Posted by: Jennifer Larsen, Real Close Tour Guide and Tourism Marketing Coordinator
I joined Woodland Park Zoo’s marketing team in late March, and 8+ months later it still is such a thrill to call this my place of employment! Having grown up in the Seattle area, I’ve been coming to Woodland Park Zoo since I was a toddler, and it has been an amazing experience to develop a tour program to share that sense of wonder with both visitors to Seattle, as well as zoo members and more frequent guests.
Putting together the itinerary and content for our Real Close tour program which launched this year, I had the chance to meet people from all across the zoo’s departments including Animal Management, Education, Admissions, Horticulture, Animal Health, and Guest Services. Thanks to all of them, I am able to weave together stories, facts and anecdotes that entertain and inform our guests as I lead them around our award-winning exhibits.
This past summer marked our first season of Real Close tours, which included a loop through our award-winning African Savanna before going behind the scenes to operations central where guests could see the constant flow of activity at the zoo’s commissary where all the food for the animals comes through and the Zoo Doo yard (where much of the food ends up!).
I loved seeing the smiles on guests’ faces when I pulled out my keys so we can go through the locked gates; it’s one of the best feelings to show guests something they would not have had the chance to see without taking a tour. (And I have to admit, every time I use my keys to go somewhere in the zoo where an “Authorized Personnel Only” or “Employees Only” sign is hanging, it gives me a thrill!)
I’ve had tour guests who have visited Woodland Park Zoo hundreds of times, as well as guests who have never visited a zoo in their lives! From 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds, the zoo is a place where everyone can learn something new.
With the summer season over, I have developed a new tour itinerary for our winter season going on now. During these winter Real Close tours, I take our guests around our award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit, including a look behind the gate at the mechanics that power the sustainable features of the exhibit. Then we head over to the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, including jaguars, lemurs, colobus monkeys, and a behind-the-scenes look at the zookeepers’ prep kitchen once we’re inside the exhibit building. This itinerary showcases the diversity of our exhibits, including the amazing role that our horticulture, exhibits, and animal management teams play in creating and maintaining such fantastic displays.
If you want to try a Real Close tour for yourself or book one as a holiday surprise for the animal lover in your life, you’ll find available dates and ticket info at Real Close Tours. I hope to show you my side of the zoo sometime soon!
Photos: Bottom photo (Jaguar) by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo, all other photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.