Museums, zoos and aquariums have discovered that their visitors are very curious about what goes on behind the scenes. How do zoo animals get to their enclosures? How often are dolphins fed? Where do museums keep all the artifacts that are not on display? To satisfy that curiosity, zoos, museums and aquariums are increasingly willing to offer small behind-the-scenes tours – for a price, of course. A typical two-hour behind-the-scenes tour can cost as much as $250 per person.
What Is a Behind-the-Scenes Tour?
A behind-the-scenes tour takes you to places inside the museum, zoo or aquarium that most visitors will never see. For example, you might go through a museum's vault or storage warehouse, stand on a catwalk over an enormous tank filled with fish or see where zoo employees prepare food for various species of animals. Your tour guide will be an expert who is ready to answer all your questions about your experience.
Because behind-the-scenes tours are designed for very small groups, you and your grandchild will have plenty of time to ask questions and participate in any hands-on activities included in your tour itinerary.
Most behind-the-scenes tours are restricted to adults, teens and older children. Age limits vary, so you will need to give the zoo, aquarium or museum a call or check its website for age restriction information.
Will My Grandchildren Enjoy a Behind-the-Scenes Tour?
Older grandchildren are very likely to enjoy and appreciate a behind-the-scenes tour. For one thing, there's something very special about going into areas forbidden to the general public. In addition, a good behind-the-scenes tour offers hands-on activities, such as opportunities to feed fish, hold artifacts (with white gloves on, of course) or offer a treat to a zoo animal.
Behind-the-scenes tours give you and your grandchildren the opportunity to look at animals, science, history or art from a very different perspective. Even the (supposedly) dullest subjects can come alive once your grandchildren understand how and why things happen behind the scenes. Crawling into a World War II tank can give them a far different perspective on the difficulties of fighting a ground war than will reading a paragraph in a textbook, and watching zookeepers chop up meat for the carnivorous animals might convince them that taking care of lions and other big cats is an enormous but worthwhile job.
Behind-the-scenes tours also offer grandchildren the opportunity to explore careers as zookeepers, marine biologists, museum curators or museum educators. Teens, especially, may benefit from a closer look at potential career paths, and they will be able to ask the tour guide about degree programs and internships that could help them achieve their goals.
What Should I Know Before I Book a Behind-the-Scenes Tour?
- Behind-the-scenes tours tend to be both popular and expensive. Book early, but check the refund policy and your grandchild's schedule before paying for your tour.
- Most behind-the-scenes tours are not suitable for young children.
- Remember to bring your camera, and make sure you have a fully-charged battery and plenty of memory space / film.
- You may be asked to climb stairs or walk on uneven or elevated surfaces during your tour.
- Some tours require all participants to wear closed-toe shoes.
- If your tour includes the opportunity to climb into or onto large artifacts, consider the possibility that vehicles and structures might still carry traces of oil or grease and dress accordingly.
- All behind-the-scenes tours, and zoo and aquarium tours in particular, are subject to change based on the needs of the museum, the time of year (for zoos) or the health of the animals.
- If you have concerns about the suitability of a behind-the-scenes tour for your grandchild, call the zoo, museum or aquarium and ask to speak to one of the tour coordinators. You will be able to ask questions, describe your grandchild's temperament and decide for yourself whether the tour would be a good fit for your grandchild.