Have you ever held a penguin? Yeah, I didn’t think so! And honestly, the thought had never crossed my mind either. Sure, I have watched random penguin documentaries on The Discovery Channel and caught snippets of Happy Feet, but I can’t say that holding a penguin was really on my list of things to do! But this past Thursday I had the chance to do just that: hold, pet, feed and paint with a real live penguin. I have to say, it was a total blast and makes for great cocktail party talk. Speaking of cocktail parties, I am rather looking forward to those in a few short weeks after baby girl makes her appearance!
Anyway, Katie from Audubon was nice enough to invite me (and other local bloggers) to experience the Backstage Penguin Pass at the aquarium to see what it’s all about. I really had no idea what to expect. I wore jeans, boots, a sweater and scarf because I thought that we’d be going into the actual penguin exhibit or that the penguins would be held in an extremely cold room. Little did I know that the penguins at the aquarium – who hail from South Africa – are actually quite comfortable roaming around the room temperature aquarium offices as if they own the place. For real – Millicent just walked in and out of offices like it was no big deal.
Our tour guide was Darwin who is essentially a walking penguin encyclopedia. I wish I could relay half of what he shared with us, but imagine an auctioneer who specializes in penguin knowledge. I.just.couldn’t.keep.up. What I did retain was that the Audubon Aquarium has 32 penguins who are, on average, 8-10 years old. If you think feeding a toddler is hard, get this: every single one of those penguins is hand fed twice a day every day, and a log is kept of every single fish they eat right down to the type of fish. Just remember that the next time you think dinner at your house is complicated!
Part of the experience includes learning about the penguins’ diet, preparing their food (including stuffing the fish with vitamins) and then hand feeding some of the penguins. It’s not so different from giving a dog a treat really; they just eat right from your hands as if it’s no big deal. As if that wasn’t wild enough, you then get to watch the penguins paint! They tape down some paper, spread some paint on the floor and before you know it you have yourself a penguin Picasso!
I was totally blown away by the penguins’ personalities. Millicent totally copped an attitude with us while we fed her friend Kohl, and I was shocked that they actually responded to their names. The entire experience was completely surreal, and I would highly recommend it for any fun-loving child or adult. It’s really unlike anything I’ve done before, and it’s just a whole lot of fun. I think we laughed the entire time because it’s just so mind-boggling that you’re holding, petting and interacting with penguins.
Backstage Penguin Pass: The Details
- You can purchase tickets online or in person. The tickets include admission to the aquarium for the day and are $115 for members and $125 for non-members.
- Only 6 individuals TOTAL are permitted per experience, so plan ahead!
- Children must be at least 4 years of age (honestly, it would likely be wasted money for younger ones anyway!) and all children 16 or younger must be accompanied by an adult (and 1 adult is required per 1 child for children under the age of 10).
- Tours run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only at 9:00am (before the aquarium opens) and 1:30pm and last for 1.5 hours.
Is it worth it?
In our opinion, yes. While $125/head is steep for any event, we highly recommend this for a special birthday present or holiday gift or other memorable occasion. This is not the type of event you’re likely to wake up one Saturday and randomly decide to do. That said, if your children are into animals or if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s worth it. You get a lot of one-on-one time with the penguins, the staff are extremely friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about what they do and it is something you’ll remember forever. We were actually only there for an hour and it was totally rewarding. We each took turns holding the penguins on our lap, we fed them from our hands, we watched them paint, we asked questions and we never felt like we were being rushed or hurried. I know that sometimes experiences like this can seem “gimmicky” and purely for profit, but I can say that the tour guides and staff truly love penguins and are eager to share their knowledge. In fact, our tour guide has photographed penguins all over the world (it’s his work that’s hanging in the offices), so you’re truly receiving an educational experience.