Tucson is a popular tourist destination for lots of reasons – but travelers often return here because of the warm welcome they receive from Tucsonans .  This open welcome is extended every day the Reid Park Zoo, where the staff is welcoming to all, and especially mindful of guests of all ages who may have special needs.  Research has shown the many benefits of visiting a zoo and interacting with animals, and The Reid Park Zoo meets all ADA guidelines and goes above and beyond  to offer these benefits to one and all.   

For example, if  you don’t like big crowds, they can advise you of the best times to visit.  There are stroller and wheelchair rentals.   The Zoo allows trained service animals to accompany you on the grounds (except inside the aviaries, where lots of birds are just walking around), and the website even has a map to identify areas where the sensory experiences (sounds, smells, and so on) might be a bit more intense.

A magical night

But every other year, there is a magical night at the Reid Park Zoo, only open to special children, (those who are differently-abled or have special healthcare needs) and their families.  DreamNight is a free event where everyone can enjoy the Zoo without concern for social stigma, the overstimulation of larger crowds, or worries about accessibility issues.   And don’t worry – these V.I.P. children and their families never need to miss the annual event – The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also embraces the joy and importance of this wonderful evening and hosts it on alternating years with the Zoo.   Read on to learn about the many special activities and presentations planned for the Zoo’s 2021 event. 

The Origins of DreamNight

Tucson is a wonderful fit for these DreamNight evenings, but can’t claim credit for coming up with the idea.   We have the Rotterdam Zoo, in the Netherlands, to thank for this wonderful tradition.  The first DreamNight was organized for the Rotterdam Zoo in 1996, starting out to serve children from just one specific hospital who were fighting childhood cancer.   Since then, the inclusiveness, imagination and activities offered during this event have grown exponentially as it has been adopted by more than 300 zoos in 35 different countries!    But the warmth of the reception, the interaction with keepers, animals, and volunteers, and the opportunity to experience a zoo in a fun and carefree atmosphere is central to  DreamNights all over the world.

The good people at the Rotterdam Zoo have a special hope – that all zoos and aquariums around the world will decide to reach out to their communities by hosting their own DreamNights.

 What’s Happening: DreamNight 2021 at the Reid Park Zoo

  • This year’s DreamNight is upon us!  The fun will begin for families in the parking lot, where members of the Fire Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department will have their vehicles – and even a K-9 unit – to show families and answer questions.   In the front plaza of the Zoo, children and their families can meet the Arizona Ghostbusters – a nonprofit that spreads fun and goodwill, complete with Ghostbuster Uniforms, Vehicles, and of course lots of information about slime!
  • The evening is all about creating magic and enjoyment for everyone, and the Zoo’s staff and volunteers truly cherish the opportunity to be a part of it.   It’s a wonderful time to be in the Zoo, because in the calm of the early evening, the animals often exhibit behaviors that guests might not be able to observe during the day.  Zoo keepers and volunteers will be providing special information about the animals, with presentations about the Alligator, the Jaguar, the Rhinos, the Giraffes, the Lions, and of course the beloved African Elephant herd.   
  • There is truly something planned to delight every child.     As families meander through the Zoo, marveling at the animals, they’ll also encounter some other special guests, like members of our own professional ice hockey team, the Tucson Roadrunners.  If fairy tales or seafaring adventures are more to their taste, they can interact with various princesses from Tucson Ever After and the Magic Glam Princesses, or a group of Bleed’n Heart Cove Pirates, or even Mermaid Odette.  As the sun sets, the twinkling lights throughout the grounds will add even more magic to the evening.
  • If special activities are in order, families can enter the central Event Garden, where children can play lawn games, get glitter tattoos, experience science fun from the UA’s Flandrau Science Center, and even meet some special Star Wars characters.  

The Reid Park Zoo is carrying on a wonderful tradition begun 25 years ago in faraway Rottterdam – and a group of very special children (not to mention some excited adults)  in Tucson can’t wait to be a part of it! 

The Reid Park Zoo Expansion website is not produced by the Zoo. We’re a group of concerned Tucsonans who enthusiastically support the Zoo and want you to know more about the Zoo’s value to our community, and especially the amazing animals that the RPZ works to save every day.

The Reid Park Zoo, and all other AZA-accredited zoos, are much more than “living museums.”   They are vibrant, beautiful destinations with an urgent mission.   It’s important to the Reid Park Zoo that you come and visit, and they’ll help you do it.

Why?   Because just by visiting, you’ll be helping to support conservation efforts and sustainable living.   This will be even more significant when the Pathway to Asia expansion becomes a reality, because there will be many more endangered species you’ll be supporting simply by coming to the Zoo to see them.

Reaching Out to the Community

The Zoo has many community outreach programs, partnering with charities and non-profits, because they understand that doing good for community means doing good for the animals and the environment!      You probably already know that thousands of schoolchildren visit the Reid Park Zoo for free every year, and you may have heard about special events the Zoo offers.  

One example is Dream Night.  It’s a free evening at the Zoo just for children with any kind of healthcare or mobility challenges along with their families.  Nobody needs to worry about accessibility or stigma.  RPZ partners with the Desert Museum to host Dream Night in alternating years.   It’s a wonderful, well-attended event, and creates treasured memories for the families who attend, but also for the Zoo staff and volunteers.   

But what about something for individuals or families?   Maybe you don’t have a whole morning or afternoon to go to the Zoo or chaperone a field trip for one of your children.     Maybe you don’t feel you can afford the tickets.   Maybe you’re differently abled and worry that you might not be able to get around comfortably.  Maybe you just need a quick pick-me-up during your lunch hour.  

The Reid Park Zoo has you covered

Can you visit the Zoo FOR FREE?

Yes!   Take advantage of the Pima County Public Library’s Culture Pass Program.   Go to your local library, and see how you can get free tickets to visit the Zoo.   The Zoo donates about 6,000 of these free tickets every year.   Right now, due to Covid restrictions, you’ll need a reservation to enter the  Reid Park Zoo at a certain time. Go to the website for more information on the Culture Passes and all the other community-access programs of the RPZ.

Dollar Day

In conjunction with Reid Park’s Family Festival in the Park, the Zoo offers $1 admission.  (This program has been paused due to Covid – but they plan bring it back soon!)  Stay tuned.  

What if you receive SNAP or WIC assistance?

The Reid Park Zoo has very low admission prices for such a wonderful place and especially compared to other accredited zoos in the U.S.      But if you receive food assistance, this can help make a Zoo visit even more affordable.  Just show your EBT card to the front gate, and you’ll be eligible for a $4 discount on up to 7 tickets.  That means you can buy an adult ticket for just $6.50, a child for just $2.50, and a senior for just $4.50.  No charge for those under 2 .

What if you’re differently abled?

You should go to the Zoo!   The Reid Park Zoo meets all ADA guidelines.   If you don’t like big crowds, they can advise you of the best times to visit.  There are stroller and wheelchair rentals.   The RPZ allows trained service animals to accompany you (except inside the aviaries, where lots of birds are just walking around).   The website even has a map to identify areas where the sensory experiences (sounds, smells, and so on) might be a bit more intense.

How can you visit The Reid Park Zoo if you only have a short break or are stuck at your computer?    

How about checking out the ZooCams?  You can see Giraffes, lions, elephants and even lemurs and grizzlies!    See their real-time behaviors during the day –  and all you have to do is log into the Zoo’s website and watch for as long as you like.  The website also offers lots of information about each of the animals you’re seeing.

These programs to help you connect to the Reid Park Zoo are an important part of a greater good the Zoo pursues every day.  They’re committed to welcoming as many Tucsonans as possible, spreading the word about conservation, and continuing to provide world-class care to the animals in their charge.  But these animals need help from all of us.    Go to the Zoo and be a part of it!