If you ever get the chance to experience Wild Winks at the Houston Zoo – do it.
You’ll get two private 2 hour tours of the zoo while it’s closed to the public.
You get to spend the night at the Houston Zoo! How many people can say they’ve done that?!
You get to see a side of the animals most people don’t – the playful, relaxed, and curious side. The tour takes you to the animals as they are just waking up.
The experience starts at 6:00pm with check in at the gate to the left of the entrance. Your group then puts down their bags in the Education Center and attends a short orientation. Keep in mind other Scout troops (or families, or private groups) will most likely be there with you. Dinner is next – pizza and carrots with a cookie for dessert. The pizza isn’t bad! Some of the chaperones brought their own meals. I can’t remember if there was a microwave.
Next up is the nocturnal tour. Each troop is lead by a Zoo employee and one volunteer who bring you on a tour of the nocturnal animals – big cats, African dogs, bears, a few elephants, and a tour of the reptile exhibit in the pitch black darkness. The animals came very close to the railings to say hello – I’ve never seen them that close or active before! Our guide, Jennifer, was extremely knowledgeable and answered all the questions we could throw at her, even the odd ball inquiries from the 7 year olds. The tour came to a close just after sunset and by then the girls were DONE. And by girls I mean chaperones. We were exhausted, hot, sweaty and wanted to sleep. And the 7 year olds were too!
Pictures from our nocturnal tour:
We went back to the Education Center for a small snack (nutrigrain bars, water, but some troops brought their own snacks) and got ready for bed. There’s a large bathroom with 2 sinks so that process took a little long. Chaperones set up air mattresses and tucked everyone in. I highly recommend bringing an air mattress – the bigger the better! There are plugs everywhere so you can use an air pump.
Please bear with me as I digress for a moment….
Now, if anyone ever tells you that the Houston Zoo doesn’t have an Arctic exhibit, they are lying. It does have an Arctic exhibit. It’s the Education Center after 10:00 pm. HOLY CRAP! I swear that AC kicked on at 10:30 and it never stopped blowing. It was so cold. SO COLD. I couldn’t sleep because I was so dang cold. Chaperones were getting up and putting on an extra layer of clothes. I had a dream about getting up and finding the thermostat. I kept hoping for morning because it meant the heat of day. One chaperone talked about going to sleep outside. FRIGID. Long story short, bring blankets. Lots of the them. And bring ear plugs because the overachieving AC rattles like end of a rattlesnake’s tail. And bring an eye mask because not all of the lights are turned off. Did I mention I’m what some might call a high maintenance sleeper? This is why I don’t go camping.
Back to Sunday morning…
At promptly 6:00 am, the leader wakes everyone up and announces breakfast is in 15 minutes. Breakfast is cereal, a muffin, and yogurt with OJ and milk. Now, if you need caffeine in the morning, you’ll need to bring it. Because the coffee they have is made the week before and left on the burner. It’s so bad, y’all. But the girls loved the chocolate chip muffins and Cocoa Puffs!
Breakfast ends, packing begins, and the girls have another short orientation. All bags are put into the cars at this point and the tour starts at 7:00. The tour goes to the diurnal animals (awake during the day) – birds, flamingos, elephants, tortoises, parts of the Children’s Zoo, and an animal encounter! We got to pet an alligator, a tortoise, and a huge rabbit. According to the girls, their favorite part of the tour was the giraffe exhibit. Those lovely animals were so close to the glass and interacted with us for about 15-20 minutes. The baby giraffes were very friendly and those mama giraffes mean mugged us, but we loved all of it.
The tour ended promptly at 9:00 just as the zoo was opening. We had the option of staying and spending more time on our own or leaving. We left. The chaperones had caffeine on the brain and everyone was exhausted.
All in all, it was a really fantastic time. The girls and chaperones agreed it was a blast and would do it again in a heartbeat, with a down comforter and a heated blanket.
Other random tidbits to help future Wild Winkers:
- Chaperones park as close to the entrance as possible at 6:00 (arrival time) and move their cars to secured employee parking after dinner. We brought expandable wagons to help with the transfer of baggage….well, air mattresses really.
- The Education Center is the huge building to the left of the main entrance.
- You can experience Wild Winks with Girl/Boy Scouts, a private group, or on family nights.
- Scouts earn their Wild Winks badges by participating in a few different activities while you’re there. Our troop used our 5 senses to learn about the animals.
- One troop brought little trinkets to share with our troop – little pom poms decorated like animals. We agreed that would be fun to do next time we go.
- Another troop brought cupcakes as their nighttime snack to celebrate the birthday of one of their scouts.
- There are water bottle filling stations in the Education Center. I recommend bringing a water bottle to use while you’re there.
- Along with the normal toiletries, bring a hand towel to use for washing your face and brushing your teeth.
- Our troop had matching shirts made which made spotting our girls very easy.
- No one needs to bring any money. There’s not an opportunity to spend it, so they don’t need to bring it.
- Bring disposable ponchos. Houston is notorious for short lived rain showers. We had a little bit of rainfall just before our morning tour and the girls were stuck carrying around wet ponchos. One troop leader had 5 tucked into her belt. It made for a great tutu!
- If you’re an adult, bring a backpack for the tours. It’s great for water bottles and bug spray. Bring that too!
- Click this link for more info.