Weekend Highlights

Published August 28, 2013
Going Places

A Parent’s Review: Real Close Tour

by Taryn Zier

Do your kids adore Woodland Park Zoo? Get a behind-the-scenes look at how they care for the animals in the zoo’s Real Close Tour.

The tours, offered year-round, give an up close and personal look at what the animals eat, where they go for health check-ups and more. They are not specifically geared toward kids, but offer a way for elementary-aged children (ages 5 and older) to learn more about what it takes to run a zoo of Woodland Park’s caliber.

Frozen mice? Venus flytraps? Steaming piles of manure? It’s all part of what you might encounter on your 90-minute tour. As well, and certainly the highlight for my 7- and 9-year-old kids, was a brief foray into zoo keeper territory up to the gates of the curious warty pigs. Much to the kids’ delight, the pigs would meander over, eyeball us, and then wander around, only to come back and ogle us again.

Tour operator Jennifer Larsen led us around the grounds, where we snuck a good peek at the young lion cubs, playfully and endearingly pouncing on their mama. Larsen talked about some of the subtleties in the design of the zoo walkways and space. We talked about a few skulls near the elephant barn; bones and teeth are always cool.

When we entered “zoo staff only” space, we saw the animal hospital and talked about the fact that animals get check-ups, too. We saw the room where all of the different foods are prepared. Wow … imagine feeding a family of thousands, and all of them with varying tastes. We even paid a visit to the fridge and freezers, where dead mice, rats and the like are kept. My kids took this in stride, surprisingly – those mice are pretty cute.

Next we visited the greenhouses with row upon row of orchids and other lush plants and flowers that keep the animals' zoo habitats reminiscent of their native habitats. My kids enjoyed seeing Venus flytraps up close. We passed by the dung piles and discussed why, to our pleasant surprise, they didn't stink (it’s vegetarian poo).

All in all, we had an educational afternoon on the tour, as light was shed on some of the inner-workings of the zoo and how they keep so many animals safe, sound and happy. My only disappointment was that there weren’t more behind-the-scenes encounters with the animals. That would have made it extra cool for kids and a little more worth the cost of the tour.

If you have a zoo-lover, consider the Real Close Tour as a unique chance to experience Woodland Park Zoo in a new and different way.

Photos by Taryn Zier.

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If You Go...

Where: Woodland Park Zoo, South Plaza, 750 N. 50th St., Seattle. 

When: September tours run Fridays through Sundays, departing at 10:45 a.m. Check the website for additional months.  

Cost: $20 plus cost of zoo admission for adults (13 years and older), $10 plus cost of zoo admission for children (5 to 12 years old). No children younger than 5 are permitted. For zoo members, the tours are $20 for adults and $10 for children. 

Contact: 206-545-2022 or tours@zoo.org; www.zoo.org/page.aspx?pid=2015.