Did you know you can camp with the giraffes at the Cincinnati Zoo? The Twiga Family Overnight is one of many unique experiences the zoo offers. From a campout at the foot of a giant manatee aquarium to an adventure-filled overnight quest, there are so many cool behind-the-scenes opportunities for visitors that are easy to overlook. Wayfinding TravelingMom Jennifer Kaufman shares her experience with the newest overnight at the zoo!
Why We Love the Cincinnati Zoo
There are many things to do in Cincinnati, but one of the most popular attractions is definitely the zoo. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is one of the most reputable and renowned zoos in the country. Our family has had a zoo membership for as long I can remember; many of our local friends have them as well. It’s one of the most affordable membership options for Cincinnati residents, and perhaps the best bang for your buck if you’re visiting the city.
TravelingMom Tip: If you belong to your local zoo, museum, or aquarium, don’t forget to check for reciprocity benefits. Your home membership may save you a ton of money when traveling, too!
We have been homeschooling our children this year, but even before we began this journey, we were huge fans of all the educational program offered by the Cincinnati Zoo. I remember my first overnight at the zoo when I was a child, and have loved the “behind the scenes” kind of offerings ever since. Certainly some of the multi-week classes and events are geared toward locals, but there are a number of incredible, unique opportunities at the Cincinnati Zoo that visitors love, too!
UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES MOST OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS MISS
The Cincinnati Zoo is a wonderful place to visit any time of year. There are so many incredible animals and exhibits to see, as well as seasonal offerings such as Zoo Babies, Zoo Blooms, HallZOOween, and the Festival of Lights. If you have an avid animal lover in your family though, you’ll definitely want to check out the tours and behind-the-scenes opportunities. You can even sign up to stay overnight at the zoo!
The zoo offers a variety of overnight programs on different dates. Be sure to check the calendar for the dates you plan to visit.
The Twiga Family Overnight at the Cincinnati Zoo
My family all loves giraffes, so we were so excited when they began offering a giraffe-themed overnight program in 2017. The “Twiga Overnights” take place in brand new, incredible tents. The public giraffe viewing area is across the enclosure, so the site where the overnight is held is totally secluded.
Our overnight programming began with a “zoo walk,” which included behind-the-scenes locations. We toured some of the zoo’s animal kitchens and learned interesting facts about zookeeper jobs. The zoo was empty except for some overnight staff, which was super cool. You can read all about our adventure (including what may just be the worst job in the entire city of Cincinnati!) here.
Along the way, the staff brought out a few animals for us to meet. We especially loved hanging out with two flamingos, Hula and Tango. (All of the zoo’s flamingos are named after dances, which I find adorable.)
CAMPERS END THE EVENING WITH PRIVATE ANIMAL MEET AND GREETS
Toward the end of our night, we made our way back to the Education Center. Before going out to the campsite, we made one last stop in a nearby classroom, where we had a private meet and greet with three special animals!
When we finally made it back to our campsite, the kids were exhausted. We couldn’t go to bed though, without one last stop! We took a super special walk into the Giraffe Ridge exhibit; we’ll never look at it in quite the same way again. After such a fun evening, we all slept soundly.
TravelingMom Tip: The sleeping arrangements vary by overnight activity. For the Twiga Overnight, the tents sleep up to ten. Families or groups may be with others, but will not be split up. In the “Sleep with Manatee” overnights, the entire group sleeps in the same room. Keep this in mind if you have special bedtime needs. There are indoor bathrooms just a short walk away, so while there are no showers, there is plenty of privacy to change, brush teeth, wash up, etc.
BREAKFAST – FOR HUMANS AND GIRAFFES!
In the morning, you can bet my crew was up before sunrise. It was a little too foggy to actually see much of a sunrise, but the atmosphere was still a pretty special one. The giraffes weren’t out just yet, so we walked over to the fire and had surprise visits from more animal ambassadors!
After we finished our catered breakfast, it was time to help the giraffes with theirs. The zoo hadn’t yet opened, so while there were feed boxes and some enrichment boxes that the giraffes could explore, there was no competition with anyone else feeding them. We had so much time with them, and a few of them returned to us over and over again.
IS THE CINCINNATI ZOO’S TWIGA OVERNIGHT WORTH THE COST?
The overnight program ends at 9 a.m., which is an hour before the zoo is open to the public. Regardless of whether you have a membership or other admission, you are welcome to stay at the zoo the rest of the day.
At the time we camped (and with a membership discount), we paid $75 per person for the Twiga Overnight. That seemed pricey at first, until I compared the total to a night at a hotel – especially one like Great Wolf Lodge or similar, which includes entertainment and activities. In that case, I think it was well worth doing at least once.
Non-members pay a few dollars more to camp, but are also allowed to stay the entire next day without purchasing additional admission. If you were planning on visiting the zoo anyway, this savings makes it even more worthwhile.
Other Overnights at the Zoo
The Cincinnati Zoo offers several different educational tours and overnights at the zoo. You can check this section of the website for details about what might be offered during your visit. Here are some examples of what is currently being offered:
Sleep with the Manatees
The Cincinnati Zoo is one of only two institutions outside of Florida that rescues and rehabilitates manatees. In this overnight, guests enjoy two sneak peeks behind the scenes, hike the Zoo at night, play games, experience animal encounters, and sleep right at the base of the giant manatee aquarium.
On this fun, interactive overnight at the zoo, guests learn to observe the world. Like the other overnight programs, Creature Quest includes animal encounters, and behind-the-scenes tours. With this event though, be prepared to go on a special adventure quest!
Africa Predator Prowl
Prowl the Zoo at night searching for predators of Africa, while learning about the role predators play in the earth’s ecosystems. Guests will meet animals, hike the Zoo at night, get a peek behind the scenes, and do a hands-on investigation exploring predatory techniques in the African Savannah.
Cincinnati Zoo Overnight Programs at a Glance
- Currently, the Cincinnati Zoo Overnight programs run from $40-$80 per guest. Prices may vary based on experience, guest age, membership benefits, etc.
- Guests must be at least 5 years old for family overnights.
- Groups must have at least one adult for every 10 children attending any zoo program.
- Upon registering for a overnight or other educational event, guests will receive detailed information on where to meet, what to pack, etc.
- Overnights run from approximately 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. Options are available for people who are interested in the fun, educational activities, but prefer sleeping in their own bed.
- Most overnights provide a snack and catered breakfast.