This post was written by AKontheGO intern, Bella, who has been working hard this summer (read: enjoying the sunshine and family fun) at learning the ropes about the exciting world of travel journalism.
Teenage Pro Tip: It can be hard to find something to engage the 13-18 crowd while on vacation. I ought to know; I’m that crowd. Teens are at a precarious stage where we are too old (and too cool) for kid-oriented activities, yet we require a certain level of engagement to spark interest. It must be all that, or we’ll be all gone.
So, searching for the attractive blend of elements to create whole-family-harmony—teenagers included—and armed with our cameras and some light refreshments, AKontheGO Publisher Erin Kirkland, her son “AK Kid,” and I recently enjoyed the Alaska Zoo’s Discovery Tour, a two-hour exploration of the zoo’s attractions, plus a behind-the-scenes look at this facility’s most popular inhabitants. Led by longtime volunteer tour guide Chris, our group became up close and personal with the resident wolf pack, Polar bears, and Amur tigers, and learned tons of great information about each of the animals as we snapped pictures a mere six feet away.
During the tour, we were able to not only investigate each individual animal and how they came to the zoo, but we received incredible opportunities the casual zoo-goer would miss; coaxing the wolves into howling, and seeing a red fox out for a stroll with his handler, Carl. As we walked, Chris told us a majority of the animals in the zoo are rescues that, due to a medical condition or being orphaned when young, would not survive in the wild. Additionally, every animal in the zoo is built for colder climates, and able to handle our cold Alaska winters.
Accompanying some of the main exhibits are informational kiosks welcoming visitors to learn more information about the animals through displays like paw print molds, photographs, and critter trivia. Though oriented for the younger crowd, I was surprised at some of the information I learned, and can admit to comparing the size of my hand to the various animal tracks found at the different kiosks.
At the conclusion of the tour, visitors are allowed to remain in the zoo as long as they want, retracing steps to animals they wish to view again. As the day wound down, we seized an opportunity to visit the Petting Zoo and join some youngsters in feeding pampered and sunbathing goats, and checking out some rabbits and chickens.
As a teen, I found the Discovery Tour to be an incredible experience. Who wouldn’t be impressed by standing a few feet away from such powerful animals as a tiger or Polar bear?
Cool sidenote: While on the tour, Erin and I met the Banuchi family from Florida, who had been visiting the entire state since mid May, and who had a bunch of inspirational travel tales to share. And, they were traveling with two teenage daughters. Point proven? The tour certainly wouldn’t have been the same without them.
All in all, the tour is an Anchorage attraction worth experiencing. The experience (http://www.alaskazoo.org/special-encounters) costs $25 per adult and $15 per youth and the tours run from May 21st to September 2nd. Tours are scheduled for 12:15pm to 2:15pm, so guests need to arrive around noon in order to have time to pay before the group leaves.
The Alaska Zoo is located on 4731 O’Malley Road; the easiest way of getting there is to go southbound on the AK-1 S/Seward Highway and use the O’Malley off-ramp and follow the road signs that will lead you to the zoo. There is also a free shuttle service (http://www.alaskazoo.org/shuttle-service) that picks up visitors from downtown Anchorage. If you have any questions about the Discovery Tour, the Alaska Zoo encourages you to contact Stephanie Hartman, Education Director (firstname.lastname@example.org).