Zoos, Reptile Shows and Rescue Dogs: Surprising Birthday Party Ideas for Kids

If your child is an animal lover, you’re in luck: There are plenty of unusual birthday party options that will be a blast for your child and his or her guests.

We talked with parents and event planning professionals and discovered five fun ideas for your young party animal.

Marisa Ollins held her daughter's 1st birthday party at Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey.
Courtesy of Marisa Ollins
Marisa Ollins held her daughter's first birthday party at Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey.

Zoo or Aquarium Parties

From smaller hometown facilities to those that are nationally known, many zoos and aquariums offer party packages.

Marisa Ollins hosted her daughter Willa’s first birthday party at the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey.

“A lot of her friends her age have older siblings, and I wanted something that would cater to both,” Ollins says. “I was surprised to hear most of the older siblings had never been to a zoo party.”

Ollins splurged and had 65 guests, including about 30 kids, in a gazebo location at the zoo. It was $200 to rent the space for two hours, plus $7 admission for each guest and the cost of food. The zoo offers the option to bring animals to the party space for an additional fee, but Ollins skipped that. She warns that though they had a great time, being at a zoo means being outdoors, so you have to worry about the possibility of cool or rainy weather.

A zoo or aquarium party can be expensive, because in many cases you’re paying for everyone’s admission in addition to the party room and food costs — and adults count as guests.

Jenna Seymour, who has run parties for both a major zoo and a big aquarium, has some tips for parents throwing or attending a zoo party. Among them: try to invite more kids than adults; if you are a guest be ready to help the host; don’t bring balloons or confetti, which are dangerous for the animals; and if you have a fear of a certain animal, keep it to yourself so you don’t pass it on the kids.

“There’s no better way to raise an animal lover than to expose them to this kind of thing,” Seymour says. “Kids pay attention to everything their parents do. If you model a love and respect for animals, they will imitate you.”

Turtle Back Zoo party favors
Courtesy of Marisa Ollins
Marisa Ollins gave out monkey party favors to guests at her daughter's zoo birthday celebration.

Here’s a sampling of offerings at a handful of zoos and aquariums:

  • Zoo Miami: The party package is $575 for 20 guests, including the birthday child and his parents. It includes zoo admission for the day, a two-hour private location with a host, food and cupcakes, decorations, return admission for each kid and baseball caps as favors. There is a wide range of party add-ons to choose from, such as $100 for a 20-minute animal encounter.
  • San Francisco Zoo: The birthday package is $50 per person, with a minimum of 20 guests. The fee includes a room for 90 minutes, decorations, food and a cake, a face painter, goodie bags, ride tickets and a party coordinator. There’s an additional fee to have animal encounters and to cover the cost of parking for guests.
  • Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta): Birthday parties are $45 per person with a minimum of 15 people, including adults and children, and a maximum guest count of 50. The fee doesn’t include food. Parties happen behind the scenes and there are several themes to choose from.
  • Mystic Aquarium (Mystic, Connecticut): The 90-minute party package is $450 for nonmembers and includes up to 25 adults and children. You get a host with a private touch-tank of sea creatures, paper products and party favors for the kids. Pizza is extra.

Some zoos book up months in advance, so start planning early. Some also require that you buy a membership or pay a higher price if you don’t.

Nature Center Gatherings

Hosting a party at your local nature center can be less expensive than a zoo and still a great deal of fun for your animal-themed celebration.

Kathleen Boland recently held her daughter Sydney’s fifth birthday party at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Connecticut.

“We had been to so many princess, inflatable, etc., etc., type parties, we wanted something different,” Boland says. “We were already members at the museum, and our kids love going there to visit the animals. The animal aspect appeals to both boys and girls, so we thought it was a perfect fit. The price was reasonable, too.”

The cost of the two-hour party was $375 for 25 kids. A nature center host brought some small baby animals to meet the kids, they went on a tour of the farm on the property, and they made paper-bag animal puppets. 

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