A little less than two months ago, I got an email from the Cleveland Zoo about some educational and family programs they had coming up. With everything that has happened this summer, I decided that the kids and I really needed something to look forward to and make the summer a positive one. So I signed us up for the Rising Waters Safari Overnight Adventure. I swear this has to be one of Cleveland's best kept secrets because I've told so many people about it and the common response I got was "I didn't know they did that!" And let me tell you, it was awesome. The packing list was simple: sleeping bag, pillow, clothes and toiletries. They also recommended rain gear, just in case. We brought bug spray and wipes and some basic things, but everything fit in our backpacks so it wasn't incredibly cumbersome to bring it along.
When we arrived, we went straight to our tents which were huge... big enough for four bunk beds to fit inside (and this 29 week pregnant woman appreciated the fact that I wasn't sleeping on the floor). We unpacked our gear then met outside to learn some facts about Africa and a few words in Swahili. The kids loved it from the start. They were engaged and answered questions right away. I was thrilled to see their comfort levels so high.
Our first event involved meeting some animal friends: a barn owl, a snake and a hedgehog. The presenters were excellent and they kept the kids interested with stories about the animals and their habits. To top it off, the kids got to pet the snake and the hedgehog which made them feel extra special.
We got a private viewing of the elephants and the new elephant crossing venue (which is really an awesome facility if you get a chance to see it). They had a scavenger hunt booklet that gave the kids extra educational opportunities to explore their knowledge of animals and we never felt rushed to move to the next thing. We got to do a craft (the kids made bags to carry their water bottles) and roast marshmallows for s'mores around a big campfire. I was impressed at how well the event was organized and how smoothly the whole thing ran.
The last event of the day was the part that I was most excited about: we took a night hike with Night Vision Binoculars (the geek in me couldn't wait to try them out even though I was already exhausted). The zoo was so peaceful at night and checking out the animals in the eerie green light did give us an "explorer" kind of feel to the whole thing.
Off to bed we went and I don't think the kids lasted five minutes before they were out for the night. Snuggled in their sleeping bags on the top bunks, I never heard a peep once we turned out the light in the tent.
The next morning we had a basic breakfast (cereal, granola bars, fruit cups) and God bless them, they had coffee. I knew we had some more events that morning, but I had no idea what they were, so I was just as anxious to know what was next as the kids were. First we went to the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine which my daughter LOVED since she wants to be a veterinarian (and has stuck to it for at least three years now). We got to see what an animal hospital looks like and also find out what kind of supplies the zookeepers need on a daily basis to take care of the animals.
Next stop: The Rhino House! We got to meet the zookeeper who takes care of the rhinos, including the new baby (who still weighs over 1,000 pounds). Again, the presentation was really educational and the kids got a lot out of her talk.
And then, the unexpected happened... they let us pet the male Rhino! Let me tell you, even the adults were pretty excited about that. My son wasn't up for it, but my daughter stepped up and pet him like a pro!
After the program was over, we were able to wander around the zoo although we only made it about an hour before we were all ready to go home. The overnight was a huge success and I'm so glad we were able to do it. My daughter is already talking about attending the one in the winter and I'm sure it will be just as fun as this one. Great thanks go to the staff members who made it a true adventure to remember.