If you haven’t noticed, my son loves anything and everything to do with animals and because of this obsession, I mean, passion of his, we spend a lot of time at the zoo. Thankfully, the zoos in New York City aren’t just full of animals, they also offer fantastic enrichment programs for kids and families. In the past 6 years my son has attended camp, workshops and classes at one zoo or another and has even had his birthday party there. Last year, for his fifth birthday, we gave him the absolute ultimate birthday gift for a zoo-loving boy, the opportunity to sleepover at The Bronx Zoo. He went with my husband and they both had such an awesome time that what we thought of as a “once in a lifetime” experience will likely become an annual tradition for all three of us.
Read on to get a look at their great time at the Family Overnight Safari at The Bronx Zoo and sign up for your own today!
Notice the zoo doesn’t call the event a sleepover, and that is because there isn’t too much actual sleeping going on at the overnight safari. Lights out is after a 10 pm “midnight” snack and breakfast is served at 7 am. From your arrival to the time you say goodbye the zoo packs your schedule with non-stop fun, learning and traditional camp activities. The overnights start at 4pm, just as the zoo is closing down for the evening and ends at 10 am the next morning when visitors start to trickle in for the day.
My husband, who accompanied our son last year, commented that it was very much like a summer camp experience condensed down into just one overnight, thanks to activities like pitching a tent, eating al fresco, sing a longs, a fun scavenger hunt and sleeping under the stars. But, this is The Bronx Zoo after all, so expect night time lullabies barked out by swimming sea lions and your wake up call will be the sound of a braying peacock. And of course all the day and nighttime activities revolve around the animals.
After your orientation, the fun starts. About 100 families can register for each sleepover (the zoo hold several during warm weather) and the zoo does a great job of breaking campers into small groups for all the nighttime activities ensuring everyone a chance to participate. The night starts with a picnic dinner brought from home and ice pops supplied by the zoo, eaten outside the Dancing Crane Café, then on to the first of four night time activities.
1. Tons of animals were brought into the classroom behind the children’s zoo to meet the campers during Late Night at The Bronx Zoo. Everyone loved the huge porcupine that was allowed to just wander around the room and even stopped for kids to pet him while the staff brought other animals around to the kids, my son got to pet an armadillo and a chinchilla.
2. Then their group, Team Boa, walked the well lit paths of the zoo to the African Village to play a guess who style game in another classroom. Here families had to guess different animals based on clues in Who Dunnit??
3. Then on to the Mouse House for Rodent Restaurant where kids got to learn all about rodents through different stations set up in the exhibit, my son really liked trying to figure out what these varmints ate.
4. The last activity, Are You Game? had the kids acting like frogs, playing animal tag and lots of other running and jumping games in the Congo Classroom.
When all the activities were done, the groups met up again at the outdoor area of the Dancing Crane Café for some, you guessed it, animal-song sing-a-long and a snack. My husband felt the snacks (and all the food offerings, actually) were very generous with the zoo offering a large variety of treats and no one cared if the kids took seconds or even thirds.
Then off to bed! You sleep on the grass nestled between the Monkey House, Madagascar and the Sea Lion tank in your tent that you pitch when you arrive. This is what we think makes the whole experience extra fun, you get to sleep in privacy and under the stars which is always a thrill– especially in NYC.
Bright and early the next morning, don’t worry about setting your alarm, the zoo’s wandering peacocks will wake you to breakdown camp and head over to the Dancing Crane for breakfast and more fun and games. The morning offers new activities, there are no groups and you can choose your own order.
The morning activities offered were a guided walk of The Bronx River which my son didn’t do, a large scavenger hunt styled “Zoo Quest” where they got to search for and learn cool things about the original zoo buildings surrounding Astor Court, like the fact that they are all land marked as historic buildings by the city and other interesting tidbits. Every kid who does the Quest will get a prize at the end, too.
During the morning hours they also went back up to the Congo for my son’s favorite part of the whole experience, looking through buckets of dead leaves to collect the creepy crawly specimens that live within. They also went to the Vulture Exploration Station at The Birds of Prey Exhibit to find out what it is like to be a vulture – how they fly and how they pick up things with their talons. Plus the reptile house, Madagascar and the Butterfly House exhibits were open extra early for some private, zoo-camper only viewings.
You do need to have a tent and sleeping bags in order to go on the overnight (and you need to be able to set up your own tent). The zoo makes it really easy for you, too. They load all your gear on carts in the parking lot and transport it to the campsite for you. In addition to clothes and toiletries you may want to bring a flashlight and a sweatshirt. You also may want to bring some cash because they sell these special sleepover tee shirts, too, and you can only buy them during breakfast.
Each year is a little different, but you can expect animals, fun and games on an Overnight Safari Adventure at The Bronx Zoo. Registration is open right now and they sell out fast, some nights are close to capacity already.
Of course, experiences like this don’t come cheap. This in depth zoo sleepover costs $165 per person, but it is a very special night that your child will absolutely cherish. My son took so much away from this overnight and still calls it awesome – he came home exhausted – but loved it. My husband, who paid for it, felt that the high price tag was totally justified and would do it again.
For more cool overnight ideas, check out:
Night at the Museum: 7 Museum Sleepovers in New York City