The dream of a family African Safari takes a tremendous amount of work and planning. If you’re one of the many families like mine, who dream of an family safari in Africa, keep planning and saving. If you find you need a little inspiration along the way, consider an easily arranged safari adventure in the open space of Monterey County, California.
Famous for its world class aquarium, there’s a wilder side to Monterey that many don’t know exists. Wild Things was created in 1983. At first the animals that called it home spent much of their time working in the entertainment industry.
Most families already know one of Wild Things most famous residents. The creators of The Lion King used Josef the lion as a model to study lions’ body movement and facial expressions for the wildly successful animated film.
But as time went on, owner Charlie Sammut started focusing more on education as his family of animals grew. What started with a cougar named Samson and a lion named Josef has grown into a family of more than 150 animals. Every day at 1pm they open their gates to visitors, and introduce them to the likes of Butch the elephant, Ed the hyena, Gertrude the pelican and many, many more.
The tour only takes about an hour, but you’ll be amazed by what you see. There are set safety zones that surround the animals’ cages, but it’s the closest most have ever been to a lion, tiger or bear. Being able to be close enough to watch the changing facial expressions of a lion is a once in a lifetime type experience that may even change the way you think about animals that aren’t exactly cute and cuddly.
Spend the Night
The tour is packed with great information, but the highlights of your stay will most likely begin after check-in at the on-site Vision Quest Safari-Style Bed & Breakfast. This is no ordinary hotel stay. There are eight authentic and well equipped African bungalows with all the makings for a great family getaway.
The theme and décor of each tent is different. To give you an idea, there’s Pachyderm Palace, Giraffe Manor, and the Zebra Zone. My family was appropriately placed in Monkey Manor. We could hear the lions and tigers roaring while laying on our beds.
While your kids oh and ah over the room, keep a lookout from your bungalow deck. In the afternoons, trainers are known to take animals for walks. You never quite know what animals will need some extra exercise, but when two baby tigers, Moksha, a Royal White Bengal tiger cub and buddy Rajani a Golden Tabby cub, appeared in our front yard, it was like hitting the vacation jackpot.
Dinner is Served
Once the animals have stretched their legs, you can head toward town for dinner, but if you’d like some more quality time with the animals, there are plenty of options. It takes 15 pounds of meat to keep Jacob the lion happy and healthy. Delivering his dinner – with a long metal pole- is always a roaring success during Crunch Time. Help tuck in the African elephants and feed them a late night snack during Butch’s Bedtime. Who knew bread could be such a treat.
Give the family a little extra time to settle in for bed. Everyone will be warm and comfy, but falling asleep to the sounds of lions, tigers and elephants can take some time. That said, it’s an amazing wake up call.
Morning Delivery Service
Vision Quest is a bed and breakfast and your meal will be delivered to your room typically sometime between 9 and 10 in the morning. If your kids are early risers and aren’t used to waiting that long for breakfast, I’d recommend having some healthy snacks on hand.
Remember Butch, the African elephant you put to bed last night? Well, he gets up early because it’s his job to deliver breakfast. He’s fairly efficient too, because he knows when you get food, so does he. Trainers will bring along plenty of healthy treats for your family to feed Butch from your bungalow deck.
“A kitten could chase him out of the barn,” says Sammut.
This gentle giant came to Wild Things from a carnival on the United States East coast and it’s obvious he likes his new job. At 26 years old, he’s doing more than just delivering breakfast, he’s delivering a new understanding and respect of animals to visitors, especially young ones.
A Zoo in the Making
San Francisco and San Jose have a zoo, so why not Monterey? With the help of his family, staff and the animals, Sammut is working hands on to build the Monterey Zoological Society on the unused portions of his 51-acre ranch. This will allow daily visitors to spend more time and also give the animals more living space. The first exhibit scheduled to open is the for the tigers and folks are roaring with anticipation.
Dana’s trip was hosted by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Wild Things, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. All photos by Dana Rebmann.
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