Gift Akron Zoo

Akron Zoo's Animal Experiences are Gifts You’ll Have to See to Believe
If mom, dad, or grad loves animals, Akron Zoo’s Behind-the-Scenes, Get Closer and Rise and Shine Safari Tours take its “you’ve never been this close” motto to a whole other level.

By Julie Cajigas and Megan Williams

During the pandemic, the Cajigas family was restless. When the pandemic first required isolation, their children were 7, 3 and 1. As the pandemic stretched on and on, the family was always looking for things to do.


Enter Akron Zoo.


Long-time members of the zoo, the Cajigas family was not venturing into crowded spaces (like a zoo) because dad was a doctor, which meant risk for the family and risk for his patients – but maybe most importantly, risk for people they encountered.

When they heard about the original version of the Rise and Shine Safari, they considered all the activities they hadn’t been able to do and decided to splurge. 

Their oldest, age 7, was the only child able to go on that tour based on the age guidelines.

“The entire time we were meeting animals and seeing how the zookeepers work, my husband and my minds were being blown,” Julie Cajigas, ZipsGuide editor, said. 

“The kids were excited, but not nearly as excited as we were.”

The Cajigas parents were glowing when they got to help their daughter feed the penguins (and listen to her complain about the fishy smell).

They relished creating paper bag breakfasts for the bears with bright pictures to encourage them to come and explore the food. 


“We learned so many things. For example, there is a small hole in the wall of the coyote area that is impossible to find if you’re not aware of it,” Cajigas said. “The zookeeper showed us that if a person was to blow or breathe into that hole, the coyotes would come to sniff you. 

When they came? Minds. Blown.

The kiddo? Well, not so much. She was asking about the carousel and snacks. 

She enjoyed seeing the animals, but it was the grown-ups on the tour who would photo bomb Facebook with shots of each of them feeding a tortoise.

Gallery: The Cajigas Kids Have Been that Close...

Moms Love Memories (and we bet Dads and Grads do too).

When working with my student Megan Williams on her Akron Zoo piece, I went back in the photo archive to see if I had any good photos from the safari experience with my older two children. Besides having a massive emotional reaction to a huge pile of zoo memories, I realized that our kids have had a LOT of close encounters of the creature kind at the Akron Zoo. Here are some of my favorites. - Julie Cajigas, guide editor

While educating youth is an important part of the Akron Zoo’s mission, that doesn’t mean the zoo isn’t interested in educating the adult population as well. Thus, the Akron Zoo has geared some hands-on experiences to people of all ages who want to learn about animals or nature in general. 


While zoos are a great place for families to teach their children about biodiversity (an umbrella term that refers to all organisms on Earth and our interconnected eco systems), they are also a great place for grown-ups to learn the same. All adults should consider themselves conservationists, or active participants in protecting all organisms on the planet by helping biodiversity to continue. 


Preserving biodiversity will help the Earth to thrive for future generations, and current adults have the strongest ability to impact change today.


All of this is to say – stop thinking about the zoo as a place for kids. Think of a zoo as a place where you can recapture the wonder of childhood as a grown up. 


If you have a mom, dad or grad in your family who enjoys animals, and in particular any of the animals we’re about to mention, the following Zoo tours are a slam dunk gift. You’ll shatter the backboard. 


Let’s get into it.


The Behind-the-Scenes Tour

If taking mom, dad, or grad to the Akron Zoo already sounds like a great (affordable) idea, adding on a Behind-the-Scenes tour gives a regular visit a special little moment. These tours occur daily and are between 15 and 20 minutes long. They begin at the Pride of Africa train and center on learning about the Zoo’s new lion exhibit and the king of the jungle.


For $10 per person (not including the cost of zoo admission), guests learn about the lion pride, local conservation efforts and efforts abroad in Africa. This is a great way to kick off your visit to The Akron Zoo, and ticket reservations for this tour can make a fantastic gift for anyone interested in animals and conservation.


The Rise and Shine Safari Tour

Next up in the lineup is the “Rise and Shine Safari Tour.” This tour lasts about 90-minutes long and participants must be five or older. Guests who purchase tickets to the Rise and Shine Safari tour will get to greet the zoo’s penguin colony and feed the birds their "rise and shine" fish breakfast from the public side of the habitat. Then, off to the lemur house to see the keepers engage with the lemur troop through a training session that shows off their agility. Then head up to Wild Asia to see Lulu the red panda. Cross over to the African Pride area and check out a behind-the scenes of the lion night yard.


For us, the best part of this experience was the penguin feeding, but don’t sleep on the bears. Watching humans train and interact with two giant grizzly bears is, well, yet another time my husband and I had our eyes glued on the animals while our daughter checked out a butterfly. 


This tour costs $95, so a substantial jump from the $10 pricing. However, with all the experiences packed into this tour, one can’t help but think it is worth it. The Rise and Shine Safari Tour is offered Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday only. From May through September 2, the experience will be offered those days from 8:30 to 10 a.m. After Sept. 2, the tours begin at 9:30 and end at 11 a.m.


The Getting Closer Tour

The last of the three tours, “Getting Closer,” can be an extremely memorable gift for moms, dads, and grads. Though it doesn’t have the breadth of the Rise and Shine Safari, this one allows you to get up close and personal with a specific species.


The tour varies widely in price from $55 per person to hang out with the goats or the educational animals (we love you little kinkajou). From there, for $75 you can feed and chill with the Galapagos Tortoises.


“For my son’s fifth birthday, we fed and watered the tortoises,” Cajigas said. “It was an absolutely epic experience.” 


Now, if you know someone who loves red pandas, perhaps after seeing the recent Disney film Turning Red,how could you pass up the chance for some close-up time? With the $150 red panda option, guests get to tong feed the panda some of its favorite snacks. You also get to tour their inside habitat and learn about red panda conservation. 


In general, feeding a red panda with tongs sounds epic, and well, slightly edgy and dangerous. Why the tongs? What happens to your fingers if you hand the little red panda its food directly?


Speaking of epic and dangerous, the other $150 option is the Grizzly bears. Beyond the training you can witness in the Rise and Shine Safari, this tour takes you into the bear’s bedrooms, the keeper’s kitchen, and the bear yard. 


If your family was willing to get you behind-the-scenes at the $150 level, which would you choose? 


Outside of spending facetime with some incredible creatures, Akron Zoo also offers adults-only events like Summer Safari and Brew at the Zoo.


Summer Safari is a fundraising event where the zoo hosts tasting tables from area restaurants. Guests can sample each and visit many new restaurants all in one go. 


The Summer Safari evening includes keeper-led trainings and up-close meet and greets with animals throughout the zoo, heavy refreshments from 15 local restaurants and caterers, an open bar, live music, and entertainment and that online silent auction, featuring “exclusive zoo experiences.”


As epic as Akron Zoo’s tours are, we wonder what experiences might be offered as items in the silent auction.


Summer Safari tickets are $100 for general admission and $250 for patron-level tickets, which comes with a VIP party from 6 to 7 p.m. for patrons only.


Brew at the Zoo (not to be confused with Boo at the Zoo) is exactly as hoppy as it sounds. There is a Brew scheduled at least quarterly.


“The staff tries to make each brew at the zoo a new experience,” Pam Holtz, senior vice president & Chief External Affairs Officer, said. “So, anyone who has come to one before feels like it is a separate and unique experience.” 


The next Brew at the Zoo is Saturday, June 8 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the island vacation themed event are offered with early-bird pricing until June 2 at 9 a.m. Early bird tickets range from $20 for members who will serve as designated drivers to $38 for non-members who will imbibe. 


If you miss early-bird rates, those prices slide up to $23 for member designated drivers to $43 for non-member guests.


Tickets to Brew include eight sample tastings and admission to the zoo after hours. Snacks from local food trucks will be available for additional purchase.


For an additional fee, VIP tickets are available, which include early 6 p.m. entry, four additional tastings, a full-size drink ticket, and a treat.


The June 8 Brew is impeccably timed for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation gifting. You’ll be a bit after Mother’s Day, so you can give her the ticket May 12, or it can be a pre-Father’s Day activity. 


Brew at the Zoo tickets could be a great gift for recent college grads. It marks the beginning of summer right after graduation. After the final-final exams, this may be just the relaxing celebratory gift your grad never knew they needed. 


Or, play the long game and get tickets for the October 5 edition of Brew, which is a Halloween costume party. This event sells out annually, so if your mom, dad, or grad are fans of the spooky season, commit to getting them as a gift right now.


Sure, the tickets aren’t on sale yet, but if you put an IOU in their card and follow through by snagging the tickets before they sell out, you’ll be their favorite.


Now, if you’re looking for a gift your mom, dad, or grad can enjoy pretty much immediately, have you considered Akron Zoo’s new Wildlife Illuminated? Remaining dates for 2024 include May 17-18, 24-25, 31 and June 1.


This evening event from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. fills the zoo with immersive, lighted exhibits and a variety of murals, maps and artistic opportunities for children and adults alike.


Tickets are $14 to 20 for Akron Zoo members and $18 to 24 for non-members (there are also lower prices for children’s tickets). The range in cost is dependent on demand for tickets on a particular date and time. And that brings us to one last thing…


Before we leave you to your gifting safari on the Zoo’s website right now, we want to humbly suggest one last gift idea for moms, dads, and grads. Again, we encourage you to think of the Zoo as a place for grown-ups.


If you have someone on your list who enjoys animals, nature, long walks, short walks, incline walks, having a place to take kids or grandkids, or being in a lively place filled with excitement and wonder, consider purchasing a membership for their gift. An individual membership for the year starts at just $60, and a family plus membership tops out at $130. 


Not only will they receive free parking and regular admission to Akron Zoo, they will also receive discounts on all of the special programs mentioned and discounts in the gift shop, as well as free or discounted entry to reciprocal organizations.


To learn more about all the Zoo’s experiences and programs, visit them at

(Top - Middle left) Photos of the Cajigas kids via Julie Cajigas. (Bottom Left) Brew at the Zoo photos courtesy of Akron Zoo.

To reach content author Megan Williams,  email her here.

Downtown Akron Partnership Announces Downtown Dollars E-Gift Card Program > read more here.