That might seem like a rhetorical question aimed at defining your adventurous streak – like whether you’d jump out of a plane or eat a live bug – but it’s very much a real consideration for folks visiting the Long Island Aquarium, in Riverhead.
Shark Dive is one of the facility’s several animal encounters. Participants are submerged in the 120,000-gallon Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit for an unforgettable look at some of the sea’s most intimidating predators.
Shark Dive is intended to give guests an up-close, personal experience they won’t find elsewhere, said Darlene Puntillo, director of marketing and advertising for the aquarium. Bolstering an appreciation for the importance of conservation is another goal of the aquarium’s animal encounters, which is why Shark Dive starts with an educational program.
If you’re interested in a wild animal encounter this summer, here are a few places around the region worth considering:
Camel rides, Bronx Zoo, the Bronx: There are more than 600 species of animal at the Bronx Zoo and camels are one of them. Guests can take these humped mammals for short rides in Wild Asia Plaza. The experience is offered daily, beginning at 11 a.m., from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
AAA members save 20 percent on Bronx Zoo admission tickets purchased online.
Penguins, sea lion selfies and more, Long Island Aquarium, Riverhead: Shark Dive is just one of the animal encounters at Long Island Aquarium. Here are some of the others. Visit the aquarium’s website for a full list and details. And check out our Q & A with a Long Island Aquarium animal trainer for a glimpse behind the scenes.
- Bugs: Long Island Aquarium’s newest animal encounter, It’s a Bug’s Life, lets visitors get hands-on with some interesting insects. They might look like creepy crawlers, but don’t worry, they can’t hurt you
- Penguin encounter: Guests go behind-the-scenes to see how these adorable creatures are cared for before meeting a penguin chick. Participants are allowed to snap keepsake photos.
- Pirate snorkel adventure: Throw on a wet suit and go snorkeling among several different types of tropical fish. Note: this program is only available from late June through Labor Day.
- Sea lion selfie: Get a kiss from and a photo with Java, one of the aquarium’s sea lions.
- Trainer program: One of the most in-depth animal encounters, participants help prepare seal food and take part in seal training. Guests can also get a kiss from Java, after they’ve helped him make a painting.
AAA members can save $2 on Long Island Aquarium tickets, up to $10.
Rhino encounters, Southwick’s Zoo, Mendon, Massachusetts: Southwick’s Zoo, advertised as the largest zoo in New England, is home to two white rhinos. Guests can meet one of these animals during rhino encounters, offered before the zoo opens. Limited spots must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance. Those without reservations should consider signing up for a giraffe feeding. Tickets are purchased day of and opportunities are available weekends when its 60 degrees or warmer. The 35-acre Deer Forest is another option. Visitors can pick up deer feed in hopes of feeding, and potentially petting, Eurasian fallow deer.
AAA members can visit the zoo for children’s price ($18) on June 4, or save $2 on admission anytime.
Seals, penguins and beluga whales, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Connecticut: Mystic Aquarium added to its lineup of animal encounters this year with Seals Up Close, a 40-minute program that includes education on harbor seals and behind-the-scenes access to their exhibit. The aquarium wanted to bring additional exposure to its seals, said Dale Wolbrink, director of public relations at the facility. The program also gives guests an enhanced way to connect with seals, simultaneously fostering an appreciation for conservation. That goal is prevalent in the aquarium’s other encounter programs, such as two penguin offerings. Visit the aquarium’s website for more details.
There are three opportunities to interact with beluga whales as well, including a chance to wade in the whale exhibit or, for younger visitors, the chance to touch a whale from behind a short window. Artistically minded patrons can sign up to paint with a whale. Whales wield (tongue twister alert) a special brush while visitors hold their canvases. When it’s over, participants take home their new pieces of art.
The painting program illustrates that humans aren’t the only ones to get something from an animal encounter. “All of the behaviors that are part of these encounter programs are actually some form of enrichment … It is less about entertainment and more about enrichment for our animals. Just like you and I, the introduction of stimuli helps to keep them active and healthy and engaged,” Wolbrink said.
AAA members can save $9 on admission to Mystic Aquarium by picking up tickets at AAA branches in Connecticut or Rhode Island.
Safari Off Road Adventure, Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, N.J.: In addition to its water park and heart-pounding lineup of thrill rides (including a brand new roller coaster, The Joker,) Six Flags Great Adventure draws guests from near and far with a safari of 1,200 animals from six continents living among 350 acres. Tours through the area are enjoyed from the comfort of off-road vehicles except for stops at Camp Aventura. There, visitors can get up close with a variety of small animals including birds and reptiles. Giraffe feedings are available as well, and there’s a two-seat zip line if you can’t wait to get back to the rides.
Buy tour tickets in advance at your local AAA office for less.
Think we’re missing a great animal encounter? Tell us about it in the comments below.