PHOTOSTREAM: Akron Zoo VIP Animal Experience by Julie Cajigas

9/2020 Akron Zoo VIP tour

Akron Zoo’s motto may have always been “You’ve Never Been this Close,” but that was never truer than at our recent VIP Animal Experience. The behind-the-scenes experience is designed for up to four guests ages 6 and over, and largely takes place before the zoo opens for the day. We took our six-year-old daughter Hazel, who has been missing the zoo due to our COVID-19 precautions.

Hazel got to be king for a day (don’t tell the lions) when zoo education director Autumn Russell and team member Todd Boerner spent two and a half hours zooming our family around the zoo in a golf cart for a series of activities. Being alone in the zoo is magical, but it also felt especially safe during the pandemic, which was a draw for mom and dad.

We colored and stuffed bags for the grizzly bears (they can see and enjoy color — who knew?) with all their favorite treats, and watched them eat our bear brunch. We got to feed and exercise the penguins, offer a little human interaction for the lemurs who are off exhibit during COVID-19, and pet the tortoise.

I’m not sure that last sentence adequately conveys how neat it was to pet the tortoise. The rough and papery feeling of 70-year-old tortoise neck made this middle-aged mom feel like a kid again. As you can see from the photos, we got to do so much more during the VIP Animal Experience. But you can’t see everything — we actually weren’t able to take photos on several parts of our tour, including behind-the-scenes at the new Pride of Africa exhibit, where we met some sassy lioness sisters.

This was such an exciting, special day for Hazel (and for her grown-ups too). The VIP Animal Experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about the conservation mission of the zoo hands-on, and to contribute to the zoo during COVID-19, while they are limiting the number of visitors.

Families can learn more about the VIP Animal Experience, and schedule one for their family here:

View the PHOTOSTREAM here.

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