8 Wild Zoo & Aquarium Experiences
The dolphin show at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD
Jon Kensy Photography
Get up-close with wildlife and sealife, and learn about the animal kingdom in new and interesting ways. These eight zoo and aquarium experiences — all within driving distance — can turn an ordinary day into a wild adventure.
1. Touch sea creatures and small animals.
Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ lives up to its title as “America’s Most Touchable Aquarium.” You can feel stingrays, sharks, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, lobsters, sea stars, giant isopods, grass shrimp and jellies, and feed African birds. Jenkinson's Aquarium on the Point Pleasant Beach, NJ boardwalk has touch tanks with sea stars, sea urchins, horseshoe crabs and sting rays. At the Bucks County Zoo & Conservation Society in Warminster, PA, you can handle a rabbit, chincilla, armadillo, tortoise and snake.
2. See live Henson puppet shows.
Learn about endangered species and how you can make a difference during the X•tink•shun exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo. Loveable and colorful Jim Henson puppets tell stories from mini stages several times each day. There are also daily “Save Our Species” parades and related kids’ crafts, through Oct. 31.
3. Watch a dolphin show.
You don’t have to travel to Sea World in Orlando to see dolphins splash right in front of your eyes. See dolphins and meet their trainers for no additional fee at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD. Starting Sept. 1, the 20-min. dolphin show returns, for only an extra $3 over regular admission. Get your seats early — a trainer invites one lucky early arriver to interact with a dolphin during the show.
4. See wild cats for a few dollars, or for free.
The Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, DE recently welcomed Zhanna, a three-year-old Siberian tiger. You can see her and 150 other animals with $3-$5 admission. (On Thurs., Aug. 18, from 6-8pm, admission is only $1). Down the Jersey shore, the free-admission Cape May County Zoo is home to more than 550 animals, including Sabu and Kaba, one-year-old snow leopards, and Rocky, a 10-year-old Siberian tiger.
5. Sleep over at the zoo.
Bring your tent and camp out under the stars and among the animals during Zoo Snooze at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, PA (Fri., Aug. 26) or Philadelphia Zoo’s Roar and Snore (Sat., Aug. 27). $50 per person, reservations required. Call Elmwood at 215-277-3825, ext. 240; contact the Philadelphia Zoo at 215-243-5353.
6. Get up-close with sharks.
"Sharks are some of the most popular and fascinating animals at the Aquarium," says Jen Bloomer, a spokesperson for the National Aquarium. In the Open Ocean exhibit there and at the Shark Realm exhibit at the Adventure Aquarium, you can watch sharks swim by. Behind-the-scenes tours at either aquarium take you within inches of these predators ($29.95-$39.95 at the National Aquarium and $175 at Adventure, which includes snorkeling).
7. Feed animals for $2.
At the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, you can hand-feed a giraffe with a branch of acacia browse. At the Atlantic City Aquarium, help feed the rays at 12noon or 3pm, everyday through Labor Day. Both of these feeding opportunities are only $2 over regular admission.
8. Celebrate back-to-school at the zoo.
Celebrate the end of summer and the start of the new school year at the Brandywine Zoo, which hosts a Back-to-School Blast with games, crafts and learning activities on Sat., Aug. 27, 10am-12noon. A Back-to-School BBQ at ZooAmerica in Hershey, PA on Fri., Sept. 9, 5:30-7:30pm, with Ranger Scratch, the zoo's Kids Club mascot, and other Hershey characters, features food, animal encounters and a chance to win prizes.
Stephanie Halinski is calendar editor of MetroKids.