity to hire everybody back, just like any other company in the hospitality industry.”

Now that the time has come to reopen, employees are excited to get back to work.

“I can’t imagine anyone who’s not excited to bring it back,” she said. “Also because I really feel that the community has really embraced the Maui Ocean Center, you know, for over 20 years. . . . We’re excited to show them fresh areas, including our aquarium tanks themselves.

“Looking at the tanks, I was in awe everywhere I went, so I think the community is going to feel the same.”

Beginning Monday, ticket prices now include general admission and The Humpbacks of Hawaii Sphere Experience. General admission will cost $38.59 for an adult, $27.55 for children between 4 and 12 years old, $35.28 for seniors and $27.55 for military personnel.

Kama’aina admission, which includes The Sphere Experience, will cost $27.55 for an adult, $17.61 for children between 4 and 12 years old and $25.34 for seniors.

To meet current county and state COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, all guests and Maui Ocean Center team members must submit to a thermal temperature check at gate entry, wear a mask, ensure social distancing by following yellow tang decals and practice good hygiene.

Park maps have also gone virtual and guests will now have access to them via QR codes provided at gate entry and within the park. The marine naturalist presentations will also have codes, allowing guests to watch and listen at their leisure rather than at a scheduled time format. Bringing personal earphones is encouraged so as to not disrupt other guests. Earphones are also available for purchase at Maui Ocean Treasures.

“The marine life is absolutely beautiful and abundant right now, so I know there will be some new marine life that (guests) haven’t seen before,” Rojas said. “We’re excited to share that.”

For more information about the center and pricing packages, or to reserve a ticket, visit mauioceancenter.com or call (808) 270-7000.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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