Prefer critters to coasters? Here are five experiences not to miss
Even though I don’t like thrill rides, I find myself visiting a lot of theme parks. Surprisingly I can always find something fun to do. Usually it involves animal experiences or animal shows.
Luckily for me, my daughter shares my tastes in entertainment. On a recent visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in the San Francisco Bay Area, we found plenty of fun things to do.
1. Frolic with dolphins
The program runs year round, even when the park is closed. Read my full review of the experience of swimming with dolphins here. Basically you learn about dolphins in a classroom setting, wriggle into a wetsuit, and play with dolphins while photographers capture every moment.
It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than doing it on a tropical vacation.
My daughter could do this all day long, but the lorikeet-feeding attraction is usually only open for an hour every afternoon. You pay $5 for two cups of nectar. Then you stand still and wait for the greedy little birds to land on you and start skirmishing for the right to eat first.
Some of the birds can’t seem tell an eyebrow from a cup of nectar, but honestly this is all part of the fun. We went back for seconds. Park employees are on hand to help you attract birds and (if necessary) repel them.
A few tips: go early while the birds are at their hungriest, wear a hat with a brim if the thought of birds on your head creeps you out, and have your camera ready.
3. Look for animals on leashes
Sure, the tigers are cool. But have you ever gotten up close and personal with a porcupine? Petted a baby possum? Hugged an elephant?
Keep your eyes open as you walk around the park and you’ll see animals being moved from one place to another by their trainers. Very often you can interact with them. The same is true after the shows. They won’t let you pet the eagle, but they will let you pet a baby alligator.
4. Be in a show
Just because you don’t work for a theme park doesn’t mean you can’t be in one of the shows. I have a secret method for getting kids chosen as volunteers and it works fairly often. The key is to be fast, still, and silent. You’ll also need big eyes.
Tell your kids to be listening to the announcers carefully. When the animal handlers ask for a volunteer, they should straighten their posture, shoot their hand up at light speed, and put one hand over their mouth as if bursting with excitement. Sitting near the front is important too.
Getting chosen for the Celebrate Shouka show (their killer whale) is harder, and you’ll have to be sitting in the soak zone. Not worth it, if you ask me.
At the base of Merlin’s Dolphin Theater is a underwater viewing area that is also underrated. There’s never anyone there, but it’s one of the best places in the entire park. Kids love to peer at dolphins. Dolphins love to peer at kids. It’s a match made in heaven.
One thing that makes this viewing area even more interesting is the fact that two of the park’s dolphins live happily with their (relatively petite for her species) killer whale buddy. All three swim up to the windows regularly to peek out at park visitors.
You can stand there all day taking pictures—I should know.