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Is the ZooAmerica Behind the Scenes Tour Worth it?

I remember my first time participating in a ZooAmerica behind-the-scenes tour. As part of my participation in Hersheypark’s Sweet Welcome, an invite-only weekend for influencers, our hosts took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of ZooAmerica.

The behind-the-scenes wasn’t even over before I knew my kids needed to experience the ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes tour.

Two years ago when I was selected to be a Hersheypark Ambassador, one of their Sweet Families. There was a list of perks I was able to choose from. When I saw the ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tour on the list I was thrilled! It was a no-brainer and I immediately chose that option for my family.

Father and son at ZooAmerica entrance
Ready for our behind the scenes tour

About the ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tour

Behind-the-scenes tours at ZooAmerica allow guests, younger to older, to get up close to explore more of the zoo than they would get with a regular visit to ZooAmerica. Travel through non-public spaces. Get up-close with animals! Walk away with a greater love for animals, an appreciation for zookeepers, and an understanding of our role in nature and in protecting our animals!

What is the minimum age for the Behind The Scenes Tour?

While there is no minimum age for the tour of ZooAmerica, it is recommended for ages 3 years old and older.

bald eagles at ZooAmerica

How much is a behind the scenes tour in ZooAmerica?

The behind the scenes experiences at ZooAmerica are $57 per person. Tours do include same-day admission to ZooAmerica. To check current fees visit the ZooAmerica website.

ZooAmerica admission is ONLY free when included with your Hersheypark admission and by accessing the zoo through the Hersheypark bridge during public operating hours. When Hersheypark is closed, but ZooAmerica is open there is an admission fee.

What are the group sizes of the tours?

There is a limit of 10 participants per tour.

deer at ZooAmerica

When are the behind the scenes tours?

Behind the scenes tours of ZooAmerica run year-round and nearly any day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays. To participate guests must pre-register and pre-pay 72 hours in advance by calling 717-534-3900.

What’s the difference between the different Behind The Scenes tours in ZooAmerica?

ZooAmerica offers 3 different behind-the-scenes tours: After Hours Tour, Early Bird Tour, and Photography Tour. Each tour lasts between 1.5 to 2 hours.

After Hours Tour

The after-hours tour is the one we experienced. It’s available on select Wednesdays and Saturdays. The time will vary depending on when the zoo closes.

Join our ZooAmerica naturalists for a tour through the Zoo including an insider’s look at the Animal Health Center and a flashlight tour through the animal buildings. Feed the otters and bears, touch a reptile, and hold a bird of prey! We’ll provide the flashlight, excitement, and adventure!

ZooAmerica website
ocelot in the dark at ZooAmerica
See the ocelot as part of the flashlight tour

Early Bird Tour

The early bird tour is available on Tuesdays, Fridays, or Sundays from 8 – 10 am.

Participants will get an up-close and personal look at select zoo species, learn fascinating information, and have the opportunity to feed some animals during a guided walk. You’ll wrap up your exploration with an opportunity to touch a reptile and hold a bird of prey!

ZooAmerica website

Photography Tour

The photography tour is available on select Wednesdays or Saturdays from 8 – 10 am

Get your camera lens ready for a unique tour suitable for photographers of all skill levels. Enjoy a special opportunity to take up-close photos of our animal residents while touring non-public spaces of select exhibits. Choose from three exhibit animals and two education animals. Learn more in this ZooAmerica pdf.

ZooAmerica website
otters at ZooAmerica

What happens on the Behind The Scenes Tours at Hershey’s ZooAmerica?

ZooAmerica behind-the-scenes tours happen while the zoo is closed. With the exception of staff, guests have the zoo all to themselves.

Behind the scenes learning

The behind-the-scenes learning during our tour of ZooAmerica was really phenomenal. We visited the different animal exhibits, the storage areas for food, and the vet examination room.

In the veterinarian exam room, we learned about when ZooAmerica zookeepers are able to treat the animals themselves and when they need to call in additional veterinarian help. We also learned the humane ways they help animals get the care they need.

exam room at ZooAmerica

You might never believe how much food it takes to feed animals at a zoo unless you hear it from a zookeeper. They eat A LOT. And feeding time isn’t just about food, it’s also enrichment time. There’s not just variety in what the ZooAmerica animals are given to eat but also in how it’s given. Sardine popsicle anyone?

ZooAmerica popsicle for animals

How do zookeepers get an animal to raise his paw or show his teeth? It’s all done through hand signals. Animals can be incredibly intelligent and when you can communicate with them effectively it makes giving them the care they need much easier.

zookeeper hand signals to a bear at ZooAmerica

I should also add that zookeepers spend a lot of time talking about animal conservation. The work that ZooAmerica zookeepers do goes beyond just caring for animals as the zoo. It extends to communities across our region. For example, they work with farmers and students to help create owl houses for barn owls that are seeing the loss of their homes due to deforestation. I was so moved by this that I came home and ordered this owl house (affiliate link) for our front yard. I haven’t seen any owls yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

One-on-one contact with the animals

Have you ever held an owl in your hand? Have you touched the scaly skin of a snake as it slithered around?

family takes turn touching a snake at the ZooAmerica behind the scenes tour.

During our Behind The Scenes Tour tour, we had one on one time with a snake and an owl. This is completely different than just petting an animal at the zoo. Each of us had a chance to hold the animals for several minutes at a time. We observed and learned about the animals as they were observing and learning about us.

Animal feedings

Speaking of the have you ever? Have you ever fed grapes to a bear or sardines to a sea otter?

grapes for bears at ZooAmerica

ZooAmerica is home to a few different rescued bears. One of the main highlights and my favorite part of the ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tour tour is the one on one time with the bears and getting a chance to feed them.

How exactly do you feed bears?

While it’s never safe to feed bears in the wild, the enclosed environment at ZooAmerica makes it possible to feed Bears during a Behind The Scenes Tour.

adult male fees bear at ZooAmerica

We were each given a cup of grapes and a wooden skewer. My kids and I took turns placing a grape on the end of the skewer. Then, we extended the grape into the enclosure and the Bears Den. We never had to wait too long for the bears. They are more than ready for all the sweet and healthy grapes we had for them.

Feeding otters?

Before we fed the bears at ZooAmerica, we also had the opportunity to feed the otters. Our guide and zookeeper prepared cups of sardines and other edible items for the otters. We took turns tossing out the food and watching the otters scamper to catch and devour it before their other sea otter friends got to it.

raw meat and sardines for otters at ZooAmerica

What age is a Behind The Scenes Tour ZooAmerica best for?

Toddlers and preschoolers

Toddlers and preschoolers must be 3 years old and older to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour at ZooAmerica. While probably too young to hold the animals, they can definitely take advantage of being able to see the animals without others around. No waiting for adults or other kids that might be blocking their view. No having to rush to move on to the next exhibit.

roseate spoonbills at ZooAmerica

Some of the educational discussions might not hold their attention and they likely would need assistance feeding the animals.

Little kids

Little kids can definitely get a kick out of a behind-the-scenes tour, especially if they have the ability to focus their attention on a speaker. During the classroom portion of our experience, we weren’t sitting for too long, but it would have been hard to appreciate the information being shared with us if my kids were distracted and wiggly.

gloves for holding animals in different sizes

If you have a curious kid who likes to ask questions, this can be the perfect experience for them. We found the zookeepers to be patient and more than willing to answer all the questions. Plus with a tour, there’s very little waiting your turn that has to take place.

Older kids, tweens, teens

Older kids, tweens, and teens may find this experience to be a fabulous one! It’s a whole new way to experience the zoo and one that can definitely hold their interests. The tour brings in practical and relevant connections to what our kids are learning in school.

There’s history in learning how ZooAmerica got started and where the animals came from. There’s science, math, humanities, and technology in discovering how the animals are fed and cared for.

tween holds owl during ZooAmerica behind the scenes tour

For the older kid that loves animals, they’ll be thrilled to hold an owl, feed river otters, and get up close with bears. For a teen looking for a career as a vet or zookeeper, this is an opportunity to see what that career path is like and get their questions answered.

You may even find that your teen thinks the ZooAmerica behind-the-scenes tour is cool enough that they’re willing to get IN the picture AND let you share it.

teen holds owl during ZooAmerica behind the scenes tour

I really believe a ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tour is best suited for older kids, tweens, and teenagers. To get the most from this experience your child really needs to have the maturity to

  • listen well to zookeepers,
  • be still and gentle while holding animals,
  • not be scared of animals,
  • and be respectful of the equipment in the Behind The Scenes Tour areas at ZooAmerica.
porcupine in a tree at ZooAmerica
Did you know porcupines climb trees?

Are the ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tours worth it?

The Behind The Scenes Tour at ZooAmerica is absolutely worth it. It’s your family’s chance to have one on one experiences with the ZooAmerica animals and zookeepers and enter nonpublic spaces of the zoo.

Ask the zookeepers all the questions you want. Take as many pictures as you want. See how the animals act when no one else is around. Learn unique facts, about ZooAmerica and the animals, that you might not discover on a regular visit to ZooAmerica.

The ZooAmerica Behind The Scenes Tour is one of those unforgettable experiences your kids will be talking about for years to come. Book a Behind The Scenes Tour of Zoo America on their website or by calling 717-534-3900.

tween boy feeds bear at ZooAmerica

Ready for more things to do in Hershey, PA?

Visit these articles for more advice, tips, and ideas for things to do on your trip to Hersheypark.

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